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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Notable Boudoirs

Apartment Therapy website has 15 bedrooms of famous writers (although I must confess that I actually became aware of this blog from the Poetry Foundation's Harriet Blog).

I love Hemingway's bedroom for the floor-to-ceiling arched windows and the white paint. Thoreau had good windows too, an essential to a successful bedroom in my opinion. Not sure what Flannery O'Connor was thinking though (or how she could think with that print; or why she covered up all the windows, though maybe she didn't and that's just for preservation).

These days, as a spring break project, my boys and I have been going through closets and boxes and shelves and throwing stuff away madly, trying to make more space, to find more light. It's a constant challenge living in Japan not to be overcome with stuff, and I salivate looking at some of these bedrooms with their empty spaces.

I write in the bedroom sometimes too. I peel back the covers and get down to the fitted sheet, and then spread my work around me. This is especially helpful when I need to organize a manuscript or when I have multiple poems going on and I want to figure out how they are working together. Or when I'm consulting many books while I write. I just like writing on the bed. It frees me up to be in a more creative space than sitting at my desk. (And I hate our couch, so I always prefer to go in and sit on the bed when I can.)

(Oh, and here's a secret. When the light is coming into the boys' bedroom in the early afternoon and the view over the bay is magnificent, I sometimes climb up on the top bunk, pull the covers onto the floor down to the fitted sheet, and write on my son's bed. Don't tell him though; it's all nicely put back before he comes home from school. Not having a lot of space and not having their own rooms, I've taught the boys to consider their beds their own private spaces--it wouldn't do that I secretly use one to write.)

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Marginalia of Monks

The always-amusing people at Brain Pickings have a collection of marginalia from illuminated manuscripts, written by complaining monks and scribes. Have a look to read gems such as "This page has not been written very slowly," and "As the harbor is welcome to the sailor, so is the last line to the scribe."

Or the inimitable "Thank God, it will be dark soon."

Which it will.

c. 1300, A Female figure, possibly a personification of astronomy showing the stars to a group of scholars from the ancient world, from Anthology of Grammatical and Scholastic Texts, Paris, France.

Gratitude Lists

So it's been a rough couple of years for me and my family. Not because of anything that has happened, but because of what, thanks to modern medical science, we know is going to happen. And though I  keep telling myself that there is no need to feel bad about it now, that there is plenty of time in the future to feel bad about it when it does happen, I have not been able to shake my worries and sadness.

You know that party game you play...if (fill in the blank) were going to happen, would you want to know beforehand? Well, I now know the answer to that for myself, regardless of what (fill in the blank) is. No, I don't want to know, not anything.

So for the past couple of years two recurrent thoughts have popped unbidden into my mind several times a day. Several times a day. Every day. One is "Nothing good is ever going to happen to me again" and the other is "I hate my life." The truth is that when I observe these thoughts consciously, I don't believe either of them. Yet until a few months ago they popped into my head repeatedly. Repeatedly. Did I mention, repeatedly? And daily. (Oh, and these thoughts are centered on me, when the looming problem doesn't even belong to me, but to someone I love. How messed up is that?)

As far as unbidden thoughts go, one could do better. Thinking about this, I remembered advice I read a long time ago about gratitude. About how the single best way to improve your attitude about your life is to practice gratitude. About how people required to write each day in a notebook a list of five things they were grateful for reported satisfaction with their lives to be significantly higher than before beginning this month-long experiment.

A month-long experient: I could do that. And so I started to think about five things I was grateful for each day. Or, I did it on the days I remembered. And it helped, but only a little bit. Only when I remembered. So I decided to write them down in one of my notebooks, when I remembered to. And that helped a bit more. And I remembered a bit more often to do it. But weeks would go by when I would forget, or I would just think my gratitude instead of going to where the notebook was and writing it down.

Then, in January, I decided to do it right. I got a dedicated gratitude notebook and I started writing down my lists. I love lists; I have a special place I keep all my lists and I refer to that place several times a day. So it wasn't really any big deal to add another list; it was kind of a pleasure actually. Why had I not been doing it already?

So here's the upshot: I write my gratitude list throughout the day, every day. And it's been more than a month since I've thought either of my unbidden thoughts. Well, I thought one yesterday and marvelled at how long it had been since I had thought it. And I was grateful for that. And I wrote it down.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


And here's a friendly reminder to back up your files, all of them. My extra computer died and I've just heard from the repair shop that while they can recover the data, the hard drive is a goner.

Luckily I didn't lose any poetry, because I moved it all to my new computer and because I back up my poetry files regularly. But guess what I did lose? The spreadsheet of every place I've submitted poetry to (in detail by poem and date and result) for oh, my entire publishing career. That particular file I thought I was backing up regularly, but when checking my backup storage places, apparently NOT!

I didn't move that crucial file to my new computer because my new computer doesn't have the software to read it, so I just left it on my old computer. So it's just this one file that is causing me problems (and my iTunes, which I hadn't moved so that my new computer wouldn't get slow, but which I can get back thanks to some programs I found online that will read my iPod and put it on the new computer). However, the repair place can recover this one spreadsheet for me, for about $30, and I can download a trial software package to view it and convert it to something I can read on my computer, or if not, at least I'll be able to print it out. Hopefully.

Anyway, more detail than you needed. But do heed my friendly reminder to back up everything, not just your writing files, but everything you need to support your publishing.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

How to Be Alone

Let me give a shout out to Kira C., from whose Facebook status update I stole the link to this videopoem by poet Tanya Davis, called "How to Be Alone," (with filmmaker Andrea Dorfman).

I actually have the opposite problem--I know how to be alone but have difficulty arranging time away from children and work in which to do it. Alone time is my best time.Without it, I am cranky, I am miserable, I doubt the purpose of life. Let us all praise time spent alone.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Why Write?

The Green Mountains Review has a series called "Why Write?" in which various writers are invited to answer that very question.

Here is a sampling of the reasons given by poet Stephen Dunn in his December 2011 response to "Why Write?"

It’s how I translate experience, and invent it. Both. It’s what I do when I go to my room. To go to my room.

Though I usually write in the first person, to be disinterested in self.

To have an allegiance to the poem more than any moment in it.

To get the poem in motion so that it might seem to move on its own. To be aware that the ear finds the next moment as much as my sense of purpose does. To doubt the smartest thing I find myself saying. To love the shape of a sentence as much, maybe more, than the content it bears. To take myself as seriously as the most serious artist I can imagine.

To worry when the poem seems to find its essence. That is, to worry that I’ll execute what I’ve just learned about my poem. Time, then, to give it wings.

To remember that a poem is always a compromise between the drift of language already employed and my willfulness.

What I said about play and discovery aside, most poems, in my experience, are worried into existence. Let them run wild, then make them behave.


And that's just a sampling. Check out the entire essay for more.

Two Contests: Cincinnati and New England

Two contests caught my eye this morning:

First, the Cincinnati Review's Schiff Prizes have upped their award to $1000 this year. Plus the $25 entry fee includes a year subscription. I have to say, a writer should be more inclined to enter a contest if she get a subscription or a book as a result. That's a win-win even if you don't win.

Second, the League of Vermont Writers is inaugurating a new award, the Vermont Award, and this year's theme is "My New England." Do you have anything to say about New England? Then do it here. This competition is open to all writers, even those who don't live in New England, but still have some claim to it.

Friday, March 16, 2012

L'Esperance Interviews Vuong

One of my favorite poets, Mari L'Esperance, interviewed one of my other favorite poets, Ocean Vuong, over at Connotation

I've mentioned Vuong's writing practice on this blog before, and L'Esperance discusses it in her interview with him, describing it as "reassuring and forgiving," which is an apt way to put it.

Learn about Vuong's childhood, and read a few of his poems at Connotation Press too.

Below see the cover to his chapbook, Burnings, published by Sibling Rivalry Press.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

We Who Are About to Click on the Link to Another Blog

And just in case we haven't had enough sciency-nerdy stuff recently on this blog, I just discovered the blog We Who Are About to Die, and in scrolling through the posts there, saw Jeffrey Skinner's "The Periodic Table of Poetic Elements."

Leave this blog now and go look. You know you want to.

(Also, they've got a wonderfully circuitous essay by Dara Wier on "How a Poem is Like a Machine." Go! What are you waiting for?!)

Another Piece of Pi

One more thing about Pi Day.

Yesterday my husband brought me flowers, and I said, "What are these for? Pi Day?"

They were for White Day, a Japanese holiday in response to (and one month after) Valentine's Day. Here females give presents to males on Valentine's Day, in a kind of Sadie Hawkins thing, and then one month later, the males return the favor, except then it's white chocolate and white cookies and white marshmallows (as usual, Japanese males get the better part of the deal, actual chocolate).

But I honestly thought my husband got the flowers for Pi Day. HA!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Happy Pi Day 2012

I shared this last year on my blog, but still there's nothing better than this cartoon for celebrating Pi Day. Happy Pi Day!


So the original cartoon I linked to is no longer available. I'm replacing it with the closest one I can find:
And I'm adding this one below:

pi cartoon
from Science Humor blog.

Oh, wow, look! I found the original on a different site, EpicLOL. May this one be preserved forever:


Monday, March 12, 2012

Rybicki Rules!

John Rybicki is a favorite poet of mine. He even speaks the magical way he writes: listen to his interview podcast at The Poet & The Poem (scroll down to Rybicki) to hear this amazing phenomenon.

He has a new book, When All the World is Old, available by pre-order from Lookout Books, and I personally can't wait to get my copy (Order from the publisher for a 20% discount). Here's a statement from his press kit:

“If you have ever loved, read this holy book. If you have ever grieved, read this holy book.”
—Mark Richard, author of House of Prayer No. 2

At the age of twenty-nine,
just five years after they met, John Rybicki’s wife, the poet Julie Moulds, was diagnosed with cancer. Here, in poems raw and graceful, authentic and wise, Rybicki pays homage to the brave love they shared during her sixteen-year struggle and praises the care-givers—nurses and doctors and friends—who helped them throughout. He invites the reader to bear witness to not only the chemotherapy, the many remissions, and the bone marrow transplants, but also the adoption of the couple’s son, the lifted prayers, borrowed time, and lovers’ last touches. A husband smashes an ice-cream cone against his forehead to make his wife laugh. He awakes in the middle of the night to find their dog drowsing atop a pile of her remnant clothes.

The lamentations and celebrations of When All the World Is Oldcreate a living testament to an endless love. Braided with intimate entries from Moulds’s journal, these poems become the unflinching and lyric autobiography of a man hurtling himself headlong into the fire and emerging to offer us a portrait of light and grace.

Rybicki’s hymns rest in the knowledge that even though all of our love stories one day come to an end, we must honor the loving anyway. The poet has dipped his pen in despair, but as he cleaves his heart and our own, he transmits the exquisite pain of loss into a beauty so fierce and scalding and ultimately healing that the reader comes out whole on the other side.


Some Rybicki poems online:
at Blackbird, hear him read or read the text
at The Paris Review
at Poetry Magazine

Friday, March 9, 2012

Essay in the Wrong Season

Reading Jenny Boully's "A Short Essay on Christmas" in Diagram's all-essay issue, I was reminded that I want to buy her book, the one that I don't have. Often I tell myself that when I get some cash for spending on books, I will buy her book. And then I buy someone else's book because I have almost all of hers, and I don't have anything of someone else's, and I think, "Next time, I really am going to buy the last Jenny Boully book." That is what I am saying to myself now, having just read her essay.

Poets as Trend Setters

And from the Huffington Post today, 12 book titles (novels) that came from poems!

Can you think of any more?

Swensen on Walking

Cole Swensen, one of my favorite poets, has a poem up at Cerise Press, called "Thoreau Journal." It's about walking, and the wildness of walking. If you are a Swensen fan, or a walking aficianado (I am both), or if you are a devotee of Thoreau, this is a lovely piece for you. Even if you just love prose poems, you should get on over there.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Squid for Breakfast

So this morning's breakfast conversation centered around the giant squid. As per our custom, my husband was speaking in Japanese, I was speaking in English, and our sons were speaking in whichever language caught their fancy at the moment. Then I noticed that my husband said something about the giant squid's legs.

"Legs? You say legs? We say arms in English." I was intrigued with the difference.

"I didn't know that," said my husband. "That's so interesting." And we launched into a discussion of never having given a second thought to the appropriateness of the word we used to describe a squid's appendages. We conferred on octopi--same story: legs in Japanese, arms in English. We talked about the drawbacks and advantages of each term.

"That's so interesting. I didn't know that," I kept marveling. I turned to my sons. "Did you know that?"

They shrugged. "Yeah, sure." They were singularly unimpressed.

"Why didn't you ever tell me?" I demanded.

"Tell you what?"

And that's the difference between being a second language learner and a bilingual. Differences always fascinate (and sometimes frustrate) me, while with my kids, what is simply is. The way that I don't think about the words I've learned in English, they don't think about either of their languages. They don't compare: what is, is.

Monday, March 5, 2012

High Volta-ge

I adore the work of poet Sawako Nakayasu, and now you can find one of her videopoems at the latest issue of The Volta: Medium, new weekly video column and journal of The Volta.

Enjoy Nakayasu's poem (you may need to watch it more than once, it's fast and furious), and find out how you can submit your own videopoems.

From the video archives, enjoy poems by Rae Armantrout, Joshua Clover, Kate Greenstreet and others.

Lost & Found Poems for Poetry Month

The Found Poetry Review is preparing a fun Found Poetry Project, spearheaded by poet Jenni B. Baker, to celebrate Poetry Month (in April). They are busy assebling more than 400 Found Poetry Kits to be distributed in left in public places like coffee shops, campuses, and libraries in communities all over the US. Lucky recoverers of the Found Poetry Kits will find in them everything needed to write a found poem: a description of what found poetry is, a source text from which to elicit their own found poem, a pad of paper and a pen, and instructions about how to upload their found poems to a website to share them with the poetry-loving public for Poetry Month.

Here's how you can get involved. You can keep your eyes peeled and see if you can be one of the lucky 250 to find a kit. Or you can go to the project's website and sign up to be sent 5 poetry kits to distribute in your community. Or you can find out at their website how to make kits of your own to spread the scope of the project. Also, check out the project's Kickstarter page; they've been fully funded now, but you can still see information about the project there.

Isn't this a great idea for National Poetry Month?

Saturday, March 3, 2012

National Grammar Day

March 4th is National Grammar Day, according to the website Care2MakeADifference. I wish I'd known so I could have made some plans. As it is, I have a funeral to attend, and am not feeling in a grammatical mood. But if you are able to celebrate this year, I'd love to know what you decide to do. Pin the dangling participle on  the donkey?

Friday, March 2, 2012

Just the Poems, Please

Diane Lockward over at Blogalicious has once again identified and filled a need of some poets, for journals that offer only poetry, so we don't have to flip past the fiction we may not be interested in (I know I routinely do that). Diane has identified twelve such journals, so head over to her site if that sounds like something you'd appreciate.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Not Making It Up

Yesterday I got paid for being white. For having white skin.

Okay, that was an unnecessarily inflammatory way to say it, so let me explain. Not just yesterday but whenever they offer, I visit an multinational conglomerate's beauty division and let them test make-up on my face. My white face. It's crucial that it be a white face. Not because that's the only type of face they test; they also test Japanese faces (I asked; I did not ask about other kinds of faces), but because here in Japan, it's not as easy for them to come by white faces as it is easy to recruit Japanese faces upon which to test their make-up. So my value is in being comparatively rare, not in being white. But I can't help being aware that it is my whiteness which is rare and therefore valuable to them. I don't like it, being valued for my skin color. Equally I don't like being dismissed for my skin color (which happens here on a regular basis too, though not at the beauty division of the multinational conglomerate).

It pays very well, having a white face. I don't know how much Japanese faces get paid to have make-up tested on them; I hope they get the same generous amount, but if they don't that would just reflect  relative scarcity, not implicit value. On the other hand, if the pay is to reflect the opportunity cost of being at their company and doing their bidding for a few hours, then pay should be the same for all participants regardless of skin color. And I don't even know what the pay is for anyone other than myself! But still it bothers me. I know if I had skin that was the norm, this company never would have searched me out--I'd never have fallen into their network. But by virtue of my skin, I'm in, and in fact have been asked to recruit other white women, which I have.

On the other hand, I LOVE talking about cosmetics and testing them out (I was told I was one of their favorite subjects because I talk so much, which strikes me as funny as I would normally consider myself to be reticent, but they're paying (and well!) so I give them a running commentary of every thought going through my head about make-up while I'm with them). I miss talking to my girlfriends and sisters about make-up and hairstyles and all that, so when I visit this company, I'm thrilled they pay me to do this very thing. We have lots of fun during my visit; we laugh and chat and I've even given a CD to a worker with similar taste to mine. But we work too. I apply make-up and scrub it off and am interviewed, photographed, videotaped, and fill out questionnaires, and have tests done on my skin that I'm not allowed to talk about. (The tests are not that exciting but they are confidential.) My favorite visits are the ones in which a professional make-up artist applies products to my face. I sit very still thinking, "I can't believe they pay me to do this!"

So this is the third time I've written a post about my make-up testing, but I've never actually posted one to the blog. That's because race is such a central and distressing issue in my life that it pains me to talk about it. So this is a start. In the context of cosmetics, skin color is an obvious thing to consider, so today I begin talking about race in this rather safe context. And maybe I'll get braver.