Friday, November 30, 2007

I Posted Something Today

I'm doing a virtual victory lap around my computer today, because I made it through the gauntlet. I'm certainly glad that I signed up for NaBloPoMo, because I learned something about my blogging and writing habits, but I feel a little like hibernating for a couple of days. Okay, a lot like hibernating.

What did I learn about myself through nanabooboo? Well, there were some positive things, like:

* I can commit to writing something every day.
* It helped that I journal on the bus every day, because it helped me gather ideas.
* I got to read and watch a lot of other talented bloggers slog through NaBlo too.
* I can make time to blog every day, because it only takes 15 minutes or so.
* Memes are not cop-outs, they are saviors.
* It's fun to do a writing challenge with my husband.
* When I have to post something interesting every day, I do more interesting things. Sometimes.
* I only need to whine once a month.

But there were also some challenges (or opportunities for growth, as I used to tell my students), such as:

* Not everything in my life is bloggable. In fact, there are some days that I don't have anything exciting going on in my life. And that's okay.
* Really, my ideal pace is 4-5 posts a week. The extra two to three were difficult.
* When I blog too much, I'm less excited about writing poetry and articles.
* When I blog too much, I also don't read as much. Or watch as much TV. So, this is both positive and negative.
* Sometimes external pressure doesn't create brilliance. Sometimes, it just stresses me out.

I'm definitely thinking of doing this again next year. It's better than the alternative.

Click here to see my whole nanabooboo, in all its "glory." Also, visit the NaBloPoMo site and tell everyone that they're cool.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Feeding Habits of Foxes

Feeding Habits of Foxes

In my poems, I leave you
scavenging in decent people's garbage cans,
pacing behind a zookeepers glass, loping
across other people's lawns. Hungry,
I never let you feed.

Why do I leave you
at the end of lines, picking
at some family's thrown out food?

Another writer
leaves you scraps outside
her door, allows you to ask
why you're not being fed.
Not me.

I know this isn't right, know
you hunt alone. You sink
into tangles of sun dried brush, disguised
in your mottled red and white pelt,
invisible to your prey. Even now,

I can't bear to write
that you kill. In flashes of white
knife teeth, you kill to feed
your sleeping family,
to feed yourself.

I think I am afraid
of my own natural red hair,
point of my teeth, my silent
stalking ways. I never know

when I will leave home
hungry, ready to inflict
necessary wounds to feed
myself. No matter

which cage I put you in
I cannot escape
our common name, our common
wild instincts, afraid
as I am of the animal inside.


This poem is a rewrite of a poem from my thesis manuscript. It's about 2/3 of the way into the book. One of the first poems is this one, which is a ghazal. In ghazals, you have to name yourself or speak to yourself. Since my maiden name is Fox, I put foxes in my ghazals. I rewrote this one several times, and my advisor asked me why the fox at the end was always hungry. When I started thinking about it, an earlier version of "Feeding Habits..." came out.

I've rewritten this poem a zillion times, because it always feels un-done. I don't know if it is still unfinished, but here's version number one zillion and one.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Haiku #18 and Living with Form

Waiting for the Bus

In the absence of
snow, our bodies cave inward,
shrinking from the cold.


I've been writing these haiku very sporadically for the past eleven months, and I've noticed something about living with a form. While my goal is 100, I'm taking my time getting there, because I'm waiting for the right image. It feels like I have an invisible set of antennas that are attuned to only the ideas that will slide inside the form.

For haiku, you need to have seventeen syllables (5-7-5) and traditionally they contain a reference to the season. It's this last bit that's been challenging. I feel like certain seasons are more conducive to haiku than others. (Summer was pretty dead for me, despite all the time I spent reveling in the sunshine.) I think that the seasonal element needs (for me) to have an emotional resonance, and I just seem to find more within Spring, Fall, and Winter.

But now, as I go into my second winter of haiku-ing, I'm finding that my winter imagery is changing. I'm spending more time outside (due to my bus commute) and less time observing from the window of my car or condo. Even as I write the poems, it feels different. I'm now participating in the cold, rather than just observing it. I'm hoping that this shift in perspective comes through in the poems.

I also wonder how other poets who participate in a commitment to a traditional form react to this experience. Sometimes it feels like I'm reading the same book over and over again. In some ways, it's positive because I'm learning new inflections and resonances. But in other ways, I'm just juggling the same words (or images) around.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Preventative Retail Therapy

Today was a long day at work. I knew it was going to be a long day. I had six days off for Thanksgiving (and because I work Saturday) and in the back of my mind I knew that today was going to be long. Those six days off are now a fleeting memory.

Since I knew what was coming, I did a little preventative retail therapy yesterday. I visited my local paper shop and did some buying. I got myself a Paper Palette, which is a huge combination of scrap papers and two different paper color packs, blue and red. Hands down, the Paper Palette is way better.

I sorted it all yesterday into color piles yesterday, while watching Bones Season 1 on DVD. It was so much fun to just sort it, because I couldn't tell from the package what was included and I was constantly surprised by the papers. Ooh -- orange and blue floral! Wow -- black with pink paisley! Purple and lavender zebra stripes, cool!

While there are lots of colors represented, my favorites are these deep wine-y magenta fuzzy floral patterns, that are paired with gold metallic relief. It's fuzzy and pretty. So while I was running around my school like a chicken with my head cut off, I was secretly dreaming of purple paper.

Now if only I wasn't too tired to play with it. *Sigh*

Monday, November 26, 2007

What I Was Thinking at 6:00 on Thanksgiving Day, Making Stuffing

Sweet, Vidalia and Pearl

Cutting in to you, I know
I've tried too much to be like you:
transparent layers ever surrounding
a center with nothing
but a small knot. I never knew
when to stop peeling, when your paper
skin yields to yellow flesh, when
you become edible. Instead, I peel
away too much of you, waste
what could be saved
and dice the rest
into irregularly shaped squares.
My hands smell like fear
and exertion, a stink I will carry with me.
An all day reminder
of our defense mechanisms.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

My Husband Called Me a Genius This Morning

blog reading level
...based on this highly scientific test. I took it a while ago, when ...deb and Whirling Dervish posted it on their site. It told me I was undergrad level, so I got so much smarter. I decided to grab it now, before I get dumberer again.

Weekly Word Count, November 19-November 25

No writing for me this week. I ate lots of turkey and rented lots of movies instead.
That's called refilling the well and it's delicious.

I remain at 29,602 for the year.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Family Artifacts

The nice thing about my mom visiting me is that she always bring interesting presents. This year, it was tangerines and avocados from her garden, a necklace from Tahiti, and something from my grandmother's belongings.

My grandmother passed away when I was 20 (about) and my mom now lives in her old house. Every so often, my mom has to downsize my grandma's stuff, so sometimes she brings them for me. (I've already laid claim to the steamer trunks filled with her letters, which I plan on adopting when I'm ready to organize them and do something with them.) This year, she brought a scrapbook that my grandmother assembled when she was in nursing school, around 1931.

As I've mentioned before, my grandmother was an amateur poet. This scrapbook contains some poems, notes from her studies, and articles she found intriguing. One of those articles in entitled "Is Kissing Wrong?" and another is a polemic against a woman president.

It's really interesting to see what my grandmother thought about when she was in her early twenties. It's also amazing that her handwriting hadn't changed. As soon as I opened it, I saw the same handwriting that graced letters and cards throughout my childhood, but written in a surer, stronger hand. I didn't know my grandmother as well as I would have liked, but artifacts like these help me feel a little more connected to her.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Life Pastiche

While this post contains very few details about the new Bob Dylan movie I'm Not There, it does talk about the themes of the movie. If you are spoiler-phobic, skip this post.

My mother and I went to see the new Bob Dylan artsy bio pic, I'm Not There. While a bit long, this Todd Haynes directed film stars 6 different actors as Bob Dylan during different stages of his life. The plot is loosely based on the events of Dylan's life, a kind of fictional amalgamation of reality, speculation, and fantasies. Since many reviews have already detailed the creativity in the casting, I won't go over it, except to say that they all rocked in their own unique ways.

The interesting thing about this movie is what it has to say about artists. Dylan was lauded as the troubadour of his generation and this was in many ways, quite unfair to him as a person. The movie's main focus is how ultimately stultifying his reputation could be, especially when he wanted to evolve as an artist or a human being. I can only imagine how difficult it must be to search for yourself, when everyone wants to define who you are and what your life is about. Plus, the only outlet for expression you have is your art, which everyone analyzes, so that they can pigeonhole you more. Having six different actors play Dylan wasn't stunt casting, so much as it was a way to address how he inhabited different incarnations and identities throughout his life.

This movie isn't perfect, mostly because its long and has like 5 different ending points, it's really interesting and well-done. If you're interested in post-modernism, collage, or Bob Dylan, you should see this movie! Especially now that I've ruined it for you.

More Publication Fun!

The new issue of Poetic Monthly is out, with an article about poetic manifestos by me! The link is a PDF, and I am on page 13. There are also other great articles in here, including one abut Seamus Heaney and another about the struggles of women writers. Enjoy!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thankful for Inspiration

Today, I'm thankful that I get to see art and learn more about the artist's inspirations.

Yesterday, my mom and I went to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts to see the Georgia O'Keefe exhibit, Circling Around Abstraction. While I know O'Keefe's work only marginally, I have always associated her with her quasi-representational flower portraits and desert landscapes. But what I learned yesterday is that she was committed to abstract art throughout her career.

Several things struck me as I took notes in my journal. First, it was interesting to me that she moved from more representational work, like these fruit portraits here, to ever more abstract images, like these paintings from the end of her career. If I happened on to any of these pictures at another museum, I don't know if I would have recognized them as O'Keefe. It seemed that she found a happy medium between the overly representational and the overly abstract in her landscapes and flowers.

Second, I never really understood abstract art. I took no art classes in college and so I always feel stymied when looking at an abstract piece. But the exhibit provides an excellent O'Keefe quote that explains her aesthetic:

"Nothing is less real than realism. Details are confusing. It is only by selection, elimination, and emphasis that we get to the real meaning of things."

At first, I rebelled against her statement, because in my writing, I focus on details in my poetry. But I don't include all details -- I emphasize and eliminate in order to distort and/or represent meaning.

Lastly, I was intrigued by her pelvis images, where the bones are used as a frame in which to view the sky. Somewhere on the explanatory passages, they used the phrase "bone as lens." As in, O'Keefe used the bone as a lens through which to see the world. That has resonated and stayed with me, ever since I saw it. It's an interesting movement from interior back out to exterior, and I wonder how that aesthetic informed her work. I also thought it was an interesting mini-trigger for a poem.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Milkweed Names New CEO...Finally!

According to this article in yesterday's Publisher's Weekly, Minneapolis publshing house Milkweed Editions named Daniel Slager as publisher and Chief Executive Officer.

Milkweed is a respected independent/non-profit publishing company that produces literary fiction, nonfiction, poetry, children's books, as well as books about the environment. They are perhaps best well-known and admired for founding publishing Emilie Buchwald's reputation as a pioneer in non-profit publishing and champion of the little presses. Buchwald stepped down in 2003 and it has taken quite a while for the company to replace her.

Luckily, Daniel Slager has spent much of his career at Milkweed as an editor, so there should be a smooth transition. It will be interesting to see how he distinguishes himself as publisher, especially considering the reputation of his predecessor.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Gimme Some!

I haven't been paying much attention to the Writers Guild strike, partly because I can't imagine a world where poets would strike and Entertainment Weekly would write cover stories on it. Also, I just am a little wary when people who are paid well and have dream jobs ask for more. (Although producers feigning poverty is pretty laughable too.) I am simply dreading the moment when the episodes run out and I am forced to watch drivel or perhaps write more.

However, this opinion piece put the issue into perspective for me. The author of this NY Times article works in the internet content industry and asks some good questions. Most importantly, is it feasible to charge for content on the internet? Or is it soley going to be an advertisement driven medium?

I think its interesting that the WGA is striking on this issue, since they develop content for one medium (film/television) and it ends up on another (DVD and internet.) Does that change the nature of the value for the viewer? We already get it for "free" on TV, and by free we mean we have to watch ridiculous commercials and pay for cable if we want clear reception. But, we don't pay the writers of Lost directly for their work. Would it be natural to pay for it online? We already pay for it directly on DVD, thereby endangering future syndication revenue for writers. I also wonder what this means for user produced content like blogs, since those tend to be a low paying enterprise, unless you write about rehabbing celebrities.

It's an interesting issue and this article is the first time I've seen it articulated in a way that makes it understandable for unpaid writers like me.

Monday, November 19, 2007

How Are Sentences American?

Here's my first post for read. write. poem. They encouraged us to write American Sentences, a form pioneered by Allen Ginsberg. The form is similar to the haiku, because it has 17 syllables, but it doesn't use line breaks and you don't have to reference the season. Here are my attempts at the form, which I intended to arrange into a poem, but I ran out of time.

I love counting syllables, because everything can be segmented.


Slept in, missed sunrise today, and found myself staring at blue-gray skies.


I don't want to think of all that I swallowed, moving through my body.


Unfocusing and focusing my eyes, I make the world a green blur.


My body wrenches, remembers terrors my careful mind long swallowed.


Bus windows make us flimsy phantom reflections the night passes through.


Everything should be as easy to erase as cheap pink nail polish.


Stale pipe smoke blows me back to grandpa's closed bedroom door, soot on my hands.


In sleep, I dream better homes, with more secret rooms, than I have when awake.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Nonsensical Word Soup

A while ago, my brother turned me on to a sight called blather. It's a weird site, but extremely fun to play around with. If you liked Choose Your Own Adventure books or MadLibs pads when you were a kid, then this may be the sight for you. Imagine that the Choose Your Own adventure books were collaboratively written by Mallarme and a stoned high school student and then you could be close.

The premise is pretty simple. The site leads you to a randomly generated word and that word has a collaborative poem written on it. It could be 5 lines it could be 55 lines, you'll never know. Almost every word in the poem is linked to a page with that name, where another collaborative poem was written. You can add a line to any poem that you like, and the program automatically links the individual words to the pages.

Overall, this is very addictive. I will say that some of the pages are very slow loading and I was disappointed to realize that "acid" had the most lines. *Sigh.*

Weekly Word Count, November 12-November 18

Not a bad week overall, now that I'm sitting on a finished article. Whew!

853 for the article
100 for some minor revisions to old poems
250 for half of a completed poem for read. write. poem

For the year, I've got 29,602. Now I can go see a movie and clean the house!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Meme Rogers

…deb, from Stoney Moss, kindly encouraged us nanabooboo burnouts to try out the meme she just posted. The directions are simple, describe three things that I thing good writing should be. Since it was either this, or writing about shopping for clothes at the Fall of America, I’m going with the meme.

I think most importantly, good writing should be honest. I don’t necessarily mean in the details, like I was wearing a red shirt when this event happened, but in the authenticity of the emotion. In my own writing, I can tell when I’m skirting an issue, disguising my feelings on a subject, or using flashy craft to distract myself from actually saying something true. For me, it’s really hard to be honest in writing because you have to open you have to become vulnerable, which feels, well, vulnerable.

Perhaps good writing should have a balance between being layered and being transparent. Maybe being transparently layered? I know this doesn’t make sense, so let me try to explain it. When reading, I love that experience of realizing that the writer is cocooning you the story (fiction) or image (poetry). You feel yourself surrounded by the completeness and complexity of the writing. Yet, at the same time, it seems effortless. You think to yourself, why didn’t I do that? It’s clear that is the direction this story or image was always going, but you were so involved, that you didn’t see it coming.

Last, I think the writing should be not boring. It doesn’t necessarily have an interesting topic, but the writer should be invested enough in the topic to make it interesting. I guess what I’m stretching for here is passion. The writer should have passion for their material and should imbue the writing with that passion.

And it shouldn’t suck. Wait that’s four. I‘ll save that one for another meme.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Minnesota Poetry

This week, I just finished reading Kirsten Dierking's second book, Northern Oracle. The book is lovely, spare, and very Minnesotan, in a good way.

The book is framed in two ways. Most importantly, she is exploring her Sami ancestry, so she uses quotes from the Sami poet Nils-Aslak Valkeapaa as epigraphs for each section. These quotes inform the reading of the entire section. The second framing device is a tacit relationship with nature.

Her four sections move from a deep relationship with nature outward to the material world and back again. The Animist and Fragile Organics, the first two sections, are rooted in natural imagery, weather, animals, plants. The third section, "Unstable," speaks to the experiences after 9/11 and how the country (and the narrator) have changed. The final section, The Path Homeward, speaks to the narrator's home life and how she integrates pain, change, tragedy and personal nature.

I like two things about this book. Often there are some poets who seem to stretch for vocabulary, to awe you with their understanding of Really Big Words. Dierking is not from that school of thought. In fact, she uses the common simple words really well, pulling on their physical resonances to craft her images. Secondly, this book feels very Minnesotan. By that, I mean there is a conflicted relationship with nature within an semi-urban environment that seems very appropriate to the subject matter. Sometimes, us Minnesotans like to write about how tough we are in relationship to weather and how lucky we are to have these extreme conditions. Dierking shows the beauty in nature and how integrated it is into our modern lives. This is so hard to do without sounding folksy or fake.

I think this book needs a second reading and after a few months, maybe when winter sets in, I'll revisit it. However, my first impression is that I love it and that it should be read. So go buy it!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Halfway Through NaBloPoMo Whine

Okay, it was inevitable, so brace yourselves.

Today marks the halfway point of what we call in our house "nanabooboo." (We can never get the letters in all the right permutations, so its become that instead.) I'm glad that I signed up for nanabooboo, because it's pushed me and challenged me and it's forced me to focus very intently on my blog. All good things.

But here come's the whine. I'm tiiiiired!!! I got home after working late, I have an article that's due tomorrow that's only written in my head due to some research issues, and I can't take a bath yet because I have to write something on my blog. Something good. Something interesting. Something literary. Blech. We get this instead.

I haven't written a lot of non-blog related stuff lately, because I'm blogging. And I even have things I want to write about, but haven't, like meeting these two people and reading this awesome book. Maybe I'll get to them. Maybe I want. Okay, I'll definitely get to the last one soon.

This feels like all the times that I've committed to writing in my journal EVERY DAY, because that's what published writers say that they do. (I secretly think they're big liars.) Committing to every day writing is hard, because sometimes dang it, I just want to watch tv and go to bed.

I'll return to non-whining posts tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The School Marm a Meme!

Jo, from A Broad's Thoughts From Home, just tagged me in this meme: list at least four things you think a beginning poet should attend to and four mistakes you think a poet should avoid. Although its been over a month since I last taught (ah freedom!), I'll put the teacher hat on and see what I can do with it. Please excuse any hectoring on my part -- I just sat through an hour and a half long meeting, and I'm feeling loopy!

4 Things a Beginning Poet Should Attend To

1) Read other people's poetry besides your own.
I kind of already covered this in my last poet=verb installment, and in my rampant and obsessive posts about books, but I think that it is vital that all writers read. How else can you know what has come before you and what you can contribute to the dialogue of language?

This is especially true in poetry. In the past two hundred years, there have been scores of stylistic and ideological movements in poetry. By reading those people you like, and the people they liked, and so forth, you are tracing your literary heritage and finding your place in the poetry world.

2) Support small presses, small magazines, independent bookstores and other venues for struggling poets.
From a business standpoint, if you make a product, you should buy similar products to see how your product compares and to support the economy. From an ideological standpoint, it is necessary to preserve the last vestiges of free expression we have in the literary world. Any way that you look at it, you need to support the community that will support you.

3) Learn about form and poetic technique, then use them.
I think it's really important for poets to focus on language. I'm going to sound arch and conservative here, but I think that the reason people become poets is because poets use language differently than prose writers. There is a specific attention to detail, sound, rhythm, and diction that can only be achieved through technique. (I'm talking about the nerdy word stuff like line breaks, enjambment, alliteration, assonance, consonance, rhyme, meter, etc.) Poetry comes from the same root as music and so poetry should sound musical.

Also, from a meaning standpoint, when you are forced to conform to a specific form, you push your language and thought in new ways and surprising ideas erupt because of that struggle. I think free verse is certainly valuable, but your free verse can become informed by poetic techniques if you stretch yourself with forms for awhile.

4) Don't stop writing when it gets too hard.
There aren't a lot of benefits to being a poet. You're not going to make a ton of money, nor are you going to become wildly famous. Oprah has enough friends that are poets (okay onethat I know of) and David Letterman will not invite you on his show. That's a fact of a poet's life. But there are rewards to committing yourself to an artistic practice without external rewards, such as the intrinsic value of documenting your thoughts and feelings for posterity and the clarity of mind that comes with interaction with language.

4 Mistakes a Beginning Poet Should Avoid

Other than the opposite of the above? Boy, this is hard. I already sound like the mean English teacher, but I'll sally forth.

1) Use only abstract ideas in your poems.
When my students would show me their early attempts at poetry, it was hard for me to critique. It was hard because it was emotionally earnest and heartfelt, but it used cliched language or the author told me what he or she meant in the poem. So rather than describing sadness in a concrete, physical, and fresh way, they told me how sad they were and how their sadness was as fathomless as the ocean. (This is not a direct quote of any specific poem I've read by a student.) Now, I didn't want squelch any future interest in poetry or hurt someone after they revealed to me a deep part of their soul. So I had to gently encourage them to show me how they felt, rather than tell me. I would strongly urge a beginning poet towards using one controlling metaphor, known as a conceit, for a poem rather than using simile in a single line.

2) Try to publish too early.
I'm kind of getting back to the external reward thing, and publishing is a huge external reward, but you should workshop and refine poetry before sending it out. As a beginning poet (I think I still am by the way, I just have spent more time beginning), I've sent out poems to editors, only to have them returned with grammar corrections or to be told that it is "almost a poem, if I work on it." It was only in grad school that I really acquainted myself with revision. And I'm still not 100% comfortable with it, but I can recognize when a poem isn't done.

3)Worry that someone else has already said it.
There's been hundreds of years of poetry, in every culture and every time period. Honestly, it's been said before. But you haven't said it, and your perspective has value. Just make sure that you are expressing things the way you would say it, not the way you are expected to say it.

4) Write alone without any help, community, support system, or classes.
I've written alone and I've written with community, and I feel that community is better. While it is scary to open your work up to critique, this is how you grow as a writer. Get involved with online writing communities, free/sliding scale writing classes, or God forbid an English degree. Become acquainted with like minded people who know the ups and downs of the creative process and bitch with them. Or celebrate with them. Or learn from them. Writing is solitary enough as it stands.

Whew! I just felt like I put my hair in a bun, grabbed a ruler, and forced everyone to memorize "The Wasteland" for a final project.

Who should I tag? I think anyone who wants to can participate, leave me a link if you do. You're all tagged!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Soon to Be Walking and Talking

It's a funny kind of blessing that my blog birthday is occurring during NaBloPoMo. One year ago today, I began my blog with this post. I started thinking about my blog back then, with this Hemingway quote in mind: "As long as you start, you are all right. The juice will come." I was feeling uninspired, unremarkable, and generally more 9 to 5 than Poet in my daily life. Rereading this post, I can see how much writing this blog has changed me and my writing practice, and for that I'm grateful.

If it weren't for this blog and the communities like Writers Island, Poetry Thursday, Fertile Ground, Totally Optional Prompts, and the new read. write. poem., I don't think I would be writing as much as I am nor feeling as secure in my writing as I do. I also wouldn't have "met" alot of really amazing writers who are trying to devote time to their own creative practice. I also think I'd probably still be at my last job, feeling miserable and unfulfilled. So writing this blog has definitely been a boon in my life.

Some random stats:
* 267 posts (not including this one, nor including the ones where I link back to places like Technorati)
* 49 labels (not including the above mentioned link back labels)
* "famous writers" and "Inspiration" most populated labels, with 39 posts each
* 3 different templates used (dark dots, rounders, and the current altered minima lefty stretch)
* approximately 89 hours spent navel gazing (assuming 20 minutes per post, without any other navel gazing occuring outside the blog)

Thanks for reading & I hope I can make it through another year! By then, the blog will be potty trained.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Poet is a Verb: Read

I came to writing as a reader. I know this about myself. While other little kids were doing sports and playing outside, I was reading. I loved (and love) being able to immerse myself in language, another person's perspective, and an invented narrative. Writing, for me, is an extension of reading, a mirroring of what I love.

That being said, there is some business reading I normally don't enjoy. For instance, I subscribe to Poetry magazine, because it is *the* magazine to be published in. When I went to the Minneapolis Public Library a few months ago, I looked at the archive of Poetry magazine and found that for each year, they truly published the poets that endured in literature. So, I subscribe to it, knowing I am reading the Important Poets.

When I actually get down to reading it, though, I feel like it's a chore. It's not the magazine's fault - I am always pleasantly surprised when I read the issue. I actually enjoy the poetry, most of the time. But it just feels like work -- the poems can be too intellectualized or too well crafted or just too tidy. It's not a poetry I can normally aspire to writing, nor the poetry that I find myself recalling later.

This morning, I had nothing to read while I walked on the treadmill, so I grabbed this month's issue. (I know there's a metaphor in there, for what if feels like to read the magazine.) But this issue was really well done. I found myself highlighting almost every poem that appeared, because I liked it so much. Some favorites from this issue:

All of Heather McHugh's poetry, but these two are good.

The translations of Elfriede Jelinek's poetry are fabulous, although the translator's note is a little high-falutin'.

Peter Campion's "Just Now" and Robin Robertson's "Cat, Failing," are both pretty astonishing as well.

I guess the moral of the story (if I need to have one right now) is that I need to return to reading, even the good-for-me, broccoli-type reading, because it all feeds the writing.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Work Friends

Last night, my husband and I went to the MN Rollergirls bout, which is our favorite winter date. Our teams, the Rockits and the Atomic Bombshells unfortunately lost to the Duke City Derby's Muñecas Muertas and the Denver Roller Dolls' Mile High Club respectively. But it was still fun.

While we were waiting in line before the game, we bumped into an old friend of mine from my Pier 1 Days. I probably had not seen him in 6 months at least and we had seen each other maybe two or three times since I quit the job two years ago. However, as we talked, it wasn't awkward or weird -- it was just fun. It was as if we had just gotten off of a night shift and were hanging out afterwards. It made me realize that I missed his friendship, but at the same time when we parted ways, I didn't ask for contact info.

I think that's the nature of some work friendships. I've had a lot of really close, good work friendships that have gone by the wayside since I've left the job. For instance, there’s the guy who made me dance on a box at a gay night club because I lost a bet or the other guy who predicted that I would marry my husband, when I only had been dating him for a year, or the girl who lent me all the episodes of Carnivale on video, so that we could talk about it during our shared shifts. I could go on.

With work friendships most of the contact revolves around the job -- hating it, loving it, trying to escape from it, or just talking about it. Certainly, when I saw my friend last night we spent a lot of time catching up with each other about the job. It makes me a little sad to think about it, but work is the common denominator, and once you've left that specific workplace, you've lost your tie to that person. It makes me feel a little cold to look at it this way, but it seems to be true from my experience. When work friendships extend outside of the job, which I've also had happen, it normally means that you have something else in common.

As my friend and I were talking, I realized how much my life has changed since I left that job. It seems like each job I've had contributes a little piece to my personality and my personality shifts slightly when I move on to a new job. Maybe that's why it's hard to maintain work friendships after the work isn't around. You have to change and develop new qualities, and the old qualities that make the friendship work need to atrophy.

Weekly Word Count, November 5-November 11

Not as stellar as a week. Only 100 for the haiku. But I'm hanging in there with NaBloPoMo, so I'm happy.

29252 for the year.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Shameless Self-Promotion & Other Random Bits

I had a nice surprise earlier this week when the editor from Dark Party Review emailed me. He asked to republish my poem, "Walking to Work, 5:42 AM," which I wrote for Totally Optional Prompts two weeks ago. You can check out the poem here. This was an especially nice surprise because the editor was kind enough to give me advice about starting an online journal and I got to discover a cool journal to add to my Google Reader.

Also, my editor for Uptown Neighborhood News let me know that my November article on the Minnesota Book Awards will be republished on TC Daily Planet, an aggregator of community newspapers in the Twin Cities metro. It'll be up in the next couple of days. Two good publication news in one week! I scored!

In non me-related news, Fertile Ground is hosting an interesting monthly prompt for November. They picked an anthology that the members will submit to, after completing some online workshopping of the potential submissions. I think this is brilliant! Pursuing publication can be so inherently competitive that it's really daring to create a collaborative community around publication opportunities. I'll definitely be participating in this challenge...

Friday, November 9, 2007

December Poetry Book Club Selection!

The poll is closed, the votes are in, and we have a winner!

By a landslide victory, Tao Lin's you are a little happier than i am will be December's Poetry Book Club book. I will be hosting the PBC discussion post on December 31, so we can ring in the New Year with a little poetry discussion.

I'm really excited to feature this book, in part because the author is also a blogger. Since the author is a blogger, I wanted to try a little experiment. Would you all be interested in inviting the author to our discussion? I think it might be a great way to gain insight into how a book is crafted and the author's intentions. Of course, I cannot guarantee he will say yes. Just because he blogs doesn't mean that he would have the time or energy to participate. But, I figure it's worth a shot. What do you folks think?

Either way, get ready for an interesting book club discussion!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Haiku #17 -- Among Strangers

Among Strangers

With bundled bodies,
frozen smiles, we are always
preparing for cold.

* * *

As I take public transportation every day now, I've become a bit of a student on human behavior. At least, human behavior when humans are forced to share a limited amount of space, while waking up in the morning. Lately, it's been so cold in the mornings that the 3-4 of us at the bus stop have to move around to keep our toes and fingers warm. We may chat, in monosyllabic phrases about the weather, but we still have to keep that weird polite distance that we call Minnesota nice. The above haiku is inspired by this awkward morning ritual.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Still Life

Today was an unexpected day off. At the beginning of the week, I thought I was gearing up for a 6 day work week, with short days on all 6 days. But my boss gently encouraged me to take a day off, and work longer days, so that I didn't have to work 6 days in a row. This was a lovely surprise and I feel like I'm stealing free time today.

I've been both productive and relaxed, which is a blessing for me. I've cleaned the house, watched DVDs, taken an inspiration walk, posted fliers and bookmarks for Asphalt Sky, and obviously, taken pictures. I feel pretty lucky to have this time off, to recenter and be creative.

On my flickr site, I'll post the bigger versions of some of these pics, but until then, enjoy my still life collage.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Wasting Time #4 -- Guilty Pleasures

Warning! This has nothing to do with poetry writing or anything deep. I'm trying to be okay with that. But, if I can't handle frivolity on Day 6 of NaBloPoMo, this is going to be a long month.

As I sit on my couch, watching the end of Beauty and the Geek while waiting for Reaper to start, I realize that I have a lot of guilty pleasures. There are a lot of things I consume, pop culture mostly, which make me feel slightly greasy later. They have no intellectual value whatsoever, but they are fun. They are the intellectual equivalent of marshmallow fluff. And yet, I always come back for more.

So here's my Top Five Guilty Pleasures... although I reserve the right to alter this list when I find something better.

1)Nerdy TV
This year has been declared the Year of the Beta Male by many news outlets, what with the introduction of all the new movies and TV shows dedicated to geeky guys and their interests. But what about us geeky girls? We like junk like Heroestoo! Most of the TV Shows in my DVD collection represent the canon of Dorky TV. I could teach the master's class -- Simpsons, Powerpuff Girls, Buffy, Lost, and X-Files. In fact, I did use Simpsons clips while teaching literature and Buffy clips when teaching Speech. Those were the days...

2) Perez Hilton

I am embarrassed to admit this, but I really like Perez Hilton's site. I know I’m going to Hell, in the circle that’s reserved for people who park in handicap spots or who read gossip magazines. However, he’s really funny! I know that’s not an excuse, but honestly, when I have a bad day at work, I can relax to pictures of Britney “Unfitney” Spears wobbling out of a club with a doodled booger hanging out of her nose.

3) Seeing Movies in the Theater

My husband and I see one movie every weekend. Then, we rent movies on DVD… you know, for the ones we missed. Even though I love movies in all forms, I prefer theater movies. Despite ludicrous ticket prices, obnoxious fellow patrons, and my ridiculously small bladder, I love the experience. Nothing can match sitting in the dark, eating Milk Duds or Whoppers, and getting swallowed by a movie. Some of the embarrassing movies I’ve seen in the theater: Transporter, Billy Madison, The One, Serendipity, Pay It Forward, and most recently the appalling Shoot ‘Em Up. (Why Clive, why?) Seriously, I’ll watch almost anything in the movie theater.

4) Smelly Candles

While in graduate school, I worked at my local Pier 1. I originally got the job based on my familiarity and enthusiasm for their candles. Once I got the job, I loaded up on clearance candles every chance that I got. You know that sickly smell when you enter a Pier 1, where every candle smell mingles into one floral-earthy-vanilla haze? I achieved that in our apartment. After that, my husband kindly asked me to downsize and I’ve slowly pared down my collection. Besides, they don’t make Carmel Butter anymore, which is my all time favorite.

5) Used Bookstores

So this one may have some intellectual value. But not much. When my husband and I lived in Illinois, our favorite weekend involved either going to a flea market or taking a tour of our favorite used bookstores. Now that we live in Minnesota, we still search out the vintage and used stores, but mostly to get specific books, not to browse. There’s something that’s pretty magical about finding out of print books or books I’ve forgotten I’ve wanted while wandering the aisles. I even like the musty-dusty smell of used bookstores. Whenever I make a pile of books to take to one of our local stores, I always feel a little melancholy for them. But, I quickly forget about them when I find new ones to take home.

There are my guilty pleasures…out there for the world to see. But I shouldn’t have to do this alone. So, what are your guilty pleasures?

Monday, November 5, 2007

Poet is a Verb: Focus

This is not a Poet is a Verb entry about something I did today; it is about something I need to do. I need to be able to focus on one task at a time.

I won't tell the embarrassing story about the things I forgot to do at home this morning, because I was too busy doing them all at once. But I will say, that as I sat on the bus realizing all the things that I forgot to do and worrying about the things I probably forgot to do that I forgot about, I was thinking also about this week's Writers Island prompt: Unforgettable. I don't know if I can write about that prompt this week with a straight face.

The irony is that the art I like to do, poetry and photography and my renewed obsession with collage, requires focus. Most poets describe poetry as the act of focusing on details and relaying them with accuracy. At least, that's the beginning of poetry. Photography literally requires focus, for the selection and the clarity of the image. While I don't espouse to be a collage expert by any means, my experience on Sunday allowed me to achieve an almost Zen-like meditative focus as I combed through the heaps of materials to find my images. I love that experience when I am writing when I achieve that kind of focus that is both utterly calm and utterly specifically intense. It is then that I know that I am creating something. In fact, it is through these artistic activities that I become what I want to become: someone who recognizes and reacts to the little details.

At work, of course, I can focus on activities. I am the detail-queen. I can recall data and keep my desk and schedule well-organized. But at home, in my everyday life, this focus falls apart. It's like I can achieve focus in little bursts, when I have to, but when I relax, my brain goes wobbly and I forget where my keys are or how to put on clothes correctly. These are not the things I forgot today, unfortunately...I think.

I don't know if this is something that I can change about myself. If it is, I can only try to do better. If it isn't, then I think I'll need to create a checklist for myself before I leave for work in the morning.

Sunday, November 4, 2007


Today, I was lucky to participate in a collage workshop at my alma mater. The event was sponsored by West Egg Literati, a student organization that produces an awesome journal and it was lead by my former advisor, Deborah Keenan. While Deborah considers herself a poet first, she is also a pretty accomplished collage artist and each year she runs this workshop.

It was great because it was a no pressure, creative event, like most workshops run by Deborah. All we had to bring was 30 words of writing, 3 backings, and scissors and a glue stick.She gave us a little intro where she discussed her approach to collaging, what works for her. Her approach is interesting because she collects mountains of collage material throughout the year and then when she goes on vacation, she works on her collages. She works with both words and imagery and tries to integrate both into the finished product, although they don't always end up combined into one piece.

After reading some poems, she sent us off into our corners. Once we got to work, we got to pick through her scrap reserves, which had a great combination of modern and older stuff. I found myself drawn to mostly black and white images, and religious iconography (for some reason), and I spent most of my time on the first one. It was very much a fluid, instinctive experience, although I don't know how I feel about the finished product...or what it says. When she gave us the fifteen minute bell, I realized I hadn't used much of my haiku that I brought, so I put together the more spartan second piece. I like it because it has more texture, although again, I don't know if it's done.

Finished or not finished, quality or crap, I enjoyed the process of cutting and trimming and gluing together these pieces, and I think that I want to spend more time collaging.

So, my question for you collagers out there, especially those with limited work spaces: how do you organize your scraps? I normally go through my magazines on the day that I collage, but I find that it creates kind of homogeneous pieces. I want to collect, but I'm limited on room. Any advice on organization would be appreciated!

Weekly Word Count, October 29-November 4

Still trucking along...I wrote 691 words for an article for Poetic Monthly and a poem based off of a Totally Optional Prompts prompt, which brings my weekly total to 1191.

29152 for the year.

And that's not even including NaBloPoMo....

Saturday, November 3, 2007

On the Book I'm Halfway Through...

I have a bad habit of falling in love with a book while reading it and posting about it, when I'm about halfway through. Today is no different. So, if you've read this book and finished, please don't tell me the ending.

Right now, I'm reading Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and it is pretty amazing. The book describes her childhood and adolescence in pre-war Somalia, Saudi Arabia, and Kenya. She is Somali by birth and she never seems to fit in, among her clan relatives in Somalia, her Christian neighbors in Kenya nor the strict Islamic community in Saudi Arabia. As a young woman, she struggles with her allegiance to Islam, because she tries to be a devout Muslim but cannot reconcile her faith with its treatment of women.

This book is very scary, at parts, but also very touching because she balances the difficulty of her upbringing with a sense of fierce independence. I would strongly urge you to pick up this book and read it, if you're at all interested in learning more about a woman's experience battling fundamentalism and discrimination.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Everyday Poetry is Poetry Every Day

I realized on the bus yesterday that there has been a shift in my writing over the past year or so. I’ve begun to write “everyday” poems. By everyday poems, I mean that they are inspired by my daily life and they recognize the poetic in that life. This is a huge change for me.

When I was in college and grad school, a poem had to have meaning. It had to have a political rhetoric or a deep significance to my childhood or my Identity As A Woman, or some such. Now, I believe that type of writing still has its place, but quiet frankly, I’ve exhausted that route. There’s only so much I can write about those heavy topics. So instead, I’ve transitioned to writing about my domestic, work, and interior lives.

Part of this has definitely been inspired by the quantity of writing I’ve been doing. I’ve been lucky enough to be inspired by several good prompt sites, including the dearly departed Poetry Thursday, Writers Island, Totally Optional Prompts and the soon-to-be fabulous read. write. poem. With these three current sites, I have three opportunities to write poems per week. And those poems can be inspired by something as simple as what I experience every day.

In grad school, one of my teachers called these “out the window” poems. She said this while talking about Cornelius Eady’s first book. There are a lot of political heavy poems about race in this book, but then there are just poems where he looks out the window and records what he sees. I didn’t understand the significance of this type of writing until now. I gravitated towards heavy political poems because they were Important. It seemed almost too mundane, just to write about what happened in my real life. But that’s all the fodder I have now, and I like where it’s taking my poetry.

Maybe it’s the Donald Revell talking, but I think that poetry may be about the act of noticing, rather than the idea I’m trying to convey.

Voting is up for Poetry Book Club in November!

I've cleared much of the Poetry Book Club Selection plate, due to low votes and just to shake things up. But I've retained Merwin's Migrations, all because of last month's cage match. Here are this month's options:

Migrations by W.S. Merwin
Northern Oracle by Kirsten Dierking
you are a little happier than i am by Tao Lin
The Glass Age by Cole Swenson
A Thief of Strings by Donald Revell

Voting will close in a week, to give people enough time to buy/rent the selected book. Remember, if you have any PBC suggestions, leave me a comment or an email. This month's discussion on The Pajamaist is also still up, so check it out!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Back When It Was 6 to 2, Not 9 to 5

The theme for this week's Totally Optional Prompts was work. When I was in graduate school, I worked 20-40 hours a week at a local Pier 1 Imports, until it closed and I got my teaching job.

One of my favorite/least favorite jobs was unloading the 6:00 stock truck on Wednesdays. In the summer, it was awesome. It was warm in the morning, I got to be outside, and the stock tended to be smaller discount items. In the winter, it could be awful. There was slushy gray black snow, freezing cold, heavy boxes of furniture (better sellers in winter) and the myriad boxes of Christmas ornaments that were always broken.

This morning, on my way to breakfast, I saw a freight truck pull into the alley where my store used to be, and the dawn was breaking blue and orange across the empty street and I wrote this.

Walking to Work, 5:42 AM

Streetlights dot the sidewalk,
pierce the dark sky like stars.

Salt, gravel and ice slide
me forward, unsteadily. I know

what is coming next:
eight feet, ten feet, twenty

of packed semi, buttressed
by sheets of plywood. I will hop

left-right-left-right, blowing
warm breath into my freezing

fingers, taste rubber work gloves
on my lips. I will not talk

too early, will not wear a back brace
over shirt, under coat, will not

breathe black exhaust fumes, will not
ask for help hoisting the oak armoire

on the lone two wheeler, while
guiding it safely inside. The only

conversation will be two unfunny
morning DJs cackling on the radio

and my internal counting of cardboard
boxes, minutes on my time sheet,

minutes until the sky burns blue
and I crawl tired, home.