Wednesday, January 30, 2008

It's So Cold...

...only my eyes were showing, through the folds of wool scarf.

...while I was waiting for the bus tonight, my eyes teared up.

...I wiped away the tears, afraid of them turning into tiny icicles, or sealing my eyes shut.

...I thought about spitting on the ground to see if it would freeze, but I didn't want to waste the heat. whole body tensed into a hard, shivering rock. muscles ached from bracing myself.

...I'm still not warm.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Help Pick the February/March Poetry Book Club Book

While discussion on January's Poetry Book Club, Matthea Harvey's Modern Life, will commence on January 31, it's time to pick February/March Poetry Book Club book. So, the poll's up, and here are links to our five options:

Rae Armantrout – Next Life
Mary Ruefle – Indeed I Was Pleased With the World
Anna Moschovakis – I Have Not Been Able to Get Through to Everyone
Graham W. Foust – Necessary Stranger
Leilani Hall – Swimming the Witch

I must be in an odd mood, because many of these books are a little "different," to use a Minnesota euphemism. But, I think they'll all create an interesting discussion. Please vote by February 5, so that we can get ready to discuss the book by March 1. Happy voting!

Reading List 2008: Terror & Robots

Okay, so I finished January's Poetry Book Club book several days ago, but I just realized I have to put it up. My short review: Matthea Harvey Rocks.

You can read a much less abbreviated response to Matthea Harvey's Modern Life (80 pages) in two ways. On January 31, we'll have our Poetry Book Club discussion. And, on the first Tuesday of January, I'll post a more formal review of the book on Read. Write. Poem.

Total For 2008: 1159 pages
Genres: Memoir (1), Essay (1), Graphic Novel (1), Non-Fiction (1), Poetry (1)

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Reading List 2008: Making Time to Read

Have you ever experienced a “doomdart”? A doomdart is when a responsibility or obligation you’ve forgotten suddenly and unexpectedly pops into your brain. Immediately after you remember this important but neglected task and you feel a wave of stress and nausea wash over you. If you’re like most people, overloaded and stressed out, you’ve experienced a doomdart, without having a name for it. Dr. Edward Hallowell’s award winning book CrazyBusy: Overstretched, Overbooked, and About to Snap! (256 pages) not only names common problems like doomdarts, but offers tangible solutions to living overloaded lives.

Dr. Hallowell explains that as culture, we have undergone a dramatic shift in our intellectual energy, with the integration of communication technology (like internet, cell phones, and PDAs) and the expansion of the traditional 40-hour work week. As an expert on Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), he demonstrates that most of us adopt ADD-like traits in order to function at a breakneck speed. However, most people don’t function at full capacity because their attention is simply stretched too thin.

Dr. Hallowell provides solutions for not only surviving but thriving in a world where we have so many responsibilities and gadgets competing for our attention. Most importantly, he encourages us to be selective in how we choose to spend our time. Are we matching our output with our intention? If we are spending too much time on activities we don’t enjoy, or that don’t give us rewarding experiences in return, we should minimize these activities as much as possible.

I would strongly recommend this book to anyone who feels stretched too thin, which would be all of us. It's an excellent description of our modern lives and offers interesting solutions to our dilemma.

Total For 2008: 1079 pages
Genres: Memoir (1), Essay (1), Graphic Novel (1)

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Reading List 2008: WWMcD?

My husband encouraged me to read the graphic novel Shooting War by Anthony Lappe & Dan Goldman (192 pages). So I read a little every night before going to bed. This was not a bright idea, because I got horribly vivid dreams about the Iraq War.

Let me back up -- Shooting War works on the premise that it is now 2011. The Iraq War hasn't stopped, John McCain is president, and one videoblogger is sent to cover the war for a CNN/Fox-News-type network, after a brief brush with a sort of morbid fame. Said videoblogger gets mired in the complexities and lies of the war, all while trying to rediscover his journalistic integrity.

What's scary about this is that it doesn't feel science-fiction-y in the least. The predictions are scarily authentic and the politics, while extremely left-leaning, show awareness of the multitudes of gray areas in this war.

I would highly recommend this book, if you like political writing or graphic novels.

Total For 2008: 823 pages
Genres: Memoir (1), Essay (1), Graphic Novel (1)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

When Poetry Critics Attack!

According to this New York Times article, the recent transcription of Robert Frost's Notebooks is being contested by two critics.

Apparently, the editor of the notebooks couldn't read Frost's handwriting correctly, and one critic found over 100 errors in his work. The editor assumed that Frost was misspelling some words intentionally and let the misspellings stand. The critics dispute the readings and insist that Frost was correctly spelling different words.

So, was Frost a bad speller or is the editor a bad decipher-er? Discuss amongst yourselves.

Coming soon... The Attack of the Illegible Handwriting!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Poet is a Verb: Prioritize

Lately, I haven't been writing as much poetry as I would like. I understand that this is a temporary situation. Since I've been paying closer attention to my writing habits, I've noticed that my writing output seems to ebb and flow. There are times when I'm "on" and I write up a storm, 2-3 poems a week. And then there are times when I stumble along, writing little to nothing. I can't predict when these happen, other than to say that one tends to follow the other.

I've learned that I just need to relax into the writing slump, and trust that the writing will return. So, instead of writing, I've been doing other things, including reading, writing articles, and volunteering my time. (Besides working my job, naturally.) One of the many books I'm reading now is CrazyBusy by Ned Hallowell. Dr. Hallowell is a leading researcher on Attention Deficit Disorder and this book follows the trend of multitasking and spreading yourself too thin as the new social norm. It's very enjoyable and easy to read and I find myself in some of his descriptions. Okay, lots of his descriptions.

Here's one that particularly hit home for me:

"If being busier than I'd like to be is the price I have to pay, most of us seem to say, then so be it. After all, modern life is worth it. Life's never been this exciting.

But if we're not careful, we'll get so busy that we forget to take the time to think and feel. We won't have the extended periods of time required to complete a thought, develop a conversation, or reflect upon a complex set of emotions."

This passage reminded me of W.S. Merwin's quote about poetry that I posted last week. Perhaps, rather than filling my time with other activities when I'm not writing, I should be slowing down. Perhaps my slightly addictive multitasking is drawing energy away from writing.

Hallowell suggests prioritizing as a way to slow down. His argument is that you can only give your energy and attention to so many spheres of your life. After a certain threshold (and everyone's threshold is different), you become less effective. He says that you should know where your energy is going, rather than rushing around and spending it without thinking.

When I think about my priorities, I know that my energy tends to go to my lower, yet more insistent, priorities while my true priorities get ignored. I'm getting much better at this, but it is challenging to realign my actions with my intentions. If I had to prioritize my life right now, I would say that my top priorities are:

1) Marriage
2) Writing Pursuits (includes poetry, blogging, articles,in that order)
3) Work
4) Friendships
5) Volunteering
6) Other Creative Pursuits (includes reading, photography, and art making, in that order)

I am happy to say that my work is no longer #1 and I don't behave like it is. (Whew! Hooray for less stressful jobs.) Listing my priorities in this way, I'm not exactly sure what takes up my time. I watch a little too much TV, I spend a lot of time online, not blogging, but Facebook-ing and such. But I'm honestly not sure where it all goes. (Bad sign.) Notice TV isn't even on there!

This week, I'd like to spend my time closer to how my priorities are listed. While I believe I do a better job than I did a year ago, I certainly think I can do better. I am going to commit myself to a week of slowing down, and realigning my energies. I'm declaring this week, for me, Slow Down Week. I will try to spend my time working on my top priorities, rather than on the "other stuff" that seems to be rushing in.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

When Your Calendar Sends You Road Signs

From my Poetry Speaks Page-a-Day Calendar, for January 15:

"Any work of art makes one very simple demand on anyone who genuinely wants to get in touch with it. And that is to stop. You've got to stop what you're doing, what you're thinking, and what you're expecting and just be there for the poem no matter how long it takes."

-- W.S. Merwin

My first thought when I saw this, while checking emails and voicemail messages simultaneously: maybe I'm not stopping enough. After all, this was yesterday's quote.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Ripping Someone Off

This poem's form was inspired by Matthea Harvey's The Future of Terror series, which I wrote about yesterday. But more importantly, it was inspired by the trigger over at read. write. poem. You should run over there to check out other wonderful poems, written about "Traveling Companions."

On the Bus

Babbling babies drool in mommas' laps
buried beneath
layers of blue fleece blankets.
Sour, end of day bad breath

crowds the aisles, shared
carbon dioxide clinging
to our closed mouths. Cacophony
of overloud cell phone conversations,

diluted digital music streams
murmuring from dislodged iPod
ear buds. Dank lighting
drained of all color, but yellow. Don't

evade eye contact, don't
erupt into edgy rage. Never cross
the equator of your seat
even on days your coat's too long,

or your bag's too full. Forget
the time time table, finish line
of your final destination.
The faint whisper of Fuck, fuck, fuck,

from the gelatinous grandma up front,
her grating whine. Gracefully
embrace the gorge of the aisle
as the godforsaken bus shudders

to a halt. Here is your escape:
hop over the gray snow bank,
hear the hum of diesel engines,
hurtling down the street.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Close Reading of Sadomasochistic Poets

I just started reading Break, Blow, Burn by Camille Paglia, and I am already in love with it. Paglia is just one of those personalities that you love and hate, like the smart and pretty best friend who gets all the attention, and you want to just despise her, but you can't. Because she's pretty and brilliant. Whenever I read Paglia's prose, I'm prone to fits of envy and laughing.

Here are two examples.

From the introduction: "During the past quarter century, humanistic principles and honest practical criticism could reliably more be found among low-paid adjuncts faithfully teaching service courses at community colleges than among the vain, showy professoriat of the elite schools."

As a former adjunct wage slave and someone who probably will never rise to the level of professoriat... Amen!

And from her explication of "Daddy," which I flipped to first, naturally: "If Plath has no literary successors, she certainly has her peers -- but they are in popular music. I nominate Sylvia Plath as the first female rocker. ... The nihilistic wipeout of the last line of "Daddy" is also in the fractious rock spirit: it parallels the smashing or burning of guitars by the Yardbirds, the Who, Jimi Hendrix, the peak of expressiveness being a destruction of the instrument -- in the case of the poet herself."

I mean, can't you imagine it? Plath on a stage, burning her guitar? I'm sure I'll be quoting liberally from this book in the next few weeks. So, if I start mentioning Freudian phallic imagery and sadomasochism, you know now why.

Post Script: I typed in Google Images "Rockstar Poet" to find a picture to go along with this, and found this website. I also found this site, when typing in Camille Paglia.

I give up. No pictures for this post.

Poems, from A to Z

I'm reading Matthea Harvey's Modern Life, in preparation for our Poetry Book Club discussion at the end of the month. So far, I am enjoying her slightly surreal take on the world.

One of the aspects of her book that intrigues me is her use of abecedarian (alphabetical) poems. Her series of poems, "The Future of Terror," use alphabetical lists of words embedded in the text to flesh out the descriptions. Most of the poems go from the letter "g" to the letter "s" or "t". It's a brilliant technique, because she stretches towards a unique vocabulary. In the poem I linked here, we get everything from garden gnomes to napoleons.

When I think of alphabet poems, I always think of the more formal style. Christina Rossetti's "An Alphabet", is emblematic of that style. Intended for children, it contains still hidden philosophical gems like, "I am I—who will say I am not I?" The beauty of the abecedarian poem is the way it forces the poet to fill in words, and surprise ourselves in the process.

Similar to my surprise and joy at Natasha Trethewey's mirror image poem, Myth, this new take on the alphabetical poem may inspire to write some actual poetry yet.

I hope you're enjoying Modern Life as much as I am!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The First Two Bite the Dust

Over the next year, I'm going to be keeping track of the books I'm reading and the resulting "pages" I've read. In the past two days, I've downed my first two books of 2008. They were:

Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama (453 pages)

The Dog Says How by Kevin Kling (178 pages)

Both were excellent. Obama is a surprisingly good writer and his story is touching and endearing. But I'm biased. I really was interested to see the formation of his political consciousness, from his childhood through young adulthood.

I'll post my review for Kling's book, after I've published it in the Uptown Neighborhood News. The short review, though, is that it is a very funny and easy read and a good insight into the Minnesota subconscious.

Total for 2008: 631 pages
Genres: Memoir (1), Essays (1)

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Thinking About New Hampshire in a Different Way

Why do I love the New York Times? Because, today, they published an excellent editorial from Donald Hall about voting. Sort of. It was really about the weather in New Hampshire and the snowfalls of his childhood. Sort of. It was really really about the noise that has been invading his state for a year and a half, the noise that is unnatural and will be leaving in 24 hours. It's about how he's craving the silence in his state. Sort of. It's about all of these things.

What I love most about this editorial is not the sentiment. It's kind of typical --a childhood recollection, a smattering of quiet political observations, a longing for the political process to be about community, and a communion with nature. Some of these are already Hall's tropes. But it's the fact that in 2008, we can be on the eve of an important primary, and the Times gives space to see what Donald Hall can say to us that makes us think about it in a different way. That's the power of poetry. So, go read him pontificate.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Do Politics and Poetry Mix?

Here are some pictures of a collage I made while listening to the Republican and Democratic presidential debates on Saturday night. (The bottom right picture is of my cat, Said, who is named after Edward Said, not the Lost character.) Yes, that's exactly what I did on Saturday night. I listened to 10 politicians discuss their policy differences and played with magazine cut-outs, paper and paints. I think that's why the paper is red and blue.

I'm torn (no pun intended) on what to do with all of the interesting things I'm learning about the presidential race. I've decided to volunteer more heavily with the Obama campaign, something that I started to do back in December. It's exciting and fun and interesting, and I'm really enjoying being involved in the political process, for once in my adult life. For instance, we went to an awesome campaign rally in Minneapolis on Saturday and got to meet some very nice fellow supporters.

However, the campaign is quickly taking over my brain and I'm wondering whether or not it belongs on this blog. I thought about starting a new blog just for this section of my life, because (if we're lucky and successful) I'll be volunteering on this campaign almost all year. I've always envisioned this blog to be about my poetry and personal life, not my political practices. But now, they're all coalescing together.

The larger question I'm asking myself is whether or not politics and poetry and real life mix. To be honest, I've always written political poetry. But it's political ideology, not political reality. There's something that seems sort of messy and mundane about who's running for president, as opposed to the systems of our culture. The blog issue is just representative of the larger question. I could segregate the political stuff to a separate blog, so that I could see the easy division of these spheres of my life. (And also not annoy readers with any political polemic. I certainly don't want to bore people with policy issues if they're expecting free verse.) But the spheres aren't that separate. It wouldn't be authentic to separate them, because the I live it all together, which is why I was collaging while listening to debates. This is the shape of my life right now: poetry, real life, and politics, all smooshed into one.

Don't worry, I won't be writing sonnets about presidential politics. (There aren't that many rhymes for mandates or ethics anyway.) I just want to be authentically representing what's going on in my life. What's going on in my life, right now, is that I'm participating in democracy. And it's really fun!

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Edgar and Annie, Sitting...

..on my desk. Edgar Allen Poe and Annabel Lee were a Christmas gift and now they're watching me type. I was so excited when I got them on Monday, that I kept telling people how Annie sleeps in a sepulchre by the sea. Yes, I know they're just dolls. But, I hope they come out with more in this series. Below is Poe's poem, which inspired the dolls and my inner dorkiness this past week.

Annabel Lee

It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of ANNABEL LEE;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.

I was a child and she was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea;
But we loved with a love that was more than love-
I and my Annabel Lee;
With a love that the winged seraphs of heaven
Coveted her and me.

And this was the reason that, long ago,
In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
My beautiful Annabel Lee;
So that her highborn kinsman came
And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulchre
In this kingdom by the sea.

The angels, not half so happy in heaven,
Went envying her and me-
Yes!- that was the reason (as all men know,
In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud by night,
Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.

But our love it was stronger by far than the love
Of those who were older than we-
Of many far wiser than we-
And neither the angels in heaven above,
Nor the demons down under the sea,
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee.

For the moon never beams without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling- my darling- my life and my bride,
In the sepulchre there by the sea,
In her tomb by the sounding sea.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Belated New Year Goals

I've been bowled over by a wretched cold, so I've spent most of my days off blowing my nose and watching DVDs. But since I'm staring down the barrel of a brand new year, I figured I should review how I did on my last year's goals, and craft some new ones for 2008.

So at the beginning of 2007, I gave myself the following goals.

1) Write 3000 words/week. (Result: 159,000 this year.)

Mmm, this was when I was writing fiction. I stopped counting about 3/4 of the way through the year, but at last count, I was at 30,452. But, I was writing relatively consistently.

2) Work on getting published in journals once a month.

I submitted poems more sporadically, but had some good results, especially with articles.

3) Send out my book manuscript once every two months.

Didn't send it out once.

4) Maintain my blog consistently all year.

Success! I totally did that!

5) Make regular time in my life for my writing practice.

This is the one where I feel I've made the biggest strides. I've changed my job and schedule in order to write articles and poems. So, that's a good thing.

Reviewing this list, I realize that the ones that I did well on were more abstract goals. The concrete goals floundered pretty quickly.

With that said, here are some goals for 2008.

1) Work on getting my manuscript published.
2) Work on getting poems published.
3) Work on getting articles published.
4) Write and revise poetry consistently.
5) Maintain my blog and my journal for the year.
6) Read books that will feed my writing practice.

There's a little less accountability possibilities with these goals, but I think that they are all attainable. I think, in order to keep myself honest, I'll keep a poem count, article count, and reading count on this blog.

Here's to doing a little better this year.