Monday, December 31, 2007

December Poetry Book Club Discussion Post: Tao Lin's you are a little bit happier than i am

I hope that everyone is enjoying their New Year's Eve. Here is the Poetry Book Club Discussion post for the month. Personally, I'll be posting my thoughts tomorrow morning. I look forward to hear what everyone thought of the book!

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?

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

How would you describe the structure of the book? Did you see any sense of movement or progression from one poem to the next?

Would you choose to read this author again? Why or why not?

Poetry Book Club: Interview with Tao Lin

I was very fortunate to be able to interview Tao Lin via Gmail last week, in preparation for our PBC discussion of his book of poetry, you are a little bit happier than i am. Below is the interview. Enjoy!

What or who are your main influences on your poetry?

My main influences for the poetry book you read are the people I wrote about in the book, the "you" in many of the poems. I am interested in all those people, the things they've said or done, and I think about them when I'm alone and not thinking about myself.

How would you describe your dominant aesthetic in writing poetry? Do you have primarily visual goals, thematic goals, oral/aural goals, or a combination?

My dominant aesthetic in writing poetry is that I try to write what I want to read. It changes a lot, what I want to read. There are a lot of things I don't want to read though, that doesn't change as much. I don't want to read poetry that will make a 12-year-old feel stupid. I don't want to read poetry that will make someone who works at Kmart and has never read poetry feel stupid. I don't want to read poetry that has the power to make anyone feel stupid.

Your poetry is quite a leap forward from the "establishment" type of poetry, thematically and aesthetically. You can tell that you are a member of our generation, when you read your work. How does this affect you commercially?

That was a funny question, I stared at it reading with a neutral facial expression and then laughed a little at the end. I don't think it has been "exploited" yet at all that the poetry book you read could be marketed as a "voice of a generation" or something book. If someone involved in the book had the ambition or something to do that I think it could sell a lot of copies and a lot of teenagers and college kids would read it. If MTV released the book I think they could sell a lot of copies. Still, it has sold a lot of copies I think for poetry. I think it has sold something like 1200 copies or something, and it seems to be selling more now than when it came out.

I think the "establishment" type of poetry you talk about is also written by "members of our generation." I mean 24-year-olds are not all writing poetry that is like the poetry in my poetry book. So it is not a generational thing I think. I don't think anything at all is a generational thing. There is a percentage of humans that thinks a certain way, like 2% are really alienated, 18% appreciate humans that are really alienated, and 80% appreciate sports, or something, and those numbers stay constant maybe no matter what year you were born in. Generational things may change those numbers a little but not much. These numbers are not based on any facts.

I found myself thinking a lot about all the personification in your poems. Food thanks you for eating it, literary magazines beg you to buy them. How do these characters occur to you?

I think it first occurred to me either through my mom, dad, reading Joy Williams, or my friend who does that a lot, talks about inanimate things like they have feelings and thoughts. When I was five or something if I saw a stuffed animal with its face covered by another stuffed animal's ass or something I would move the stuffed animal so its face would not be covered. Then I would feel better. Thinking like this makes me feel better because it makes life less significant. If a stuffed animal endures like 5000 days of having its face crushed by a box or something then I can endure not getting text messaged back by someone I like. A stuffed animal sits there, it doesn't move, what if it's alive and conscious but just really enlightened, and so chooses to go against consciousness and therefore not have to "deal with" existential despair, the "burden" of having to choose in a universe that does not tell us what to choose? This is comforting to me and exciting.

I'm also really interested in your book's overall tone. The language seems very ironic, a kind of wry sense of humor. Do you find yourself ever wanting to commit to some flowery, purplish prose? How do you marry the tone to your subject matter?

My story-collection, BED, has "flowery, purplish prose," I think. It is still "ironic" and "wry" though. I don't know how I marry the tone to my subject matter. I usually want to write in a tone that is not angry, bitter, or desperate. I feel desperation and anger and bitterness but I feel them for like 5 minutes. Most of the time I feel something else. That is the tone I try to write in for most of my things. For me to get the tone like that it takes a lot of editing.

It is like when I went fishing with my family when I was small. One day a hammerhead shark jumped out of the water and ate half of a bluefish that someone caught. That only happened once. It isn't how it always is. To get like how it usually is when someone goes fishing I would need to go fishing with my family like one hundred days in a row.

You use a lot of references to the business of writing in your poetry: book awards, rejections, literary agents, et al. Some poets ban this type of subject from their writing, as if it doesn't exist. Why did you first start including it in your writing?

I think maybe 5% of the words in the book reference the business of writing. I didn't think any more about "why I should include it" than about why I should include the word "the" or "and" or something. So if I included it it was probably because it was something I wanted to read. Because I try to write what I want to read.

In college in a writing workshop one person said I was post-modern. I think they said that because I included "Washington Square Park" in one of my stories or something. I asked them what they meant by post-modern. I asked if they could name some authors and they couldn't and then they said Dave Eggers.

You write fiction, poetry, and a blog and you publish in all three forms. What's your process like? When do you sleep?

If I am not working the next day I go to sleep around 6 a.m. That is my natural time for feeling sleepy I think. On Christmas I tried to sleep the entire day because the library was closed and everything else was also closed. I dislike holidays. I slept from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. on Christmas. Then I planned that I would just not sleep that night and go to the library at 7 a.m. when it opened and then go to work at 10 p.m. I work in a restaurant.

My process for poetry is I usually have a file of poetry and I work on it if I feel like doing poetry. Then I save the file and email it to myself. For my next novel I have a file it's in and I usually have it open and work on it every day mostly. 95% of the time on the novel is spent working on parts I've already worked on many times before, I change some words or try moving the words in the sentences around or try moving the sentences around or deleting a word or a sentence. Then for the other 5% of the time I will write more, add to the novel, or I will look at the entire novel and think about if I want to delete large sections or move some things around.

For my blog I will be on Gmail chat and say something to someone. Then I will say, "I should blog that." Then the other person will say, "You should." Then I try it. If it's stupid I save it as a draft, if it is exciting I publish it.

You have a couple of epic length poems in your book. How does the writing and revision process differ between poems like "i am unemployed" and "i want to pour orange juice on my face"?

I dislike the longest poem, the one about poodles. I worked on that poem the most out of any of the other poems in the book. It doesn't fit the tone of the book I don't think.

For "i want to pour orange juice on my face" I wrote it and then deleted words that I could delete and still have it have the same meaning. For "i am unemployed" I think I did the same thing. The one I worked on a lot was the really long one that has poodles i it. For that one I had it in a file and I worked on it every day for like 20 days or something.

A lot of your poems seem to center around these "i want" fantasies? Do you keep track of all the weird and mundane things you want or do you have a larger process?

I just thought about what I wanted and typed it. There is always something I want. Sometimes I say I don't want anything but that's being ironic most of the time I think. Really I am saying "I wish I didn't want anything." So if I want to write a poem about what I want I just think about my brain and what it wants and I type that.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Poetry Book Club for January

I know, we haven't discussed Tao Lin's you are a little bit happier than i am. That's going down tomorrow. I'll also post (in a separate post) the interview I had with Tao Lin over Gmail last week. I think his responses are very interesting.

However, life moves on, and the book club book has to be selected. So, our book for January will be Matthea Harvey's Modern Life.

I will post a discussion post on January 31, so that we can chat about her book. Until then, stop by tomorrow to discuss Tao Lin's book.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

How Can I Hate It?

Last night, my husband and I saw the new movie Juno at the suburban mega-movie-opolos. It has been so long since I've seen a movie during an actual date night time, that I've forgotten what it's like to watch a movie with a crowd. Despite my imminent claustrophobia and introvertedness, I've got to say that the movie is awesome. The story of a young, slightly hip and slightly alienated girl and her pregnancy is hilarious, endearing, touching, cool, snarky, and very very Minnesotan. In fact, the entire packed-house crowd was laughing and snorting together. Creepy, yet fun.

Of course, I am slightly envious of the screenwriter, Diablo Cody. I don't know about the rest of the universe, but in Minneapolis, the local-girl-done-good story has been played out. She moved up from stripping at Minneapolis strip club to blogging, writing briefly for our local indie newspaper, then a memoir, then this movie and ultimate Hollywood darling status. She even has a new column in Entertainment Weekly. But that's okay -- she's talented. I'm not that jealous.

I will do my best not to spoil the movie for you, but there is a very sweet and weird love story in the movie, as well as an authenticly screwed up female lead, and a brilliant supporting cast. Allison Janey and J.K. Simmons are convincingly Minnesotan, with their deadpan support of their pregnant daughter and their oddly distant yet loving relationship with each other. If you need a date movie, and want to support a Minnesota import, go see the movie.

Friday, December 28, 2007

What I've Been Up To: A Pictoral Guide

Visiting my in-laws in Nebraska (2 days of driving, 2 days of visiting)...

Eating Holiday Goodies...

Finishing the Third Season of Lost and theorizing...


I'm hoping to find some writing time, in between all of this and work, too.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Poetry With a Partner

Jack, from Monkeyboy, and I wrote this poem via Gmail before the holidays for RWP. Definitely an interesting experience, and I think I'm quite fond of the result. Enjoy!

I once loved to disbud flowers, press beheaded blossoms between two cruel fingers.
Petals fell by the wayside as I shaped the plant to my taste.
I was left with only my hands full of stems, a flash of fragrance in my throat.
Rose water running down my face and feet taken root when I wasn’t looking,
and the insistent tug of roots seeking sustenance. Thorns dotted my thighs,
leaves uncurled gently among my hair, the sun beckoned me
out from the shade. I curled my arms, tender petals, towards warmth
and trusted my own buds to the light and the wind
I longed for shelter, even as I bent my tendrils towards the sky.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

January Poetry Book Club Poll

Now that it's almost January (yikes), I would like to suggest the following books for Poetry Book Club. I will announce the winner on December 29, after the poll is closed. The book will be due on January 31.

Patricia Smith -- Teahouse of the Almighty

Hart Crane -- White Buildings

Rae Armantrout -- Next Life

Mary Ruefle -- Indeed I Was Pleased With the World

Matthea Harvey -- Modern Life

Vote early and often!

Friday, December 21, 2007

In Spite of Frost

This week, I filled my first Academie journal with morning pages from my bus commute. I've been at this practice for about two and a half months now, and I'm not sure how I feel about it. I like the accomplishment of filling a journal, but I feel like it all says the same thing. Here are the people on the bus, this is what the landscape looks like, I want to complain about this. I've been mentally calling them Mourning Pages for the past couple of weeks.

While I'm trying to think of a better way to spend my 20 minutes on the bus, I made this new journal cover with my new paper and a postcard I bought at the art museum last month. The teeny tiny quote by the bottom of the picture is a quote from a John Keats poem:

She will bring, in spite of frost,
Beauties that the earth hath lost

Around the border is my own imagining of what she's thinking while posing for the picture.

I'm not sure if the cover is done, so I haven't laminated it yet. I'm going to spend the weekend with it, and see if I like it. This is one of the only creative things I've done this week. It feels good to create, even for only an hour or so last night.

The other creative act for the week is a collaborative poem for read. write. poem with Jack from Monkeyboy. it was an interesting experience writing something line by line via email with another person. It's a pretty cool poem and I know I wouldn't have written anything like it alone. I will post it after the holiday. Until then, I'll be spending time with my in-laws and generally making merry.

Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Latest...

My new article in Poetic Monthly is up (page 12). And in alternative publication credit news, a photograph of mine is being used as the cover of Not Enough Night, an e-zine published by Naropa University. While I am partial to the cover, the inner contents are lovely as well.

Pretty soon, I will publish something that is not publication credits or random questions. I've been buried under a slew of articles and of course the third season of Lost on DVD. Don't tell me what happens! :)

Monday, December 17, 2007

Poetry Book Club Interview Opportunity

Over the weekend, I emailed Tao Lin, author of this month's Poetry Book Club Selection you are a little happier than i am. He has generously agreed to engage in an email interview! This is an excellent opportunity to hear directly about his process, inspirations, experience writing the book, or pretty much anything we want to know.

I will be developing some questions to send to him later this week, but I wanted to check with the rest of you guys. If you have any questions for Tao Lin, please leave a comment at this post or email me at 9to5poet at gmail dot com. There is also still time to get in on the PBC action, since his book isn't due until December 31!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

What We Did Yesterday

Drove to Northeastern Iowa in a van.
Walked in a neighborhood in Iowa for 3 hours.
Froze in different parts of our bodies: face, fingers, toes, ears, repeat.
Smiled at strangers.
Knocked on a alot of doors.
Talked to less people than doors knocked. (Most people weren't home.)
Drove home in a van.

Yesterday, we canvassed in Iowa for our favorite presidential candidate. It was a great experience. We were greeted at the campaign office door by Mayor R.T. Rybak, the best (and current) Minneapolis mayor. We met some really cool people and spent about 3 hours in the slightly warmer Iowa climate talking to people about attending their caucus on January 3. This was our first experience volunteering in an election campaign, and now I'm ready to do more. Phone banking and caucus training, here I come!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Reading Goals for 2008

If you haven't noticed by now, I like to have goals. In fact, I would say that I'm driven by them. Big goals, little goals -- it doesn't matter. They're comforting and they make me feel like I've accomplished something. For the new year, which suddenly feels right around the corner, I would like to develop reading goals. I've already joined my husband's Reading Challenge, but I think I'd just like a list of books I can try to whittle down while I go through the year. I'm a pretty fast reader, and I tend to down 2-3 novels a month, and I'm always craving more.

My problem is that I don't know where to start. With my new job, I have access to a huge academic library, plus a series of interconnected libraries throughout the Twin Cities. This is in addition to my handy card at the local library and my addiction to Amazon. Between these three temptations, I feel almost dwarfed by the possibilities. On Monday, I spent half my lunch hour strolling through the library trying to settle on a book. I picked Margaret Atwood's The Penelopiad, which is good, although a little didactic. Now I'm done with it and I want another one. Such is my life.

I'm hoping to develop a list of 25 books to reference, so that I can spend my lunch break reading rather than waffling between books. So, I'm open to suggestion. Poetry, fiction, non-fiction -- I'm pretty omnivorous. If you have any suggestions for my reading list, please let me know! Last time you all did a wonderful job! Thanks for the help!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


Another of my articles from the Uptown Neighborhood News got republished at TC Daily Planet. You can read it here!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Bending and Breaking Lines

This week’s prompt from Read Write Poem is an excellent one. They are prompting us to examine our line breaks and perhaps revise a poem, with attention to the line breaks. They encourage us to either use an imposed form (if that’s not our bag) or alternatively, use free verse if that’s more our style. I love thinking about line breaks and their effect on the sound of the poem, as well as the meaning of the line and the overall poem. Nerdiness ensued this week.

I decided to use this prompt as an opportunity to revise a poem that I felt wasn’t working. So I went through my major overhaul folder and dug up Bedtime Stories, which I wrote as a prose poem for Poetry Thursday. I decided to impose a line length (ten syllables) and a stanza length, so that I could focus my attention on the language and the image. I also tried to integrate my writing group’s critique. I feel it was a good exercise and it felt intuitive, in its own way.

Bedtime Stories

Once upon a time, there was a young girl
who scrubbed stubborn gray ash from her stone bed
and spun silence into silk and cloaked her

heart inside. She only escaped at night.
She frequented all the right places, pearl
white palaces and crowded balls, parties

where no one noticed her homemade dress, where
nobody knew her real name. Once upon
a time, there was a young boy, trapped in hell,

if hell was a party where people snacked
on fish eggs while whispering idle lies.
He saw the girl from across the room, watched

her anonymous smiles. He was deep in
love. We know what happened next. He followed
her home. After dark. Watched her change back to

gray rags, wax the kitchen floor. He was hooked.
Once upon a time, he made a promise,
gave her a pair of glass shoes, delicate

and transparent as dreams. He said, “Baby,
wear these and walk all the way home with me.”
While he wasn’t watching, she put them on.

Here’s what we don’t know. The shoes were so tight
they sliced the skin clean off her heels, layers
of white flesh peeled away. It hurt like hell.

She was afraid of the blood, but she wore
them anyway, hobbled home. She wore them
every day. Every day she watched her skin

whittle down, like an unfolding onion.
She waited for them to fit perfectly,
her second skin. She waited a long time.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

A Not-Too-Precious Novel About Poetry

When I was bookless at the beginning of this week, a dire circumstance in my life, my husband strongly urged me to read Carol Muske Dukes' latest book, Channeling Mark Twain. He had read it for school and we had gone to see her read at his school, and I just didn't feel like reading it. I liked her reading/interview, but I was resistant, probably because it was a semi-autobiographical novel about her youth as a poet. I was afraid it was going to be self-indulgent and pretentious, and as a younger poet, I was concerned that it would hit too close to home.

I was incredibly mistaken. I mean, there are points when I did want to smack the narrator for her naivete, but it was authentic and accurate. And you don't really read the book for the narrator, but for her experiences. Muske Dukes centers the story around her experience teaching poetry and Rikers Island penitentiary, during the seventies. She eventually created a successful writing in prison workshop called Writing Without Walls, which extended for several years.

The novel follows several inmates as they learn to express their experiences through poetry. In fact, each chapter is divided by poems from the inmates (although actually written by Muske Dukes herself). Through this conceit, the author creates an argument for writing poetry in order to chronicle and decipher one's life. The argument is political, as the inmates are in some ways products of their poverty, gender, and race. But it is also personal, as these are women trying to define themselves on their own terms. The narrator herself is able to interpret her life as she slowly composes a poem throughout the course of the book. The book also provides an interesting insight into the art and practice of writing poetry, in all of struggles and moments of clarity.

The book is a fluid and easy read and I would strongly urge anyone interested in the life of poetry to give it a try. I burned through it in less than a week, and now sadly, I'm bookless again.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

What Minnesotans Write About In December

White is Not the Absence of Color

This is not the season's
first snow - it is the second. Shoveling
narrow paths on city sidewalks; this is not
how we want to spend our early evenings,
but we do it anyways. This is not a perfect
snowfall, yesterday's polluted snow
salt-and-peppers today's fresh batch,
mingling to dingy gray. This is not
purity, not beauty, not truth
in somewhat silence, in scraping
of metal against black ice, frozen ground.
This is not our destiny, our winter weight
straining against this heavy burden.
This is not enough exercise
for our brittle bodies, not an excuse
to spend time outside in a turquoise
twilight. This is not our favorite chore,
not breaking angry icicles clinging to gutters
like grudges. This snow packed path
I made for us to day is not
an escape route, not an uphill battle,
twenty feet long and two feet wide,
eight inches of snow on each side. It is only
a ribbon-white shoveled path
unspooling ahead, pulling
us towards both ground and sky.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

A Crafty Challenge

My husband has decided to start a reading challenge on his blog, The Soulless Machine Review. I think it's pretty brilliant and I am going to join.

It's called The Art of Series Challenge. He is challenging people to join him in reading books from "The Art of" Series, published by Graywolf Press. (You may recall that I fell in love with Donald Revell's Art of Attention a while back.) The series explores issues of craft in poetry and prose, and each book is written by a famous writer, like Revell.

Although most reading challenges take a year, this challenge may take longer, because some books are unpublished as of now. As each book is "due," a discussion post will go up, so that members can compare notes.

Here is the current reading schedule, as posted on my husband's blog:

Out Now:
The Art of Attention: A Poet's Eye by Donald Revell (Read by Feb. 28, 2008)
The Art of Subtext: Beyond Plot by Charles Baxter (Read by April. 30, 2008)

Out Dec 26, 2007:
The Art of the Poetic Line by James Longenbach (Read by June. 30, 2008)
The Art of Time in Memoir: Then, Again by Sven Birkerts (Read by Aug. 30, 2008)

Planed but not Published Yet:
The Art of Narrative by Howard Norman
The Art of Time in Fiction by Joan Silber
The Art of Description by Mark Doty
The Art of Endings by Amy Bloom

If any of these books are as good as Revell's, members are in for a treat.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Weekly Word Count, November 26-December 2

Pretty productive week, even with the wrap up of NaBloPoMo.

850 words. 1 poem, 1 haiku and 1 revision.

30452 for the week.

Edit on Tuesday, December 4: That should read 30452 for the year. I'm not that cool.

Starting this week, I will be tallying my word counts in my sidebar, so that I don't have mistakes like that anymore.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

How Many Have You Read?

The New York Times released its list of the 100 Notable Books of the Year. From this list, I've read one book. Maybe I'm a little behind.

Out of the 100 books listed, 4 were poetry. Since I've only read the mega-best seller on the list, I can't truly complain. But it would be nice to see more than 4% poetry.

Here are the poetry books that they highlighted, with links to their New York Times reviews.

THE COLLECTED POEMS, 1956-1998. By Zbigniew Herbert. Translated by Alissa Valles.
NEXT LIFE. By Rae Armantrout.
SELECTED POEMS. By Derek Walcott. Edited by Edward Baugh.
TIME AND MATERIALS: Poems, 1997-2005. By Robert Hass.

Looks like I need to do some book shopping, as if I needed an excuse.