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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Lego Poets (My Worlds Collide)

Okay, as a parent who has had to sit sideways on my desk chair to use the computer because a Lego creation had been assembled underneath the desk, as a mother who has repeatedly had six small dots imprinted into the bottom of my foot from stepping on a Lego, I appreciate this: has a (old) blog post showing poets made out of Legos. Consider, for instance, the blocky Ezra Pound: borrowed their images from Flavorwire, which featured writers of all ilk in Lego form, including Mark Twain and Rene Descartes:

And frankly, I like the Lego Louisa May Alcott better than I liked the Mona Lisa Barbie (even if Louisa does look a little like Princess Leia, which as the mother of Star-Wars-lego-set-owning children, I can tell you is no coincidence; Descartes pieces I recognize from the Castle set, which we also own).

To see Hemingway, Poe, and more of your favorite classic writers in Lego, head over to Flavorwire.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Obsessions (& Numbers), but I Repeat Myself

So I have finally finished reading Moby Dick (yay, I know you are thinking, no more annoying page number updates). What I had always heard was a tale about Ahab's obsession with a particular white whale seems to be more Ishmael's obsession with whales in general. After all, which character could cite every court case in history involving whales? who knew a plethora of literary and historical references to whales from ancient times forward? who could describe the anatomy of every kind of leviathan, both inside and out?

Ahab's obsession was with revenge, not whales. And Melville's obsession, what was it about? Here's one of my favorite quotes from the book, and a clue to what I think Melville's obsession is: "And there is a Catskill eagle in some souls that can alike dive down into the blackest gorges, and soar out of them again and become invisible in the sunny spaces. And even if he for ever flies within the gorge, that gorge is in the mountains; so that even in his lowest swoop the mountain eagle is still higher than other birds upon the plain, even though they soar."

And my obsession, what is it that I should have finished this book after all?

I once read a quote about a writer with an obsession being the luckiest writer of all. Naturally I cannot locate that quote now that I want it, but instead I found a video clip from Big Think of John Irving answering a question about his own apparent obsession with bears and death.

Basically John Irving defends his use of bears as commonplace given his surroundings, and says his obsessions tend NOT to be about what HAS happened to him in his life, but what HASN'T, and what he fears WILL happen, his biggest FEARS, in fact. As Irving points out, you don't control your obsessions; by definition they control you.

And so I will now segue into one of my biggest obsessions: numbers (This will not surprise you, given how carefully I've kept track of which page number of Moby Dick I was on). I love to think about numbers, and recently I heard a podcast by Robert Krulwich (one of the hosts of my alltime favorite podcast, Radio Lab, though this particular podcast isn't a Radio Lab production, but a Krulwich Wonders piece.) In this clip he is interviewing  mathematician Alex Bellos, who is irked by always being asked what his favorite number is. (Here's the NPR blog if you prefer to read about it than listen to it.) So Bellos, like any good scientifically-minded person, decided to do a little research and set up a website asking, "What's your favourite number?" (using the British spelling because, well, you figure it out). Respondents also have to answer WHY a certain number is their favorite.

Here are a few interesting responses:

Because, says a 37-liker, "It looks mysterious, like a cloaked villain from a silent movie."

One person chose 17 because ... "It just seems like a colossal misfit. Many numbers, even some prime numbers, if they are not even, they still feel "round." Not 17, though. It's awkward and slightly difficult to deal with."

If you are interested in these responses, be sure to check out both the blog and the podcast, as they cite different examples of favorites with correspondingly convoluted reasonings. It turns out that most people have a preference for prime numbers (which I have to admit is a big factor in number-attractiveness for me), and there is a tendency to like one's own birthdate, but only for those born on  odd-numbered days, interestingly enough.

If you want to be part of this project, go to Bellos's website; he is still gathering data, and you can make sure your favorite number gets counted.

So, back to Moby Dick. I know some of you are wondering why I have gone on this tangent about numbers, when there is so much to discuss about Melville's masterpiece. Well, having just finished it last night, let's say I'm a bit overwhelmed. I find it easier right now to discuss numbers, infinite though they are. So the several of you who wrote to me saying you were interested in discussing Moby Dick once I had read it, please write in and direct us in some discourse.

My favorite numbers, by the way, are 19, 56, and pi.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Good (but Rejected) Company

Check out this list of 14 Best-Selling Books Repeatedly Rejected by Publishers over at How Stuff Works. It includes books by James Joyce, Madeleine L'Engle, Stephen King, and Robert Pirsig. So if your work has been rejected, rest assured you are in most excellent company.

Oh, and I'm on page 509 of Moby Dick. Less than 30 pages to go and we still haven't seen the White Whale!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Understand This

I'm now on page 444 of Moby Dick, with just under one hundred pages to go. (If you are keeping up with this kind of useless information.)

Patt Morrison of the Los Angeles Times recently interviewed former poet laureate W. S. Merwin, eliciting this reponse among others," I think it's unlikely that a really good poem is going to be a bestseller. For one thing, people read them wrong. When people say, "I don't read poetry because I don't understand it," I think, "Do you understand your sandwich? Do you understand combing your hair?"
What's all this about understanding? You read poetry for some kind of pleasure you can't quite put your finger on.

That's the end of the quote.

There are things I need to understand, and things I don't, and furthermore there are things I need to not understand. Poetry can be all of those things. There are things I need to enjoy, and things I need to suffer, and poetry can be both of those for me too.

But I have to disagree with W. S. Merwin about understanding combing my hair. Women do, for the most part, understand combing their hair. And there are occasionally sandwiches that I understand too. And some that I don't. And almost all of them I enjoy (I am a sandwich fiend, if you must know).

And that's all.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Japanese Project Gutenberg

I am now on page 375 of Moby Dick.

Check out this post over at the Tofugu blog about how to download Japanese books for free. Just as Project Gutenberg has put English-language books in the public domain online for anyone to have access to, so has Aozora Bunko, or Blue Sky Library, made Japanese classics available. They are also active in lobbying for more Japanese texts to be put in the public domain.

If you read Japanese literature (in Japanese), you won't want to miss this.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Insomniac on a Pedestal

So I've been away for almost a week, which accounts for my silence. I took with me on my travels a single book, in contrast to the usual 4 or 5 I carry when going away. Can you guess what that travelling tome was? If you said Moby Dick, you are right!

I have the Penguin Popular Classics edition of Melville's masterpiece, and it has 536 pages total. I was able to read 351 pages during my time away, and I have to report I am liking it better than I had expected to. Until I finish the book in its entirety, I will be be reporting on this blog what page I am on at the beginning of each of my posts, as a motivation for me to finish (though I'm enjoying it enough for that to be reason enough.)

In other news, The Insomniac's Weather Report has been reviewed over at The Pedestal Magazine. It's a good review with some interesting insights, and I'm quite pleased. If you are so inclined, check it out!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Poem Flow

I don't have a smart phone. I had to be frightened into getting a cellphone by the idea of my kids roaming around the city on their own, unable to reach me. But even at that, I got just the basic deal.

So I've felt left out of all the cool poetry apps that smart phones can access. But no more. It turns out that Poem Flow, a poem-of-the-day iPhone app, is also accessible from my very own PC (and yours). Click on the link above to see the text of a poem float slowly by you. If you wait, you'll then be treated to yesterday's poem, and the poem from the day before...

You can also turn the phone 90 degrees to see the entire text of the poem at once, if you desire (and this option is helpful when you want some clarity about the linebreaks).

There are (as of today) 567 poems in the archive (those of you who know me well know that I am jumping up and down saying "567, it's a small straight, a very small straight!"), including the work of poets such as Matthew Zapruder, Joshua Corey, Brenda Hillman, Dara Wier, Li Po, and more more more. (Today's poet is Ernest Hemingway. Who knew?)

The smart phone is looking more like a useful item to me now.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Practice Makes Crazy, Sometimes

In an interview with Dennis Morton on The Poetry Show radio show (scroll to the date 8/14/11), poet Troy Jollimore, in addition to reading many of his singular poems, answered a question about his writing practice with the following comforting admission. Jollimore said that he didn't have a writing practice that worked effectively for a long period of time, that he would find a practice or routine that worked for awhile, and then it would stop working, and he would have to find another.

Furthermore, he reported that he himself had received solace from the visits of poets Jane Hirshfield and James Richardson to the campus where he taught (I think it's Chico State), whose responses to the question of writing practice were that they did not write every day. Even an  award-winning poet like Jollimore found that helpful for his anxieties.

I aspire to write daily and to have a  practice taken seriously not only by myself but by those around me, but these things don't happen always, with family and work and everything else going on. It's nice to be in such fine company, to know that others experience anxiety about practice and still prevail.

Enjoy the whole interview and especially Jollimore's generously-natured reading.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Creating Later in Life

This PRI interview with poet Molly Peacock about her new book The Paper Garden: An Artist Begins Her Life's Work at 72 (Bloomsbury, USA) touches on two of my keen interests: collage and late life creativity.

The story of Mary Delaney, the woman who invented collage in the 1770s at age 72 or 73 as a response to her life experience, is presented by Peacock in a kind of literary collage. Delaney's process was radical for its time, and she herself was an unlikely artist. Learn how Molly Peacock relates to the process of collage-making as a poet and therefore collagist of words and fragments, and listen to the hopefulness she finds in the awakening of late life creativity as a boon of aging.

As a writer whose poetry has only started to take a serious place in my life now in my mid-40s, I often feel handicapped by my age (especially surrounded in the poetry world by so many recent grads of MFA programs themselves in their 20s with publications and awards I could never aspire to) , so late life creativity is an inspiring topic. Health concerns in my family also make me fearful of the future, so hearing a story like Mary Delaney's does much for me what it did for Molly Peacock, whose own mother died at the age at which Delaney began to blossom artistically and who also has in her family a sense of portending doom due to health issues.

Plus it's good to know collage was invented by a woman. But then, thinking about it, should that innovation have come as a surprise? Who, after all, has to make art with the remnants of time and materials left after taking care of everyone else's lives: men or women artists?

I can't wait to get my hands on this new book by Molly Peacock.

100 Artists in 1

Watch how  artist Shea Hembrey tested the limits of creativity when he set out in two years to put together a biennial show of 100 artists worldwide, but decided in the interests of logistics to invent the artists and make all the works himself. This amusing Ted Talk show what flexibility and technique an artist can achieve when pushing himself to explore so many different worldviews. Enjoy.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Polish Poets, Submit!

The call for submissions listed below is from the Creative Writers Opportunities List (CRWOPPS-B) at Yahoo Groups, which you really must join if you don't already belong. It's an almost daily list of calls for submissions, job openings, book contests, etc., for creative writers. Search at Yahoo Groups for this list, and then request to join. So very worth your time.

Today they have five listings and one is for writers (not just poets) of Polish background, as stated below:

For an anthology of Polish/American authors, the editors (John Guzlowski and John Minczeski) seek quality poetry, short fiction and creative non-fiction, not necessarily on a Polish theme, from writers with a Polish background. The anthology will update Concert at Chopin’s House, a Collection of Polish/American Writing, published by New Rivers Press in 1988. Payment, 1 copy. Please respond by January 31, 2012 by Word or RTF attachment to:
<Polish.Anthology( at)gmail. com> (replace (at) with @ in sending e-mail)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

What Editors Want

Catherine Carter, a poetry reader for a  literary magazine (which she carefully refrains from naming), blogs at Plougshares about what she as a reader is looking for in poetry submissions. Her blog post is entitled "The Cruel Side of the Desk."

Besides being in favor of conventional use of punctuation and capitalization as well as the judicious use of a title to get the reader's attention, Carter has a weakness for "oddball subject matter." Learn more about what gets her attention, both in  good and bad ways, by clicking on the link.

Catherine Carter has more than a dozen other posts at Ploughshares, including one about beginning a literary career later in life, and one with advice on how to teach poetry. Check out more of her work at the Ploughshares blog.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Composing While Dozing

First I want to thank those of you who sent me personal messages, either telling me who you are as readers of this blog, or encouraging me to ready Moby Dick after all. And so, as soon as I finish the three books I am midway through, I will begin Moby Dick. No new books until I begin Moby Dick, on my honor (though I can't promise not to have several going whilst reading about the whale.) And I will respond to each of you personally, soon.

So you may remember early in the history of this blog when I discussed how I had been able in my younger years to solve mathematical proofs while sleeping, and wondered why I couldn't harness this power of my subconscious (or perhaps my unconscious--still unclear on the difference if anyone wants to write in and enlighten me) to write poems.

And you may remember when I referenced Julianna Baggott's blog post in which she suggests reading through one's current project first thing in the morning, particularly if one doesn't write first thing in the morning, so that the piece is filtering through the subconscious (or is it the unconscious?) all day, being worked on even when your conscious mind is busy doing something else.

So all this came together in an aha moment due to a collision of circumstances. I am working against a deadline. But it is summer break and my kids are home and needing to be entertained, so I am not getting much work done. Also my clients are sending me extra work as some of the freelancers they farm projects out to are away for the summer. Hence I am working late at night, which is not my custom when writing poetry. These days I fall asleep in bed with my pen and notebook in hand.

And guess what? I wake up in the morning with whole lines and images I need. I dream of people I know giving me phrases I will need. I am making those terrific leaps in my sleep I used to make in math, but now they are happening in poetry. Sometimes I wake up at 2 or 3 am with whole stanzas I need to transcribe before I can get back to sleep, and guess what, in the morning they aren't even nonsensical, or not completely.

So it turns out it wasn't the matter about which I was cogitating that got my subconscious (or is it my unconscious?) to carry part of the load. It was the timing. I routinely fell asleep doing math in the wee hours of the morning (graduate student lifestyle) to wake up with answers in my head, but I thought it was the subject of math that engendered this response. Now I see it is the timing. If I go to bed thinking poetry, I wake up scrambling for my notebook tangled somewhere in my covers, so I can write down lines of poetry, instead of lines of proof.

Thus I now conclude it's the proper use of the method, the timing, not the subject that instigates the active help of the sub- or is  it the un-conscious. I  concede that this method tends to work better when I am under deadline, notwithstanding the subject matter. It seems when I am under enough stress, my brain is there for me. How about yours?

P.S. I think I should mention that this is not a long-term problem-solving strategy, or hasn't been in my experience. It's for use in a pinch, with a deadline, and with a very specific problem in mind, such as "I need an image which is mechanical in nature and suggests XXX, and I don't know of one," or "I need to reduce this side of the equation in order to reach the conclusion my gut tells me is coming, but I can't see how to do so...." It's not a way to live a life of art; it's a tool in times of gridlock, or anyway has been for me.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

10,000 and Counting

I started this blog at the end January this year, and sometime during the night last night it received its 10,000th hit. I'm not sure how that compares to other blogs, but I know it's far more than I ever expected. (Warning: boring introspection follows--no need to read.)

This blog gets between 50 and 100 hits a day, but I don't know who is reading it. I can see what country you are from, if you come from a referring site, and what browser you use, but since there are so few comments from readers, that's about the extent of my knowledge. If you ended up at this blog by using a search engine, I sometimes can see the keyword you used. But by and large, I don't really know who you all are, even if I have some idea of which posts interest you.

When I began this blog, I had two goals in mind: one was quantifiable, but not knowable by me, and the other was knowable by me but not quantifiable. So concerning the first one I am unable to gauge if I have had success, and the second one I have not achieved. On the other hand, lots of things I did not expect have come out of this blog.

The upshot is that I am having an introspective moment, and you may see some changes in this blog in the future. Originally, I had meant to post twice weekly, once with an essay-style post on something I was thinking about or learning but which was largely original material, and once on something interesting I happened to find and wanted to share. Mostly it's turned into a site that reports almost daily on interesting things I see on the internet. Only 2 or 3 times a month do I post that essay-like original post I had intended.

So I need to rethink the direction of this blog, what it is I now want to achieve with it, and whether it is a useful way to spend my time. So, onward and upward. You may notice changes; you may not. I have not figured it all out yet.


Friday, August 12, 2011

Celebrating Rejection

Just in case you don't get enough rejection letters of your own, here is a website listing the text of rejection letters (both standard and "higher tier") from a plethora of literary magazines. It's actually kind of fun to read them, especially when they aren't addressed particularly to you!

Thanks to Nic Sebastian for making me aware of this interesting website.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Making It New

Kristen Steenbeeke at the Richard Hugo House Poetry blog has some ideas about how to increase the number of people who listen to and read poetry, by making it new, and by it she means the delivery system.

Check out Steenbeeke's post, called "Poetry Gone Wild,"  in which she present three examples of poets presenting their work to their audiences in a way that catches the attention of non-poets, or so it is hoped. The first example is of poet Heather Christle, who read who poems from her book over her cellphone to anyone who took her up on the offer. The total came to nearly 200 people.

Enjoy the other two examples as described over at the Hugo House Poetry blog.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Poets Q&A at Smartish Pace

I have no idea how I could not have known about this before, but Smartish Pace has an online feature called Poets Q&A. Anyone can write in with their questions for the poet of the month (who at this time is Rae Armantrout, accepting questions until 8/29/11, to post answers 9/13/11). Poet Mark Doty was the most recent poet queried and he is beginning to post responses now.

Find out why Robert Hass has such long stretches between books (a response that I can completely identify with!), how Jorie Graham feels about being misread, and why Bob Hicok calls his writing process "rhythm writing." Plus plenty of other poets on many topics suggested by readers. Enjoy.

DIY MFA FollowUp, Plus Get Some Respect

Yesterday I posted about a DIY MFA, and got an interesting response in the comments section from Gabriela Pereira, who is running such a program herself. Check out her blog for more details, and see the Comments section of yesterday's post for links to direct posts by Pereira on the pros and cons of doing an MFA. It looks like you can even receive a DIY MFA workbook from Pereira if you request one. However, this program appears to be exclusively for fiction writers, so poets, let's keep talking about the subject.

Also, browsing through Gabriela Pereira's tweets, I ran across a link to an excellent blog post by K. M. Weiland at her blog Wordplay: Helping Writers Become Authors, called "7 Ways to Make Family and Pets Respect Your Writing Time." I am all about boundaries these days (nothing like kids on summer break to bring that topic to the fore), so I really appreciated these ideas, especially tip # 2: Explain the situation. Don’t expect others to realize the importance of your writing via telepathy. If you don’t explain your needs to them, they’ll never be able to respect them.

Check out the other six tips at Weiland's blog.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


Randy Susan Meyers, at the blog Beyond the Margins, posted this week about “My Homemade MFA.” Finding herself at a point in her writing career of needing ‘more intent,’ and unable for personal and professional reasons to take the time to pursue an MFA, Meyers decided a do-it-yourself degree was in order. By her own account, she read approximately 135 books about writing and then finished it off with a Master Novel Workshop through Grub Street with novelist Jenna Blum. You can go to Meyer’s blog post for a sampling of the wisdom she gained through her self-study program.

I too am at a point in my life in which I cannot pursue an MFA degree and cannot conceivably attempt a long-distance program for at least four more years. So I had the same notion as Meyers, to do as much as I could by creating a reading program for myself. And while I admit to having read 20 or so books about writing, my main focus has been to follow the ancient Chinese proverb: “He who knows a hundred poems sounds like a hundred poems; he who knows a thousand poems sounds like himself.” That is, I focused more on reading books of poetry than on reading about writing poetry (Meyers is a fiction writer, so there’s another difference in our projects).

When I ask people who have received MFA degrees, they mostly tell me that what they got by attending such a program was 1) time to write, and 2) contacts in the literary world. Neither my self-styled program nor a real MFA is going to get me more time to write since I will not be able to do a full-time program in lieu of my regular life. Anything I would do would be in addition to my already busy schedule (and one thing that fills it up is writing as much as I can now, an activity which would then have to compete with assigned writings). And as for contacts, I’m not likely to make many living as I do in Japan, probably not even if I do a low-residency MFA program and jet in and out off-semesters.

So as much as I would love to have more time to write, and to know more literary folks, the reason for me to pursue an MFA would be for the craft. Which I am told does not necessarily come from attending an MFA program. Anyone wish to dispute this notion told me by a number of writers with degrees? (It’s hard for me to believe that almost anyone who calls herself a writer couldn’t teach me quite a bit about craft, but that’s me without even undergrad courses in creative writing.)

And furthermore, those of you with MFAs, homemade or institutional, what do you think about what your program gave you? Was it worth it? What did you gain? Would you recommend it to others? For those like me who've passed the ideal age and circumstances to go to school, is the DIY MFA going to be enough?

Apropos of Nothing

A friend recently sent me the link to the new Mona Lisa Barbie Doll, or as its designers call it, the Barbie Doll inspired by Leonardo da Vinci. Scroll down at this link  to see the Barbie Dolls inspired by Gustav Klimt, Vincent van Gogh, and the Sidney Opera House, among others.

I'm not sure how I feel about the collision of these worlds...

Monday, August 8, 2011

Gotham Writers' Sale

Gotham Writers' Online Workshop is having a sale via Groupon. Get a six-week course for $129, instead of the regular price of $320. That's a 60% discount good for Creative Writing 101 or Nonfiction 101. Unfortunately, the sale is only on for the next six hours (just found out about it myself), so go check out the details here.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Subito Press Innovative Writing

Subito Press is having a book contest for innovative writing (Subito Press is out of the University of Colorado). Until August 15, they are accepting manuscripts for two prizes, one in fiction and one in poetry.

Today their Facebook status says that so far they have received only 85 manuscripts (Search for Subito Press on Facebook to verify this for yourself). So if you are writing innovative works, your odds are better than in most contests. Might be worth considering.

Google Art Project

Here's something you have to see to believe. Google has teamed up with 17 major art museums worldwide, including the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, the MoMA in New York, London's Tate Gallery and more, to offer Google Art Project.

At, you can virtually walk around museums browsing or hop from floor to floor or room to room using the floor plans, or you can search for paintings or artists you are interested in. Once you select a work of art, you can zoom in to see details, even to examine brush strokes. Information on each painting and painter, and even Youtube links for living artists, are included.

Here's a brief video explanation of how to use the site.

And here's the very charming Amit Sood, one of the developers of the project, giving a TED Talk and demo showing some of the most interesting and flexible features of the project. This is well worth watching. Sood shows details of a few of his favorite paintings, including Pieter Bruegel's The Harvesters, recorded in 10 billion pixels. Let Sood show you what you can view with that level of detail available to you. He also shows you how you can make your own collection of artworks based on your favorites worldwide, and then share them with family and friends via social media.

Art lovers and casual browsers alike, enjoy!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Sustainable Arts

Last month I posted about the Sustainable Arts Foundation, an organization dedicated to supporting artists who are parents and parents who are artists continue with their work despite the demands of family life. The foundation has made its inaugural Summer Awards, and you can peruse a list of the awardees here. (There were a stunning 800 applicants, so hearty congratulations to the awardees are in order.)

The foundation is now accepting applications for its Winter Awards. There have been a few changes in their guidelines, so please be sure to read the updated guidelines here, if you want to apply.

Winners can receive up to $6000 in support for projects and in recognition of quality art, so have a look. It could be very well worth your while.

Creativity & Lists

So we've established many times on this blog how much I love lists.

Now I've found some like-minded individuals who argue that lists are good for creativity. Not the usual stereotype of the artist, but I like it: artist as listmaker, or is it listmaker as artist?

Anyway, here is Jane Friedman at her blog discussing List Making and the Creative Process.

Friedman cites an article at Glimmer Train by Yelizaveta P. Renfro, called Making Lists (Renfro won an award from Black Lawrence Press, a press whose writers I almost uniformly admire.) This article is amusing for we listmaking types, plus gives some good ideas, and she cites many other famous listmaking writers.

So I'm now off to make my lists for today. We are going hiking, so that involves a list of what to pack for the picnic, what to pack for the hike, and everything else that must be done today. Yay!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A Poet on Stories

Yesterday I listened to a recording of poet Marilyn Nelson reading her poem "Lonely Eagles" on The Poetry Foundation podcast. The poem is about the Tuskegee Airmen, African-American pilots trained to fight in the Second World War.

Nelson's father was a Tuskegee Airman, but since he has already died, she has gathered the memories of others pilots. In setting up the poem, Nelson used a phrase which startled and pleased me. She said, "This story was given to me by Bert Wilson..."

"This story was given to me by...." NOT "This story was told to me by...."

How perfect is that phrasing? What we do when we tell stories to one another is give them. We give stories and the receiver can do with them what she wants: remember, forget, misremember, rewrite, give it to someone else, squelch it...... And what do we mean when we say, "Tell me a story"? Don't we mean "Give me a story, one of yours." And the giving doesn't decrease the story for the giver either, but rather strengthens it.

You can listen to Marilyn Nelson reading the poem based on the story given to her by Bert Nelson at the link above.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Moby Dick: The Shortcut

Last week I blogged about my own personal Book Shame, not having yet read Moby Dick.

Today I am wondering if I can instead look through Matt Kish's book forthcoming from Tin House Books, Moby Dick in Pictures: One Drawing for Each Page, which includes schematics and drawings like the following:

So what do you say? Does it count?

Follow Matt Kish at his blog, which also links you to his artwork for sale on Etsy. And please say this will count.......

Monday, August 1, 2011

Swensen's Inventions

One of my most favorite poets of all time is Cole Swensen. She takes a subject, such as glass in The Glass Age (Alice James Books, 2007), and explores it every which way she can. The painter Pierre Bonnard, windows, lenses on cameras, chemical properties—all this and more is explored in a scholarly manner and then employed as the underpinnings for her poems. There is a tremendous amount of historical and scientific fact there, but Swensen at her finest doesn’t become weighted down by reality. It is there as an almost transparent scaffolding behind the deeply imagistic poetry.

My favorite book of Swensen’s (currently, anyway) is The Book of a Hundred Hands (Kuhl House Poets, 2005). The subject of this 125-page book of 100 poems is, you guessed it, hands. What can there be to say in that many poems about hands? Well, you’d be surprised. There’s pretty much nothing that a human can consider that doesn’t have some relationship with hands.

The first section, The History of the Hand, lyrically refers to history and anatomy at a slant. The next section, Positions of the Hand, describes poetically how we grasp, grip, fan, and make other motions or positions. Professions of the Hand and Representations of the Hand have topics which are easy to guess at, but Swensen’s fragmented lines and loosely tethered imagery allow you often to forget what is being described. The reader is transported into the language and out of the physical, despite the fact that it is sheer physicality that makes each and every poem possible.

The fifth section, The Anatomy of the Hand, examines the fingers and the thumb and the Palmar Method with insight and beauty. The sixth section, American Sign Language, is one of my favorites, describing  the implications of the movements of American sign language on the meanings and import of words (see the links to audio files from the Poetry Foundation below). Poems in this section leave me breathless and in tears. The book finishes up with Shadow Puppets, A Manual of Gesture: Public Speaking for the Gentleman (1879), and Paintings of Possible Hands. The final section is ekphrastic, while the pentultimate one is based on an actual manual of the era indicated.

I love Swensen’s tricky mix of thoroughness and whimsy, of research and fantastical imagery. I’m re-reading The Book of a Hundred Hands this summer for the third or fourth or maybe fifth time, I’m not sure, although it’s some number I could count on my own two hands. Swensen accomplishes what I would love to do, but cannot as researched details tend to overwhelm me, and my need to explain and explicate overcomes my lyrical direction. Not so with Swensen, a masterful writer who rarely loses sight of the poetic possibilities, despite her carefully fact-studded preparations and reality-wrought insights.

Links to poems from the book:
The Hands' Testament on Poetry Daily
The Hand Photographed  and The Hand Etched in Glass at the Poetry Experiment
Hand Defined audio from the Poetry Foundation
Understanding the Past, Present and Future audio from the Poetry Foundation
Thinking and Feeling audio from the Poetry Foundation
Pronouns audio from the Poetry Foundation

Addendum on 8/3/11: Still reading The Book of a Hundred Hands at night before I sleep. Last night I was thinking that Swensen's use of fragments, an impulse I admire but cannot copy, is all the more amazing given the fact that her obsessions are so well researched. To learn all that, and then discard most of it requires an egolessness I have not got, that I hope for someday. And it is the better artistic impulse as well.