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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Year's Eve!

It is New Year's Eve here in Japan. My husband and sons are gathered around the TV watching the television variety show marathon that all of Japan watches on New Year's Eve. It starts from 6:30 and goes past midnight. All the acts that are invited to be on the show (musical and comedy) consider it to be the honor of the year. I find the musical acts insipid and overwrought, and the comedy veers towards slapstick, so that whole thing bores me. But my three guys are in there howling away. I usually get a book and curl up on the couch next to them, and try to ignore the show.

At midnight many people try to be at a temple to hear the bell ring 108 times. We don't go to that, and actually can't hear it from our home -- we are in close proximity to several Shinto shrines, but not to any Buddhist temples. Luckily we can hear the 108 tolls of the bell helpfully provided on television.

While we are thinking about the year starting and years passing, here's something fun: the OED Birthday Word Generator.  Discover an English word whose first known usage was in the year of your birth.

Happy New Year to all!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

True Poems

If you are writing (or are thinking about writing) narrative poetry, particularly in the first person (i.e. the persona poem), the Poetry Foundation has a good article by Kathleen Rooney on poetry that appears to be autobiographical, but isn't. While defending the right of poets to be completely imaginative and fictional in what they write, Rooney recognizes that sometimes readers of poems or collections that appear to be autobiographical and yet aren't can feel cheated when they discover the 'truth'. Whereas a reader comes to a novel expecting to read an invented story, poetry readers sometimes are lulled by the emotional responses they have to poetry into forgetting that a similar contract exists between writer and reader in poetry. In short, they can feel emotionally manipulated when they discover an experience they had assumed to be true isn't.

Though I also defend the poet's right to be inventive, just last week when reading Frances McCue's The Bled (Factory Hollow Press, 2010), about the death of  McCue's husband, I became overly concerned with how her husband had died, which is not made clear in the collection of poetry. It is understood that her husband had been young and healthy and the death thus unexpected, and that there was some trauma to the head that partially or perhaps fully resulted in his passing, but it wasn't until I tracked down a newspaper interview with McCue that I realized that her husband had collapsed while playing basketball and hit his head when falling, and died. Perhaps I should have picked this up from the poetry--there was a poem about her husband on the basketball court--but somehow I didn't. And when I did learn it, I wondered if it helped me understand the work more than I had previously, and wondered why it had mattered to me. And I couldn't say that having the knowledge was helpful on the level of understanding the art, but it gave me some sense of reality that apparently I had wanted, even while I agree with Rooney that the poet doesn't owe that to the reader, and the reader shouldn't assume it. The vagueness of the cause of death had made me wary of McCue's 'truth', but why should it have? She didn't own me a true story, and even if presenting a true story, she didn't owe me all the details. This is poetry after all, not reporting. But still, I had been disconcerted enough to try and find the details on my own.

Rooney's article covers both her assessment that it is the reader's failure of imagination that results in their own disappointment as well as an opposing viewpoint of critic David Ulin, who says “the tension between the confessional voice and our knowledge that what it is describing didn’t really happen, is too substantial, and the poem collapses under its own narrative weight.”

While I agree with Rooney fundamentally, I can see the need to be sensitive to what Ulin says, to the reader's experience. Hmmmmmmm. Food for thought, particularly regarding what I'm writing currently.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Books Under the Tree

Here are the books I got for Christmas this year:

End of the Sentimental Journey: A Mystery Poem (Infidel Poetics)

The Traps (Stahlecker Series Selection)
In case you can't read the covers, they are Sampson Starkweather's The First Four Books of Sampson Starkweather, Sarah Vap's End of the Sentimental Journey: A Mystery Poem, and Louise Mathias's The Traps.

Books I gave included : Peter Dickinson's The Tears of the Salamander, the Stephen Hawking's children's trilogy co-written with his daughter Lucy Hawking and including George and the Key to the Universe, George and the Big Bang, and George and the Cosmic Treasure Hunt, a field guide to the birds of Japan, and a non-fiction photo essay of leopard geckos.

What books did you get and give?

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Comfort and Joy

Simon and Garfunkel.
Merry Christmas to All. May You Have Comfort and Joy.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Advent, by Rae Armantrout

Advent                  Rae Armantrout           from Poetry Magazine, June 2009 issue

In front of the craft shop,
a small nativity,
mother, baby, sheep
made of white
and blue balloons.



Pick out the one
that doesn’t belong.


Some thing

close to nothing
from which,

everything has come.
Merry Christmas to all!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Open Heart Project

I've been interested in meditation for a long time, and have in the past attempted to establish a meditation practice of my own, but it never "took". I would practice a few weeks and then forget, or be unsure if I was doing it "correctly", or I would feel foolish. For one reason or another, I would always end up dropping out.

Then a few months ago I heard an interview with Susan Piver, a meditation leader, and impressed by what I learned, I signed up for her Open Heart Project. The Open Heart Project is an online meditation practice which sends you meditation practice videos twice a week, for free. The twice-weekly discussion of how to do the meditation practice help give me confidence that I'm doing it "right" (although I admit I don't use all of Susan's techniques, but have replaced a few with techniques I learned from other attempts at meditation practice). Susan's practice calls for 10-minute meditations, which I can handle. There's no feeling of inadequacy for not sitting an hour or two at a time. And she even says that taking the weekend off is okay, as long as you otherwise commit to your schedule.

What really works for me is that Susan's advice is not to feel guilty or inadequate when your mind wanders during practice. She teaches a loving acceptance of one's self, and one's tendencies to stray. "Just bring your attention back," she says, and she even congratulates you when your mind has wandered,  with, "Congratulations, you've just woken up."

My sleep issues have lessened substantially since I began practicing, and I'm less prone to get frustrated and angry. The acceptance of self and others and the world that comes through Susan's guidance has really been useful for me.

So that's what I wanted to tell you today.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Writing, Order, & Chaos

Brain Pickings, which is a website worth following, has put all its advice from writers for writers in one handy post, yay! Very useful.

Scrolling down it I saw a piece by Isabel Allende called "Writing Brings Order to the Chaos of Life," which it does. That's often the point of writing--to make sense out of the chaos you feel and observe.

But what immediately popped into my mind is that writing also brings chaos to the order of life, which is what is happening to me right now. I am writing about subjects and events that are difficult for me to face, feelings for which I have tamped down tightly for most of my life--I'm letting them out, and all the order I have imposed upon these disorderly feelings is coming out all over the place.

Which seems to be making for good (hopefully), and prolific amounts, of poetry.

What it's doing for my life so far seems good, some resolution and all that, but check back later when I've consulted those whose feelings will also be disturbed by what I'm writing.

Writing takes what you have, either order or chaos, and undoes it, replaces it with its inverse, it seems to me.

What do you think?

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Miracle Fish


I swap books on an online swapping site (which I haven't blogged about because I think there are problems with the system, though I still use it). Recently I decided I wanted to actually read through a complete translation of the Tao teh Ching, instead of just knowing the bits that are quoted here and there. So I swapped for a copy via this site. Fortune Teller Miracle Fish

The book came with a bookmark in it, a not-unusual (and a very welcome) gesture made by the giver of the book. This one was a small white veneer plastic bag with a picture of a fish doing the backstroke among the waves of an ocean's surface, with the words "Fortune Teller" at the top, and the words "Miracle Fish" at the bottom.

On the back of the bag it reads:

Fortune Teller Fish

Place fish in palm of the hand and its movements will indicate

Moving Head...................Jealousy
Moving Tail.....................Indifference
Moving Head and Tail.....In Love
Curving Sides...................Fickle
Turns Over.......................Dead One
Curls Up Entirely.............Passionate

Made in Taiwan

What a strange and truncated list of emotions, I thought. Does Jealousy + Indifference = In Love, I wondered.

Then I took the plastic fish out of the bag and held it in my palm (tell me you wouldn't have done the same thing!?!?!).

Its head moved and floated up from my hand. Jealous, me? No. I put the fish back in the envelope, placed it again between the pages of my book (to flatten and neutralize it), and took it out again and placed it on my palm. Again, jealousy. I did the rigamarole a third time, and once again, jealousy.

Either this fish is broken, or I'm jealous, I thought (and then remembered that I don't believe in this kind of malarky). But still, I had been having feelings of jealousy recently. Well, not jealousy exactly, which seems like a focused emotion, but its free-floating cousin, whatever that would be called, the feeling that so many poets are getting recognition these days, while my work (which I think has been good work for the past couple of years) goes unnoticed by the world.

I'd been suffering enough from this idea lately that I'd recently taken out the book Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland, where I'd read:

"Making art now means working in the face of uncertainty; it means living with doubt and contradiction, doing something no one much cares whether you do, and for which there may neither audience nor reward. Making the work you want to make means setting aside these doubts so that you may see clearly what you have done, and thereby see where to go next. Making the work you want to make means finding nourishment within the work itself. This is not the Age of Faith, Truth and Certainty." (p. 2)

Just what I needed to read: and it reminded me that just in the month of November alone I had written eight brand new poems (and already had three accepted to a journal) and had drafted a ninth--this is an unheard of rate for me, but I knew that it was because I had finally tackled a topic I had been avoiding for years, and the poems were just coming to me because they'd been percolating in my unconscious mind, waiting for me to be brave enough to listen to them. I was writing the work I wanted to write, and I was finding nourishment in it, and that was what I needed to be focused on.

And then the next day I got an acceptance for five poems to a journal I had not expected to accept the work.

Doing the work: it's what matters, the work that you want to do. That's the miracle. Of the fish.

Okay, not of the fish.....of you, of the creative process, of the work.

And this morning I got a rejection from a journal which has twice before told me to "submit again, you are getting close." With the same message today: close, but no.

Do the work. The rest may come or it may not; but you will be nourished by your own work (and, if it so happens, by some fish).

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Writing Wild

For a few months I've been writing with the principle that surprise is one of the most important elements of the line (see this previous post for more on the genesis of this idea). While I still think this is a point to keep in mind, I heard something the other day that made me think more deeply.

I was listening to a speech about the importance of wildness as an element of society (particularly with regards to coming-of-age rituals), and the speaker said something about the potency of wildness within boundaries, within constraints, and I thought, "But that's what poetry is--wildness within constraints." At least good poetry is, anyway.

It occurred to me that aiming for surprise in a line is a weaker version, a shadow, of aiming for the power of wildness within boundaries (think of the form of a coiled snake). Out-and-out wildness can devolve into chaos, but wildness within circumscribed boundaries perhaps comes nearer to the human condition than surprise itself does, without completely terrifying us the way that real chaos does.

And it seemed to me something to keep in mind with respect to writing poems, especially those about the chaos of our lives and emotions. Surprise is a good tool, yes, but it is only one shade of what we can do with the wildness within us.

Friday, November 15, 2013


If I don't dust and vacuum the living room, the dust and detritus will still be there tomorrow, plus some, ready to be vacuumed.

If I don't grade these papers, they'll be stacked up on my desk tomorrow, no more and no less.

If I don't write this poem now, but instead write one tomorrow, it will be a different poem, and this one will be lost.

If I don't sit down with a pen and paper and wait patiently, even if I don't write any poems at all today, then tomorrow when I sit down to write I will have to work through the emptiness I will have avoided today.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

What Next?

1) Despite having piles of books everywhere, many as-yet-unread, I'm always wondering what to read next, and looking around for more books. If you are like me, you'll be glad for Ron Slate's semi-annual poetry feature, in which 14 poets recommend books of other poets. You can find a poet you admire (say Idra Novey, Anna Journey, or Shane McRae) and see whose work they selected, maybe someone unknown to you (which is always exciting). Or you might be alerted to the fact that an already admired poet (say, Kate Greenstreet or Carl Phillips) has a new book out you hadn't heard about yet. In either case, it's worth a quick look at these recommendations.

2) Thanks to an old friend from my writing group in Florida (eons ago), Mary Bast, I've recently come to know about the work in erasure supported by the Silver Birch Press. So far they've begun an anthology called Silver Birch Press NOIR Erasure Poetry Anthology (sorry, submissions already closed) and are currently collecting poems for a Valentine's Day anthology (submissions still open), with one of Mary's already featured here. Lots of erasure poems can be found on the Silver Birch Press blog, so for those of you interested in the form, it's a good resource.

 3) Recently I've been working on some poems with an emotionally difficult subject matter. However, they are coming quickly, if painfully, which signals to me that it is the time to deal with this subject matter. Interestingly, the other day I was stuck on two of the poems, needed a title for one, and one last phrase for the other. What to do next? I went to bed thinking, I need to look at Edward Hirsch's work. I have no idea why I thought this (I haven't read any Hirsch in a few years) but I felt compelled. So the next morning I pulled down my Hirsch books, opened one which had a bookmark in it and read the bookmarked poem, flipped through and read a few more. And then I had both the title of the one poem and the missing bit of the other. The words I needed weren't in the Hirsch book, but they were triggered by it. Probably reading many different things would have triggered the words for me, but somehow my unconscious mind knew Hirsch would do it. And so, listen to your unconscious mind, that old refrain. (I'm uncomfortable writing about this, because I think of myself as a rational person, not whoo-whoo at all, but see, I'm arguing that accessing the unconscious is a rational thing to do, though it feels kind of whoo-whoo.)

Speaking of which, I've had the urge recently to do something about the composer Aaron Copland. I don't know why, but he's been heavily on my mind, and somehow I feel resistant. I don't know that much about him, so I looked at some biographical material online and I listened to Appalachian Suite (on YouTube--amazing, you can just want to listen to something and there it is). Appalachian Suite was my introduction to Copland, in music class in the seventh grade, and even then I felt drawn to and resistant to Copland. My son's music festival was last week, and they performed Holst's Jupiter. My son was humming it around that house, and that got me to humming it, and I actually insisted to my son that it was Copland, and he insisted it wasn't, and we looked it up and of course it wasn't. But don't you think Jupiter has that Copland sound? Anyway, must overcome my resistance and figure out why Copland is haunting me these days.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Rejection Etiquette Rant

I love submitting online. As a person living abroad, this saves me postage and the trouble of keeping return postage from another country handy (which can be hard to come by when you can't just drop by the post office), and of course I get the same benefits that domestic submitters do: saving ink and paper, saving time.

That said, I have not had such great experiences with submitting manuscripts online. For example, today I happened to visit the website of a publisher to whose competition I had sent my manuscript via their own online submissions manager, and I discovered, though this wasn't the reason I had gone to their website, that they have already announced their contest winner, but hadn't bothered to notify the rejected entrants directly. Apparently we were supposed to check their website frequently, until the result showed up. Two other contests have also not bothered to report directly to me that they had chosen winners, but seemed to assume that I would check their websites repeatedly, and I mean repeatedly since neither one made their announcement within the timeframe they had established in their guidelines. One contest announced their results on Facebook only, not even on their website. I wasn't on Facebook at the time; how was I supposed to know?

To all of these places each entrant has paid a fee, and provided an email address. Is it too much to ask for a form letter to show up in our inboxes, or for the presses to use an online submissions manager that will contact us when the result has been made?

(FYI: None of these places had given instructions in their submissions guidelines or elsewhere on their webpages to check back for results on such-and-such a date. That I can deal with; I mark my calendar and check the website only once, knowing already that if I have to check the website to get the news, it isn't good news for me. That is not the kind of behavior I am talking about.)

These insulting behaviors are not limited to online submissions. Today I received a rejection letter via the dreaded SASE for a manuscript that was sent snail mail just exactly a year ago. The winner had been announced on the press website back in APRIL, and at that time I wondered why they hadn't informed me directly via the SASE that they had required me to send. Today I see that they have used that SASE to report the winner seven months after the fact and to suggest that I try and enter again this year, as their deadline is the end of this month. They saved my SASE for seven months in order to use it for their own marketing purposes.

I get that presses are small, often non-profit organizations. I support them: I buy directly from them, I subscribe to journals and to repeated purchase programs, I make donations. I don't ask for a personal rejection, just for a direct one. Am I really supposed to spend time (that would be better spend practicing my craft) obsessively checking their websites and/or Facebook pages? Spending that kind of time and attention chasing down results isn't productive or good for my focus or morale.

I know that editors are overworked and are often volunteers. But still, basic etiquette, people. Not to mention good business practices...

Personal Lexical Gaps

My children get their English mostly from me; they go to school in Japanese, and when they are out of the house, it's all Japanese. With their Dad too, it's Japanese. So their English mostly comes from me, which is interesting because when I hear them use any phrase, I know I must use it too; sometimes I'm surprised to find out what I sound like. Likewise when there's a gap in their personal lexicon, I know I must never have used whichever word is missing in their presence.

So the other day I was telling my 11-year-old son a story about someone doing something stupid, and I ended the story with, "Duh!"

After a beat, my son said, "Mom, what's  'Duh' mean?" I had a very brief self-congratulatory moment, thinking I must not have spoken condescendingly about anyone to him before, when I realized that I had just broken my previously unknown and now-no-longer-commendable streak.

"It's when you expect someone to know something, and when they don't, you want to let them know that you are surprised that they don't know it," I said as diplomatically as I could. "Actually, it's not very nice," I added, in the hopes that he would decide not to use it in the future.

My hopes were immediately dashed.

"As in "You don't know what 'Duh' means???? Duh!" he said.

We both laughed. "You have a great sense of irony," I told him.

After a brief pause, he said, "Mom, what's 'irony'?"


Yesterday I got the nicest rejection letter ever, nicer even than many acceptance letters I've received. It's an art, the personal rejection.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Blurb This!

"Punctuated by subversive humor, verbal theatrics, and moments of strange luminous beauty, Goodfellow's clear unsentimental poems are meditations and mediations on contemporary existence and the unreliability of language, emotions, and memory's ability to gather it all in."

That's the first sentence of a blurb about my manuscript Mendeleev's Mandala. Sound good so far? Well, how about later on, when it claims,

"Lust, love, contempt, disgust, parental guidance, and poetic revenge, crafted with unbridled imagination and unmistakable skill, Goodfellow's poetry is not for the masses, but it is for everyone."

How about this?:

"It's as if Dylan Thomas and Jack Kerouac danced together in the cemetery of Spoon River, in the light of a projected image of Joe Brainard flickering on fleeting clouds, while teaching the intricate steps to the ghost of Maximus."

Still like the blurb? Happily you don't have to, as it isn't real. It's from Dan Waber's Blurbinator, a project in which Waber compiled a mass of actual blurbs, found the patterns in them ("a certain structure, a four-part formula, very often exactly four sentences but easily broken down into four beats with variations"), and made a random blurb generator to expose and mock the blurbing system (expose and mock are my words, not his).

His words are: "I believe this appropriation of texts written by others fall squarely under the Fair Use provisions for parody. My intent here is to show that these texts are, themselves, a joke. If the sentences can be randomly mixed with other sentences of the same type and have arbitrary names and titles substituted I hope it's pretty clear they're not saying anything of value about any specific book."

Try it with your name and title, and see if you agree! I do!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Minimum Words

Look what Don DeLillo does in The Body Artist, with so few words and without hitting the reader over the head again and again with his intention (as I would have done):

"The ferry ran on schedule and this was reason enough to make the trip now and then.

The plan was to organize time until she could live again."  (p. 37)

That's the end of the paragraph. In fact it comes right before a break of white space indicating a new scene.

Like the break just above this line, only I haven't started a new scene a new idea. So now let's do that.

I give up.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Words that Cast Long Shadows

When the poem I have been working on suddenly revealed itself to be in form, my resulting rearrangements to satisfy the form included the trimming of certain lines where the poem was too verbose, as well as the panicking over stanzas that were missing requisite lines. I marked where more words and images were needed, and set the poem aside.

Later, when I came back to the poem and stared at the gaps, I suddenly remembered how certain words I had heard or read in the past few days seemed to speak to me, to demand my attention, to the point that I had jotted these words down in a notebook. I got out that notebook and saw the word "pinwheel". A good word, but it had nothing to do with my perforated poem. But wait--yes, it did. And suddenly my poem had a pinwheel in it. Creation myth was on the list, and soon that went in the poem as well, despite seeming at first glance to be not even tangentially related.

A few more list words worked their way into the poem, and the gaps were closed up, the poem finished.

At first I thought how weird it was that the words I had been culling from the universe earlier were just the words I needed now; it made me recall an image I had earlier this year, that inspiration is floating in the air all around us and we just have to pay enough attention to find it and pluck it out of the air. I don't really believe that inspiration exists a priori, despite that vision, and yet, here were the words I would need for my poem written in a notebook before they were needed, while tens of thousands of other words read and heard during the same time period had easily vanished from my mind.

But that's just the beauty of the unconscious. Either (in an unlikely scenario) my unconscious knew the very words I would need later because I had already begun the at-that-time-unstructured poem when I started the word list, or (more likely) my unconscious was merely identifying words that had deep resonance with me, words such that my interest in them would enable me to connect to them to whatever I was thinking about, because of the way the mind seeks connections, looks for patterns.

Whatever the reason, here's my take-away: words that catch my attention, words that make me say, "huh...." or "I haven't heard that word in awhile," in short words whose word-ness or very essence make me stop in my tracks for just a moment, those words should be written down; they will probably be useful to me very soon.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Concrete Wolf 2013

Concrete Wolf (Lana Hechtman Ayers, editor and publisher) is holding its annual chapbook competition. This is the press that published my chapbook, so it is near and dear to me. If you've got a manuscript ready to go out, please consider sending it here. This year's judge is Carol Levin. The entry fee is $20; the deadline is November 30th; pages should be between 16 and 26. Good luck!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Surprise! Surprise! Surprise!

Not too long ago I read the advice of a major poet (but I did not write down this advice, so I cannot attribute this) that each line of a poem should contain at a minimum three surprises. Three surprises--this seemed excessive and unattainable and so I did not write down the advice and expected to forget it.

But I haven't. And I'm glad I haven't, as this idea has improved my recent poems more than anything has in a long time. And I don't know who to thank for it; if you know, please tell me (I tend to think its one of the Charleses (Wright, Olson, Simic....not Bukowski or Baudelaire), but then again, maybe not).

I'm not sure what the mysteriously unknown major poet counts as surprises, but I have counted: especially effective line breaks, unexpected word choices, fresh images, imaginative use of punctuation, alliteration or assonance or other repetitions of sounds, internal rhyme, manipulations of the usual grammar, non-intuitive pairings of words, the occasional insight, unusual subject matter, anything that makes me think or read twice.

I also only aim for two surprises per line, as I am just a beginner at this. But lines that have no surprises in them suddenly jump out at me and demand their fair share. And it may be the highlighting of the weak line, the disallow of a single weak line, that is the biggest benefit to me of this technique: the idea that it's not enough for a line to be carrying the reader toward the next, better line.

When I read a poem, it is the sense of wonder and surprise that pleases me most, so it seems only obvious that that is what I should be writing towards. But it wasn't obvious to me. Until now. Surprise yourself, and the reader will likely also be surprised.

(Also, I like checklists; give me something to measure or count and I am all in. This technique really works for me!)

Friday, October 18, 2013

Most Famous Book Set in Every State

Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones (Pennsylvania). Steinbeck's East of Eden (you know where!). Hemingway's To Have and Have Not (again, you know where!). These are the most famous books set in states that have been formative places for me. Check out the states that most matter to you:

Most Famous Books Set In Every State_Larger

This clever map is from Business Insider. Check out their site.


Monday, October 14, 2013

Tripping the Light Ekphrastic

A few months ago I wrote about Black Tongue, a journal that pairs artists and poets in a collaboration of ekphrasis.

I've now run across another journal with a similar mission of pairing poets and artists to respond to one another's work. This one is called The Light Ekphrastic.

I may find more of these interesting projects, and if I do, I'll post about them.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Spooky Beauty

I've been doing a lot of reading about people who have disappeared and how they are honored/remembered/mourned by those left behind. This is for a project I'm working on...Anyway, in doing so, I've run across a few interesting things including:

1) Stuff You Should Know has a display of 21 unusual epitaphs found on actual tombstones, including Martin David Huff, Sr.'s last declaration (or a declaration made on his behalf): "Inclined to mischief."

2) During my research, I ran across the intriguing story of child-prodigy novelist Barbara Newhall Follett, who disappeared at age 24 after a fight with her husband. Born in 1914, Barbara had her first novel published in 1927 (by Knopf!), when she was just twelve years old, to rave reviews. When her father, who worked in publishing and was able to facilitate her career, left the family for another woman, Barbara and her mother did some traveling until they ran out of money, necessitating Barbara's going to work as a secretary at age sixteen, without ever having graduated from high school. Early marriage and a sense of adventure and travel followed, but something went wrong in the marriage, and Barbara disappeared, though it is unclear if she did so willfully. You can read all about it at Farksolia, a website named after a place in Barbara's imagination that was the subject of her first novel. This website is curated by Barbara's half-sister's son, Stefan Cooke, who has also put together a book on the life and disappearance of his aunt. You can download Barbara's first novel, The House without Windows, and learn more about it here.

So much for spooky, here's beauty (although both of today's spooky entries have a sense of beauty about them):

3) Yesterday I went to the Kobe Biennale Exhibition at Meriken Park. Large shipping containers, more than 90 in total, are turned into private exhibitions for artists from all over the world. The theme is "Saku" or "Bloom," and it is manifest in many of the pieces offered. There are interactive installations that invite audience participation, 3D work, video installations, installations you enter, more traditional visual work, sculptures, ikebana (flower arranging), and calligraphy. Really interesting work; if you are in Kobe, you should go. Tickets are 1400 yen for the port installation only, and 1800 yen for a ticket that also gives you access to 3 museums over on Museum Road (the ticket is good for one admittance to each exhibit, at any time during the two months that Biennale runs). I got the 1800-yen ticket and am looking forward to seeing the other exhibits in a few weeks, when I have some free time.

ALSO: FREE ADMISSION for the 3-day weekend starting today: 10/12 - 10/ 14. Take advantage!!!

I saw some interesting work with shadows there that has me thinking hard.....

4)  Finally, I just finished reading Katherine Towler's &  Ilya Kaminsky's A God in the House: Poets Talk about Faith (Tupelo Press), a collection of essays. I have a marked ambivalence about God, religion, spirituality, but cannot stop reading, thinking, and looking on the subject, and was comforted by Christian Wiman's citation of Blaise Pascal in the book: " If you are searching for God, then you have found him." There are remarkable essays in here, but in particular I recommend those of Carolyn Forche, Kazim Ali, Jane Hirshfield, Jericho Brown, Li-Young Lee, and Alicia Ostriker. Many of the others were fascinating as well....This is a book worth having.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Go Figure!

Bored of my own last few self-indulgent posts, I am today happy to recommend to you, via Maria Popova's Brain Pickings, literary action figures, including Edgar Allan Poe (whose birthday was last week):

Other figures include: Austen, Dickens, Wilde, and Shakespeare.

Popova also showcases a line of non-pose-able collectibles in three categories: artists (Dali, Picasso, van Gogh, and Warhol), scientists (Newton, Darwin, Einstein, and Tesla), and writers (Twain, Joyce, Shakespeare, and again the inimitable Poe). Check out this link to see them all.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

One Round of Self-Doubt

Recently I have been looking at my growing pile of rejection letters and thinking perhaps I have better ways to spend my time; maybe I should concentrate instead on contributing more financially to our family, on spending more quality time with my kids, or on studying Japanese. Maybe everyone around me cringes when I talk with childish self-indulgence about trying to write, to be a writer.

.......Then I ran across this, from a well-known essay by short story writer Kathryn Chetkovich on being the girlfriend of Jonathan Franzen.

"It’s not as though anyone thinks that being a good writer makes you a good person. But it helps. (Isn’t this perhaps one reason why women, as a whole, are more apt than men to see writing and reading as therapeutic acts? All that private time spent rendering and transforming personal experience on paper is easier to justify if the writer – and, ideally, the reader – is healed in the process). If you’re truly talented, then your work becomes your way of doing good in the world; if you’re not, it’s a self-indulgence, even an embarrassment.

But how do you know you’re good, if not by comparing yourself favorably to others (an essentially ungood activity)? And how many women are comfortable doing that?"

Kathryn Chetkovich, from “Envy”, in Granta, Summer 2003 issue


The other voice in my head says, "No one will take your writing seriously unless/until you do," but how can I take my writing seriously when no one else does? (Okay, not no one else, but no one in publishing). Round and round I go.


Now it occurs to me that this post is related to the post I wrote yesterday, about whether to write or not what conflicts with actual family history, embedding those invented facts within that history and willfully failing to make a distinction.

It occurs to me now that a good writer should write whatever is necessary, actual facts be damned, whereas a good woman (and to a lesser extent, a good person, gender unspecified, and in both these cases I mean a culturally-defined good woman/person) should not write what might be unsettling or uncomfortable or disturbing for her family. I can't be both a good writer and a good woman/person. Shall is shoot for the lower target, or the higher? Should I give up on both?

Or, even more accurately, I can't be both a good daughter and a good writer.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

In the Family of Truth

I am working on a poem (okay, a triptych of poems, or maybe a suite) about an actual event, or series of events, in my family--tragic ones, taboo subjects. I an interspersing actual facts with metaphorical "facts". On an artistic level, they work together well, but I wonder, how will my family members react (should they read what I write; they almost never do, but going rogue with the taboo stuff just might attract some attention).

For example, will they argue that this person did not play the mandolin, as I have suggested he did by having one leaning on his wall? Will they say, you could never have had that conversation with that person at that time (for some absolutely true logistical reasons)?

Is it worse that I include real details about that person--should I just switch everything up to avoid that problem, so that the factual and the invented aren't intertwined? If I do that, the poem loses its gut-punch for me, but it shouldn't do so for an audience who doesn't know the actual details, while perhaps sparing my family members who do......

But I don't want to take out the "true" stuff just because I added non-factual details to yet make the poem even more true, in a larger sense.

This is what I'm thinking about.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Euphonious Equations

From this interview of mathematician Keith Devlin over at the On Being Podcast, I learned about Devlin's  musical collaboration with the group Zambra. Listen (and watch the dance accompaniment as well) at Keith Devlin's website, including musical renditions of Euler's equation, the area of a circle, and five others.

Or, you can just listen to a sampling of the collaboration at On Being, by clicking on "Show Playlist" at the left. I particularly recommend "Euler's Polyhedron Formula," "Einstein's Energy Equation," and "Leibniz's Series for Pi."

image borrowed shamelessly from Nikhat Parveen's Golden Ratio and the Platonic Solids

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Return to Facebook

So after a year and a half of being off Facebook, I'm back on, and here's why. I just found out that my manuscript Mendeleev's Mandala was a semi-finalist for C&R Press's De Novo Prize. The announcement went out a week ago, via Facebook, and I've patiently been waiting to hear, but didn't because it's not on the publisher's website, only on their Facebook page. So I'm back on FB to forestall any future problems like this.

I'm torn about the FB thing;  I didn't miss it when I wasn't on it, but perhaps there's no other way to keep in touch with certain entities in the poetry world.

And I'm happy about the semi-finalist finishing for my manuscript. Here's hoping the newly reordered manuscript does even better somewhere else.

Friday, September 20, 2013


I have been reordering the poems in my manuscript this week. Hard work. Hard decisions to make.

Since repetition is one of the themes in my manuscript, in my first version I did not group similarly themed poems together, but had them popping up at intervals throughout the book, so that the order reinforced the notion of repetition. But now I have begun to fear that this has not been working well, that it was too subtle a point to make via overall form of the manuscript, that the repetition was not obvious enough to suggest patterns, but instead looked too much like chaos to the reader--like looking for some kind of order in the digits of an irrational number like pi: we suspect it's there but haven't found it. In fact, I wonder if the reader could even have suspected that the pattern was there in my manuscript without more prompting.....

So I have reordered the poems, putting poems similar in theme and tone together, and I think it is a stronger manuscript now. I hope so, anyway, since I have abandoned the more innovative approach for a more standard one.

When considering how to reorganize the manuscript, I had a look at older posts I've written on the matter, like this one and this one, and followed the links there. All that hard work of finding resources back then is paying off again now. Or anyway, I hope it pays off.

I remember reading somewhere (wish I had a source for you but I don't!) that there should be at minimum three reasons why any given poem is where it is in the manuscript. Not just one reason, but three, at least! That's a hard standard to uphold.  But for the most part I was able to, with a few poems having only two discernible reasons to be where they are. Unless I fished around for fairly contrived reasons....

So that's that. For now.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

More Science in Song!

Check out this amazing 23-year-old musician and scientist Tim Blais (introduced here by Robert Krulwich of Radiolab fame) explaining string theory to the tune of Bohemian Rhapsody. (For a better show, bigger screen, click on the link just under my embedding of the video.)

And here's a link to A Capella Science, Blais' YouTube channel showcasing his other songs.

And if that isn't enough wonderful stuff for one day, the Easter Island heads have bodies!  (Found this out about this article in The Wall Breakers by following poet Sandra Beasley on Twitter. Who knew!)

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


The other day in a used bookstore I came across Sheila Nickersons' Disappearance: A Map: A Meditation on Death & Loss in the High Latitudes, a book about people who have disappeared never to be seen again in Alaska. Having two members of my extended family who fall into this category (sort of) I bought the book. And have been basically disappointed.

Perhaps I shouldn't have read the blurb stating that Nickerson is a poet. Perhaps then I wouldn't have been so disappointed at how poorly her attempt to use the collage technique, which she apparently gleaned from Lady Sarashina's As I Crossed a Bridge of Dreams (eleventh-century Japan), worked with Nickerson's own feeble personal snippets. There is quite a bit of history here, worth reading the book if you just want to know about the losses of human life to natural elements in the history since western people have attempted to colonize Alaska (Nickerson is quite unworried about the losses of the native peoples, unless they concurred with the loss of westerners), but if you are looking for good writing and/or meaningful meditations, look elsewhere.

Maybe it is the lack of insight this book gave me on my family's own losses, from different sides of the family and a decade and half apart, that makes me bitter about this book. Maybe in that case I cannot be a good judge of this book. You be the judge:

My father's stepfather, the favored one in a string of stepfathers, disappeared in a boating accident in Alaska when my father was 14 years old. I don't know much about it because my father doesn't talk much about his childhood at all. I know Dewey worked on the Alaskan pipeline and that's why my father, his sisters, and his mother all moved up there with him. I know my dad and his mother both loved Dewey more than any of the other men that came and went. Somehow as a child I had the impression that Dewey drowned while building the pipeline, on the job, but later I was told this wasn't true. Dewey apparently died while fishing with friends. I also have the impression that my father witnessed Dewey's drowning, but I'm not sure that is true. I'm not even sure if Dewey's body was recovered, which would make it less of a disappearance than a death. As I said, we don't talk about it. Someone told me that Dewey and his friends had been drinking and that had something to do with the failure of a rescue, and since my father doesn't "believe" in alcohol, this may be why the story has never been explained to me in any kind of satisfactory detail. In our family, if we don't talk about something, it doesn't happen, didn't happen. It too disappears.

The other disappearance was my mother's brother, her only sibling, at age twenty-two, in what was at the time the worst mountain-climbing accident in US history. An inexperienced climber, with Mt. McKinley being his first big climb, my uncle is apparently cited, in at least one of the book-length exposés published in the aftermath, as one of the weaknesses contributing to the loss of seven of twelve members of the expedition, lost in what has been called the worst storm on record. I don't know much about this either, as we don't talk about it, and the books on the expedition, which sat on my grandparent's bookshelves all my life, always were off-limits to me, or so I perceived them to be. I'm not sure how much of the taboo comes from me myself: after I'd already left home one of my younger sisters apparently did a school project on the expedition, something that would have been unthinkable to me. Actually, I still haven't read either book, despite the fact that as an adult now I could go out and purchase copies without consulting or disturbing any member of my family. That's how deeply I feel the taboo, which began with the lack of talking about my uncle Stephen, except in whispers.

I do remember being told that my grandparents had cancelled a scholarship established at my uncle's alma mater in his name when the school's drama department staged a play based on the book that portrayed both my uncle and the leader of expedition in a poor light. I remember being asked to leave the room when the expedition leader unexpectedly dropped by my grandparents' home when I happened also to be visiting; he had been blamed in the media for inviting my inexperienced uncle on the trip and thereby endangering everyone, and he likewise blamed himself for that and more. At that time, my grandparents uncharacteristically spoke to me a little about the events; they said Joe came by periodically to apologize to them again; they also observed that his life had been ruined by the burden, the loss of seven climbers.

Perhaps the taboo on the subject of my uncle and the accident was further perpetuated by my lack of asking questions despite the silence. I am complicit in his disappearance in our family. I have written about it once. Only once. (Directly, only once. Indirectly, also once, changing him into a different relative in case my mother read my poem. But my mother never reads my poems.) But I dream about my uncle Stephen, though I was only two years old when he disappeared and don't remember him. He worked night shifts at the post office sorting mail during college, and for awhile lived with my newlywed parents. One of his chores was to feed me my nighttime bottle when he got home from the post office. He gave me a blue toy jeep as a present, and my sister Jennifer a green jeep. My mother kept those jeeps when I was a child but I don't know where they are now.

This is what I dream: I am at the bottom of a snow-covered mountain, and there is someone running down the mountain towards me, and it is him. My uncle has come back, and he is calling for me. In reality, his body has never been recovered. My grandparents used to take trips to Alaska regularly. They said it was a beautiful place. They said they felt close to their son there. I've never been. One of my younger sisters went to visit a college friend who was from there. My sister went to the Denali National Park offices, where she found that a memorial had been constructed, listing my uncle's name on it as one lost to the mountain. The park service never contacted our family to let us know they had done this. If my sister hadn't gone there, we still wouldn't know.

We still don't know.

Friday, September 6, 2013

What's Neat on the Net: Visual+

Here's what's neat on the net, according to me, and leaning for some reason to the visual this time:

1) Matt Kish, originator and artist who did Moby Dick in Pictures: One Drawing for Each Page, of which I am a huge fan, has now announced (according to the Tin House blog) his next project, pictures for Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Go, Matt! We can't wait!

2) TAXI is featuring Ukrainian artist Shupliak Oleg's portraits in the medium of optical illusion. You won't believe this. Check out Anthea Quay's article.

3) If you subscribe to the Tupelo Press e-newsletter, you will have received an email for a buy-one-get-one-free offer (I don't find it on their website otherwise, but could be wrong). If you don't subscribe, do it--they have lots of sales that they will notify you of, and if you subscribe now, maybe you can get in on this one too. Scroll to the bottom of the page linked here, and do it now!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Hybrids Highlighted

I've been largely sub-invested in this blog since I started my masters course a year and a half ago, and further uninvested during my past month of traveling. Unfortunately, while my studying semester goes into its last busy month and my next teaching semester concurrently begins, I don't anticipate the circumstances improving.

However, may I suggest some reading that is worthy of your time, by an essayist I envy, on the timely topic of hybrids. Find Lia Purpura's "Why Some Hybrids Work and Others Don't" at the latest issue of Diagram, and enjoy observations such as "in a satyr, the wild part stays wild, the cultivated part stays cultivated. Satyrs are complicated but consistent."

Friday, August 30, 2013

Zany English on Japanese T-shirts

Welcome to
Raccoon City
Home of

I'm too shy to take pictures of random strangers' T-shirts, so I just jot down the nonsense passing as English emblazoned there, including line breaks.

I keep meaning to make a list but I jot the slogans down on random slips of paper and lose them before I ever get a chance to compile them.

So here's my pledge to enter T-shirt proclamations into this blog post within hours of seeing them, before I forget or lose my note to myself.

If you've seen some crazy Japanese T-shirts, feel free to add them in the comment section. Here's another I've seen recently:

Dwarf Bravery
Some of my favorites are those that approximate logical syntax, before veering off into the absurd, such as this one:
Me too, I'm going in search of a great perhaps. Will report back.


Reporting back. Still haven't found the great perhaps, but did see this shirt while in pursuit:

Heaven knows
that you have
tired your best
Which is true, oh so true.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Moby-Dick Big Read

Two summers ago I blogged about my book shame, having not read Moby-Dick. Having publicly exposed my shame, I was sufficiently motivated to go ahead and read it, and I finished it later that summer. Yay!

Then I discovered Matt Kish's Moby-Dick in Pictures: One Drawing for Every Page, which I blogged about and which I continue to adore.

Now I've discovered Moby-Dick Big Read, a collaborative project of readers and artists (including Tilda Swinton, Will Self, China Mieville, Tony Kushner, Joyelle McSweeney, & Mary Oliver) each reading one chapter of Melville's masterful tome aloud. A project of artist Angela Cockayne and writer Philip Hoare, this reading project grew out of Peninsula Arts Whale Festival of 2011.

You can download each chapter in iTunes for free, to let the listening begin. I already have and will be enjoying Moby-Dick once again this autumn.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Greer on Working Against Cleverness

“I know that I have an instinct towards math and cleverness in structure that I work against, and so I try to make something … I make this whole structure which takes up a cork wall of index cards, and then I feel that is the architecture of the book, and what you do with architecture is that you cover it completely . . . And why I am driven to make something this complicated I don’t know. It’s just a pleasure for me always in all kinds of reading and fiction to know that there is some kind of clock ticking in the background. It could be rhetorical device, the way that language goes in the book. That there’s a pattern to it, because it’s nice to feel when you close the book that there’s a pattern to life.”

I'm Baaaaack!

I've been traveling, and during my travels, I hardly checked in with my email and social media accounts. I also didn't listen to any podcasts. The last just happened as I was with family I hadn't seen for three years and wanted to be as present with them as possible; the former was by design. It was a vacation from modern life, and it was refreshing. But now I'm back.

I also picked up some contributor's copies of journals my work has appeared in, and which I had had sent to relatives' stateside addresses in order to spare the non-profit journals the overseas postage required to reach me at my home.  Seeing the journals in print makes the publication experience seem more real, and I'd like to thank the editors of the Barrow Street and Ninth Letter Arts and Literary Review for supporting my work in the recent past.

I've also been working on the August Poetry Postcard Fest, and have discovered something I had not known before: you can do warm-up poems before working on longer poem projects, and this helps loosen up the imagination. From past years of participation in the APPF, I have learned that one or two images is really the most you can effectively get on a postcard, so instead of getting into the complex extended metaphors that are typical of my writing, I have tried to focus in on a few lines capturing a single image for each postcard. Although the poems are short, it does take me hours to write them. I prop the postcard up where I will see its image all day, and before beginning my regular routine I study it for a few minutes. Then I go on about my day, passing the postcard numerous times, being reminded of it, thinking about the image on and off during the day until the right lines begin to form in my mind. At that point I sit down and write the poem.

What I've found is that after doing that, I can pull out other non-APPF poems that I have been working on for weeks and I can continue work on them, having been primed for writing and freed up in my imagination by the work on the postcard poem. Though the postcard poem has nothing to do with the poems of my regular life, somehow they act as a warm-up for me, and I am finding writing easier this way. Perhaps I've just dealt with my natural resistance to writing in the earlier exercise--I'm not sure what the mechanism at work here is, but anyway, it's been helpful. I think I will keep writing small images in response to something visual (with the single image as the end goal)  as part of my writing practice in the future. Who knew you could do mind stretches like that before getting into the real work?--not so unintuitive, I realize now, but it's a new idea for me.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

One-Way Collaboration

I've been thinking a lot about collaboration recently, first inspired by Black Tongue Review, an online journal of collaboration between poets and visual artists. Happily an artist friend recently invited me to collaborate with her in just this manner, so we are just getting started in that endeavor, and I'm really excited about it.

Collaboration is something I've been interested in trying, but haven't had anyone to ask (or haven't really had enough nerve to ask, to be more honest), so I was delighted to be invited by someone else.  In the meantime, I've noticed that for the person who wants to try collaboration but has some reason to hesitate, there are opportunities for one-sided collaborations, which can serve as training grounds, confidence boosters, and ways to see if collaboration would be something you would be interested in, without the risk of disappointing a partner, or being disappointed by a partner, or being unhappy with loss of total control over the creative process. Ideas for one-sided collaborations include responding to someone else's work, as in ekphrastic poetry, or working with someone else's prompt. These one-way collaborations don't have the give-and-take and interaction of the true collaboration, but as an experiment, they can be a good way to see if working with another artist might be something you are truly interested in.

Here are a few opportunities for one-way collaboration:

1) Submit to Black Tongue Review. You submit an already completed poem and they find an artist to respond to it. I'm not sure if the artist will contact you for any real collaboration or discussion, but if not, just noting your response to someone else's visual interpretation of your poem might tell you if you would be keen to do a two-way collaboration with someone else.

2) 3Elements Review is now accepting submissions for their inaugural issue. All submissions must include three elements. This issue's three elements are: "processions, tandem bicycle, ache". Try writing something for this review, thereby sort of collaborating with the editors and more distantly with any other writer whose work will be featured in the issue. Accepting someone else's constraint is a tiny non-invasive collaboration, a good baby step for someone venturing into this arena. (Thanks to CRWOPPS-B for the heads-up on this new journal.)

3) Although it's too late to join this year, another one-and-a-half-sided collaboration is the August Poetry Postcard Fest (I should have told you about this earlier, but almost didn't get in myself, as another blogger's last minute reminder is what got me in just under the wire of the deadline this year). In this project, you send a postcard with an original poem responding to the postcard image to 31 people (one a day for the month of August) and receive such postcards from 31 people. That's how it goes to being one-and-a-half-sided, by also receiving postcards and poems which may influence the ones you send out after that. In the past, this project has emphasized trying to respond to poems you receive in the next ones sent out; I didn't see anything about that in the guidelines this year, but it can be an inevitable result for certain kinds of writers, and if you are interested in dipping your toe into the collaboration pool, you could constrain yourself to having to respond to a received postcard in the next one you send out, thereby invoking a less-than-two-sided collaboration.

It's too late to do this project this year, but you could organize and exchange of postcards with a poet friend or friends on your own, or you could simply write consciously in response to others' work as a tiny foray into the area of collaboration

4) Erasure is another one-way collaboration idea, working with someone else's text and erasing it into your own. Any kind of work beginning with someone else's text and/or art can be thought of as one-way collaboration, a groundbreaking way to progress towards more traditional collaboration.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Make A Space!

"I don’t understand why people don’t have a space in their life where they don’t do what they normally do." – painter Eric Fischl in conversation with actor Alec Baldwin (from WNYC's Here's the Thing with Alec Baldwin).

Wisdom that even lineates naturally:

I don't understand
why people don't have
a space in their life
where they don't do
what they normally do.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Million-Line Poem

Tupelo Press is open-sourcing a million-line poem, assembled from couplets written by people all over the world. If you want to contribute, here are the guidelines (copied from the Tupelo Press website):

"Each day we post two lines from which contributing poets draw their inspiration. All entries are assembled by an editor (keeping the integrity of the couplets) and posted to the Million-Line Poem for viewing the next day with the contributor’s name and city.

You can participate in the creation of this art form as it grows organically, day-by-day. The nature of the poem — what it’s about, its ideas, its subjects, its overall aesthetic — will develop over time.  Your contribution will be part of that process and synergy.

There is no limit to the number of contributions each poet can make, except we ask that only two lines per poet per day be submitted. All poets will be credited for their contributions.

To contribute, send an email to that includes: (a) your name, email, city and state, and (b) the two lines. A poet who wishes to make additional contributions on additional days must repeat this process.

The Million Line Poem is open to all writers, anywhere in the world, regardless of prior experience, and regardless of nationality, provided that all lines must be submitted in English."

Very similar to the Japanese renga form! I wish I'd known about this before the semester ended. It would've made a good assignment.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Stalking the Stanza

Recently, listening to Rebecca Farivar's Break the Line podcast, I heard an interview with filmmaker and poet Ram Devineni, about a web series he directed, called Verse: A Murder Mystery (available at Koldcast TV online).

The web series follows a poet who stumbles upon a part of a manuscript of a(nother) murdered poet. The hero of the series then proceeds to solve the 30-year-old mystery surrounding her death by using clues out of her poems to identify her stalker and killer. Apparently the series scriptwriter, herself a poet, actually wrote a complete poetry manuscript in the persona of the murdered poet, and said manuscript is downloadable, should you become that involved in the series. Farivar points out that some of the poems in the manuscript don't have anything to do with the stalking/murder, as a poet would naturally write about many different subjects, so you don't have to worry that reading it will spoil your enjoyment of the series, as the clues are thus not obvious.

All episodes are available online free of charge. So far there are seven episodes available, and I haven't finished watching, so I don't know if that's the entire series or where more will be posted later. But I wanted to tell you, as it could be something interesting to watche this summer.

Extras and trailers available at the Rattapallax YouTube Channel.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Cover Cliches

Avid book readers will laugh aloud at these clichéd book covers from BuzzFeed UK, including the "spooky road to nowhere" and the "woman looking out over water" and the "child's sad face, handwriting font."

How many other cover clichés can you think of? 

Monday, July 29, 2013

Terry Tempest Williams Interviewed

Terry Tempest Williams is a writer I admire more than almost any other: for her inimitable and insightful writing, for her reverence and passion for nature, and for her courageous response to her family's heritage, a heritage we share and have similar reactions against, though I have never been as courageous as Williams in that respect.

Lorraine Berry has interviewed Williams at the blog Talking Writing, and here are some quotes from the interview.

"Time for a writer translates into solitude. In solitude, we create. In solitude, we are read. If we’re lucky, our books create community having been written out of solitude. It’s a lovely paradox. It’s the creative tension that I live with: I write to create community, but in order to do so, I am pulled out of community. Solitude is a writer’s communion." Terry Tempest Williams

"TW: In When Women Were Birds, you write that the biblical Eve “exposed the truth of what every woman knows: to find our sovereign voice often requires a betrayal.”" Lorraine Berry, reading back to Williams a quote from her book

"Art can transform patterned thinking. It shows us what’s possible. It brings us home to ourselves, quietly, forcefully. Art disturbs." Terry Tempest Williams

These last two quotes remind of a time I wrote a poem that I was frightened to read afterward. Every time I read it I got a sick feeling in my stomach, a feeling that I was going to hell, even though I don't believe in hell. I can read that poem now without such a visceral reaction; I have come to accept the feelings and truths I accessed in the poem that had been buried so deeply inside me prior to that time. That's the kind of writing I aim for, but all too often fail to achieve.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Student Poetry Reading

I hosted a poetry reading today for my students. This semester they have studied many of the traditional Japanese poetic forms, including: the sendouka, the chouka, the mondouka, the haiku, the cirku, the lune, the tanka/waka, the renga/renku, the haibun, the haiga, the jisei, tanka prose, the senryuu, and the kasen. We learned about each of these formal traditions in Japanese (including their history), and also studied how they have been adapted for usage into English. Part of the way the students learned about these adaptations was to try writing each form in English. We had a unit on the problems of translating Japanese poems into English, and the students had a go at that as well. We also did various traditional games/activities based on the forms, including karuta (a card game based on tanka), a ginkou (a haiku walk), and renga games (timed writing of linked poems).

Today was the culmination of our class: each student had to read three poems at a reading (two original poems and one from the literature, which they may or may not have translated on their own). Many students chose to share visual poems such as haiga and cirku, and that was very gratifying for our audience. Each student also was responsible for giving our audience a brief explanation of one of the forms we studied.

For her senryuu assignment (a haiku-like poem which is often ironic, and sometimes sexual) one of my students wrote about the irony of learning about Japanese poetic forms in English from an American teacher, rather than in Japanese from a Japanese teacher. I enjoyed her poem, and felt I had really succeeded is helping her understand what irony was.

All in all I'd say the semester and today's reading were both successes, and I'd encourage other teachers of English in Japan to consider using Japanese poetic forms as a classroom device.

Oh, and it doesn't hurt to have refreshments at the end of the reading!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Spike: Me on 3 Quarks Daily

Some days the number of people viewing my website spikes, and I don't know why. Sometimes I try to figure it out (though usually I'm too busy plus I have found that trying to figure it out is a waste of time anyway; plus it's just embarrassing to be looking for information about one's self). But I did just find that a spike last month was due to a poem of my being reposted (from Thrush Poetry Journal) to the very cool site 3 Quarks Daily. (They reposted the lack of a stanza break too. Oh well.)

So that's an exciting discovery. I still don't know what caused today's spike though, and may never find out......

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

More on Long Poems

So a month after I blogged about journals that accept long poems, an intern at The Review Review compiles a list that looks suspiciously a whole lot like mine, plus a few extra.....Hmmmmmmm. Well. Let's give her the benefit of the doubt and assume that if she (spontaneously and completely on her own) pursued the same quest as I did, it's not surprising that she should get similar results.

So if you are still looking for a home for your long poem, enjoy this resource too.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Slippage: Math and Science in Literature

Today, via CRWOPPS, I learned of a new literary journal for "the confluence of science and art". It's called Slippage Literary Magazine, and its first online edition features poems by Bill Knott and Dave Bonta, as well as lots of visual work.

While many journals publish science- and/or mathematically-inspired art, this is the first one that I've that is devoted to the genre, although there are a number of anthologies (including Kurt Brown's Verse and Universe) and single-author collections available.

If you're interested, here's a blog about "mathematical poetry" by Kaz Maslanka. These tend towards the highly visual/representational, which is one end of the spectrum.

Or see my earlier posts about mathematics and poetry: Calling All Bards of the Binary Code, or What's Neat on the Net: Visual Edition.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Vintage Japan

Taxi today features vintage photos of 19th century Japan with a stereo-optic twist. Enjoy this work from the collection of Okinawa Soba.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Tracking the Muse

Blackbird has reinstated its "Tracking the Muse" feature, in which contributors to the journal, including Joshua Gottlieb-Miller and Corey van Landingham, comment on their creative processes. Cynthia Marie Hoffman follows a process similar to mine when working on a project (a series/cycle of poems), while other processes described contain new ideas for me.

I love reading these kinds of things. I'm not sure that they help my process in any particular way, but in general they give me a sense that there are writers out there working hard, and that I should be working hard. Not in a competitive way, but in an inspirational way. (Most of the time, that's how it works anyway.)

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Black Tongue

I've just serendipitously discovered an amazing (newly-)online journal called Black Tongue Review, which pairs poems with original artwork in "a triple dog dare to create art by sending poems to other countries and asking that artwork be made as a reaction".

The current issues features work by poets I've long admired, such as Mary Biddinger (paired with artist Valerie Hegarty), Ocean Vuong (paired with the work of Izziyana Suhaimi), Chad Sweeney (together with the art of Chris Maynard), and Tony Trigilio (with visuals by Greg Dunn).

The styles of poetry and art featured are varied and interesting; this is a site you can spend hours at and not feel you've wasted a single minute.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A Week of Glitches

This week: 2 rejections, 1 acceptance, and 2 glitches in the communications of such. I can live with the odds, and am amused by the glitches....

First glitch: I opened up my email inbox to see two emails from the same journal with the same message line. Looked like a rejection to me, with a failure in the system used by the journal to send rejections. So I opened up the older email and it was a form letter rejection. I almost deleted both emails at once, since I have twice now received duplicate rejections from two other journals and really who needs to be told twice? But I decided just before hitting the delete button to open the second email, and it was an apology for the first email, which had inadvertently been sent me, and they actually wanted to accept two poems. So yay for that, and beware, writers: open the duplicate-appearing emails. On occasion they may be more than just repetitive rejections.

Second glitch: a journal solicited work from me, or perhaps not from me, since the solicitation letter came to a name very similar to mine, but slightly different. Still, I had met the editor personally a few months before receiving the solicitation and thought he probably just made a small slip-up, and there were no poets with the name of the email, so I supposed it was me that was being solicited for work. So I sent work. Seven or so months later, I get a rejection from this journal, to the wrong name again, though I had obviously sent the submission with my actual name and mentioned our meeting and such. And it was a form rejection. So, I don't know how personally to take this rejection, and of course I don't know whether I was solicited or not. It's a journal I think is a good strong journal, but this amusing mishap will probably keep me from submitting to them again. I certainly don't expect anyone to know who I am when I send to the slush pile, but having been solicited, I find it all a little odd. I probably had my name entered incorrectly into some database there, but I did give them a chance to update their database, but no go.

Anyway, still pretty good odds, and no complaints...just a bit of head-scratching and wondering.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Literary Cities

Poets & Writers blog has a list of city guides which give the literary side of some 17 US cities, including Baltimore, Boston, New Orleans, Austin, Texas, and Portland, Oregon (the other Portland has a guide too!). Written by writers familiar with these locations, the guides list known haunts and homes of authors, famous bookstores, relevant museums, cites made famous by literature, book festivals and other literary events, etc. Check it out and see if your city is featured, or give your next vacation that literary bent.

Friday, June 28, 2013

ode to diode

It's been awhile since I've had any poems published online, but I'm happy to report that I have two poems in the new issue of diode poetry. If you have the inclination, please check them out.

There's also work by Michelle Bitting, Kara Candito, Nick Courtright, Kathleen McGookey, and Brandon Shimoda, among others. Nance van Winckel has some interesting altered book pages and digital collage as well.

Thanks to editors Patty Paine and Jeff Lodge for supporting my work.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Podcast Quote-a-Thon

I've been listening to a lot of podcasts recently, and here are a few excerpts:


From Tieferet Talk, Tieferet Journal's radio show,  an interview of Molly Peacock by host Melissa Studdard, about Peacock's book The Paper Garden: Mrs. Delaney Begins Her Life's Work at 72, which includes the following:

“You can't be jaded if you really attend to detail. Jaded means life is predictable. But life is not predictable in its exhilarating specificity…When you don’t understand the world and when you’re overwhelmed, one thing you can do is simply to describe it. If you describe it to yourself, it allows you at least to recognize it. You may not be able to comprehend it, but it’s there in front of you, in a palpable way that you are saying back to yourself.” Molly Peacock

“She didn’t meet the goal but she met her vision.” Molly Peacock


From the New Letters on the Air podcast, the podcast of New Letters Magazine,  a posthumous re-airing of an interview of John Ciardi by host Angela Elam, including the following:

“I realized the photographer is photographing himself…..” John Ciardi

“…submit one’s self to it in the knowledge that the language is more wise more able than the practitioner…” John Ciardi


From the podcast New Books in Poetry, an interview of James Longenbach with host John Ebersole about Longenbach's recent book The Virtues of Poetry, including the following:

"The idea that we are most likely going to be forgotten should liberate the artist and not constrain him or her." John Ebersole

"...the poet whose deepest inclination is to associate risk with submission...." James Longenbach, as quoted by John Ebersole, reading from Longenbach's book

“You can’t write poems all the time. You’ve got to read a hundred of them in order to write one that’s half -decent.” James Longenbach


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Return of Four Stories Japan!

For all you folks living in Kansai (that's western Japan for the rest of you), Four Stories Japan returns this weekend. Four Stories is a prose reading event featuring four different writers each time, and hosted by the inimitable Tracy Slater (and held regularly in Boston, semi-regularly in Osaka/Tokyo).

The readings this weekend are:

  • Amy Chavez, columnist for The Japan Times since 1997 and author of the books Japan, Funny Side Up and Running the Shikoku Pilgrimage: 900 miles to enlightenment
  • Marc Kaufman, lecturer at Tokyo's Sophia University and fiction and nonfiction writer with work in Narrative Magazine and more
  • Peter Mallett, university professor and freelance writer on classical music and the arts, former arts editor of Kansai Time Out, publisher and editor of Artspace, and author of the novel-in-process Appassionata
  • Tracy Slater, Four Stories founder and author of the book The Good Shufu: A Wife in Search of a Life Between East and West, forthcoming from Penguin's Putnam and Berkley imprints

  • The readings will be held at a different venue from in that past, so click on the link above to get information and directions about that. It'll be Saturday, June 29th, beginning at 5 pm, at Café Absinthe in Osaka.

    The link will also lead you to MP3s from past readings in both Osaka, Tokyo, and Boston. Check it out!

    Sunday, June 23, 2013

    Full Frontal Narrative

    I've recently finished up a manuscript and am thinking about what to work on next. It has occurred to me that the last time I wrote directly about topics that were painful at the time of writing about them, things I was struggling mightily with while concurrently wishing to conceal this struggle from certain loved ones, was when I wrote my chapbook. My book and my most recent manuscript deal with topics that have some temporal space between them and the current me, and even more space between my loved ones and the troublesome themes.

    It's important to write about what it is difficult to write about, so I thought it was probably about time for me to face up to that again, although the difficulties have changed substantially since I last engaged in such a practice. But the fear is there: the fear of the amount of psychic energy and time it takes to face these scary topics, and more importantly, the fear of the pain that putting this stuff out there in the open can cause to people I love, people who have in part caused the pain but didn't mean to, or did mean to at one time but don't mean it now, or do mean it now but it would still pain them to have it out there in public.

    So I was thinking this through, and I recalled a time when I had asked one of my sisters how she thought our family would react to a poem I had published. "Which poem is that?" she wondered. So I showed it to her. She read it through once, then twice, then said, "I think you give us more credit than we deserve. I don't think anyone in our family would recognize that this poem is about us."

    I was stunned. How could they not see what was there in black and white? And yet they didn't. Which is the wonder of a poem: it's not full frontal narrative even when the poet thinks it is; even when the metaphors and imagery are clear to the poet, there is still the reader's interpretation of both/either the poem and any events represented in the poem, and these might vary mightily from the poet's. Even when it is full frontal narrative, there's still the fact that it's a poem, and doesn't necessarily represent the factual truth, although it must represent the emotional truth.

    I'm still scared. But I think I'm going to start writing anyway.