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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Socks for Japan

I haven't forgotten that this is supposed be a poetry blog. It's just that it's difficult right now to think of anything other than the disaster up north, and that's difficult to write about. It's always hard for me to write about something that is currently happening or has happened recently. Usually it's years after an event before I write about it, before I have any idea what I think or feel about it that might be useful to other people. Which is why when I sit down to write about the earthquake and tsunami of two and a half weeks ago, I end up writing about the earthquake in Kobe 16 years ago (which I wasn't in, but my then-boyfriend-now-husband was). Sixteen years, that's about the amount of time it takes for me to be ready to write. So that's why I keep just posting links to disaster-related sites, organizations, articles.

So bear with me while I post another one. This one is for Socks For Japan, a group, headed by Jason Kelly, which is gathering new pairs of socks to distribute to the hundreds of thousands of people in "temporary" shelters. I have been concerned about my elementary-aged sons who have watched the disasters unfolding on TV and who know about our family's monetary donations, but who may not be internalizing the events in a way that is healthy for them. I wanted them to have a chance to feel that they could respond as individuals, could DO something in the face of disaster, indeed that they have a responsibility to do something. So this week we went shopping together and picked out socks, bagged them according to the instructions given on the website above, and included with each pair of socks a message of encouragement and hope to the recipient.

My younger son, ever efficient, painstakingly wrote out a message and then copied it word-for-word for each of his pairs of socks. His older brother, the family sweetie, insisted on writing an original message to each recipient, writing about the earthquake in Kobe (which he was not born for but which every year his school dedicates an entire day to) and how our city has renewed itself, and how theirs will too, how someday their lives will be back to normal, but for now it is cold, so please wear these socks.

My sons saw an organization on TV which was bringing bicycles to our neighbors up north. We talked about what a great idea that was, what a start towards independence it would give people who have lost their homes and their cars. My sons wanted to get involved in that, but somehow we missed the information about what organization it was. So we gave socks. We can't do everything, but we should do everything we can.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Radiation Level Reporting Website

Environmental radiation reporting by MEXT (the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, Technology and Chewing Gum.) By prefecture. Very useful data periodically updated, in many cases several times daily.

Thanks to Aurelie of MIJ who made me aware of this website.

(Just kidding about the chewing gum.)

Sunday, March 27, 2011


Check out Quakebook, a book about surviving the earthquake up north, written by people who were on the ground at the time. The call for submissions went out through Twitter, and the pieces came pouring in. Now you can buy the book, and the proceeds will go the Red Cross Japan.

Thanks to Claire in Osaka for making me aware of this.

Community of Creativity II

A month or so ago my friend Cat in Osaka posted on Facebook a handmade giveaway opportunity. In order to receive something handmade from Cat, I had to offer to give something handmade to five people in 2011. Only three people took me up on my offer, and I have now finished with my handmade items. They are really amateur, but I am quite pleased with them, as they turned out better than I had thought they would. They are collages on the tops of boxes.

This first one is for Donna in Colorado. Donna used to wear this purple sweater back when we were students together.
This next one is for Cat. It's my favorite because of the colors.
This last one is for Mary in Florida. It looks better in real life than in the pictures. The two sets of eyes are peeking out from behind semi-transparent materials, making them both flirtatious and knowing.

I had so much fun making these that I'm going to make one for my mom for Mother's Day, as soon as I get my hands on more wooden boxes.

Thursday, March 24, 2011


Okay, it's time for a little shameless self-promotion, sorry in advance. However, if you hang in there with me through this, there will be a little treat for you at the bottom of this post. No cheating--you've got to read the shameless self-promotion first.

So my new book, The Insomniac's Weather Report (three candles press), is now available from Barnes & Noble and from It's about $4 cheaper at Barnes & Noble, and I'm told that shipping is free from there (stateside, I'm assuming), so keep that in mind.

For those living in Japan, you can order directly from me to save on shipping, if you prefer. My box of books isn't here yet, so for the time being, I'm taking names of people who might be interested in ordering once the books arrive. Payment will be into my postal account, and I will let you know the price once I see the book and determine what kind of shipping will be most reasonable. If you want to be on that list, please email me by clicking on my blog profile and then clicking on the "email" link. Otherwise you can go to the News & Contact page of my website, where you can either fill out a form or click on a link to email me from there. I've given you three choices, but you only need to let me know once.

Okay, the dirty work is done. Thanks for hanging in there. Now for your treat.

Here's a link to the website of one of my favorite bands, Over the Rhine. If you look at the boxes stacked on the right side of the screen, the light blue one second from the bottom is an online record player. Enjoy the incredibly clear and yet gravelly voice of Karin Bergquist. May I suggest "The King Knows How," although "All My Favorite People (Are Broken)" is nice too. Oh, they're all good.


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Punk Punk-tuation

The summer I was nine, I sat one day in my mother's van in the parking lot of the local Wawa (those of you who know what a Wawa Market is now know where I grew up), wilting in the humidity, waiting with my sisters and brother for my mother to emerge with the green checkered ice cream carton that was going to save us from the heat, when I suddenly realized that the word "as" was going out of fashion. From my dazed and sweaty position, I jolted upright in my sticky naugahyde seat. I hadn't heard anyone use the word "as" long as I could remember. Right then and there I decided single-handedly to rescue the word "as" from its recent obsolenscence. So it became my summer of similes: the backyard as hot as a desert, the pool as fun as a carnival, and on and on. It must have been tedious for everyone in the vicinity, but I will say this: the word "as" is alive and kicking today, and you all have my nine-year-old self to thank for it.

Now I propose to do the same for my favorite punctuation mark: the colon. The first problem in re-popularizing the colon is, well, its name. Sounds rather gastrointestinal, if you know what I mean. So first, I'd like to propose a contest to rename the colon. If you have any good ideas, anything better than mine (the dual vertical period, the rotated nostril mark) please write in immediately. My campaign depends on it.

Now, let's do a colon-oscopy, an in-depth examination of the colon, but not the icky kind. Let's look at the uses of the colon, as copied and pasted here from The Guide to Writing and Grammar:

(From here on down, I am cutting and pasting from said website, until further notice.)


Use a colon [ : ] before a list or an explanation that is preceded by a clause that can stand by itself. Think of the colon as a gate, inviting one to go on:

There is only one thing left to do now: confess while you still have time.
The charter review committee now includes the following people:
the mayor
the chief of police
the fire chief
the chair of the town council
You nearly always have a sense of what is going to follow or be on the other side of the colon.

We will often use a colon to separate an independent clause from a quotation (often of a rather formal nature) that the clause introduces:
The acting director often used her favorite quotation from Shakespeare's Tempest: "We are such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded with a sleep."
We also use a colon after a salutation in a business letter . . .


Okay, here is where I stop copying and pasting from the website, though I do want to mention, for those of you who are huge colon fans (like myself), that if you scroll to the bottom of that website, you will find The Poor Man's Animated Exercise on Uses of the Colon, with fabulous and (literally) colorful examples of when to use and when not to use the beloved colon.

Okay, so here's what I like so much about colons: You nearly always have a sense of what is going to follow or be on the other side of a colon. And that's why I adore using colons in poems. I like to follow a colon with something that I hope the reader won't expect to follow or be on the other side, combined with the structural implication that I did in fact expect the reader to expect it, or know it, or to perhaps bop herself on the side of the head thinking "Why didn't I see that coming?" I love the tension, all embodied in that one tiny punctation mark: the colon. In fact, I probably use colons too often: so sue me.

And I love the inventive use of other punctuation marks in other people's poems too. For example, Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon in her book Open Interval uses the em-dash and the colon in combinations that my poor brain cannot understand. Reading those poems gave me a headache. I actually threw the book at one point, my head hurt so badly. And I loved every minute of it. Van Clief-Stefanon almost tore a hole in my brain with all that wild punctuation, and how often do you get to say that?

So here's what I want from you, readers, if any of you actually made it this far:
1) suggestions for re-christening the colon
2) examples of other poems and poets using punctuation creatively and to great effect
3) tributes to your own favorite punctuation marks.

The end. (And none too soon.)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Yay for Mary Ruefle

Mary Ruefle, a favorite poet, has won the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America. Check out the award and a poem of hers here.


With the official death toll at over 18,000 last night, I turned off the television and climbed into bed with a book I hoped would comfort me. I chose Robert Hass's Human Wishes, as old favorite.

The second poem in the book, "Vintage," contained this line, quoting the Japanese haiku master Basho:

"Basho said: avoid adjectives of scale, you will love the world more and desire it less."

While excellent advice, it struck me as slightly ironic given all the measurements reported constantly here: the death toll, the emission of microsieverts of radiation, the circumference of the area of danger, etc. Naturally we need these measurements, and they aren't merely adjectives or judgements, but facts required for us to make prudent decisions.

But Basho's words are a reminder that given this disaster at the Fukushima plant, and the BP oil accident of not long ago, we must consider the demands we are making on this earth to provide us with convenient forms of energy. We must love the planet more, and desire less. And avoid adjectives of scale so that we might desire it (the planet and its resources) less.

A few pages later I read Hass's poem "Calm," or perhaps I should say, I misread it, as I so often do. The line which actually says, "It hums and stops, hums and stops" I misread as "It humans and stops, humans and stops."

Which is exactly what is. And then isn't.

Monday, March 21, 2011

What Harriet Thinks About the Japanese Crisis

You may already know about this, but Harriet, a blog of the Poetry Foundation, asked their Facebook fans for poems of sorrow and grieving that might be relevant to the crisis in Japan. Their stated aim is to "balance our feelings of helplessness with constructive or creative energy (derived from hope)" and to "allow us to begin speaking about what is happening, to cast off numbness, and to begin grieving."

You probably won't find any lines here that you haven't read before, but at times like these, the familiar is often what is comforting.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

More Ways for Writers to Help Japan

Here are more ways for writers to help Japan by practicing their craft. Check out the Paper Tigers blog.

Thanks to writer Suzanne Kamata for passing along word of this link.

I'm Featured in the Japan Times Today

If you have a moment, Kris Kosaka of the Japan Times wrote a very nice article about my poetry and my life in Japan. View it online here: Poetess Achieves Duality of Words, Numbers.

Thanks, Kris, for a wonderful job!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Writers Unite for Earthquake Relief

If you are a writer who wants to contribute to earthquake relief via your craft, this is your opportunity. Here's a call for submissions by a group of writers who are planning an ebook, the proceeds of which are to benefit earthquake victims. Themes about Japan are encouraged (perhaps required?), and the call for submissions states they are looking for work by writers and translators living in Japan. Check out Write For Tohoku for yourself and see what you can do to contribute.

Japanese Disaster Vocabulary

Here's a link to a list of helpful vocabulary if you are getting your earthquake/tsunami/radiation news in Japanese but are not a native speaker.

Thanks to Hanna from the MIJ list who made me aware of it, and Harvey whose blog it is.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Cover(t) Operation

I've been avoiding mentioning this, because it seems so irrelevant to everything that is going on in Japan, but if you are interested, my forthcoming book The Insomniac's Weather Report (from Three Candles Press) has both an ISBN number (and you know how I love numbers) and a cover design. See below. The book itself should be available on, Barnes & Noble, and Small Press Distribution later this week. I'll post the links once it's up.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


While watching the news obsessively for hours, I suddenly remembered something I had read a long time ago. I can't remember where I read it, but it went roughly like this: When you go to bed at night, if you know where everyone you love is, then you've had a good day.

The news anchors keep displaying pictures of Japan with dots marking all the aftershocks, or color-coded shading showing the measured levels of radioactivity in each region. Both of these maps are covered with symbols and colors up north. There is no map showing the levels of despair and sadness. Even if there was a way to quantify such a thing, how could there be a map big enough.

Eavesdrop on AWP

Are you stuck inside the house, not able to go out because of dangerous radiation levels, or something like that? Now might be a good time to eavesdrop on some sessions from the 2011 AWP Conference (AWP is the Association of Writers and Writing Programs) that are offered online by CLMP (The Council of Literary Magazines and Presses.

I have never made it to an AWP Conference yet, so I was glad to read about this opportunity on Facebook as mentioned by the poet C. Dale Young.

Maybe it will help you pass the time as you wait for news on developments in the aftermath of the earthquake.

Update on the Inlaws in Sendai

I just wanted to let everybody know that my husband's relatives in Sendai, one of the cities hardest hit by the tsunami, have returned to their home. This is incredible news, as their home was thought to have been lost. In fact, their entire neighborhood was spared by the tsunami. Although there is some earthquake damage to their house, it is inhabitable. Asked about power and resources, we were told, "Things are getting better." The Japanese have an attitude called "Gaman," which means to endure without complaint. Thus I have no idea what the power and supply situation is for them; there will be no whining about it (no matter how justified it would be)from these folks.

Anyway, we are blessed and happy to report the relatives are okay and not homeless. Now if we could just get a handle on the radiation situation.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Happy Pi Day

In the midst of all the tragedy, let's not forget it's Pi Day (the perfect time to celebrate irrationality is now, wouldn't you say? And irrational numbers string on endlessly, or should I say forever, which maybe should be some comfort now.)Thanks to Leslie, my best friend from college, for reminding me of this day and sending me the following link. Leslie also reminded me that today is the 132nd anniversary of the birth of Einstein. Yay, Leslie! Yay, Einstein! Yay, pi! Boo, earthquakes, tsunami, and radiation.

Pi Day Video

And for those who are SERIOUS about pi, my sister Joyanne sent the link to the FULL pi song, if you've got almost five minutes to devote to pi!

FULL Pi Song

Monday, March 14, 2011

More Japan Disaster Relief Links

More links to places accepting donations, thanks to Wendy T. in Florida:

World Vision
ChildFund International

How to Donate to Japan Disaster Relief

Here are some places to donate money for disaster relief in Japan. Thanks to Heather S. in Kobe for providing these links to US relief organizations.

The Salvation Army

The Red Cross
Shelter Box
Global Giving

Heather also provided a local link through Yahoo Japan:

Yahoo Japan giving link

Red Cross also has a link through if that's easier for some people:

Red Cross via

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Disaster and Real Life

This weekend I had planned to write a post about rejection. But then the earthquake and tsunami happened, and it no longer seemed like it was appropriate to write about feeling bad after getting a letter of rejection from a literary journal. It feels somehow wrong to be thinking, let alone writing, about anything other than the disaster and the people up north who are suffering so terribly, including the family of my sister-in-law, who have lost their home, although they were lucky to be evacuated in time from their deluged city of Sendai.

But I haven’t got anything to write about the earthquake or its aftermath. You are likely getting your information the same way I am, from media outlets, and probably know as much as I do, if not more. (I usually get news from CNN or AP on the internet before (sometimes hours before) it is presented on Japanese news). And I am still in shock to the point of not having anything to add in way of reflections on the events. And so I feel rendered speechless.

For awhile I was rendered actionless too, unable to move away from the television. But trying to find ways to contact family and friends in the danger zones, to help, to donate, and to conserve energy (as the government here has asked us to do, so that they can divert as much energy from this area to up north as possible) has allowed me to feel like it I have activities that are morally defensible in the face of tragedy. But I must also somehow come to feel like living my life, affirming it by continuing with my usual activities, is also an appropriate response to tragedy. For the sake of my children, at least, I must find a way to believe this. And I will, with time.

Time, as always, will be the solution, although it is also almost always the problem. In this case I guess you would say the problem is more one of space-time. Or space-space. My sons asked me this morning why the earth hated people so much as to do this to them, so we talked about how the earth has always had earthquakes, even before there were people here to make records of them (though the planet makes her own records), and that there will be earthquakes long after people are gone. We concluded that earthquakes have nothing to do with people at all. They are just a fact of this planet’s construction, nothing to take personally. But sometimes it’s hard not to take it personally. Which is partly what I was going to say about rejection letters too. And so I have circled back to my originally intended topic, back to my usual life, and I feel about this both guilty and …… I’m not sure what.

Friday, March 11, 2011


Just checking in briefly to say that here in Kobe we are safe. We could feel the quake and some aftershocks, and we are worried about friends and family in Sendai, one of the places that was hit the worst. But we are fine and expect to remain so. Thanks to everyone who checked in with us.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The (Zen) Gong Show

So in my last post I mentioned a poet who adopted the technique usually used to begin meditation pracice in order to start her writing practice: the sound of a gong. Her gong was online, but I had misplaced the link to it so I could not share it with you at that time.

It turns out that merely Googling "online meditation timer" brings up a plethora of programs that will sound a gong or bell at the beginning of a quiet period (or period accompanied by music if you so choose) and that will signal the end of the period (the length of which you can set yourself) to let you know it's over. No more peeking at the clock when you are supposed to be writing (or meditating.) And maybe the sound will become an effective trigger that encourages you to leave your ordinary consciousness and enter your writing (or meditating) mind. Or exit it, if that's the key.

One of the websites that came up in my search is the original one in the article I read. Here it is as offered by Treeleaf Zendo. This site has Japanese-y graphics, and the meditation begins with the sound of a woodblock first (actually it sounds more like something bouncing; if you know what it is, please comment), prior to the gong, a feature which I particularly like, since it gives me even more time to prepare to begin, and we all know how I like to put off writing. You can also choose a sutra or silence during the time period you select, and you can download an mp3 of your choices.

If you don't need the bouncy-woodblock sound first, try this meditation timer offered by Insight Meditation Center. This one has the visual of a statue of Buddha, plus a version of the timer downloadable to your computer. Otherwise just click on the blue arrow to the right of the length of time you choose in order to listen online.

By the way, I should mention that what I have been calling gongs are really bowls that are hit by small mallets made for the purpose.

If you wish to avoid the gong-bowl thing altogether and use a bell tone instead, then perhaps the timer at Washington Mindfulness Community is for you. There's a choice of small bells and big bells, and you can even put a randomizer on the tones so that the rings come at unknown intervals, if that's your thing. (By the way, when testing the bells, hit the test buttons three or four times to get a complete idea of the range of vibrations available.)

Finally, I found a site that offers a long list of possible tones to begin your practice. Among the 15 different sounds offered by Your Meditation Timer are a ship's bell, actual gongs, pianos, and goblets. This program allows you to make mp3's as well.

If none of these suits you, try Googling the subject yourself. There are far more options out there than I can mention here!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

What I'm Doing When I'm Not Writing

“It's hell writing and it's hell not writing. The only tolerable state is having just written.” —Robert Hass

Recently, dissatisfied with my income from editing and proofreading out of my home, I took a part-time job teaching three to five mornings a week. Including the commute, it takes only four hours and 20 minutes of my time each day I work. The plan was that I would leave the house after the boys went to school, return home two hours before they got back, and during those two hours I would write. By juggling my schedule creatively, I would increase my income with minimal loss of precious writing time, though I would be noticeably busier at other times of the day. And night.

The plan hasn’t worked out that well. Instead I find myself squandering my two writing hours, unable to disengage from the outside world and enter the space in my head where I write. I’m sure it can be done, that there is some trick or trigger that could get me there. I’m sure it’s a matter of discipline, which I thought I had, but now am no longer convinced of.

I once read about a writer who uses the sound of a gong that begins Zen practice to begin her writing practice. In a Pavlovian way, she has trained herself that the sound of the gong means it is time to clear her mind and start writing. She even uses a virtual gong tone she found online so she can enter writing consciousness at her desk in front of her PC.(I was going to put the link here but I can’t seem to locate it now.) Anyway, it turns out this method doesn’t work for me.

So what is it that I’m doing instead of writing? I check my email, my blog hits, my website hits. Then I do the ironing I was saving to do at the same time that I supervise homework, since I can answer math questions and listen to oral reading assignments and still iron at the same time, but I cannot write at the same time. Then I check my email again, because someone might have sent me fabulous news in the last 45 minutes, maybe the link to a gong tone, right? Next I work on editing a paper for a client, even though I was planning to do that later in the evening after the boys have gone to bed, since I can edit when not completely fresh but can’t seem to write then. And then the boys are home and the chance to write is gone.

This week the wise poet Mari L’Esperance posted the following on her Facebook update: The avoidance of writing is akin to an avoidance of death. To write is to actively acknowledge the possibility and limitation of language and, correspondingly, of oneself in this lifetime...

Oh, so that’s what I’m doing when I’m not writing. I knew it wasn’t really about folding the laundry or writing lesson plans.

Later Mari L’Esperance added this in the comments section of her Facebook update: One could also say that writing all the time is also a kind of avoidance of death...

The combination of L’Esperance’s seemingly contradictory observations are what I think Robert Hass meant by “The only tolerable state is having just written.”

Now it is Sunday morning. My husband took the boys out for the morning and will bring them home after lunch. He is giving me time to write. I put on my book-shaped earrings (this is the first time I have attempted a physical talisman) and will settle in to write seriously some poetry. As soon as I finish updating my blog, as though the insightful and concise words of Robert Hass and Mari L’Esperance could ever be improved upon by my recursive ruminations……

Well, hello there, Death.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Getting it Wright

One of my all-time favorite poets, Charles Wright, was featured on PBS NewsHour this week. Check it out here.

List Lust

I love a list. In fact I sometimes have so many lists going that I make a master list of my lists.

But here's a list that's useful for everyone who submits work to literary journals: Diane Lockward's list of print journals that accept online submissions. It's newly updated and worth your perusal.

There are so many reasons to submit online: convenience, cost, conservation of paper, confirmation of receipt, to name a few, but especially when you live abroad and want to submit to journals in the US, online processes make a tremendous difference. This past month I went to submit to two different journals I think highly of, found out that they don't have an online submission process, and gave up. I still want to submit to them, but later, when I have more time, more cash, more whatever.

While you are at Diane's blog, scroll down a bit to find the form to subscribe to Diane's monthly poetry newsletter. It's on the right below the pictures of her followers. I'm a subscriber and find her prompts, reviews, and book suggestions very helpful. And brief but effective (which this blog has yet to be, but I'm trying.....)

And here's a link featured in Diane's March newsletter, The Ivory Tower, a list of journals and the links that lead directly to their submissions guidelines, sent to Diane by Ken Ronkowitz.

And of course there are the old standbys: NewPages and Duotrope. Duotrope, by the way, has a terrific weekly newsletter you'll want to subscribe to, and a tracking program for you to manage your submissions.

Have I missed your favorite list of journals? If so, please comment. Let the list lust begin.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

YA Foray into Wordplay

I don't know much about YA (young adult) fiction, but I have noticed recently a trend of YA novels in verse. I even saw on the blog of a literary agent the following warning: Don't send me any more YA novels in verse as I've already got one sitting on my desk that I like, so I won't be looking at yours. Or something to that effect.

Sonia Sones has a rather extensive list of novels in verse on her website (scroll down the page till you get to the right list; it's not the first one). Although her target audience seems to be the over-twelve age group, she lists Anne Carson's Autobiography of Red, which is a fabulous book but hardly one I would recommend for that young a crowd (due to stylistic sophistication rather than content, but clearly I'm not a good judge of what the YA market wants anyway). Still, Sone's website is a great resource if you are looking for novels in verse for the YA reader. There's a less extensive list, but one that has synopses of the stories and the issues dealt with, at Connected Youth.

Somehow the idea that teenagers would be interested in reading novels in verse strikes me as counterintuitive. I don't know why. After all, rock lyrics are the last bastion of the rhyming couplet, and there's nowhere better to find inventive wordplay than in rap music. And when do most people experiment with secretly writing poetry? Their teen years, right? So wouldn't they want to read verse as well? Still, I find it odd that the young adult market wants to read novels in verse. Odd, but hopeful.

For a recently released novel in verse written by an ex-pat American living in Japan, see Holly Thompson's Orchards (Delacorte/Random House), the story of a half-Japanese half-Jewish American teen who must cope with the extent of her responsibility for the suicide of a classmate due to bullying. The protaganist wasn't herself the bully, but neither did she interfere with the dynamics in motion. (Disclaimer: I haven't actually read the novel yet. Living in Japan with a limited book budget which must take into account overseas shipping in addition to book price, I tend to spend my cash on plain old poetry, but I will get around to reading this someday.)

Like most effective YA novels, Orchards deals with some pretty sophisticated issues. Perhaps the use of verse as a medium helps add some beauty to what is an otherwise stark subject. Maybe the poetry helps the reader cope with the difficult issues. I don't know. I just know it's a trend, and apparently an effective one.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Alphanumeric Soup

Recently I read a brief review of poet Noah Eli Gordon's new book The Source (Futurepoem Books), in which his process of assembling this particular work by borrowing text from the pages 26 of various books available in the Denver Public Library was described. Why 26? Because that's the number of letters in the alphabet. When I read about this process, a convergence of the alphabet and integers, I immediately put this book on my "to-read" list.

I have never liked the dichotomy of "English majors who can't count" and "math majors who can't read." I myself love letters and numbers equally, and see them as symbols which do roughly analogous work, drawing from me similar emotions. I'm even secretly jealous of synesthetes (people who experience two sensory responses in tandem), in particular those who have grapheme-color synesthesia, in which letters or numbers are perceived as inherently colored. Such an individual will see the numeral two always as colored orange, for example, and she will feel that numbers or letters have a kind of personality of their own. (Synesthesia often runs in families, by the way, though individual perceptions of linked sensory responses will not be identical.)

I'm not that lucky. I do have a very strong preference for odd numbers over even numbers (and of course favor prime numbers further). I also confuse and transpose the numerals 4 and 7 with regularity, since those two seem to have very similar characters to me. Furthermore I would like to re-order the alphabet so that the letter H came before the letter G instead of after it, as I have always suspected the extant order to be unnatural. But that's about the extent of my feeling for the personality of letters and numbers. I merely love them indiscriminantly.

Thus I am always pleased to see writers who use letters and numbers together to create their work--Kabbalah-like or not, tending towards numerology or towards statistical analysis, I don't care. Just put numbers with words and I already start to quiver with anticipation.

A few weeks ago I read the late great Inger Christensen's alphabet (New Directions), translated from the Swedish by Susanna Nied (who won the American-Scandanavian PEN Translation Prize for this work). Christensen used two contraints (and I love a good constraint, let alone two), one based on the alphabet and one on numbers. Did I swoon? You know I did.

First, Christensen began each of her fourteen sections with a different letter of the alphabet, in order from A through N, and she kept the occurrence of that letter throughout its section way above the statistical norm.

Second, she used a Fibonacci sequence to structure the number of lines per section. A Fibonacci sequence is one in which each number is the sum of the previous two numbers, with the classical case being: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, 233, 377, 610, 987, etc. Since only the purest stanza can have 0 lines in it, Christensen began with the third number in the classic Fibonacci sequence, so that her first section consists of 1 line, the second section has 2, the third 3, the fourth 5, etc. It gets a little hairy at the end, trying to get the line numbers to total a Fibonnaci number, but by then the pattern is established and deviation from it only emphasizes it. And if that wasn't enough, the stanzas within sections usually consist of a Fibonacci number of lines, often in order (that is, within a given section, the first stanza might have 3 lines, the second stanza 5, the third 8, and so on).

And did I mention the gorgeous use of repetition throughout this long poem? And did I mention the gorgeous use of repetition throughout this long poem?

Here's a final question for you: do you think it's a coincidence that the alphabet has 26 letters and the year has exactly twice that number of weeks? (Insert spooky music in your mind here.)