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Sunday, July 31, 2011


Anna Clark at her blog Isak recommends a reading list for writers of narrative nonfiction at this link.

Kevin Brockmeier relays amusing things people actually said to him at the Iowa Writers Workshop for the Los Angeles Review of Books here.

That's all I've got for you today. (What did you expect? It's the end of the month, a long hot month it was too.....)

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Book Shame

Just the other day I was emailing with my virtual friend Chris about books we haven't read and are embarrassed not to have. His was Malcolm Lowry's Under the Volcano; mine was (is!) Herman Melville's Moby Dick. We both have copies of our unread books and we both have good intentions, but......

Today on the blog at Hunger Mountain many editors reveal their Book Shame, classics they feel they should have read by now but haven't. I'm happy to report that at least one other person hasn't read Moby Dick!

Since my last post was about reading, and the previous one was about shame, book shame seems right up my alley.

What about you? What haven't you read that nags at you?

Friday, July 29, 2011

Reading to Excess

The other day I heard an interview with author Nina Sankovitch on the Leonard Lopate Radio Show. The discussion was about her new book, Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading, a memoir of the author's year of reading a novel a day as a way of working through her grief over  her sister's death (her sister was in her mid-forties).

During the interview Nina Sankovitch makes the remark that most people cannot fathom reading 365 novels in a single year. I, actually, can. During my heaviest reading period (when I commuted to work by train for nearly 2 hours each way), I read about 500 novels a year. Yes, that's right, 500, not 50. I read at least one a day, usually started the 2nd, and occasionally made it part of the way into a 3rd book of the day.

Even when not reading at such a pace, I have almost always read between 200 and 300 books a year, which is about 4 to 6 a week. Recently, however, I have lost my drive to read. I am down to 2 or 3 books a week, sometimes just 2. This is a scant number for me, a quick reader who would rather curl up with a book than just about anything. Until now. (And if you are wondering how I manage this much, I never watch television, ever, unless a family member asks me to join them. Or unless American Idol is on. It's stunning how much time you have if you don't watch tv.)

I taught myself to read when I was 4 years old. I remember the day. I had asked and asked my mother to teach me all morning, but she was busy. She finally got exasperated and told me to go across the street and ask our neighbor Mrs. Hannenberg, since she had been an elementary school teacher. We kids all called Mrs. Hannenberg "Mrs. Hamburger" (I once heard my mother in her most charming voice tell Mrs. Hannenberg that the children at our house called her "Mrs. Hummingbird," which I think my mother would rather we had called her, and Mrs. Hannenberg, the veteran teacher, replied, "That's odd. Most children call me Mrs. Hamburger." There was no putting one over on Mrs. Hannenberg.)

(And I guess I should mention that my mother used to be an elementary school teacher too. But when I was 4, she had 4 kids under the age of 5. She was a busy woman.)

So I marched across the street and told Mrs. Hannenberg that this was the day I was going to learn to read, and could she help me. She gave me a blue cloth-cover book of the "Meet Dick and Jane" series and sent me home. I sat on the couch with the book and would not get up until I could read. I was in tears, highly frustrated, when my mother told me to go outside and swim with the other kids, but I refused. I was going to learn to read. I had the alphabet under control, so I had a good start. Finally, the sounds came together and made words, and by the end of that afternoon, I had read the whole book. Mrs. Hannenberg told me to keep it. Maybe my parents have it still.

Since that time, I have read like crazy. Except for when I was in grad school and had no time to read anything but texts and academic papers (I didn't go to grad school for anything literary), and when I  had two kids under two years of age and I hardly read except for books on child-raising. And for now, when I am reading only 2 or so books a week (for the past 15 years, I have read a lot of nonfiction and a ton of poetry in addition to the novels I read.)

I don't know why I am not compelled to read these days. The heat? The general busy-ness of my life? The lack of books I really want to read here in Japan (which never stopped me before--having to read anything I could get my hands on here has broadened my scope immensely)?

I don't know why, and I don't know for how long this general reading malaise will last. Anybody ever gone into reading withdrawal? Maybe it's a good thing?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Shame on Me

"What people are ashamed of usually makes a good story.” F Scott Fitzgerald

I saw this quote on Quotes4Writers, the Twitter feed (worth subscribing to, if you like these kinds of quotes).

So, what are you ashamed of? Okay, now write.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Poetry Garage

Have you ever parked in one of Disneyland's vast parking lots and had to remember where your car was by the name of an animated character whose visage was nearest your parking spot? How about remembering which floor of a garage you are parked on? Do you refer to numbers, or color codes?

One parking garage in Chicago has helped its patrons remember the floors where they left their cars through poetry. How do they do that, you might wonder, and is it effective?

Check out the whole story of the Poetry Garage in this Poetry Foundation audio feature.

Dzanc: Buy One Get One Free

For a limited time, Dzanc is having a buy one book, get a second (of equal or lower price) book free. The sale starts today and ends 8/6/2011, so hurry.

There are so many reasons this is a good thing. One is the great quality of books offered by Dzanc. For example, their lineup features great poetry including two books I've loved,  Michele Battiste's Ink for an Odd Cartography  and Daniele Pantano's The Oldest Hands in the World, and recently they published T. J. Beitelman's Pilgrims: A Love Story, about which I've heard great things.

For fiction, consider the short stories of Shellie Zacharia in Now Playing (Shellie's an old friend from my Florida days) or Yannick Murphy in In a Bear's Eye, or the novel Pirate Talk or Mermalade by Terese Svoboda, an always original voice.

Another great reason to support Dzanc is because of all their programs to foster literacy and literature. For example, they have a Writer- in-Residence Program which brings writers into the public schools, they run the online mentorship program Dzance Creative Writing Sessions, and they offer student internships, among many other programs. The Best of the Web Series is also one of their projects.

So there are great books from a worthy organization. What are you waiting for?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Intersection of Writing and Selling

The other day I praised certain online booksellers, a major benefit to those living abroad. Today I'd like to highlight the inimitable role of the small independent bookseller in the community--in particular, the independent booksellers whose interest in literature is so deep that they actually write books as well as sell them, or perhaps I should say they sell books as well as write them, since the writing came first in these cases.

Recently, the Huffington Post has run an article about writers who own bookstores. Specifically they discuss Ann Patchett's plan to open an independent bookstore in her city of Nashville at the same time that the chain of Borders is closing.

Patchett is frustrated at living in a city without a bookstore for first-run books, so she and business partner Karen Hayes have decided to take on the task of providing one themselves. While Patchett needs the bookstore to become self-supporting, she plans to treat is as a non-profit in the way that she makes decisions. That is, she hopes to reflect a social consciousness in what she is able to offer to customers and to the community. This includes the intention to hire well-informed book-loving employees who can favor customers with suggestions and opinions about what's on the market, one way she can differentiate her store from the online vendors.

Other bookstore-owning authors mentioned in the article include Garrison Keillor, Larry McMurtry, and Louise Erdrich. Erdrich's  niche in particular is discussed in the article. Her store is made from  reclaimed materials, and her stock focuses on Native American literature, reflecting the values and personality of the owner.

What greater commitment can a writer show to her community and to her craft than by investing in the small indepent bookstore. Bravo for these writers. (And where do they find the time to do both, I wonder....)

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Creativity and Failure (Fear of)

Samuel Beckett famously said, "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better."

Now  Stockholm's Berghs School of Communication has solicited advice for its design students from successful and creative people concerning their relationships with failure, and fear of failure. Paulo Coelho and Milton Glaser are among some of the people whose expertise is tapped.

See selected videos here, and if you desire, go to the original website and click on the words in yellow boxes to activate all the videos available. (I especially liked Michael Wolff's "Leap before your look" motto, which he uses to goad himself into doing things without overthinking them, thereby abandonding the idea to fear before trying it.)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Work of Artist Maggie Taylor

Looking through the website From the Desk of, which I featured earlier this week in my post entitled Working Spaces, I happened across the desk of artist Maggie Taylor, and was happily reminded of the first time I came across her work on the cover of the literary magazine Copper Nickel Issue 11.

I was immediately stunned by the dreamlike imagery (which usually doesn't do much for me) and the surreal poses of the animals and people featured in Taylor's work. I hurried to the internet to find out more about Taylor and her work. Spookily, one of the little girls who appears numerous times in her pictures looks to me like me (although my family members do not see the resemblance, but I do, I DO.) (See said little girl below.)

Check out Maggie Taylor's website to see her renderings of the Alice in Wonderland classic story, plus other examples of her ephemeral work and her unusual obsessions, including headlessness, houses on fire, fish as ornaments, wings on things generally unwinged, people partially obscured or fading, floating and rising, and more.

Learning more about Maggie Taylor, I discovered that she lives with her artist husband Jerry Uelsmann in Gainesville, Florida, where my family and I spent some very happy years when our children were tiny and my husband was doing a post-doc.

Check out her work and her books, which can be found at her website. (Note that she collaborated with Florida poet Lola Haskins on the beautiful book Solutions Beginning with A.) Here's a brief explanation of Taylor's process, which uses Adobe Photoshop CS for collage technique.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Books without Borders

By now you've heard that Borders Books is going out of business (I stole the title of this post from this link, by the way).

As sad as this makes me (a writing group I used to belong to met in the cafe of a Borders in Florida, so I'm sad and nostalgic both), I'd like to offer a few other booksellers as resources. These will be particularly relevant to people living abroad in non-English-speaking countries, people like me who have few options other than the online superstores when it comes to buying books written in English .

Here are two great places I have found to buy books over the internet.

The first is Better World Books. Offering free worldwide shipping and prices on both new and used books that can be hard to beat, this is a great choice. Plus, each book is linked to a charity, and part of the purchase price goes to a good cause. You find out which worthy literary or library cause you are contributing to when you put your book in your shopping cart. Wouldn't you rather give your dollars (or yen) to a for-profit company with a social mission than to the other options out there?

Second is the UK Book Depository. Also offering free worldwide shipping, the largest dedicated online bookstore in Britain sells only new books (as far as I can tell anyway). Interested in reviving titles that are out of print, they have their own imprint, Dodo Books, which offers more than 11,000 free ebooks of obscure but interesting volumes they are interested in making available to readers by lowering the risk of trying something unusual.

These two places should make shopping for your summer reads easy and cheap. However, you do want to compare prices. Sometimes the volumes offered above are ridiculously cheap, and sometimes they are overpriced. The bigger problem is that despite their efforts to offer lots of variety, if you are looking for a particular volume of poetry, you may have difficulty getting it from one of these two places. Or maybe not. If you want any book by a particular author, you can usually get one.

Okay, ready, set, shop!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

August Poetry Postcard Fest

Believe me, I'm cringeing as I post a third time today. Sorry, but there's a deadline involved.

The August Poetry Postcard Fest begins, one assumes, in August. One would be wrong. In order for the first postcards to arrive August 1st, it begins on or about July 27th (or slightly earlier if you will be posting from overseas to the earliest addresses on your list.)

Well, fabulous, now you know when it starts, but what is it? It's a list of poets who agree for the entire month of August to daily send a postcard with an original poem written on it to another poet, one a day to a different poet every day. In return, poets will receive postcards with original poems from different participating poets at a rate of about one a day (allowing for the vagaries of the postal system) for the month of August.

But wait, there's more. Poems can be in response to (on any level you wish) the image on the postcard and/or postcards you have already received from other poets and/or your sense of place and/or anything you want.

Sound like fun? It is. I participated last year and loved sending and receiving poems in the mail from all over the world. If you are interested, click on the link above to learn more, and to find out how to sign up.

This is, by the way, the brain child of poets Lana Ayers and Paul E. Nelson.

Submit to This

I really don't like to post more than once a day, but this post by Blake Butler at HTMLGiant entitled "22 Things I Learned from Submitting Writing" is a must-read for anyone who is, well, submitting their work. So many great points, and excellent perspective.

Here are a few excerpts:

4. Often editors who reject you are doing you a favor. Either the piece isn’t great and needs work (thus saving you face of looking back later like whyyyyy did I publish this) or taking a strong piece and making it stronger because of force of will. Yeah sure some editors just are pussies but so what. The work is never done.

6. Deletion is holy.

9. If you really want to publish a book one day you will publish a book. The time that you spend getting there is kind of wonderful. Don’t cut it short. The emotional range is valuable.

16. College journals are frequently a wild toss. Their boards change as students come and go. This results not only in a wide field of difference in their aesthetic, but a kind of group mind that is harder to get through usually than a place run independently or by an individual. I once had a story accepted and published and then after the issue came out got a rejection letter from the new board. Play the game like the game deserves to be played.

If you read no other link I have posted on this blog, at least read this one. You won't be sorry.

Working Spaces

Living in Japan where space is always in short supply but high demand, I have developed a bit of an obsession with the writing and working spaces of other writers.

Today I discovered a site calle From the Desk of which shows the working spaces of writers, graphic artists, fashion designers, visual artists, etc. Currently featured is poet Matthea Harvey's office. On the right there is a list of other artists and writers who have shared photos of their workspaces, but that list is by no means comprehensive of all that is offered in the site. Once you get to Jesse Hora (the last one listed), you can still click on an arrow at the top of the entry that will take you to erasure artist Austin Kleon's workspace. And from there you can continue to click backwards even further. I don't know how far it goes; I gave up looking back in the entries from February of this year.

The UK Guardian for quite some time ran a similar series, rooms of writers and composers, but that ended in 2009, I believe.

And there's Jill Krementz's book The Writer's Desk, which I haven't seen myself. Clearly I'm not the only person interested in the workspaces of creative people.

While the series run by the UK Guardian features some utopian desks and spaces that made me feel even sorrier about the little computer table in the corner of a room crammed with office equipment that I call my desk, I was heartened by the spaces in From the Desk of. In particular there are visual artists, who really need space more than writers do, who are clearly working and creating from less than optimal circumstances, reminding me that as a writer who can work just about anywhere if I am determined to, I should feel lucky.

And today, listening to the winds and rain pick up as the typhoon edges nearer, I do feel lucky. I can work on my tiny cluttered computer desk; I can work at the dining room table; and I can shove the covers off the bed and arrange pages all over the mattress to work. And I don't have to brave the elements to get to my studio either (which I have always thought I wanted to have, and maybe still do....) I can even opt for the table of a coffee shop, though I wouldn't on a day like today.

I'll still yearn for my own space, my own room or studio, but I am grateful today to be a writer able to work from almost anywhere, if I am only dedicated enough. Yes, it would be great to set up a desk really conducive to concentration and creative stimulation (one without my sons' Legos under my feet and my husband's trousers hanging off the printer), but the best writing doesn't require it. That's a luxury, and waiting for such a space to come before I write my best work is just an excuse to be lazy now.

If you are so inclined, please share pics of descriptions of your own writing spaces, or dreams of the ideal writing space.

UPDATE: Spending more time on the From the Desk of site, I finally found that you can scroll all the way to the bottom, and find archives listed by month. Open each month and scan for the name of a person whose desk or workspace you are interested in, and then click on that person's name to see their entry. Entries go back to March 2010.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Pulling Against Tendency

The following quote is from poet Joanna Klink, as interviewed by Alice Quinn, in the New Salon Series sponsored by the Poetry Society of America.

"As a poet, you try to figure out what your tendencies are, and you try to pull in the other direction as much as possible."

For the entire reading and conversation, click on the link above (scroll down to the readings dated 7/1/11).

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Trouble with Translation

I'm not a translator, but I live in a bilingual household, and have to deal with translation and interpretation on a daily basis.

The story I'm about to tell I posted on Facebook earlier today, and I was astounded at the response to it. If you follow me on Facebook, you can skip to the bottom of this post, where there's one more story I tell that isn't about my family.

So I asked my sons, T (aged 11) and H (aged 9), what they thought about the Women World Cup being a contest between their mom's country and their dad's country. T looked at H and then said, "It's perfect. We can't lose."

I agreed. "That's true. We can't lose."

"Well, YOU can lose," T said pointedly to me.

The next day at the breakfast table, H said that he was hoping for a tie in the World Cup championship. We explained to him that a tie would not be allowed to stand. H said to me, in English, "Then I hope America wins, Mom." He turned to my husband and said, in Japanese, "Dad, I hope Japan wins."

We all started to laugh, and my husband said to H, "You do realize that everybody at this table heard and understood everything you just said, don't you?"

"Then everybody knows I was just translating," said H.

"But you said opposite things," T countered.

"No, I said the same thing," answered H.

These conversations reminded me of a PEN American podcast by several women poets and translators that I heard earlier this year. During the discussion, an Israeli translator told about how when she was translating a story into English, she came to the part in which the author had written that a character had gone down to the HomeDepot to buy something ordinary. The translator knew immediately that if she translated it as written, going down to the local HomeDepot, it would stop the foreign readers in their tracks. They would all start wondering, Wait! There are HomeDepots in Israel, really? (The translator assured the podcast audience not only that there are, but that they look eerily like HomeDepots in other countries.)

The problem was that what was meant by the author to be a sort of throwaway statement, a description of an ordinary action, would get all kinds of disproportionate attention if the actual name HomeDepot was used, and the sentence would lose the ordinariness it was meant to convey. So the translator opted to write that the character had gone to the hardware store to buy the item, a sentence that gave the workaday flavor that the author intended.

So what was the best way to translate that? I bet my son T would argue in favor of writing it as HomeDepot because it was a literal translation, and also the reader would learn something interesting and new.

However, I guess my son H would go with using the ordinary hardware store, since everyone would get the feeling that the author intended them to have when reading the sentence.

And what would I have done? Or you? Making that choice is one of the chief troubles of translating.

(If you want to listen to the PEN podcast, it is available on iTunes. Here's the link to the PEN Podcast website. It's the episode entitled "Women Poets from the Middle East," dated 3/1/2011.)

Friday, July 15, 2011

Bradbury's List

My parents recently sent me a box full of books and journals that they had received on my behalf (since I live in Japan, I often ask non-profits to send books to my parents' stateside address, and when they have a full box, they forward it to me).

In the almost magical box of books was two issues of Hunger Mountain, the VCFA journal of the arts, from last year. Flipping randomly through issue No. 15 : The Thing at the Top of the Stairs (which is an issue from 2010, delayed at my parents' home for an extended period of time), I noticed a lot of lists of seemingly random objects, each headed by an author's name, a date, and a location. Intrigued, I turned to the Editor's Note for an explanation. And found one.

It seems that Ray Bradbury, in his book Zen in the Art of Writing: Releasing the Creative Genius Within You, suggests a word association writing practice he himself uses, in which a writer makes a sudden list of nouns to reveal to the self the self's own obsessions, to know what images to follow in order to mine deep spaces within the self. The editors of Hunger Mountain gave a similar challenge to some of their contributors, to make a quick unplanned list of nouns, and those were the lists I was seeing throughout the journal.

I love a list, as regular readers of this blog will now. So I could not be more delighted with this issue. Here are some of the more startling items found on lists (name of the listmaker will be in parentheses, and the capitalization and punctuation will represent the lists as they stand in the journal):

The stamen (Bruce Smith)
the confession booth (Michael Martone)
The dripping faucet and the fact of stars (Weston Cutter)
spider eggs (Richard Adams Corey)
The auger....The crawl space. (Gladys Haunton)
Lackawanna (Angie Estes; her list was particularly singular)
periodic table of elements. (Josie Sigler)
Torque. (J. D. Lewis)

Now the list above is my list, since I filtered through the lists in which the known world had already been filtered by these writers and others. But I did make a list all on my own too. It included: roofs, graph paper, electrons, and apples. None of which were big surprises to me.

What will I do with this list? I don't know. Should you make a list for yourself? I don't know that either. But it couldn't hurt, and it might be fun, and it might lead you somewhere.

Let me know.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Spouses of Poets

In Praise of the Longsuffering Spouses of Poets

That was the real title I wanted to use, but it seemed kind of excessive for the sidebar list.

So last night before bed I was revising a poem, and I was stuck on an image. I knew I wanted some kind of mechanical imagine, but not having much vocabulary in that particular field, I couldn't think of what sort of mechanism to use.

My husband wanted to get up at 4 am to watch the women's soccer game between Japan and Sweden, so he wanted to turn out the light (I was working on the poem in bed), and since I was stuck anyway, I decided to just sleep on the problem.

At 2:30 am I woke up suddenly, having just had a very vivid dream in which my grandfather appeared. My grandfather, a great tinkerer with an avid interest in tools, hardware stores, and DIY projects, but who has been dead about a decade, had been with me in my dream, and when I woke up, I had three or four images that would all fit into the poem I was working on. It felt like my grandfather had brought me the images as a gift.

I didn't want to wake my husband, since he was going to be getting so little sleep anyway, but I had to write down everything, so I was sitting in bed scribbling in the dark. At about 3 am, my poor tired husband woke up and asked, "What are you doing?"

"Writing, sorry I woke you," I answered, still scribbling away.

My husband tossed and turned awhile and then feel asleep only to be awakened shortly after by his alarm. (The Japanese team won, by the way, so he later said it was worth the sleep deprivation.)

Poor spouses of poets, putting up with unfortunately timed fits of inspiration, with periods of dispirited reactions to rejections, with frantic looking for the right word instead of doing chores. Poor spouses having to maneuver around the piles of books everywhere, having to deal with the ramifications of the relatively low incomes of their artistic partners, and with partners who claim to be working although they appear to be just  staring off into space. Poor spouses who get asked to take the children out for the day so a poem or project can be worked on in peace, who find the printer out of ink and paper both since a round of manuscripts went out in the mail earlier that day. Poor spouses who say nothing of postal fees and entry fees for said manuscripts, who rejoice when acceptances come even though they have no idea what it means to have a poem in a certain journal. Poor dear spouses of poets.

This is in praise of all the longsuffering spouses of poets, especially mine.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

PSA Audio

The Poetry Society of America has added more readings, interviews, and discussions to its audio archive, including work by poets as diverse as Charles Wright, Olena Kalytiak Davis, Nick Flynn, Charles Simic, and Anne Carson. And more!

You can also download the podcasts through iTunes.

Well, there's goes my productivity for days as I listen to these!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Know Gnoetry?

Do you know about gnoetry? It’s the use of computer programs to write poems. Before you recoil in horror, have a look at this video demo of the Gnoetry 0.2 program in action. You’ll see how much of the “writing” is done by the person and how much by the program. (Actually, Gnoetry is the name of one computer program used to write poetry, and not the name of the movement of writing poems using computer assistance, but since I don't have a short phrase for that, I am going to use gnoetry as the name of the movement throughout this post. It is not correct. Don't copy me.)

Specifically, in the Gnoetry 0.2 program (here I am using the word Gnoetry correctly) the writer picks a form (haiku, renga, tanka, free verse, or a variation of syllabic forms) from a list, then chooses a number of existing texts that the vocabulary and grammatical syntax will be patterned after (in this video the writer chooses the haiku form, and the texts of Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass” and Lawrence Lessig’s Free Culture.)

Next the writer generates the poem by allowing the computer program to fill in the words subject to the constraints given by the selected form, and by the syntactical patterns and vocabulary from the text sources. In this case, the writer regenerates the poem many times without saving any lines at all, before hitting on a version ifrom which he decides to save a phrase. The writer at this point chooses which portion of the poem to save, then continues instructing the computer to regenerate the rest of the poem, around the one phrase he did decide to keep.

In this example, previously saved lines are abandoned when better ones come up, and regeneration continues many times until the end product in no way resembles previously saved versions of the poem. Which happens to resemble a lot of what I do in the rewriting process.

This Youtube demonstration showed me that gnoetry is not all that different from any other kind of writing in which the limits set by the writer generate the content in an evolutionary way. For example, consider Kay Ryan saying that she follows the sound of words, so that when two words have a similar sound and she has already used the first, she might insert the second into the poem, taking it off in an unexpected direction. Allowing the randomness of sound to change the content of a poem is not all that different from introducing randomness into a poem through computer intervention.

Recently I learned about poet Aaron Kunin’s book The Sore Throat and Other Poems, in which the poet limits himself to fewer than 200 words to be used recursively throughout the book. This kind of limitation generates all kinds of unexpected wordplay and a surprisingly vast array of content. How different is this from what gnoets do when they let a computer generate some of their limits via vocabulary (and, as in happens, syntax)? (Interestingly, one of the words in Kunin's limited allowable vocabulary is "machine," and in his poems his narrator builds machines for all kinds of purposes, including ending the machine-building impulse. One wonders what Kunin would make of gnoetry.)

Does gnoetry sound a bit like what was practiced in the Oulipo movement to you? Then you might want to check out the Gnoetry Daily blog, which lists (scroll down to the bottom right) different forms of gnoetry, including eOulip-esque and the recently-much-discussed Flarf movement. (This site also has everything you want to know about gnoetry.) These kinds of rule-based poems have a long history of being compused by individuals and groups. The difference here is that the group includes a computer program.

While I’m probably not going to be writing any gnoetry soon, I have used a random number generator in a poem before, and I am not averse to the idea of introducing randomness in ways outside of the chaos of my own mind, to see what happens, to serve creativity. As counterintuitive as it may seem initially, computers (like any good limitation) can enhance human creativity, when used properly.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

First Book Promo Advice

Neil Aitken, poet and editor of the Boxcar Poetry Review, is offering a new blog dedicated to guiding poets through the first-book promotion hullabaloo.

Aitken's new blog, Boxcar Station, so far has discussed the topics of general overview of publicity, getting blurbs, and writing compelling bios. With so much (if not all) of promotion falling to the poet these days, first-book authors generally have little to no experience in this area and scant guidance to follow. More topics, such as interviewing techniques, scheduling events at universities and other venues, applying for grants, and looking for residencies, are on a list of what Aitken hopes to cover in the future. Furthermore, there may be guest bloggers with views and experiences of their own that they can share, to diversify the info offered.

This is a blog for the uninitiated (and those with a few books under their belt) to keep in their line of sight.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Verse Daily

Today one of the poems from my new book, The Insomniac's Weather Report, is featured on Verse Daily. It's title is "Navigating by the Light of a Minor Planet."

I'm very grateful to Verse Daily for supporting my work.

And I'm very thankful to poet Erin Malone for the head's up about today.

A Propensity for Density

Density is an anagram for destiny, which seems only right to me today, as every poem I write turns out to be dense. Dense in form, words piled up one after another; dense with lines all left-justified one on top of the other; dense with meaning, all ideas from my mind instead of images from my senses.
I promised myself I would write airier poems, more imagistic, with more space, more leaps. But here I am writing bricks of poems again. Perhaps it’s because I’m trying to write quickly, and it’s easier to write this way. Writing through image instead of thought takes so much more time to get right. For me, anyway.
So yesterday I told myself I would finish up the two thick poems I was working on and then start on a more spacious one. But no, I am STILL not done the two monoliths I am working on. It’s like mining bedrock instead of chasing dragonflies in the air. Pure persistence will get me through the bedrock, but I might never catch an insect that has been around since prehistoric times, net or no net, regardless of how persistent I am.
But I want to do something different. I want to write the kinds of poems I like to read. Is that just too much to ask?
As Marcus Tullius Cicero said, “If I had more time I would have written a shorter letter.”

(Actually I remembered this quote as being by Blaise Pascal, and when I looked it up to verify, it turns out Pascal said something roughly equivalent, but with MORE words and LESS eloquence (as these two quotes are most commonly translated anyway--after all, neither one was originally stated in English). For the Pascal quote, and many others about fewer words taking more time, see the blog Intense Minimalism.)

Added later: Oh, I just remembered the most concise one, from Callimachus. "Mega biblion, mega kakon," which means "A big book is a big evil."

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Turk's Head Review

Turk Head's Review, formerly an exclusively online journal edited by James Esch (with whom I went to high school a million years ago), now offers print-on-demand hard copies and digital copies through Mag Cloud. From what I can tell, Mag Cloud is a service offered by Hewlett Packard to allow online magazines to offer print copies in a POD format.

This is an interesting option for publishers who want to offer a print format. Check it out.

For Parents Who Write

This post is for parents who write, or who sculpt or paint, or collage. Or writers and artists who parent. Mothers who make movies and fathers who photograph, listen up. The Sustainable Arts Foundation wants to support you. This foundation offers grants to parents with at least one child under 18 (with a preference for families living in the San Francisco Bay area) who are simultaneously trying to follow their artistic pursuits and raise their families.

The awards, available in the visual arts and in writing, reward excellence. Up to $6000 is available in each category.  Although the deadline for the summer award (May 20) has passed, you can begin preparing your application for the winter award (deadline September 30, award announced December 1).

Parent-artists, or artist-parents (depending on the day!), are always struggling to find enough time, money and  freedom to follow their twin pursuits, with all too little support in this world in which both parenting and the arts are undervalued in the marketplace. Thank goodness for organizations like the Sustainable Arts Foundation, which recognize the value of what we, parents and art-makers, are trying to accomplish with no sleep, no funding, and precious little time.

If you are a parent who could use some support in your pursuit of art, click on the link to see if this boon could work for you.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Photo Fun

Look at this fun picture I made at Photofunia. It features the covers of my book and chapbook, and a picture of me. There are lots of interesting effects you can make at that website, uploading a photo of your choice and then having it plastered to the sides of buildings, as the cover of Vogue, or as the picture on a postage stamp. People's faces can be attached to the bodies of Santa Claus, a Jedi knight, or a pirate, or can replace a president on Mount Rushmore (just in time for the 4th of July holiday). Plus many more amusing effects.

I learned about this site from Diane Lockward's monthly newsletter, which you can sign up for at her blog. Scroll down and the sign-up is on the right. Her newsletter recommends books about writing and creativity, features a monthly writing prompt, and always provides links to interesting websites she has found, such as this one. I always enjoy receiving her newsletter, a fast fun read with something new and stimulating every time.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

More Oxford Comma Uproar

Mary Elizabeth Williams at Salon chimes in on the Oxford comma uproar. Her article includes the following amusing lines:

'It's true that Oxford's new punctuation guide is only for its P.R. department, and it comes with the clause that "when a comma would assist in the meaning of the sentence or helps to resolve ambiguity, it can be used." The university press, Oxford further hastens to remind us, remains "a commercially and editorially autonomous organization." But the prospect of the beloved Oxford comma being dumped by its own kin seems cruelly ominous. It's like Hugh Hefner saying he's no longer interested in blondes.'

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Art of Eavesdropping

If you took a look at Julianna Baggott’s Boot Camp, which I blogged about earlier this week, you will have seen that one of her ideas for gathering raw writing material is eavesdropping. I’ve heard this advice before: listen to the language around you and write it down when it’s provocative. Seems like a good idea, yes?

Well, yes, particularly if you are living in a country in which the majority of people speak your native language. Otherwise, not so much. Or perhaps it’s just me who has this problem. I am conversant but not fluent in Japanese; I can understand most of what is going on around me. Specifically, I can eavesdrop. But for some reason, for me there is much less emotional content in words in Japanese than in the same words when spoken in English. I don’t know if that’s because I learned Japanese as an adult instead of during my childhood, or if the emotional content will come once I am completely fluent, or whether this is just a personality problem unique to me.

Here’s an example. My husband and I are raising two sons, so the word penis comes up in conversation. A lot more than I, one of seven daughters with only one brother, would have guessed. (For those of you without firsthand experience, consider potty training, hygiene, scratching one’s self in public, those sorts of topics that little boys have to be introduced to.)

Now, you will notice that I wrote the word penis in tiny letters, the way I say it. Which is in a tiny embarrassed voice, in a voice that desperately hopes no one can hear me except for the intended listener. It’s the way I was raised. But I have fixed that discomfort by learning to use the word penis in Japanese. It’s chinchin, by the way—that’s the colloquial form, not the medical word. I can say chinchin all day long and not blink an eye. It just has no embarrassing emotional content for me. Perhaps because no one ever shushed me for saying it, no one ever whispered it to me, teaching me by example that it was a word not to be spoken aloud.

So one day my husband and I were walking along downtown and I was telling him about a discussion concerning hygiene I had had with one of our sons, so that my husband would be on the same page as far as reinforcing good habits in our boys. I was chattering away about it, when my husband asked me to lower my voice. I was surprised. Why? I asked. I’m talking English, no one can understand me.

My husband sighed. You are talking English except for one word, chinchin. So here is what everybody around us hears, “Blah blah blah blah blah chinchin blah blah blah chinchin blah blah blah blah blah blah chinchin blah blah.”

(Or, to translate into English, “Blah blah blah blah blah penis blah blah blah penis blah blah blah blah blah blah penis blah blah.”) (Notice the type size is normal here because I was using my normal voice for the word in question, speaking that one word in Japanese of course.)

My husband is a doctor who doesn’t blush over any the names of any body parts or functions, but a quick look around confirmed what he was saying. People were staring at us, wondering what the heck we were talking about. Well, they knew what we were talking about, but they were clearly wondering why.

So, words that horrify me in English don’t affect me in Japanese at all. In fact, when I was reading Little Red Riding Hood to my sons (in English), we all three of us fell off the couch laughing when I got to the part about the Wolf saying, “Not by the hairs on my …..” That would have never happened with me and the word penis.

Okay, so eavesdropping in Japanese doesn’t have the same effect on me as eavesdropping in English, and I have precious little chance to eavesdrop in English. I guess overhearing for writing content is one piece of advice that won’t do me so much good these days. I considered jotting down things I heard in podcasts that I found fascinating, but that isn’t the same as recording people who don’t expect to have people listening to them. You don't get the same effect with people who are madly editing themselves to make the impression they intend. So for now, eavesdropping as an art form is out of the question for me. It’s not even fun to eavesdrop as a hobby, since nothing shocks me in Japanese, nothing has that learned punch of naughty English words.

I’d be curious to hear from other people who speak multiple languages. Do you get the emotional content in both/all of them? Is it just me? Do tell.....

Advice from 14 Poets

Robert Lee Brewer, at his website Poetic Asides, has put together a list of 14 poets' answers to the question, "If you could pass on only one piece of advice, what would it be?"

A quick look could get you thinking.....

Friday, July 1, 2011

Baggott's Boot Camp

I know, I know, three posts in one day is excessive. I will shut up after this one. But there's a deadline involved, so I need to say this now.

Celebrated author and poet Julianna Baggott is offering a most interesting-sounding writing boot camp over at her blog, and it starts tomorrow. So check it out, and sign up if interested. It sounds positively inspiring, and since Baggott herself is a prolific powerhouse, I know I listen when she gives advice.

Constructed Book

My copy, or rather my box, of Filter Literary Journal, Volume 3 has arrived at my mother's house in the States. She emailed me to say this amazing box of art and poetry had arrived. I can't wait for her to forward it to me in Japan.

In the meantime, I am content to read the review by Greg Bem at Hugo House in Seattle. From its descriptions, I get an idea of what an art object this journal truly is. Bem calls it "an important regional collection of artwork, literary and visual, that is filled, as a book should be, with anecdotal evidence of care and precision." Have a peek at his article, and maybe you, like me, will become impatient to get a peek at the real thing.

Voice Among Voices

I listen to a lot of podcasts, a lot of podcasts. I'm listening to one right now as I type (the Leonard Lopate show, if you are interested). Mostly I listen to poetry and science. Poetry interviews, poetry readings, and poetry craft talks (these are harder to come by), and science, anything about science I will listen to.

Why have I become addicted to podcasts (and yes, it is bordering on an addiction)? One reason is that living in Japan, I miss having a writing community and this helps a little. Another reason is that I miss hearing English, any English, even drivel, even nonsense. I can go whole days without hearing any English other than my elementary-aged kids' ramblings, and one of them has to be cajoled to speak in English. I just want to hear English. (I want to talk in English too, but haven't found such an easy solution to that problem.)

So I listen to a lot of poetry podcasts and have become somewhat sensitive to the voices of poets when they read their work. Intonation, pitch, speed, pronunciation, pauses, all of it. I'm paying attention to it. And yesterday I heard a poet read her own work in a voice that was mellifluous, absolutely perfectly phrased, pitched, modulated, and inflected. I even found myself just listening to the music of her voice and ignoring the words, a big mistake because her poems are tiny wonders even when read off the page by the voice in my head.

You may be wondering who this poet was. It was Keetje Kuipers, reading for KQED's The Writer's Block series. Click on the link to hear Kuipers's lush tones.

Do you have a poet who you particularly enjoy listening to? If so, please share, and include links to audio if you know of any.

And now, in totally unrelated news, did you hear that the University of Oxford has done away with the Oxford comma (the comma after the penultimate item in a series or list)? It makes me feel slightly ill just to think of it. I am rather passionate about punctuation. (I have even used the Oxford comma in this post.) Thank goodness they have left the semi-colon and the em-dash alone......