Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Last of the PT Posts

It's more than a little bittersweet posting my last Poetry Thursday post ever. I think that Dana, Liz, and the entire PT community should be commended for the coolness that they created. I will definitely miss it... until the next project surfaces.

Here is my poem -- this is what immediately occurred to me when I read the trigger of "open a window." I don't know what it means, and it's awfully rough, but here it is.

After the Well

I remember bottles of potions, arrays
of sweets, all displayed within my reach.
Their tags, "Eat Me, Drink Me"
sang in soft tones. I remember
being so small, I could squeeze
through doll-sized doors and tiny keyholes.
This was okay, this insignificant size
until everything

loomed large around me. I was a small
seed, ready to sprout. Hours later,
wiping frosting off my lips, I was
expanding ever so quickly. I remember
my arms ached with growing pains, muscles
taut from so much stretching. I was
an unraveling vine, a creeping myrtle,
bursting with shoots, tendrils and leaves.

Before my snack, I fell asleep in fetal position
on the ground, dwarfed by furniture legs
and pebbles. As soon as I ate, I shot
forward, fast and against my will, crowding
the too small house. Chairs and tables
pressed into my flesh, swallowed by
soft folds of my skin.I thought

I would burst at tiny seams; I thought
I should open a window
or door, make room for myself. Just then,
my elbows shattered four panes of glass,
breaking the confines of my too small house.
I remember thinking, Oh bother,
now I'll never get home. This was the least
of my many young worries.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

for ee cummings fans like me

I am a pretty big e.e. cummings fan. I teach his poem Buffalo Bill's in my lit class, much to my students' dismay and chagrin. In college, I taught a poem of his to seventh graders, who actually liked it! Once, I even went to a party in a costume inspired by his poem, "i like my body when it is with your.". But, I never knew he wrote prose. However, I just learned that WW Norton is reissuing his travelogue of his experience in Russia, entitled EIMI. This sounds like an interesting read, although I am a little scared as to what his prose reads like. I pray for punctuation.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Mail Call

Yesterday, I received a package from my mother in the mail, that I am really excited to have.

For the past 3 years or so, my mother has been living in Sacramento, in her mother's old house. (My grandmother passed away when I was a senior in college.) She has been slowly cleaning the garage out and finding homes for all of my grandmother's belongings. This has been a hard process for her, because she wants to be pragmatic -- there's stuff that she wants to save and stuff she wants to trash. But also, as she cleans, she is literally combing through memories of her mother's life. It is an arduous process for her.

Earlier this month, she found two of my grandmother's old poetry books. I don't remember this, but my grandmother loved poetry. According to my mother, she was able to quote Browning and Shakespeare at the drop of a hat. Well, my mother found two first edition Edna St. Vincent Millay books. The first is Fatal Interview, published in 1931 and the second is Make Bright the Arrows, published in 1940.

I'm glad that my mom sent me these books now, when I can appreciate both Millay's delicate and subversive style (I hated her in college, loved her in grad school), and the provenance of these books. In the note my mother wrote to me with the package, she said that because of my grandmother's love of poetry, I came to my vocation honestly. I'm pretty proud of this small legacy.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Poetry Book Club Selecton...Drumroll, please!

Frank Bidart's Star Dust is the September Poetry Book Club Selection. Bidart's book won by a landslide, 4-1, but don't feel bad for the rest of the books. Any book that received a vote will be included in next month's poll, and I will include 2 new books into the mix.

I will host a discussion post for Star Dust on September 24, so we have a little less than a month to find it and read it. Enjoy!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

One Less Scrappy Woman In the World

Unfortunately, Grace Paley, noted feminist author and poet, died on Wednesday after fighting breast cancer. (Why do all the good feminist writers get breast cancer?) The New York Times published a fantastic article on her life and times in today's paper. She will be sorely missed in the writing world, not only for her work but for her teaching and activism.

While Paley is more well-known for her short stories, she began her career as a poet. After searching around for a little while, I found a poem of hers I remember reading in college, The Poet's Occasional Alternative. I don't know whether to bake a pie or write a poem in her honor.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Books That Are Left Behind

I have been haunting the bookstores lately, as I am in between books and searching hungrily for the next one. It's a panicky feeling, having no book to read. I keep scanning my bookshelves, looking for something to catch my eye. I struck out at home, so I ventured to the two big bookstores, looking for something new.

It had been awhile since I had ventured into the big box bookstores. I've been hanging at my local independent bookstores, and striking out, so I've been to two larger bookstores in my area, to try them on for size. Rather than notice what they had, I was busy noticing what they didn't have.

My first beef: the lack of poetry sections.

When my husband worked at a big box chain, they had a kick-ass poetry section. It could have been due to the neighborhood, or due to the diligence of their workers. But it rocked -- it had old stuff, new stuff, local stuff.

At one of the big-boxers-who-shall-remain-nameless, I wandered for 20 minutes to find the poetry section. When I finally asked an employee, she guided me to a section adjacent to the sex books. It was only 1 eight foot tall book shelf high. That wasn't even the worst part.

The worst part was the books that it contained -- past their prime anthologies in the "Chicken Soup for the Writer's Soul" style, aging rock/pop stars' books, and the "classics." Oh, and the "how to write poetry" books. This selection (or lack thereof) brought to mind two issues: first, why would anyone want to write poetry with these books as their only examples? Secondly, isn't the best tool for learning to write poetry reading current poetry? Grrr...

My second beef: remaindered books

While I am all for cheap books (who isn't?), the variety and depth of both chains' remainder section was astounding. It felt like the reject wall at a junior high dance. A Mary Cheney memoir sat next to a Hilary Clinton bio, special edition selections of Dostoevsky slumbered with their Jane Austen cousins, bargain priced art books gathered dust in the corner. I felt bad for the books, with their embarrassingly low prices and their precariously over stacked piles. But at the same time, I didn't want to buy them. I was lured by their prices, but then turned off by their content.

These two beefs lead me to a question: what does the publishing industry value? It seems, with these two highly unscientific case studies, that there is a value of quantity over quality, conformity over diversity. Of course, publishing is a business, and a not very lucrative one at that, but this side of the business is unseemly. Rather than print zillions of "hot for the moment" memoirs that will eventually be remaindered and forgotten, why not publish quality work that people will pay to read?

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Poetry Book Club Poll Is Up... Sort of

Okay, so the poll widget is cool, but not as cool as I thought it would be.

It doesn't allow HTML tags in the poll, so I cannot have cool links to Amazon for descriptions of the books on the docket. So, here are the nominees with links to Amazon:

Fever Almanac by Kristy Bowen
For the Confederate Dead by Kevin Young
Migration by W.S. Merwin
Stardust by Frank Bidart
Frail Craft by Jessica Fisher

Out of the grouping, I've only really read Kevin Young deeply, and I really like him. However, I'm open to any of the above books.

Please vote for your choice... the poll closes Sunday!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

50 Years of Wandering

In the New York Times Book Review, it is Jack Kerouac week, thanks to the 50th Anniversary of the publication of On the Road.

The first article is a review of the published version of the "original scroll" that Kerouac typed back in 1951. It's interesting because the version we're used to is a fictional work, while Kerouac wrote it is as a memoir. The reviewer compares the two works as separate works and finds the scrolls, in some ways, are better.

The second article is another review, this time of John Leland's book The Lessons of On the Road (They're Not What You Think.) This sounds like an interesting book, since it seems that in the past 50 years reading On the Road is like a rite of passage of American adolescents with brains.

The final article is a rumination of On the Road's place in our culture, as a touchstone. This is where our co mingling of Kerouac as writer and Kerouac as character and icon becomes apparent, in the ways we elevate and idealize the character, while forgetting about the writer. Surely, Kerouac himself encouraged this "branding" (in modern marketing parlance), but it also caused him much difficulty (and infamy) in his later life.

I am one of those brainy adolescents who discovered On the Road when I was 19, and decided that for me, too,

"The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes 'Awww!'"

It wasn't until I got older that I realized for myself how scary, seductive, dangerous, and important it was to surround yourself with mad ones. But sometimes, it's like you need to shrink away from their light.

Thursday, August 16, 2007


I am very sad to report that Poetry Thursday, my favorite poetry site on the web, announced today that they will be closing up shop at the end of the month.

The ladies at Poetry Thursday, Dana and Liz, created a wonderfully giving and inspiring community that I was lucky to be a part of for a little while. I really appreciated being able to get feedback and support on my writing, as well as an automatic deadline -- every Thursday. I also am lucky to have found the blogs of other like minded writers who create and work and live their real lives. It definitely made me feel less alone in my commitment to my poetry.

Luckily, they mentioned that there is a new poetry related project in the works, so hopefully the community will continue in a new evolution. Until then, I'll have to actually give myself deadlines and stick to them. Sigh!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

If I Had Time for a Poem...

... it would center on this word that I learned today. I know I'm a poet, despite my lack of time for poetry this month, because I can fall in love with words. Richard Hugo's book, The Triggering Town, taught me that.

My new word of the day is ataraxia, which means a peace of mind. From the Greek, as an opposite of "disturbed."

The word sounds so exotic and complex, at first. Yet when I repeat it, roll it around in my mouth, it's distilled and simple. I don't know what my version of ataraxia looks like (or feels like), but I know that it sounds close to this word.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Wisconsin -- A Pictorial Guide

This weekend, my husband I went back to Wisconsin, near where I went to college, for a dear friend's wedding. While there, I was able to capture the odd beauty of Wisconsin.

Here is a small pictorial tour of our trip:

For the lonely Wisconsinites at the first rest stop...

The view of an empty field from beneath a pink elephant statue, at another rest stop.

Not all of the houses look like this one.

By far my favorite picture. This was abandoned in an alley in Madison. I'm not sure what it is, but I love the texture in the image.

This is only a short review of the wonders of Wisconsin, in all of its kitschy, earthy glory. This little trip helped me to remember why I love the Midwest.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Time Capsules

Someone at work today brought up the idea of time capsules, and I've been thinking about them all day. There was a building at his college that had a time capsule from 1964 embedded in the foundation, and they are tearing that building down. He really wants pictures of what's inside.

Remember those time capsules you created in grade school, where you wrote a letter to an older version of yourself or everyone in class was allowed to donate one object to the class capsule? My brother and I once tried to make a time capsule to bury in our backyard, but I don't think we actually got past the planning stages.

I think I'm interested in time capsules today, because it requires taking ordinary objects and turning them into artifacts. These seemingly insignificant things can become significant, when we choose to recognize them. What are the daily objects from our lives that can be elevated to an artifact, simply by saving them? What are the objects that represent what we really are, here and now?

It's details like these that I think make poetry and it's the act of noticing these details that I think makes poets.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Do You Remember...

the first book that made you a reader?

According to this Publisher's Weekly article, a new ad campaign encourages conversations about literature by asking well-known figures about the books that inspired them to read. If you are interested in what books people as diverse as David Duchovny and Joyce Carol Oates loved reading as a kid, click here. You can also view the national top 50 favorite list.

So, if you had to pick the one book that turned you into a reader, what would it be? I think for me it would have to be this one, this one, or this one.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Hipsters & Handicrafts

This weekend marked the 44th annual Uptown Art Fair in my neck of the woods. The fair is a major event in our area because it brings a lot of art, people and drama to our cloistered little 'hood.

I've always had a love-hate relationship with the Art Fair, which is often ruled by whether or not I work in Uptown during the event. See, the fair brings hundreds of tourists who converge on a 4 square block neighborhood, take up all the parking, walk through the local shops without buying anything and generally leave their trash everywhere. When I've worked my various summer and grad school jobs in the neighborhood (at the bagel shop, movie theater, and furniture store, respectively), I've dreaded the arrival of the Art Fair. It always meant lots of snarky pushy customers without much reward. I was never able to tour the art fair, simply because I would be so fed up with the fair crowd after my shifts. One summer, I saw a little sticker on a phone booth that said, "It's not Uptown. It's Not Art. And It's Not Fair," and I felt vindicated.

Now, as a non-retail working resident of Uptown, I grudgingly admit that the sticker is mostly wrong. It is Uptown, a lot of it is beautiful art, and well, it's still not fair, but we can be big kids for a weekend. My husband and I toured the stalls this weekend and coveted some really unique and interesting art. Since our finances are tight right now (really, when are they not?), we couldn't manage the $100-3500 price tags for the pieces we really wanted. So instead, I'm going to offer links to the people I really like, in the hopes that someone out there can afford pretty art.

So here are my favorites, in no particular order:

Chicago native Gabe Lanza creates some really creepy(in a good way) acrylic paintings that are inspired by comic books and packaging from the '60's. He also had a blog, which I'm looking forward to exploring.

Mary Beth Shaw from Missouri does some really interesting collages using old black and white pictures. She also has a blog, which showcases her art and processes.

Ann Wood and Dean Lucker, St. Paul natives, do some beautiful and surreal mechanical pictures that you need to see to believe. Their site has video clips, so you can see the art in motion.

I remembered Wisconsite Marvin Hill's work from last year -- he does beautiful water-colored block prints that seem to center around his own understanding of mythology and dreams. I dig the themes and I also dig his technique.

Wendy Detrick Worhsam does these amazingly vibrant paintings of animals. I normally don't dig on animal art, too cutesy, but her pieces put the animals in semi-surreal settings and are just beautiful. I especially like her birds.

Kina Crow does some wonderfully weird sculpture that centers around these strange little bald figures. There was one at the fair that had three in a row inset into a picture frame, and below it was written "I wonder what they are looking at." She seems to have a very odd sense of humor, which I like.

Keith Grace's work didn't appeal to me at first. He uses a lot of bold colors and large designs that seemed good, but not all that intriguing, until I looked up close and realized that he had collaged typeset words into all of the images. Totally interesting and cool!

My husband really liked Chuck Wimmer's work, which focuses on really cartoonish paintings of animals. I had to peel Aaron away from the print with the monkeys. Maybe next year.

So if you're swimming in money, support these artists who come from far and wide to cause traffic jams in my neighborhood. All in all, it's worth the hassle for a weekend of art.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

An Exciting Day for Depressing Surrealists Everywhere...

Charles Simic has been named Poet Laureate of the U.S., according to this NY Times article. I love this choice because Simic is such a departure from the more recent group of Laureates, like Hall, Kooser, and Collins. These are all fine poets, but they don't scare me with their imagery, as Simic often does. It's nice to see the Librarian of Congress make a choice that represents the diversity in today's poetry.