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Friday, December 30, 2011

Happy (Japanese) New Year

So I'm soon to start in with the festivities for the New Year with inlaws. Will I be able to post before the end of the year? I don't know. So just in case I am too overwhelmed later, let me wish you a Happy New Year right now.

And provide you with a link that explains some of the Japanese New Year traditions.

Submitting to the Subconscious

Jennifer Haupt explores writing rituals at the Psychology Today blog, asking, "Writing Rituals: Spiritual or Simply Habits?", a question she doesn't actually bother to answer....

She does mention a few rituals of various writers, including the following:

"At the end of each writing day I think, What do I want to write about tomorrow? I ask questions about the bare bones of the scene or chapter: Who needs to be here? What's the mood? Are they inside or outside, alone or in a crowd? What should be resolved or undone by the end of this scene? Then I put the questions on my pin board and close up for the day. In the morning, not only do I know where to start, but I've given my subconscious mind a chance to scribble in the details."
- Susan Henderson, Up From the Blue

Earlier this year, I saw similar advice from Julianna Baggott on her blog, Baggott, Asher, Bode, about letting your subconscious do some of the work for you. Here's what she had to say:

2. If you can't (or choose not to) write in the mornings, still run your eyes over your pages so you can keep your characters at the fore of your mind as you walk through your day ...

9. And, of course, tell yourself you're going to write. Let your subconscious begin to prepare the material, and then show up.

I tried these tips earlier this, and they were very helpful to me, especially thinking about the poem I was working on just before going to sleep. But I've since forgotten to keep this habit up. What a great reminder as the New Year comes!


Thursday, December 29, 2011

Philly's Finest

I grew up just outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It's the city I name when asked for my hometown, though I have only one brother (and his family) living there now. So I'm especially pleased to hear that Philly has chosen its first poet laureate, and it's the most deserving Sonia Sanchez.

Another reason to be proud to be from Philadelphia, PA!

Poetry Plan 2012

I've been inundated with work and busy with the holidays, so I haven't been writing poems. Last week, to remedy the situation, I took out all the finished poems I have to see how close I am to a new manuscript. The good news is that I am closer than I had thought. The bad news is that there is, as of now, no obvious way to organize these disparate poems.

For both my first book and chapbook, I wrote poems with themes and structures in mind. I'm that kind of person, in general: I like structure and form and repetition. But I didn't have any cohesive ideas after I finished my first book-length book, so I just wrote orphan poems, and now I have a stack that is nearly manuscript-length (although stacks go up, so that should be manuscript-high, perhaps?). Anyway, at first, the morass panicked me, but I calmed down and realized this is just a new opportunity for me to try and suss out a structure or themes after the fact, instead of before. A new challenge.

Earlier this year I wrote a post about books of poems with overall guiding principles and/or themes versus poetry books without, and at that time, I found some resources showing ways to organize a manuscript (scroll down to the bottom of that post for the resources). It's time for me to review those resources and find a guiding principle or two. I'm short 10-20 pages for a complete manuscript, so I'll try to identify my organizational structure and then write what I need to knit together the poems I've already got into some kind of cohesiveness.

So that's my poetry plan for 2012. What's yours?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Books for the Holidays

Did you get any poetry books for Christmas? If so, which are you most looking forward to reading?

I got a nice stack of poetry books from my husband and from my parents (yay and thank you!). Among them, a few that I am particularly excited to read are:

A Point Is That Which Has No Part by Liz Waldner. This won the Iowa Poetry Prize and the James McLaughlin Prize about a decade ago, and I've been wanting it ever since. It's title refers to a definition from Euclid's Geometry, which is what immediately drew my attention. I bought another book by Waldner in the meantime, but somehow I had never gotten this one. So excited to have it, I started reading it on Christmas afternoon. The University of Iowa actually offers the entire text online here.

Paul Guest's My Index of Slightly Horrifying Knowledge is also a book I've been wanting to read, and now can.  Guest writes about his paralysis since a bicycle accident at age 12. As our family copes with devastating health issues, I find myself drawn more and more to Guest's poetry about struggles with the physical, written with poignancy, wit, and a realistic edge.

the true keeps calm biding its story by Rusty Morrison is probably the book I was coveting most this Christmas season, as I am in the throes of a poetry crush on Morrison, but didn't have this volume. But I've blogged about Morrison before...

So how about you? Did you get any particularly coveted books this holiday season?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Sunrise from Blue Thunder

Sunrise from Blue Thunder, a poetry anthology from Pirene's Fountain, edited by Amy Kaye, is now available for purchase. Proceeds go to earthquake and tsunami relief efforts in Japan. My poem "How to Create a Japanese Garden" is included in this themed anthology, along with the work of many other poets, including Jane Hirshfield, Dorianne Laux, Maureen Alsop, and Yoko Danno.

Sunrise from Blue Thunder

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Paperweight

For Christmas, here's the audio to Gjertrud Schnackenberg's "The Paperweight," courtesy of the Poetry Foundation. Enjoy the poem, your family and friends, and your holidays. May you be at peace.

Merry Christmas

It's Christmas in Japan already. Santa came and went and left us merry. Hope you all have a wonderful holiday as well.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Ander's Advent Calendar

Why was it the 23rd of December before I discovered Ander Monson has an online advent calendar? Aaargh (but thanks to Dan Wickett of Dzanc Books for posting about it on Facebook--better late than never). Still, I can enjoy ex post facto the daily December entries:

Like the title page of Albert Goldbarth's MFA thesis.

Or this outline by Monson, which is a companion piece to the outline-instead-of-an essay that I loved form his book Neck Deep and Other Predicaments (Graywolf, 2007).

Or this Example of a Depth Hoar Crystal Collected from the Base of a Snowpit in Wyoming. (Ha, I typed Death Hoar Crystal at first!)

Or Monson's own "The Problem With Memory."

Happy Holidays (and look for the arrow at the bottom of the page to enter the daily entries.)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Women Who Write

Here's a conversation between poets Sarah Manguso (SM) and Rachel Zucker (RZ) about the roles of woman, mother, and poet, and how they intertwine, and how writers who are also mothers relate to women writers who are not mothers.

Like most women I have very conflicted feelings about these topics, so I've cut and pasted some of the many points made by these two poets that were most pertinent to my interests. Like SM, I blanch at being thought of as a woman writer, at having my writing classified because of the capacity of my body to bear children (an egg-box, these two women call it at one point).

But truthfully, my identity as a woman at all is not particularly strong; more of my persona poems are from male speakers' points of view than  females', partly because I was trained in analytical fields and spent a lot of time with men-heavy populations, but also because I was told much of my adolescence about how undesirable I was as a female, while concurrently being trained that the defining trait of womanhood was desirability to men. Sigh. I've left behind the population determined to teach me this, but have not fully escaped that kind of thinking....Also, I suffered from infertility before having my 2 sons, and once again fell into the egg-box mindset, questioning my basic womanhood, even still now that I have 2 sons, and despite the fact that intellectually I don't believe a woman or womanhood should be defined by reproduction and/or attractiveness. But somewhere deep in my psyche those ugly notions persist.

On the other hand, like RZ, my life is so completely suffused with my role as a mother, due to the sheer amount of exhausting time it takes to fulfill that role as well as because of the brand-new feelings that motherhood awoke in me (both positive and negative), that I cannot extricate my role of mother from my role of writer any more than I can separate any part of my life from my mother-ness (and I can't). I don't have many of the same feelings as RZ concerning writers who aren't mothers though....

Anyway, these women are far more eloquent than I am, and cover far more ground. Below are the points I was most interested in, but if this topic is dear to you, read the entire conversation here. I've inserted ***** to indicate that sections do not follow or respond to the previous section quote.


SM: A man can become a husband and father and still be a writer first in the public imagination, but it seems a woman must choose. In the public imagination, it seems that if a woman is to be perceived as a writer first, she must stay sexually available to men, even if that availability is only hypothetical. The public doesn’t believe (yet?) that women are as complex as men, so perceptions of women aren’t as nuanced.

One symptom of this problem is that people seem unable to talk about women’s writing without talking about their bodies. I periodically start to log the adjectives used in the New York Times Book Review for a comparative analysis, but after the first day, it’s just too depressing and obvious. Books by women are “gorgeous,” and books by men are “brilliant.”


Rachel Zucker: Perhaps Ozick is right that “It’s rough thinking to confuse vast cultural and intellectual movements with the capacity to bear children.” Or perhaps she’s wrong. I’m wondering not just about “the capacity to bear children” but also about my (and others’) experiences birthing and mothering.

And this isn’t just about pregnancy. What about the reality of caring for infants or older children? The physical realities of childbearing and childrearing change my ideas about feminism. I may resent being limited to my gender, and yet I feel that to some extent these archetypes are inescapable because they are true.

Sarah Manguso: The problem with sustaining the dichotomy between mothers and nonmothers, of course, is that in doing so we weaken all women against the reigning culture of men.

RZ: I wondered, after reading your memoir, whether, when you were in the hospital, you felt there was a dichotomy in the world: sick and not sick. And now, do you feel there are two types of people: those who have faced death or a serious illness and those who have always taken their health for granted?

SM: Well, yes, in a way. I believe the essential dichotomy is between those governed by the childish ego and those whose egos have been eradicated—through suffering or motherhood or whatever.

RZ: It is possible that the things I’ve learned from being a mother are things I could have learned in other ways—by running a marathon, by caring for a sick parent or partner or friend, by having pets, by taking antidepressants, by being in therapy, by studying nonviolent communication.

The fact that I could have learned these things in other ways does not mean that I would have otherwise learned them.

SM: I guess that’s what we can’t know about ourselves, given that we live in four dimensions and can’t backtrack.


RZ: As you say, there are degrees of participation in being a mother. Unfortunately I don’t know many (any?) mothers who feel at peace with the degree of participation they’ve chosen. This seems, unfortunately, an ineluctable part of being a modern mother.

RZ: Making art sometimes feels highly indulgent and narcissistic. So does having children. At the same time, making art and having children sometimes seem to me like the only valuable things to do.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Belled Herds

I have early morning wakefulness, a kind of insomnia which wakes me in the middle of the night, often for an hour or two, and sometimes for the duration. It is during these hours that I lie awake and work on my poetry memorization project. This helps me accomplish my memorization goal, and keeps my mind from wandering into the panicky places that woke it in the first place.

Recently I've been working on memorizing my 10th poem, "The Envoy" by Jane Hirshfield, which I include below (and which you can hear the poet read here):

The Envoy by Jane Hirshfield

One day in that room, a small rat.
Two days later, a snake.

Who, seeing me enter,
whipped the long stripe of his
body under the bed,
then curled like a docile house-pet.

I don’t know how either came or left. 
Later, the flashlight found nothing.

For a year I watched
as something—terror? happiness? grief?— 
entered and then left my body.

Not knowing how it came in,
Not knowing how it went out.

It hung where words could not reach it.
It slept where light could not go.
Its scent was neither snake nor rat,
neither sensualist nor ascetic.

There are openings in our lives
of which we know nothing.

Through them
the belled herds travel at will,
long-legged and thirsty, covered with foreign dust.

This poem has stayed with me for years because of the stunning combination of recognition and foreigness I felt the first time I read the words "the belled herds." Immediately my mind conjured up images of Tibetans and nomadic Mongolians herding yaks, which I'd seen on TV documentaries. Although bells are used as a tool for managing herds of sheep and cows in my home country as well, I sensed immediately the strange feelings evoked by the situation this was a metaphor for, which were confirmed by the words "foreign dust" in the next line.

Still, there was a recognition, both of the sensation described and of the exotic metaphor used to describe it. The word "belled" so clearly lets the reader understand that these herds must be moved from place to place, either by migration or by nomadic owners or by grazing needs. Whatever the case, we immediately understand that bells have to be used on herds that are not fully enclosed by fencing, or not enclosed by fencing at all. If there were a complete and secure fence, no bell would be needed. We understand all of this without Hirshfield even having to mention fences and all the tangled feelings they create in us. So succinct a way to say so much.

And so I felt a complete understanding and yet a foreigness when I first read the words "belled herds," which of course is an echo of the feelings described in the poem. Brilliant.

Memorizing this poem also gave me the added benefit of noticing that it, like the Li-Young Lee poem "One Heart" that I memorized lasst month, use the word "opening" or "open" where I would have used "gap" or "gape" or "gaping hole." The comfort of seeing two of my favorite wise writers use these more mysteriously hopeful words to describe what I usually put a negative connotation to was a gift to me, one I wouldn't have noticed without my memorization project (or my sleeplessness, my opening into the night.)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Monday, December 19, 2011

Repeat After Me: "Repeat"

Once again I am borrowing a prompt from Poets & Writers excellent weekly e-newsletter The Time is Now, which I strongly encourage you all to subsribe to.

This week the prompt was: "Look back through the poems you've written this year and make a list of images or words you've repeated. This list will guide you toward identifying your poetic obsessions. Choose one of your poetic obsessions and write a poem that fully explores it."

A few years ago I wrote a poem cycle that relied heavily on a similar idea. Each poem was titled by two words, and the first word repeated the second word from the previous poem's title, while the second word was copied to the next poem in the cycle as the first word in that title (so that three poems in row would be titled "shadow: dwelling:" "dwelling: gravity:" and "gravity: body:" for example). The second word of the title of the 30th and last poem cycled back to the first word of the first poem. Once I decided on this form, I thought I might as well look for words that already recurred in my writing, as they would logically lead me to obsessions to mine more deeply. Some of the words I identified were: glass, roofs, gravity, north, chaos.

Once I read a chapbook of a friend's and commented that she had used the word "heel" repeatedly, something she herself had never noticed. We all have these repetitions, these obsessions, and it can be  fruitful to realize the patterns that exist in our own work. Not having examined my poems recently for any obsessions, I'm glad to be reminded to go back and look.

So, what images and words show up obsessively in your work?

Sunday, December 18, 2011


Our neighborhood has been in an uproar over loss of internet service this weekend (apparently many of us use the same provider, who failed us these past few days). In the downtime, I missed the exciting news that Carol Berg at the blog Ophelia Unraveling awarded this blog with a Liebster Blog Award. Yay!

Receiving a Liebster Blog Award comes with a list of duties, which are:

•Thank your Liebster Blog Award presenter on your blog.
•Link back to the blogger who awarded you.
•Give your top 5 picks for the award
•Inform your top 5 by leaving a comment on their blog.
•Post the award on your blog.

So, thank you, Carol, for the encouragement, which is sorely needed this busy month when I ask myself why I am blogging with all the other stuff I need to do. And all of you should go visit Carol's blog Ophelia Unraveling, which is a beautifully personal look at the creative life. You will surely enjoy it. (By the way, Carol, attempts to leave comments on your blog have failed...wanted to let you know I've awarded YOUR blog with a Liebster Blog Award to thank you for your support and great content.)

The five blogs that I would like to award a Liebster Blog Award to are:

1. Kristin Berkey-Abbot at her eponymous blog, in which she discusses far heavier topics that I ever attempt to.

2. Karen J. Weyant's The Scrapper Poet, in which Karen highlights "Rust Belt" writers.

3. Sandy Longhorn's Myself the Only Kangaroo Among the Beauty, a blog that occasionally offers writing exercises and ideas that would be worth paying for, and yet you don't have to!

4. Jeannine Hall Gailey's Jeannine Blogs, one of the most personable voices out there blogging about a life in poetry.

5. And finally, Carol Berg's Ophelia Unraveling, because it is one of the few blogs that I do check regularly, to hear about her insights and her walks.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Memorization and Control

You know how, when you've bought a new car, suddenly you see cars of the same make, model, and color as yours everywhere? Well, that's how I feel about memorizing poetry. I started just last month on a memorization project, and since then I just keep seeing and hearing about poets who memorize poems everywhere.

The lastest is a 12-minute interview by Christian Wiman with poet Dan Beachy-Quick, at the podcast Poetry Off the Shelf. Beachy-Quick (wow, that's a pain to type, let's call him DB-Q for the duration of this post) has been memorizing poetry for years, and when asked what it affords him, he answered that "putting the poem in one's self...creates a new channel of intelligence in me that isn't mine at memorize a poem that is its own form of recognition, and let it have control of you, so to speak, rather than memorizing to have a kind of control of it."

Later he says, "I began to think of memorization in a way as a kind of an inscription of words onto the self..."

To learn why DB-Q advises people who don't write poetry to memorize poems, and to hear him recite some poems important to him, click on the link above. For some reason, the podcast is not yet available on this screen, so click on the "Subscribe" button to the left, but don't panic, you don't have to actually subscribe (unless you want to). When the new screen comes up, simply click on "Inscribe the poem on yourself" and you'll get to hear this interview on your audio player. Also available in iTunes.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

99% Invisible

I was listening to Radiolab this week, my all-time favorite podcast, and during their program they showcased an architecture & design podcast called 99% Invisible, hosted and curated by Roman Mars. This podcast is about all the humanmade things in our lives that we use without noticing how they are designed to serve us in the best way possible. There was a story about a journalist who tracked down Nicco, a person who'd left messages in concrete all over San Francisco for the past 50 years, and another story about a man who has chronicled his life in exteme minutiae, and put out a year-end report of statistics for several years now, chronicling items such as how many ice cream flavors he'd eaten in the past year, which restaurant he'd frequented the most often, the person he'd had the most human interactions with, etc. He used the same technique to chronicle his father's life and death, with an eerie effect. Both these stories are fascinating and you can (and should) listen to them at either link above.

However, the story that caught my attention was the one about the sound design of gadgets. Modern electronic conveniences have few mechanical parts, and without those moving parts, there is little or no noise. For example, your cellphone makes tones when you touch the number pad, but  those tones don't result organically from the contact between your finger and the phone. Those noises are programmed in by sound designers like podcast interviewee Jim McKee, to increase the functionality of the phone, so you know that you have succesfully punched in the number. Otherwise the activity would be silent and you might be frustrated by not knowing if you had successfully registered your intended number.

During the podcast, Jim McKee says that the sounds that tend to be the most successful are the ones that resonate with the device, that give the illusion of movement in the device when there isn't any.

And it suddenly occurred to me: that is what poetry does. There's something in me that is soundless and motionless, but present nonetheless, and to show it's there, to prove it to myself, to try and get a handle on it so I can stop pushing those buttons, I'm looking for a sound--some words--that approximate it, or resonate with it, or make my silent incomprehensible inside world integral to my mechanical outside world. Sometimes I'm looking for the words, the noise, so that someone else might feel and identify with that soundless motionless thing too, might know that I too have it in me. I'm searching for movement, sound, and resonance to describe this space inside me where there isn't any of that. I'm looking for the most believable illusion I can find.

And that's all. Carry on.

Rejection Fest

Here's an article about rejection that's going viral; you may have already seen it. It's at Chuck Wendig's blog Terribleminds, and it states the following among it's 25 points about rejection of your writing (in this case, short stories, but it all applies to poetry too):

2. Rejection has value. It teaches us when our work or our skillset is not good enough and must be made better. This is a powerful revelation, like the burning UFO wheel seen by the prophet Ezekiel, or like the McRib sandwich shaped like the Virgin Mary seen by the prophet Steve Jenkins. Rejection refines us. Those who fall prey to its enervating soul-sucking tentacles are doomed. Those who persist past it are survivors. Best ask yourself the question: what kind of writer are you? The kind who survives? Or the kind who gets asphyxiated by the tentacles of woe?

7. Different rejections say different things. Not every “no” is equal. Hell, they can’t be — if I get 200 no’s and one yes, then that single yes invalidates all the no’s. One rejection might say there’s something wrong with the story. Another with the writing. A third likes the story, hates its role (or lack of role) in the market.

8. One rejection is not as meaningful as a basket of them. All the rejections around a single project become meaningful — a picture emerges. You can start decoding commonalities, sussing out the reasons for being rejected.

25. A writer without rejections under his belt is the same as a farmer with soft hands; you shake that dude’s hand and you know, he’s not a worker, not a fighter, and wouldn’t know the value of his efforts if they came up and stuck a Garden Weasel up his ass. Rejections are proof of your efforts. Be proud to have ‘em.

For more insights, check out the original post.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Haiku Calendar

The Haiku Foundation has a calendar of events and another one of contests only for all things haiku.

If you write haiku
or if haiku you laiku
this website's for you.

Oh wait, there's no season word in that silly bit....

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Poets in Person

The December 2011 issue of the Cortland Review features C. K. Williams in its "Poets in Person" series. Watch a 3 1/2-minute video of Williams in his own home, and hear him say intriguing (and encouraging) things such as "The revisions that took me hours and hours to do once now take me minutes and minutes, so I end up with a lot of free time on my hands." See where Williams lives and writes, and find out who he was reading when he realized he himself would be a poet.

Other poets featured in this series (such as Philip Levine, Alan Shapiro, and Stephen Dunn) can be seen at this link, along with some readings sponosed by the review.

Plus don't miss some great poems in the December issue, by poets such as Alicia Ostriker, Chase TwichellSusan Stewart, and Michael Blumenthal. One of the great features of the Cortland Review is that they often feature an audio file of the poet reading his or her own work. Enjoy.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Poetry Payout

All poets can agree: we don't write poetry for the money. Still, it hurts to see Rachel Friedman's article "The Microeconomics of Poetry" at New York Magazine's blog cite the following facts (among others):

# of poetry MFA degrees awarded in 2011: 1400
# of jobs available to teach in MFA programs (the only things those grads are qualified to do): 750
Copies of Jane Hirshfield's Come, Thief sold: 2,250
Earnings to Jane Hirshfield from those 2,250 sales (assuming a 10% royalty): $5,625
Number of books by Tomas Transtromer sold in the 10 years before he won the Nobel: 12,300
Number of books by Tomas Transtromer scheduled for printing in 2 weeks since he won the Nobel: at least 50,000

Not bah-humbugged out yet? Read the rest of the article for more discouraging news about the market for poetry.

It's a good thing we don't write for the money or the recognition, or it might really make us sad.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Building Books

If you have somehow arrived at this blog, there's a good chance you love books. And if you do, you'll want to head over to the blog at Brain Pickings, where they have assembled four videos showing the processes used to make books anciently (AD 400), mid-20th century (1947 and 1961), and in this new century (2011). Enjoy.


Don't forget to keep checking in with the No Tell blog's list of best poetry books of the year as reported by a different poet every day. Today's poet is Joshua Marie Wilkinson.

And on Twitter, follow Straight Poetry, and if you are the 300th or 500th follower, you'll be interviewed by them. Could be a good way to generate publicity if you have a project you need to plug.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Poet Postage

The US Postal Service is unveiling its new poets-of-the-20th century series, called "Forever," in March 2012. It will include Bishop, Williams (William Carlos), Plath, Brooks, Levertov and Roethke. Well, I've just listed 6 of the 10, might as well finish it up by posting the series below:


Did your favorite 20th-century poet make the cut?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Letters of Legends

Graywolf Press is going to publish in English the correspondence between Tomas Transtromer, this year's winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, and Robert Bly, a poet who has been active in translating and publishing Transtromer in the US. Already a best-seller in Transtromer's native Sweden, this book will be a great addition to readers like me who love either or both of these poets (in my case, both, though one more than the other, you guess which). Check out the link for more details of the relationship between these two legends or for the publication details of the upcoming book.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Memorization Update

Carol Muske-Dukes has an article at the Wall Street Journal blog on the pleasures of memorizing poetry. One of her main points is that when you memorize a poem, it comes alive for you, and you own it.

This is a reminder to me to post an update on my memorization project. Since I began last month, I have memorized 8 poems, and am on my 9th, having recently finished learning Edward Hirsch's "Self-portrait," and begun Albert Goldbarth's "Human Beauty" (which has a nice snow image, perfect for the season, except it is balmy for winter here). I haven't memorized any long poems yet, but am still enjoying learning short evocative pieces by heart, placing them my heart and mind.

This is an enjoyable project. I recommend it to anyone even slightly interested.

LinkedIn for Literati

I get a lot of requests from LinkedIn members to be added to their networks, and I always grant them, but I really had no idea what LinkedIn did, how it was different from other social media, and why and how I should use it to my advantage as a poet.

But now I know, thanks to an article at Poets & Writers website called "Network: How to Use LinkedIn to Connect with Your Community." Author Thomas Israel Hopkins explains that LinkedIn is more a business tool than the other social media out there, and he gives advice on how to make the best usage of it for writers. Check it out if you are looking for more ways to enhance your career in writing, if you are looking for work, or if you are just curious.

Recently I've been a little discouraged by social media online. I joined sites in order to feel less alone out here in Japan where I am largely by myself, but as I watch how interconnected the world of poets is and how people know and promote one another in ways that are not accessible to me as an actual stranger to everyone, I actually have felt more, rather than less, lonely these days. It may be time for me to take a break and unplug.

But anyway, it's good to know what options I am ignoring.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

10 Writing Quotes

Ten quotes on writing randomly chosen from my notebooks:

"The process of writing will always be trying to repair something that doesn't exist with tools you have to invent on the spot."  George Saunders

"All one's inventions are true, you can be sure of that. Poetry is as exact a science as geometry." Gustav Flaubert

[he’s] “always needed paper and pencil / in order to speaks as little as [he] should.” Stephen Dunn, in “A Brief History of My Silence”

"A badly made thing falls apart. It takes only a few years for most of the energy to leak out of a defective work of art. To put it simply, conservation of energy is the function of form." Stanley Kunitz

"Poetry is not truth but is a game, maybe a tragic game, the game we play with the world that plays its own game with us." Inger Christensen

"Going into hell so many times tears it, which explains poetry." Jack Spicer

"Poetry makes ideas seem real by removing the detritus of fact and substituting something else that is more to the point." Louis Simpson, Ships Going into the Blue, p. 21

"What makes a poem a poem, finally, is that it is unparaphrasable. There is no other way to say exactly this; it exists only in its own body of language, only in these words. . . . Part of what poetry is, I think, is the inner life of the dead, held in suspension. It is still visible to us . . ."   Mark Doty, in Still Life with Oysters and Lemons, p.70

"Write anything. Truth or untruth, it is unimportant. Speak but speak with tenderness, for that is all that you can do that may help a little." John Berger, G.

"Any necessary utterance has an anxiety behind it." James Galvin

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Three+ Poetry Ideas

Today, three good poetry ideas.

First, Poetry Kanto editor Alan Botsford announced on his website that the submission period is open for the 2012 issue from December through April or May. Poetry Kanto is a high-quality bilingual print journal out of Kanto Gakuin University, and has featured poets such as Jane Hirschfield, Mari L'Esperance, Alicia Ostriker, and Judy Halebsky. If you want to see your poem alongside work in Japanese as well as in English, you'll want to submit to this gorgeous print journal.

Second, if you don't already subscribe to Diane Lockward's *free* monthly online newsletter, you'll want to sign up now (go to her blog, scroll down and keep your eye out for the newsletter sign-up on the right side). This month Lockward features a craft tip from Alicia Ostriker called "Confronting Your Fears."  Ostriker includes such insights as "The idea that poets neither conquer nor surrender to their fears, but use them, and find form through them—to me that is brilliant. Because fears—notice the plural—are part of our deepest selves. We have fears from the time we are born," and "And a mantra in my writing workshops is 'Write what you are afraid to write.' It is a lifelong task. Use the fears. Bring them up from the subconscious, and find the words, find the form." You'll want to read the entire piece and get some writing prompts from the master Ostriker.

Plus Lockward's newsletter this month features the link to Charles Bernstein's Experiments page, and other interesting online resources. You really do want to receive this monthly newsletter, so sign up now.

Third, subscribe to the journal Hoot: a postcard review of {mini} poetry and prose to get one postcard per month featuring fiction, non-fiction, poetry and prose in under 150 words. That's under 150 words for the entire journal, which fits on a single postcard. Come on, even you have time for that! Consider submitting there too, with poems under 10 lines, and prose under 150 words.

So 3+ good poetry ideas for a Sunday morning (Japan time). Enjoy!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Cooking the Books: Part III

Earlier this year I participated in the 32 Poems blog Recipes for Poets post, in which a number of poets volunteered quick, simple, and nutritious meals they used in order to spend less time in the kitchen and more time writing. At that time, I shared a fish recipe my family eats regularly.

Since then I have learned a new chicken recipe that takes only 10 minutes of hands-on prep time, and which my family is crazy about. It's perfect for busy writers who want to minimize food prep. I got this from Real Simple magazine, which is not at all the kind of magazine I read, but a friend gave me two issues she was finished with, and since it costs too much to feed my reading habit when you calculate international shipping into the total, I decided to try and read these magazines as a stop-gap measure. I'm glad I did, because I learned this recipe:

Chicken with White Beans and Tomatoes

Hands-on Time: 10 minutes     Total Time: 50 minutes    Serves: 4

2 15.5-ounce cans cannellini beans, rinsed
1 pint grape tomatoes
4 sprigs fresh thyme
4 sprigs fresh oregano, plus leaves for garnish
2 garlic cloves, smashed
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
kosher salt and black pepper
8 bone-in skin-on chicken thighs (about 3 pounds total)

1. Heat oven to 425 F. In a 9-by-13-inch baking dish, toss the beans and tomatoes with the thyme, oregano, red pepper, 1 tablespoon of the oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt,  and 1/4 teaspoon  black pepper.

2. Pat the chicken dry and place on top of the bean mixture, skin-side up. Rub with the remaining tablespoon of oil; season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper.

3. Roast until the chicken is golden and cooked through, 34 to 45 minutes. Spring with the oregano leaves.

Yum! Enjoy!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Similes to Make You Smile

This blog post from House of Figs is making the rounds on the internet recently. It claims to be the 56 best/worst analogies written by high school students, although the site's owner, Bethany Amanda, does say that she has discovered that most these were in fact written for a Washington Post contest. No matter who wrote them, they are pretty amusing. They are also mostly similes, which is after all one technique for making an analogy. Here are a few of my favorites:

4.  From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie, surreal quality, like when you’re on vacation in another city and Jeopardy comes on at 7:00 p.m. instead of 7:30.

5.  John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met.

18.  The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn’t.

32.  He was deeply in love. When she spoke, he thought he heard bells, as if she were a garbage truck backing up.

48.  I felt a nameless dread. Well, there probably is a long German name for it, like Geschpooklichkeit or something, but I don’t speak German. Anyway, it’s a dread that nobody knows the name for, like those little square plastic gizmos that close your bread bags. I don’t know the name for those either.

50.  Her artistic sense was exquisitely refined, like someone who can tell butter from I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter.

51.  It came down the stairs looking very much like something no one had ever seen before.

Enjoy them all at the link.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Haiku for Those Who Baiku

I'm in favor of promoting poetry through unusual methods and via surprising usages of it. But I think the city of New York's Department of Transportation may have gone a little far in using haiku signs to promote traffic safety.

Consider, for example, this sign:

Or perhas this one:

By the time you figure out what you are being warned against, you may have created a different safety hazard by blocking traffic while reading and pondering, or drifting into bicycle traffic to get a better look at the sign.

Click on this link at the New York Observer blog to see more of these interesting safety haiku paired with visual images that may cause more problems than they solve. (Shout out to my Osaka-based friend Tracy for making me aware of this article.)

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Recognize These Puncs?

Here's a fun article called "Fourteen Punctuation Marks That You Never Knew Existed" over at (and a shout out to my virtual friend Kira who posted about this on Facebook).

Have a look and see how many of them you knew about previously. I knew 8 of them before reading the article. A few I wasn't familiar with are:

 The exclamation comma, for when you are excited, but also not finished.
Exclamation Comma

Also, the asterism, for indicating minor breaks in a text, or to mean "untitled," which is great since "untitled" is a title, but maybe an asterism isn't.
There's also the because sign, which is the flipside of the therefore sign, and I love that, just because!
Because Sign

And finally, the aptly named snark:
Enjoy all the punctuation you can, that's my motto!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Here's a fun poetry prompt that came in the November 24th issue of the Poets & Writers email newsletter, The Time is Now:


Use Google translator ( to experiment with the text of an existing poem (yours or someone else's). Translate the text from English into another language, such as Finnish, Urdu, or Korean, and then translate the foreign-language text back to English again. Observe the metamorphosis of syntax and diction as the poem travels through the filter of another language. Then look for a particularly striking phrase, an odd construction or image, and use it to begin a new poem.

I saw this done years ago by (I think it was) Juliana Spahr....I'm fuzzy on the details now, but as I recall (and this may be completely incorrect) she used translation software such as Babel Fish to translate something from English into a foreign language (dare I say Japanese, or is that my own particulars coloring my memory?) and then back into English. The disturbed syntax that resulted really was pure poetry. I think she used the entire translation as her poem, rather than mining the results as suggested above, but as I say, I could be completely wrong about who, what, when, where, and how in this story that isn't a story but half a memory, or less.

I used to sometimes use in my poems my sons' convoluted English that resulted from them being raised bilingually. Sometimes they said things that were just so delicious, I had to use them. As they get older and more fluent in both of their languages, we have fewer linguistic snafus, which is good for them, but sort of sad. They speak much less colorfully (but much more effectively) now.

Anyway, this idea from P&W looks like good fun. I'm going to try and mine it for some interesting lines to work with. If you try it and want to report (or share results), please do.

Monday, November 28, 2011

No Tell Tells

It's time once again for the blog No Tell's annual list of the best poetry books of the year. It's becoming a tradition for No Tell to ask various poets for their personal favorites and to post them for all to see.

I always enjoy finding out the picks of poets I  happen to like. In this way, I've stumbled upon many new names and more than a few exciting books.

Today Gary McDowell is featured, and as I admire his work hugely, I'm taking note of some poets on his list that I haven't read but will want to right away, such as David Dodd Lee, Amy Newman, and Zach Savich. (Happily just this morning I ordered David Bottoms' We Almost Disappear, which made McDowell's list.)

If the past few years have established a pattern, No Tell will post new lists by poets daily for about a month or so, so keep up if you want to know who's reading what to get some ideas of your own.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Returns on Effort

So I've been working on this poem for about 3 weeks. I thought it was done, and last night I had a "last" look at it, and ended up making six changes, two more or less substantial. And it's only a 15-line poem.

Then I turned my attention to a poem I jotted down the other day while waiting for my son to finish an activity. I expected it to need quite a lot of work, as it was only my second look at it. And it was done. It was whole, finished, integrated. The punch was there.

So there you go. There are no consistent returns on effort, are there? Not in writing anyway.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

A Confession

Here's a little secret I don't share with my artsy friends very often. I like to write on graph paper. Specifically I like to write poetry on graph paper.

I know this admission makes me look rigid and overly analytical. You probably wonder if I write neatly in all caps like many engineers do (I don't). I just find graph paper soothing.

My husband every year gets bombarded with calendars from pharmaceutical companies, and he always gets a dayplanner with graph paper as the blank pages from one certain company. Every year I claim this dayplanner as my own for writing poems in. My husband mentioned it to the drug rep, and ever since he has brought my husband two dayplanners each year, one for him and one for "his wife." But actually my husband dutifully hands both copies of the dayplanner over to me, hee hee.

Do you have any dirty little "non-poetic" secrets related to your writing practice? I'd love to hear them.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Gailey on Getting Reviewed

Poet Jeannine Hall Gailey blogs about how to get your book reviewed here.  A veteran reviewer, Gailey tells how she and others who review poetry choose which books they will spend their time commenting on. Then she provides specific tips for bringing your book to a reviewer's attention, including: put a personal note in with the book copy you send to the reviewer, follow up later, and make suggestions about which literary magazines might be receptive to a review of your book.

Gailey's final tip was one that really hit home: be a reviewer yourself. Gailey admits that she is more motivated to review a book by a given poet when that person's website or blog (or personal note) mentions their own reviewing activity. Plus, it's one way of giving back to the literary community, whether anyone rewards you for it with a review of your book or not.

I have never written any reviews, mostly because it never occurred to me that anyone would value a review written by an MFA-less, poetry-self-educated person like myself. But now I am wondering if there is a place for a review by me somewhere.

Recently I have noticed a few journals that list books they have received for review and which they would be happy to send a volunteer reviewer.

Rattle's online review policy, for example, includes the following: "...we offer the E-Review forum. Almost anything goes here — reviews can be very brief or very long, they can be high praise or healthy criticism. If you read a book and you have a reaction, write up a review and send it in. We encourage the personal narrative in particular (see this note). We’ll screen for content and quality, and we won’t be able to put everything online, but if you have something useful to say, that others might want to hear, we will. Just follow the guidelines here, or request a book from this list. And if you’re just looking for a good book, go ahead and browse." This paragraph follows an explanation of why Rattle has gone to an all-online policy for reviews, including the spatial problems print issues face in reviewing more than a few books, any chapbooks at all, or prose books.

Another journal that I noticed as offering review copies to people willing to review is Verse Wisconsin, whose reviewing guidelines you can find at this link. Scroll to the bottom of the page for guidelines, and look to the right column (beginning at the top of this page) for a list of books available for review.

I'm sure there are many other journals that would be happy to have reviewers volunteering their services. I've only started keeping my eye out for them recently, so these are the first ones I've run across. If you've had success placing an unsolicited review with a journal, let us know!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

The Poetry Foundation has put together a list of Thanksgiving-related poems (both those with Thanksgiving as a direct topic, and those about family and fellowship and Thanksgiving-like emotions), including this one by Albert Goldbarth:

By Albert Goldbarth b. 1948 Albert Goldbarth

We know far more about the philosophical underpinnings of Puritanism than we do about what its practitioners consumed at countless meals.
—James Deetz

Yes. So we must reconnect
ideas of God, and the definitions of “liberty,”
and the psychology of our earliest models of governance, with
oyster peeces in barley beer & wheet,
chopt cod & venyson seethed in a blood broth,
hominy pottage, also squirell.
Their heads might well have brimmed with heaven
and its airborne personnel, but still their mouths were a mash
of white meat [cheese] and a motley collation
of eel leavings, a fine samp, and a roast Fowl.
Worshipp first, then after—butter Biskuits!
David Ignatow:
“seeking transcendence
but loving bread”

And it is too easy to get lost in abstraction,
as if smoke, and dream, and quantum ersatz-states
are our proper environment... it’s easy to conceptualize in “politics”
and not in the clack of the black or white dried bean we drop in the voting bowl. In some tribes, there’s a designated   “reminderer,” and when the shaman novitiate—or sometimes
simply a mournful family member—follows the star trail
into the country of ghosts, and lingers there, this person tugs
the wanderer back home: perhaps a light thwack
with a broom-shock, or the rising steam of a broth that one
can hungrily shinny down to Earth like a rope.
In the Mesopotamian Inanna myth, it’s water and bread
that resurrect the goddess and allow her
to begin the long ascent out from the craters of Hell.

We can spend all day, and many days, and years, in theorizing.
“A Computer Recreation of Proto-Hominid Dietary Intake:
An Analysis”
... we’ll float off, through these foggy lands of argot,
in the way that someone else might dissolve in the blue cloud
of an opium den... no wonder there’s such pleasure in uncovering
the solid fossil record of those appetites, and in emptying out
its evidence grain by grain, a stone piƱata. How often
the stories bring us back to that grounding! In 1620,
a first exploratory party from the Mayflower went ashore
on the northern Cape Cod coast. The weather was bad
and disorienting: a half a foot of snow, in air
so thick as to be directionless. But we sense they recouped
their spirits that night, from three fat Geese
and six Ducks whitch we ate with Soldiers stomackes.


And it is too easy to lose ourselves in cyberthink,
untethered from the touchable, from even the cohesive force
suffusing through one atom. “What we keep,”
reports an archivist at the New York Times, “is the information,
not the paper”... everything e-storaged now.
A thousand years of pages, pffft: dismissiveness
as obliterative as a bonfire, in the long run. Oh, yes,
easy to cease to exist as an actual shape, inside the huge,
occluding mists of legalese: we say “repatriation
of native archeological remains,” and we mean
human bones, that’s what we mean: hard and dear
and contested. We say “ritual signifier of threat,” but
what the Narragansetts sent to the colonists at Plymouth
was a bundl of thair Arrows tyed about in a mightie Snake skin.

I died. And I was stolen
into a land of strangers—of not-the-People.
I floated all day, many days. And here
the ribs of my cage were empty: always
I was hungry, for the things that People need.
But this was not the sun, and this was not the soil,
of the People; and I was restless, I had no one
for between my legs, and no drum in my chest.
There was much war from this: the People
desired me back, they said “this one
is part of many-ones,” and after words and words,
their word was so. One day the breezes sent the fishes
and savory beaver parts, and I knew at last
that I was home: my mouth of my skull watered.


“When hegemonic identity-structures systemize cognition—” whoa.
There are times I think my friends might flimmer away in that
high-minded mush... and I concentrate, then, on the names
of those people from 1621, names that are true, specific
labor and specific, beautiful common things. Cooper.
Fletcher. Glover. Miller. Glazer. Mason. Carpenter.
Cheerfull Winter.
Oceanus Hopkins.
 Lydia Fish, Nathaniel Fish and Steadfast Fish, of Sandwich.
Zachariah Field, father, and daughter Dutiful Field.
Pandora Sparrow.
Who wouldn’t care to meet Peregrine Soule?
And who could wish to let go of this life
when faced by Countenance Bountie?

Happy Thanksgiving, all.

Quirky Topics

Although I cannot see who checks my blog, I get statistics about what countries people are accessing it from, and which search words lead people to it.

There are some pretty quirky searches that end up here at Axis of Abraxas, many of them by people looking for poems on certain unusual topics. Here are a few that you might consider writing a poem about, if you don't have one already, because I can guarantee there is at least a small audience out there looking for such a piece:

thyroid poems
23-lb. turkey poems
poems on matryoshka dolls
mallard duck poetry
Japan disaster/Fukushima disaster poems
poems about ditching (this one comes up a lot, and I'm not sure what it means; I hope it isn't offensive.)

So there you go, some suggested topics with a ready-made audience.

It's Thanksgiving at our house today, so I am off to work on our bird. Happy Holidays to Everyone!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

First Lady's Poets

Michelle Obama is launching her new National Student Poets Program to select 5 high school students to act as poetry ambassadors for a year. These students will be selected from among the pool of pupils who have already been given a national Scholarship & Art Writing Award. Check out the details here.

Homes for Political Poems

First there was 99 Poems for the 99%, (which I blogged about here, and which is featuring the terrific Troy Jollimore today).

Then there was the Occupy Wall Street Poetry Anthology, (which I blogged about here).

Now I've leared about OccuPoetry: Poets Supporting Economic Justice. (Actually I'm not sure of the inception dates of any of these; this is the order in which I discovered them, not necessarily the order in which they came into being). This is a journal inspired by the Occupy Movement and edited by Katy Ryan and Phillip Baron.

OccuPoetry kindly lists other online poetry projects that are responses to the Occupy Movement. They include Occupy Together (videos of poetry readings at the various Occupy Movement locations).

I saw this kind of poetic response immediately after the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan, earlier this year. Suddenly all over the internet there were anthologies seeking relevant work from writers in order to make books, the sales of which would go to benefit charities. As touched as I was by the drive of writers to use their gifts to help the victims, I couldn't help being a tiny bit cynical about the opportunities writers were getting to be published due to a disaster. Which is completely unfair of me....I wouldn't feel that way about an visual artist auctioning off works and donating the proceeds to charity; I don't criticize bands that give concerts for charity. But I couldn't help wishing there was a way to publish without receiving anything from it as an individual...which I know is not a valid concern (and not even effective for marketing and thus bringing in the cash for the donation; I mean, nobody would buy a book of poems by all anonymous authors, would they?) and I have mostly turned my head around on this point, but it still nags at me a tiny bit.

As though I should be judging anyone's motives; shame on me. This is really my own hangup as a chance to be published popped up in my mind when I saw these opportunities, and I hated that about myself. But I did feel that when a famous person gives a poem to an anthology for charity, that's real charity. When an unknown like myself does the same thing, there could be as much self-interest as charity in the gesture. And I feel kind of evil for even pointing this out, when probably most people were giving entirely out of goodness. Or mostly out of goodness. Or even equally out of goodness and self-interest. And really, it doesn't concern me at all in any case but my own, now does it?

On the other hand, in the Occupy Movement, in which the people are asking to have their voices heard, poetry is another venue for having your voice, the voice of the people, heard, in language that can be more memorable, more vivid, and more ceremonial than regular speech. This I feel more comfortable with, but should I? Is there a difference?

And really, why don't I just assume the best of other people and not think these things at all?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Erasure Links

Here are some of the links I provided for my Japan Writers Conference presentation on erasure. It might be useful to someone.

A.    A Humument by Tom Phillips 

B.     Wave Poetry (publisher of Mary Ruefle, and home of erasure software)

C.     Mary Ruefle’s “The Mansion”

D.    Mary Ruefle’s “Marie”

E.      video from Free Verse: Erasure Poetry Festival:

F.    The Found Poetry Review

G.    Filter Literary Review

H.       One Drawing of Every Page of Moby-Dick, blog of Matt Kish, artist with a book of a similar title forthcoming from Tin House Books

I.       Copyright Term and Public Domain in the United States (Cornell University, as of January 2011)

J.    Public domain books online:,

K.     Collaborative erasures:

                    L. Use of government documents:

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Science Pods

Stephen King tells would-be writers to read widely, read everything. Kay Ryan reads philosophy to get started writing. Reading outside of one's genre can be as important as reading within it (and I do believe that reading poetry is an extremely important part of writing poetry, but so is reading other stuff).

I've found that reading popular science helps me write poems. It provides me with images and vocabulary, and with just plain wonder that stimulates creativity.

In the past couple of years, I've started listening to science podcasts in addition to my reading regimen. Reading is still better, but since I walk for a couple of hours a day, this is a way to make the time productive and enjoyable. And since I miss hearing the English of native speakers at an adult level, podcasts also comfort me.

So today, I want to share some of my favorite science podcasts. (All of these are available in iTunes, by the way, as well as at their links.)

1) My absolute favorite is Radiolab, but I've blogged about it already, so I will just link to my old post and leave it at that for now. Sadly new episodes come out only twice a month.

2) Another good one is Science Friday with Ira Flatow. For two hours every Friday, Ira Flatow podcasts about diverse topics in science and technology, interviewing all the people in the know regarding timely science topics. For example, this week's podcast has Ira discussing World Toilet Day and interviewing engineers about the grants being given for revolutionary toilet designs that might bring the technology to the 1/3 of the earth's inhabitants without flush toilets or healthy sanitation. Flatow also learns the secrets of keeping the floats afloat in the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade by sending his video editor to interview the "balloonatics". He also investigates the costs of embryonic stem cell research. And more!

And here's a hint. If instead of subscribing to the Science Friday podcast, you instead subscribe to the NPR Topics: Science podcast, you will get all science-related podcasts aired by NPR sent to you, including Science Friday in individual story units instead of a 2-hour block, so you can skip ones you aren't interested in.

3) Stuff You Should Know podcast, hosted by Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant, covers topics in science and any other field that suits the fancy of the hosts. Diverse subjects covered in the past include: the chemistry of Silly Putty, sweating colored sweat, the physics of roller coasters, how fossils are formed, etc. This podcast is twice a week, but as I said, while not all topics covered are science-related, they are all more or less fascinating.

4) NPR's Hmmm.....Krulwich on Science is one of my favorite science podcasts, but it comes out too infrequently, not even once a month and not on any schedule I can fathom. It's an insightful look into the history of science as well as science stories that cause you to marvel (this being Krulwich's specialty), and I envy you because you can now enjoy the few in the archives for your first time. Happily, Krulwich's blog, Krulwich Wonders, comes out more regularly.

5) Story Collider is a cross between The Moth and a conversation with your chemistry lab partner. It's people telling stories about how science has affected their lives, and many of the stories are hilarious, especially to scientists and PhD program dropouts. This is a fun podcast, with some talented storytelling, and some less so, but it's worth wading through them all to find the absolute gems.

6) Finally, TED Talks, which you undoubtedly already know about. TED stands for technology, entertainment, and design, so you will hear plenty of science-related pieces if you listen. Pretty much everything discussed at TED is interesting, science-based or not.

So, enjoy!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Random Notes

Today I have a bunch of unrelated odds and ends for you, in random order.

First is the compilaton of rejection letters at Flavorwire. Be heartened when you read a truly amusing rejection letter addressed to Gertrude Stein, as well as some rather soulless letters to writers such as Jack Kerouac, Sylvia Plath, and Peter Mathiessen.

Next, Salon has an interview with novelist Jonathan Lethem.

Third, Occupy Wall Street has a poetry anthology. Apparently all submissions are accepted (?). Click on the link to see how to submit, and to read the 400+ page PDF file that is the anthology.

Fourth, Nikky Finney, a poet I only discovered earlier this year, has won a National Book Award for her fourth book, Head Off & Split. I link to an earlier National Book Foundation post that has her listed only as a finalist so you can read a sample poem there. It was through an excellent podcast interview that I learned of Finney and her exemplary work, but I cannot remember which podcast it was now. If I find it, I will post it later, as you really should get to know this poet, if you don't already.

Finally, I thought I would update you on my own memorization project. I have memorized the five poems I mentioned earlier this month (three of which were re-memorizations, or fixing the poems in my brain). I have now nearly memorized a sixth, Li-Young Lee's One Heart (a good short one for encouragement) and have begun Edward Hirsch's Self-portrait.

Over and out.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Taking Risks

I'm not a big risk-taker. That's what I say, it's how I feel. But if you look at my life, you will see all kinds of crazy risks that I've taken again and again, big ones. I went to a grad school that far outstripped the preparation I had from my undergrad school, went directly into competition with other students who had highly priveleged private school educations from preschool through Ivy League colleges. And I went head-to-head with them. And did alright. One of them one day said, "You're not much of a risk-taker, are you?" and I answered, "Well, I'm here, aren't I?" And he answered, "Yeah, seriously. I hadn't thought about it that way." What was for him a given next step was for me a huge risk.

And I live abroad, in an international family, we just opened a small business last month, we have serious health issues that are life-altering, and we face risk after risk. And sometimes I'm pretty tired.

But this sense of being on the edge (as well as just plain being on edge) all the time is good for something: poetry. Jeffrey Levine discusses how risk-taking and the willingness to put danger on the page is often the difference in the diction between an almost-finished poem and a successful poem here.

Here's a quote: "It takes a special sort of nerve to spell (just enough) the connection between the imagery (symbols) of the outer world and what the poet wants us to take from that imagery about how that imagery enhances, reflects, refracts and intensifies the poet’s inner landscape./ How overtly drawn does this correspondence have to be? I think the answer is: just overt enough so that readers can feel the risk taken. Whether or not a reader actually feels the danger on the page depends entirely upon whether the poet has provided us with sufficient correspondence between description and metaphor on one hand, and what’s human, on the other. There must be that ineluctable tension between what we understand abstractly and what we feel concretely. Without that kind of correspondence (and corresponding tension) there’s no felt urgency. Without those risks, the description and metaphor, no matter how well turned, turn merely symbolic. Without sufficient evidence of that correspondence, a symbol is just a symbol, stripped, then, of its power, like an electric circuit whose wiring reaches a dead end: the light won’t go on. Sound and fury are fine, so long as they signify something. Within this correspondence—this levering—the real work of the poem gets done."

Read the entire piece to see an analysis of Louise Gluck's poem "Mock Orange" and its use of urgent diction to draw a correspondence between its metaphors and its emotional content.