Friday, March 30, 2007
National Caffeine Awareness Month
National Craft Month
National Frozen Food Month
National Nutrition Month
National Umbrella Month
Save Your Vision Month
Did you miss those? They were all in March. Only a few hours left to get out your umbrellas and glasses and drink an insane amount of coffee to show your national pride!
But I digress …
I was so taken with Delia’s post that I just wanted to mention the importance of community efforts in poetry. Whether you go down to your local elementary school or local library to volunteer your creative writing skills, or host a writing workshop in your home—whatever you do, April is brimming with people itching to connect with others. In the U.S., spring is beginning. We are all ready to come together and discuss the things you can't find in the news (yes, that's a William Carlos Williams reference). And in my heart of hearts, I believe that poetry is one of the ties that bind us together. It records our history through emotion and words. Poetry is the oldest of traditions, and I can’t think of anything better to celebrate. (Well, Opening Day in baseball is pretty cool, too!)
Happy (Inter)National Poetry Month, everyone!
Thursday, March 29, 2007
I've been trying to write a poem about this incident for a while. It's still not there yet, so I'm considering the poem a bonafide first draft. In order for the poem to go where I need it to go, I have to push it there--and I'm not ready to do that yet. So for now, here it is and know that I will post a revision of it for NaPoWriMo.
Looking forward to reading all of your wonderful poems this week.
“How Did You Turn Out So Well?”
When she said it, it was the proverbial
July 4 party, husband’s birthday,
we had been talking about Ebonics
becoming a second language,
and why so many black kids fail in school.
With just a few simple words
she opens my attic door that old hurt,
the intractable sadness that rises in me
like a bad moon, to reflect back to me
in the face of a friend I’ve known for years.
The conversation leans in,
takes a sip of the stiff drink,
tries to keep its composure
in the wake of its ransacked heart.
How can I blame her for speaking what she thinks,
and for the answer she thinks she deserves?
I do what so many of us have done for generations:
hide my displeasure in pockets of silence,
even though her blue eyes and blond architecture
keep asking the same question
I’ve asked myself every day of my
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
The fair and always pleasant Boston Erin and I are planning a literary reading series in the Boston area. Since this is our first time planning something like this, I could use some advice.
- If you’ve started or been involved in a reading series, what was the experience like?
- If you’ve attended a reading, no matter which genre, what did you like or did not like about it? How long should readers read?
- What do you think makes a reading successful?
Once we’ve fleshed it out a bit more, I’ll post on our progress. I’ll also post my thoughts on what makes a good reading in a day or so.
FYI, if you’re a poetry or fiction writer in the Boston area and would like to be a part of the series, e-mail me directly at jgill27494 at aol dot com.
Monday, March 26, 2007
I say this not because I'm unhappy or upset. But I can’t remember the last time I called in “well” to work. *sigh*
Is it just me or do you ever want to take leave of your senses for a day?
Sunday, March 25, 2007
When we moved in, the kitchen floor was a yellow and green linoleum or sheet vinyl. (Sorry I don't have a picture to show of the floor.) All of the appliances were mustard yellow and the cabinets are some 70s-style laminate that’s not worth refacing. Since then, we’ve gotten rid of the linoleum floor and made a few minor improvements, but we’re no closer to remodeling than when we first bought the house four years ago.
Over time, we’ve started storing stories in cupboards and closets. Sippy cups take up the spot where I think wine glasses must have resided. Even the kids have made the kitchen into something else—a music room with the pots and pans. As the house breathes in, it takes on our family history. The kitchen just needs a serious face lift, and new spaces to store new memories.
Saturday, March 24, 2007
This letter contains photocopies of poems from Wesley McNair. He is, by far, one of the most overlooked poets in the U.S. I think he has at least eight books of poems and has one numerous grants and awards, and still you’d be hard pressed to find of his books at a Barnes & Noble. Pity, because he is such a craftman when it comes to shaping a poem.
What follows is a McNair poem, but not one that’s included in the letter my friend sent to me. For National Poetry Month (April in the U.S.), I'm thinking about returning the gesture. I'll pick out a few poems from a poet whose work moves me and send it through the mail--a gift that keeps on giving.
Enjoy the poem.
Go ahead and believe
that this vacant house
in the shifting grass
remembers those nights
when the husband's headlights
flew against its side.
It is only a house.
How could it know the wife
stood each day at its window--
that thin wall
between her and everything
she wanted--or hear
the dutiful child
taking apart and putting
together the same, sad
cluster of notes. Go ahead
and think that in the darkness
under the eaves
it is aware
of this new couple
turning into the driveway
to approach its silent door:
the frowning man with the key,
the wife amazed by the view,
their daughter running across
the roof-shaped shadow
shifting in the wind.
~ Wesley McNair
Thursday, March 22, 2007
I did not follow this week's prompt, but decided to revise an old piece, one that has not appeared on this blog.
The following is the first poem I thought, "Gosh, this is a real poem." Since I wrote it about 12 years ago, I don't feel as strongly about the message as I did originally. But I think it still holds up. When I was in grad school, I thought that this would be my signature piece. So for me, revisiting the poem is a walk down memory lane. And, I think it paints a palpable picture.
If you enjoy eating chitlins (or chitterlings), then you may want to stop reading now.
It came in 10-pound container from the meat section
next to the hog jaws and hog maws and cow’s tongue and scrapple.
Mom used to clean them mid-day when I wasn't home
and when I was, I tried to get out. The acrid mustardy smell
of intestines boiling coated the house. I wondered
if our neighbors thought we were re-enacting a tribal ritual
with animal sacrifices, maybe we were.
Dad just liked the fleshy taste and mom was indifferent.
It was something they did out of habit rather than tradition.
I watched her from the front yard as she’d take
a hunk like rope and scrape the fat, let the froth
simmer to the top of the pot like wet paper.
She’d boil a pan of water with vanilla flavoring
next to the chitlins to fool us but who was she kidding?
Nothing covered the stench of that pork mush.
I imagined that this smell was evil, like boiled human entrails,
and I’d get sick from my own thoughts;
thoughts conjured from a time before me,
of never having enough but using every part what remained.
Pasty as wet paper, I thought this is what it came down to:
choice—my father eating the viscera,
and my mother poised to offer me a bowl,
the off-ramp of a swine’s innards,
knowing that this was all a part of me.
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Last 12 songs in rotation on my iPod:
Being a Girl, Van Hunt
Sex Machine, James Brown
SexyBack, Justin Timberlake
Love Train, The O’Jays
Cannonball, The Breeders
FutureSex/LoveSounds, Justin Timberlake (Okay, I’m starting to see a theme here.)
I Should Get Up, Teddy Thompson
In Heaven, FatBoy Slim
Shock the Monkey, Peter Gabriel
Unbreakable, Alicia Keys
Bang and Blame, REM
True Love Part II, X
So, what are you listening to on your iPods and CD players (or 8-tracks, if that's how you roll)?
Monday, March 19, 2007
(Me, Writer Bug, and Boston Erin being goofy for the camera!)
Every few weeks I find myself in the company of these extremely accomplished women. They are my touchstones. Okay, they inspire me to keep moving ahead with my goals, and are great sounding boards for my half-baked ideas. Truth is, without this community of women the work wouldn't be nearly as much fun.
So after a productive and fun meeting of the minds, it's time for a new to-do list to carry me through to the end of the month.
- Write three poems (psyching myself up for National Poetry Writing Month in April)
- Send manuscript to one publisher
- Enter manuscript in this contest
- Enter poem in this contest
- Plan new reading series with Boston Erin
- Write Poetry Thursday column
- Finish research for upcoming Poetry Thursday stuff
- Look up resources for state grants and scholarships
- Send out poems to two journals
I know that if I don't write it down I'll never do it. Gosh, I could complete an item a day and finish the list by the end of the month. My list seems a little publishing heavy, but next month I will be writing a poem a day and that's where I want to keep my focus.
Sunday, March 18, 2007
I believe in hard work and persistence—the two gods I pray to every night as I open my laptop in search of the right words. I believe in writing something daily—a blog post, a journal entry, a phrase from an earlier conversation—so I can keep that energy close to the surface. One of the nice things about participating in online communities such as Sunday Scribblings or Poetry Thursday is that I am constantly examining and re-examining my emotions. Rarely when I write a poem do I feel like I’m starting from scratch.
Also, I believe in the time that I spend away from my family to indulge my artistic expression. In fact, I think I am a better wife and mother because of it. Those weekend hours stolen away to write at Starbucks or late nights hunched over my desk goes way beyond being passionate. Yes, it’s true that writing is a journey. Yet, most days, my journey is the equivalent of chasing a mirage—and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Today I was rereading an article from the latest Poets & Writers magazine, writer and psychologist Susan Schnur was quoted as saying, “We live in a culture that doesn’t always value a writer’s need to write.” I don’t stay awake until midnight writing or wake up at 5 a.m. because I’m inspired. This is something I have to do. And in the process, I’m creating my own definition of what it means to be a writer. Unfortunately, the idealistic notion of inspiration does not fit into the picture.
Saturday, March 17, 2007
This meme comes from Poet with a Day Job: Top 35 books I’ve read that I would and have recommended to my friends and enemies (in no particular order).
Sharon Olds: The Dead and the Living
Sharon Olds: Gold Cell
Phil Levine: The Simple Truth
Phil Levine: What Work Is
Kim Addonizio: Tell Me
Kim Addonizio: What Is This Thing Called Love
Stephen Dunn: Local Time
Stephen Dunn: Different Hours
Alice Walker: The Color Purple
Toni Morrison: The Bluest Eye
Tom Robbins: Skinny Legs and All
Don DeLillo: White Noise
James Baldwin: Native Son
Stephen McCauley: True Enough
Michael Lewis: Moneyball
A. Poulin, ed.: Contemporary American Poetry 3rd Edition
Lois Ann Yamanaka: Wild Meat and the Bully Burgers
Lois Ann Yamanaka: Blue’s Hanging
Katherine Dunn: Geek Love
Ann Lamott: Bird by Bird
White Teeth: Zadie Smith
Toi Derricotte: Captivity
Toi Derricotte: The Black Notebooks
Elizabeth Bishop: The Complete Poems (1927-1979)
Ross Gay: Against Which
Terrance Hayes: Wind in a Box
Dave Ramsey: Total Money Makeover
Vladimir Nabokov: Lolita
Al Franken: Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot
Sam Shepherd: Cruising Paradise
David Sedaris: Me Talk Pretty One Day
Norm Goldstein: AP Stylebook
Diane Middlebrook: Anne Sexton: A Biography
Linda Gray Sexton: Looking for Mercy Street
Anne Sexton: The Selected Poems of Anne Sexton
OK--most of these books are poetry books. Big surprise there. But the list serves as a reminder me that I'm not keeping up with my reading for this year. So many good books, so little time.
And if you want to do the meme, consider yourself tagged!
Friday, March 16, 2007
Thursday, March 15, 2007
I tried something slightly different than the prompt. The word I chose was defenestration, which means "a throwing of something or someone out of a window." I knew what the word meant and have always wanted to use it in a poem. But I checked a few sources and it also means throwing someone out of a political office—that got me thinking of the sad state of politics and our current administration in the U.S.
I think my effort turned out lame—I'm saying that up front. But as an exercise, it made me consider why I don't write overtly political poetry. Sometimes I think I'm not ready to write it, that I won't be able to find the right story to make the words resonate. But I that shouldn’t stop me from trying to write a political poem, right? So I'll have to come back to this one and revise it, maybe working through what it means to defenestrate. (Such a fun word!)
As tempting as it is to critique my own effort, I'll just step back for now. Know that I'm looking forward to reading everyone else's wonderful words.
Now we can say that
trouble lives with us,
inhabits our space
like fingerprints smudged on a window
although we pretend—when someone notices—
to see through it.
By the time we got around to it,
it was too late anyway
to disavow any knowledge,
but not to late to claim
taking the appropriate and necessary steps.
Who among us
will sift through the glass,
take the broom
and sweep up the mess? Rather,
who wouldn’t try
to stay about the fray?
All of that is shattered
and no one to clean it up.
If it’s about the company we keep
than who holds better court
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
(You may have to register with the NYT to read the entire article, dated March 11, 2007.)
Indeed, The New Yorker now treats poetry almost exactly as Goodyear suggests the Poetry Foundation does — as a brand-enhancing commodity. Rather than actual discussions of poetry as an art, The New Yorker offers “profiles” of poets, which are distinguishable from profiles of, say, United States senators only in that the poets’ stories potentially include more references to bongs. That’s not to knock the authors of those profiles — often they’re a pleasure to read. They just have nothing to do with poetry.
And then there’s the question of the poems the magazine chooses to run. Granted, picking poems for a national publication is nearly impossible, and The New Yorker’s poetry editor, Alice Quinn, probably does it as well as anyone could. (Quinn is also liked personally, and rightly so, by many poets.) But there are two ways in which The New Yorker’s poem selection indicates the tension between reinforcing the “literariness” of the magazine’s brand and actually saying something interesting about poetry. First, The New Yorker tends to run bad poems by excellent poets. This occurs in part because the magazine has to take Big Names, but many Big Names don’t work in ways that are palatable to The New Yorker’s vast audience (in addition, many well-known poets don’t write what’s known in the poetry world as “the New Yorker poem” — basically an epiphany-centered lyric heavy on words like “water” and “light”). As a result, you get fine writers trying on a style that doesn’t suit them. The Irish poet Michael Longley writes powerful, earthy yet cerebral lines, but you wouldn’t know it from his New Yorker poem “For My Grandson”: “Did you hear the wind in the fluffy chimney?” Yes, the fluffy chimney.
The second issue with The New Yorker’s poem selection is trickier. This is what you might call “the home job”: the magazine’s widely noted fondness for the work of its own staffers and social associates. The most notorious examples were the three poems The New Yorker published by the Manhattan doyenne Brooke Astor in 1996-7 (one more than Robert Creeley managed in his whole life). Some representative lines: “I learned to take the good and bad / And smile whenever I felt sad.” Even more questionable, however, is the magazine’s preference for its own junior employees. In 2002, for instance, the poet who appeared most frequently in the magazine was the assistant to David Remnick, the editor — that assistant’s name, coincidentally, was Dana Goodyear. In fact, since 2000, Goodyear (who is 30) has appeared in the New Yorker more than Czeslaw Milosz, Jorie Graham, Derek Walcott, Wislawa Szymborska, Kay Ryan and every living American poet laureate except for W. S. Merwin. She’s already equaled Sylvia Plath’s total.
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Monday, March 12, 2007
The reality is we’re all attracted to print, but we’re reading more online. It’s a nasty little secret established print publications won't admit. But the constraints on publishing online are fewer than on small presses and college-run organizations: no distribution issues, back issues are more readily available, and it's easier to track readership.
Consider these few points:
- Publications that focus their efforts on the Web are much more dynamic now than ever before. For example, MiPoesias and From the Fishhouse have audio components, which take the poetry experience to the next level by bringing the voice of the poet to the masses.
- Much of the Web traffic for literary Web sites comes from bloggers. I’ve said it before, but a favorable review of a poet or a book review can translate to numerous page hits for a Web journal--immediately. As print costs and subscription rates increase, established publishers will look to move more of their efforts online.
- Several online journals can nominate for top prizes such as the Pushcart and Best American Poetry.
- State councils and government agencies are now funding online literary ventures.
- And, (as of this post) online journals such as FailBetter.com are much more favorable to poet-bloggers who have previously posted their poems online.
As more and more MFA students graduate each year, and as the literary blogging community becomes increasingly savvy at getting their work noticed, we will become part of the established poetry circles. So it’s my hope that this whole silly debate between the online vs. print camps becomes irrelevant in 10 years.
Sunday, March 11, 2007
***End Mr. Poet Mom's commentary****
The plates were hand painted on Austrian made china by my Aunt Alice's first cousin Catherine in the early 1920s. The cod, as everyone knows, played a significant role in developing and sustaining the American economy when it was just starting out. It greatly impacted the fishing, trading, boat building, and
Saturday, March 10, 2007
Thursday, March 08, 2007
Once again, I didn't do the prompt but I attempted something new. Thought I would write a poem using the letters of the alphabet to start each line. Boy, that was harder than I thought. Some lines seemed forced while others surprised me. I really enjoy trying something every one in a while pushes me into a new space. Added bonus: This turned out to be a prose poem.
Needless to say, the poem is still very raw and needs further revision.
Looking forward to reading so many great poems today.
(Note: NICU is an abbreviation for Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. And, I can't seem to make the lines work in Blogger, hence the smaller font. But trust me, there are 26 lines in the poem.)
After the families have visited for the evening, tethered their well wishes like
Balloons to the backs of chairs, taken photos of the first hours of life, my mother
Checks in on the preemies, often healthy but occasionally too yellow, or pink, or blue.
Deflated and in need of oxygen, they are held together by some order,
Exhausted by the urgency of being saved. For every tiny
Fledgling that leaves the unit, there is always another in need of touch.
Gloved, my mother cared through a thin layer of separation while
Holding the head of a baby born smaller than a shadow.
I think she liked the all-nighters, especially in early
January, babies born just after the New Year. She liked doing the
Kind things that love cannot do: adjusting another woman’s breast,
Lifting the pillow under her head so the baby slips just above the
Mother’s ribs, offering advice or comfort before returning to the
NICU, the tectonic plates of mother and child drifting together then apart.
Often she delighted in the midnight coos, a love song for the
Phantom ache of babies she could never carry, those tiny loaves
Quick, unleavened, so eager to take touch like communion, while she loved what
Remained, leaving her impoverished soul open and gaping.
She shuffled through our house as if they were long, antiseptic corridors,
There but not there. Such is the life of one in service to others,
Under no illusions about the gift of grace. My mother, whose
Voice is the sound of love becoming, seldom wondered
What became of those raindrops, whose first days of life were
X-rayed, poked, prodded—their sentences commuted to time served.
Yet, they will not remember this time when they were barely more than
Zygotes, as it should be. As if they were never there.
Monday, March 05, 2007
I’m back in chilly Massachusetts, and now the conference seems a distance memory. But I received the best hug of my life from my son at the airport. Anyway, here are a few closing thoughts on AWP Atlanta.
- Wish I could have attended the evening events. Missed out on seeing Cornelius Eady and Thomas Lux, among others, read on Friday night.
- Biggest highlight came when I was speaking with Cave Canem alums and Walter Mosley joined our conversation. He knew a few of the CCers but I had never met him. Funny, funny, generous man.
- In his session on novel writing, Walter said, “80 percent of what you need to know about fiction comes from poetry.” Story and plot can be figured out. But rhyme, meter, line breaks, looking for the precise word—that’s poetry.
- At the Online Literary Journals panel session, no one on the panel could get an Internet connection, nor could they figure out how to use the lcd projector for their screen shots until halfway through the presentation. That sucked.
- I will do a separate, longer post on this. But blogs are making an impact on all aspects of poetry, from book reviews to marketing. A book review on a blog can garner as much attention as a print review in an established publication, and that attention is immediate. You don’t have to wait weeks or months for that publication to arrive in the mail.
- As for marketing, online journals get numerous hits from blog entries. Good news does spread fast; therefore, a recommendation or link on a blog can be an online journal's best source for publicity.
- At a session on book reviews, there was debate on good reviews vs. bad reviews. Is it valid and fair to critique a poet's first book? Is there value in a negative review? Is a negative review synonymous with an honest review? The panel seemed to think so. A clear, objective review can offer constructive criticism on the mechanics. However, the panel was firmly against the snarky, mean-spirited review. Snarky reviews puts a negative spin on reviews in general.
- On three separate occasions, folks came up and said how much they liked my blog—never would have guessed. That just goes to show that there are more readers out there than those who post. Thanks again for reading the blog—I truly appreciate it!
Sunday, March 04, 2007
Admittedly, the editors I asked at the AWP book fair were surprised at the question. I was left with the impression that they do not have a policy in place. In fact, I'm not sure how often the question comes up. Unless a poem has been previously published on an online journal or in a print publication, it is not considered published if it is on a blog.
One editor said it was the equivalent to me, for instance, printing out a poem from my computer and handing it to a friend. Is that considered published? Technically yes, but it doesn't count. That same editor asked if my blog was a popular blog ... so if I had a high readership, would it be worth it for an establish publication to pick up the poem?
These five publishers are not the be all-end all when it comes to submitting work (and I'm not naming names, though tempting). But there is a lot of gray area that hasn't been defined. I say--take advantage of the gap and send out your blog poems. Just be sure to double check each publisher's submission guidelines.
Saturday, March 03, 2007
Beth Ann Fennelly reading her poetry at The Southeast Review's 25th Anniversary Reading.
Friday, March 02, 2007
(The first three photos are from the book fair. The last one was from a day session.)
Ella and I flew in on Wednesday afternoon, and overall I give her in-flight behavior an A-. She was damn near perfect, and except for the last 30 minutes in the air, she was an angel.
Yesterday it rained and it was 60 degrees. Wednesday, the temp was near 80 and beautiful. I’m not complaining, though—in Massachusetts, I think it’s 35 degrees and they just got some sort of winter mix.
Here are a few thoughts on my first day at AWP Atlanta.
1. Poetry is an incestuous community. Everybody knows everybody. And the people I knew 10 years ago in my MFA program are now part of the poetry establishment. Who would have thunk it?
2. Most of the major U.S. publishers (independent and corporate) and distributors bring their authors to read their new collections and anthologies, but there are many smaller presses and new journals here, both print and online.
3. Attending the book fair is like entering a Wal-Mart of poetry. Just a sea of mediocrity and published poets that, unfortunately, no one has heard of. But I was thrilled by the increased numbers of independent publishers and online journals with tables at this year's conference. Lots of high quality offerings—which is good news for those of us who want to swim against the tide.
4. The panel discussions are OK at best. But I’ve really enjoyed the readings and the combinations of poets sharing the stage during the sessions.
5. Attended a reading by Cave Canem celebrating a new anthology celebrating Southern writers. Also attended a 10th anniversary celebration and reading for Poetry Daily. They also have an anthology coming out soon.
That’s it for now. More pictures and juicy updates to come.
Thursday, March 01, 2007
Today’s poem is a found poem, found on (read: shamefully lifted from) the back cover reviews of a few poetry books. I was daydreaming that if I got my manuscript published, what would it say on the back cover. And then I thought of all the melodramatic text that goes in some of those reviews and testimonials, full of contrasts. This is one I really want to refine so I’ll post a revision next week. Could use suggestions for a title.
What I Want Someone to Say on the Back Cover of My First Poetry Collection
Say I am a hammer. Say I am a velvet wrecking ball, a rip tooth saw, a nine-millimeter with one bullet left in the chamber. Say my poetry is that bullet. This collection frightens and comforts you. It is my best work ever, in which I have brought all of my faculties to bear. Say my words leave you stripped to the core, to the underlife you never knew existed. Say I’ve created a new poetic that beckons the best traditions of the Masters. I have created a shower of metaphors plucked from annihilation for this reckoning, shining a spotlight on an America hardly ever seen in contemporary literature. Say these poems evoke sympathy for the damned, yet celebrate our resilience. Say this is a must-read for anyone who has ever truly lived. Say that this is the present you’re already homesick for.