Sunday, May 31, 2009

Reading Isn't Dead After All

An article in today's Washington Post tells us that reading isn't dead after all--old fashioned reading, the reading of books.

But it's not fabulous news for poets; people are reading romance novels in increasing numbers. In fact, the romance novel seems to be the only category gaining sales.

I take the same stance on this as I do with my students. I've always told them, "I don't care what you're reading, as long as you're reading."

And I understand the appeal of romance novels. Once I had a lesbian friend who delighted in romances of all kinds. I asked her if her inner militant separatist lesbian disapproved. She explained that she liked knowing that she was going to get a happy ending. It let her relax as she read.

I've heard similar comments from mystery readers--they know the world will be made right at the end of the book, so they can take whatever plot twists come their way.

Of course, some of us take a similar solace in rereading. I'm a few days late to this New York Times article, which extols the pleasures of revisting beloved books: "The real secret of re-reading is simply this: It is impossible. The characters remain the same, and the words never change, but the reader always does. Pip is always there to be revisited, but you, the reader, are a little like the convict who surprises him in the graveyard — always a stranger."

After all, didn't we do that as children? My nephew will choose the same book, over and over again, for a bedtime story. I used to revisit all my favorite childhood books, year after year. Only a more rigorous required reading in high school and college put a stop to this practice. I've often yearned for children, simply because I could revisit those books and games and movies.

I think it's wonderful that people are returning to reading, even as many of us never left. I think it's wonderful that we have so many more reading options. I think that even poetry is viable, although in a way that capitalism wouldn't declare a triumph. Go here to read or listen to a story about the poetry economy. Those of us who have been practicing poets for awhile won't find much new. I found it heartwarming anyway. And the recession haiku challenge turned up some interesting nuggets.

I like to think of myself as a medieval monk, dedicated to an art form that the world doesn't see as important, but that later generations will celebrate its salvation.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

My Printer is a Big, Fat Baby!

Ordinarily, I'd have been at work for a few hours this morning--ah, the thrilling life of an administrator! But I actually like being at work during the quiet times. However, I worked extra hours on Thursday, so I didn't go in today.

I looked forward to a lovely morning, relaxing, listening to NPR, drinking coffee made perfectly by me (because I can make it in my kitchen), and then working on some poetry projects.

What did I do instead? I went to the grocery store early, and then I went to the computer. I discovered that the printer wasn't printing. Foolishly, I thought it might be an easy fix.

It makes noises like it's printing, but white pages come out. I've tried all the obvious things: I looked for things in the printer queue, I traded out printer cartridges, I turned the printer off for awhile, I rebooted the computer.

Then it was off to Google, on the quest for a simple answer. Some days, Google comes through. Not today.

I even called the help phone # for Lexmark. It's not every day that I get to talk to someone in the Philippines for free. I hoped that I helped him with his learning-English-process, because he certainly didn't help me with my problem. My printer, which we bought in 2000, is no longer supported by tech support. But I could send someone an e-mail. Sigh.

I want to just type a message to my printer: "What do you want? How can I help you? Is it a simple fix or have you given up the ghost?"

It reminded me of a summer day when my nephew was hot and irritable. These were the days before he had language that any of the rest of us understood, so we had to just guess what he wanted.

But even he did a better job at communicating: I was sitting beside him, drinking some water, and he reached up and had me pour water on his head. No such communique from the printer.

What a frustrating way to spend a day that I had hoped to spend writing.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Book Reviews--Mine and Others--and Other Online Reading Fun

All week I've been fighting a cold, and this morning, I think the cold is winning. My colds tend to be the sinus/scratchy throat kind of cold (as opposed to fever or vomiting). I've noticed that since I'm teaching fewer classes, I get fewer colds, and I can usually beat the ones I get faster. When I taught a five course load, I couldn't avoid talking, and it usually exacerbated my cold. This week, I've managed to avoid aggravating my throat. Or at least, I thought so, until this morning.

So, instead of writing a real blog post, I'll leave you with some links to some reading that you might find interesting.

There are some great reviews of books of poems up at Galatea Resurrects. Go here for the complete table of contents with links to the reviews. This issue also includes interviews, one of my favorite art forms! Go here to read an interview with Reb Livingston, and go here to read an interview with Tan Lin.

Two of my reviews are in this issue. Go here to read my review of 237 More Reasons to Have Sex by Denise Duhamel and Sandy McIntosh. Go here to read my review of A Bigger Boat: The Unlikely Success of the Albuquerque Poetry Slam Scene edited by Susan McAllister, Don McIver, Mikaela Renz, and Daniel S. Solis.

If you haven't had enough of the conversation about Twitter and poetry, go here for an all Twitter poetry edition of OCHO. Collin Kelley talks about editing that volume here. It's a tribute to the powers of the Internet and Twitter.

For those of you who spent years of your younger life slow dancing to the songs of Peaches and Herb (you remember "Reunited," don't you?), you might find this Washington Post article fascinating. Herb has a day job! And he even goes to work on the day that his album comes out. The article is written by one of my favorite music writers, J. Freedom du Lac. I read anything he writes, even if I don't recognize the musical artists he's discussing.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Keeping a Notebook

I've never been a little notebook person. I used to use index cards back in the olden days when I did research and wrote my quotes on the cards. I haven't used that method since 1987 or 1988, and somewhere, in a box, I probably still have all the index cards that I wrote in those first years of graduate school, all those useful quotes and bibliographical information, painstakingly written out. Then I decided it was easier to use a copy machine, even though I lost countless coins as I tried to capture those pages that were never designed for standard copy machine paper sizes.

Since the 1990s, I've kept my journal in an 8 1/2 x 11 notebook or legal pad. When I travel, I tuck a lavender legal pad in my backpack.

At the creativity retreat I went to (a month ago--how quickly the time passes), we were given a small journal, 4 x6, bound with a hardcover. At first I thought, how useless, not my style, I should just give this away. But then, I needed to jot down some notes, and I used it. I loved it.

It's the perfect size to write one note, one image, one idea. Then I can go on to the next page, and write something else.

I don't know if I'd like it if I wanted to write expansively. Probably not. But who knows.

I also liked this book because I could take it with me. I could tuck it in my pocket, and it would emerge, no worse for wear (unlike spiral bound books).

Of course, I know that many people are now using their electronics. Even if you don't have a fancy Blackberry, iPod, or other PDA, you might still have a cell phone feature you can use. Our houseguest showed me her note feature on her cell phone. She can't write a very long note--but she can write as many notes as she likes (so, if she needs to write a long note, she does it over a series of small notes).

My biggest problem is remembering to take the notebook with me. I've always wanted to be that person who has a notebook at the ready. But I'm not. So far, I haven't lost too much to the muck of my memory. But lately, I do try to write down my inspirations sooner rather than later.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Harriet Tubman is my Manager Role Model

I've spent some days thinking about the Underground Railroad, and the ways in which we think about management are never far from my mind. How would our work lives change if we had different role models?

I've noticed that many of the role model metaphors for managers often return to sports. That metaphor doesn't work for me. I'm a long distance runner, not a team sports person. I'm a little afraid of how that translates into a management model. Afraid yet tempted. We all go out and log our miles, and if you're experiencing difficulty, you'll tell me, and we'll brainstorm. Some days, we'll run together, but most days, we'll run alone.

It's a management model that works for me as a worker, but I can see how many workers would feel abandoned.

I've been thinking about Harriet Tubman and her approach to management: "Wake up. We're going for freedom, and we're going tonight. I've been there, and I can get you there. But we have to leave right now."

I've noticed that many of the colleagues that I've had through the years are not great at imagining the ways that work life could be better. We tend to accept that the way we've always done things is the best way. Our school is wrestling with new technology--well, it's new to us, but probably old to our students. I've noticed that a few people embrace the technology and immediately envision ways to enrich the classroom experience. I've noticed that most people resist, at least at first. They're proud of their unwillingness to even try. They scoff at people who say, "But what if life could be better?"

I think of Harriet Tubman and her big gun (to use a modified line from Susan Griffin's poem "I Like to Think of Harriet Tubman"). I wonder how that translates into a management model. Once a slave went with Harriet Tubman, that slave was not permitted to leave. Like the Israelites, who complained to Moses and yearned to return to captivity in Egypt, I can imagine that many slaves weren't happy on the journey. But it was move ahead or be shot.

We seem to be in a similarly ruthless time period in this economic downturn. Move ahead or be shot (speaking metaphorically, of course). I've noticed that people feel they have less job security (because we all have less job security) and so, they are more likely to consider change than they once would have been.

And the Underground Railroad? What does it symbolize, if we're thinking of metaphors for work life? And free life in the north--a symbol for retirement? Or a symbol for getting out of debt so that one can consider all options? I could make a case for various possibilities.

Now that I've been thinking of Harriet Tubman as a model for management, I'll let my mind wander back through history to see if I find other possibilities.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

More About South Florida and the Underground Railroad

If you want to know more about the Underground Railroad and South Florida, go here for a list of resources. If you want to see a reproduction of the sign that's at the lighthouse, go here.

The Underground Railroad--Who Knew??!!

We've been having fun with our out of town guests. I found out that the tip of Florida used to be a point on the Underground Railroad, until the lighthouse was built on Key Biscayne. We think of slaves fleeing north, but some of them fled south, where they were helped by Native Americans, who, in these parts, were VERY hostile to whites until the 20th century--depending on your view of gambling, you might think they still are VERY hostile. Where did they go? To the islands, of course. It's the very reverse of the migration we see today.

But once this lighthouse was built, this escape route effectively closed (actually, this lighthouse is one that's been rebuilt many times, so technically, the lighthouse that closed the escape route is no longer this exact one).

Monday, May 25, 2009

Resources for Memorial Day

The other day, my mom called me. One of her friends was putting together a presentation for Memorial Day, and he couldn't think of any good poems except for some of the classic World War I poems. She asked if I had any suggestions.

At first my mind went blank, as it always does. I remember going to record stores (ah, record stores! where I would go to spend my hard-earned dollars, saved for just this delight), and for about 5 or 10 minutes, I would wander listlessly, unable to remember the name of any band or singer that I liked. Then the fog would lift, and I'd get down to the task at hand, choosing which albums to buy--I always wanted more than I could afford.

But I digress.

So, when my poetry fog lifted, I sent my mom's friend here, to the poem "Facing It" by Yusef Komunyakaa.

My parents live in the D.C. area, and even when they didn't, my dad's Air Force Reserve work kept them returning to the area, and so, I've often spent Memorial Days in Washington, D.C., one of the best places for remembering what this holiday is all about. Arlington National Cemetery makes quite a statement about how many people have died who have served their country (to be fair, not all of them killed in war).

I keep thinking about how many children are growing up these days with no connection to anyone who serves in the military. I wonder about the implications for the future. Perhaps we are moving towards a day when we will need no military protection, but I doubt that will happen in my lifetime. This Washington Post article has some interesting insight into the role of the Army Buddy in one young boy's life.

And this blog post reminds us of why we have needed the military in the past, and why we're likely to need them in the future. John Guzlowski writes about his Uncle Buddy, who liberated a concentration camp while serving in the military. Some of my younger students seem to think that humanity was done with that kind of oppression after World War II, so I give them a mini history lesson about concentration camps and genocide after 1945. Sometimes it seems like world civilization runs a lottery, and some country loses big each decade (Russians in the 1950's and 1960's, Cambodians in the 1970's, etc.).

I even have a resource for those of you who say, "I'm a writer, not a soldier. What does any of this have to do with me?" In this New York Times article, Melissa Seligman writes about how letter writing saved her marriage to her Army soldier husband. I always have some students who tell me about how the future will not include writing, but Seligman and her husband discovered that they did better with letters than they did with phone calls and webcams--I plan to give this article to those students.

It sounds like most NPR programs will have programming today that will address Memorial Day in a variety of ways. I'll let you go to the website to explore.

It would be interesting to give students all these resources: a newspaper article, a blog post, a poem, a radio show. I'd then have them write about which was more effective and why. I'd have them go out and discover some sort of multi-media approach to Memorial Day--or better yet, I'd have them create one.

I always found that students wrote great papers when I had them interview people about a subject, as opposed to researching online or in books. It would be neat to have students interview military people, either past or present. I'd have them write a paper about what they expected to find, then I'd have them interview the person and write it up, then I'd have them write an essay about whether or not their expectations were met or were exploded in some way.

Have a great Memorial Day! Even if you don't approve of current wars, it might be good to spend some time thinking about the men and women who fought for this country along the way to the 21st century. I always think of those Revolutionary War era people, and I marvel at the risks they were willing to take. More about that on July 4!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

House Guests

We have house guests this week-end, an old college friend (I've known him for over 25 years--yikes--and my husband has known him a few years more than that) and his wife. Even though it's a schedule disrupter, I generally like to have out-of-town company. It forces us to get out and appreciate this diverse end of the United States where we live.

For example, yesterday for lunch, we went to a Cuban restaurant. We have more Cuban restaurants down here than certain fast food chains, yet my spouse and I don't eat out very often. But it's fun, once in awhile, to get out and remind ourselves that we can eat plantains prepared in a variety of ways, as well as wonderfully tender meat, and the ubiquitous black beans.

Yesterday afternoon, we went thrift store hopping, which is never my favorite activity, but I deferred to the will of the group. We went to a thrift store where the profits help abused women--how I wish I had my camera. Right next to the used wedding dresses was a display about women killed by their boyfriends--an interesting juxtaposition. After that, we went to a thrift store that helps gay men with AIDS who have no health insurance (called Out of the Closet, with the motto of the world's most fabulous thrift store, the first thrift store I've ever been to that also has a pharmacy).

I tried on some wonderful leather jackets, bargain priced, but we live in an area where a 60 degree morning is unusually cold. My husband whispered, "You're just bored, aren't you?" Yep.

I'm also amazed at all the stuff that people get rid of, much of it still perfectly serviceable. I've always thought there's a poem about how clothes are made in Pacific Island nations, shipped here, where we wear them, give them to thrift stores, and eventually, charities ship them back to the same Pacific Island nations.

I like to think that all of these details are now bubbling in my subconscious, waiting to cohere into poems. Hopefully, in the next few days, we'll go to some places that are truly unusual (I'm hoping for the Everglades, but I'm trying to remain flexible and open to possibilities; my houseguests are also interested in the upper and middle Keys and/or Lake Okeechobee--they're here until Tuesday, so there's some time).

Now everyone is awake and stirring. In an hour, we're going to head down to Key Biscayne, in hopes of touring the lighthouse--well, at least those of us who didn't stay up too late last night will be on a field trip.

Later, I'll blog about how a change of scenery can change one's poetry, and what I've noticed in my own life. For now, it's off to fill up the well of my brain, which can feel quite depleted by my daily routine.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

What Makes Work Good?

I've seen several interesting articles this morning. This article in The Washington Post talks about colleges that are experimenting with three year degrees, and it discusses, briefly, the notions, both historical and current, of why we send kids to school. This article in The New York Times makes a case for working with one's hands, and it's by an author who has done any number of jobs, some academic, some physical. Matthew B. Crawford says, "I used to work as an electrician and had my own business doing it for a while. As an electrician you breathe a lot of unknown dust in crawl spaces, your knees get bruised, your neck gets strained from looking up at the ceiling while installing lights or ceiling fans and you get shocked regularly, sometimes while on a ladder. Your hands are sliced up from twisting wires together, handling junction boxes made out of stamped sheet metal and cutting metal conduit with a hacksaw. But none of this damage touches the best part of yourself."

Interestingly, Crawford now owns his own motorcycle repair business. I've been rereading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which covers some of the same philosophical territory as these articles, albeit in more depth (to be fair, Crawford's article is excerpted from his forthcoming book, which I plan to buy the minute it is available). I suspect that most educators wrestle with the question of what education should do. Ah, the old question: "What good is it? What is it for?"

And I've always wrestled with the question of my life's work. What am I put on earth to do?

My friend and his wife are down from Jacksonville, and we've been talking about the trend of community colleges across the state to want to transform themselves into 4 year schools. Part of me understands. Part of me mourns what will be lost.

So many community colleges have moved away from teaching people a trade and moved towards being a place where you can complete the first two years of college cheaply. I understand. I spent 6 years as full-time English faculty at a community college in South Carolina, and before that, I adjuncted for several years at a different community college in South Carolina. There's a need for places where people can get those classes at a reduced rate. There's a need for people to go to a school where they can get lots of extra help. I got a lot of job satisfaction from helping people move towards lives they never thought possible--and they could do it because the community college was there.

But I also miss the aspect of the community college that taught people how to repair refrigerators. My Jacksonville friend said, "Yeah, but now we've got places like ITT Tech to do that."

Well, not exactly. Those places cost SIGNIFICANTLY more than community colleges. If I was a state legislator, I'd see a crying public need for state-funded schools (and with our current models, the community college seems one of the best places to house these programs) to educate people as electricians, plumbers, and auto mechanics--that mission would serve as much of a common good as educating people about how to write an essay and how to do the math that they never learned along the way.

I'm also finding these discussions interesting as I think about my own future. I'm good at administration, I think. I'm efficient, I can multitask, and so far, I think I've done a good job at balancing the needs of the institution with the needs of individuals. But do I want to do this forever? I don't know. Some days, I get a similar rush as I did in my community college days, when I solve a variety of problems for a variety of people. Some days, I wonder how much damage I'm doing to the best parts of myself. To be fair, I've always had that worry, no matter what kind of work I've been doing.

I wrote about these job issues here at my theology blog, so if these kinds of thoughts interest you, feel free to wander over there. I've been thinking about alternative career paths, including possibilities that include land in the country--again, that's not a slam against my current job. I've always contemplated other possibilities, no matter how happy I've been in any given job (is it a personality flaw or strength? I don't know). Yesterday's The Washington Post carried Carolyn See's book review of Coop: A Year of Poultry, Pigs, and Parenting, another book I should read probably. I need a book that tells about the real life headaches of a subsistence farm. When I think about land in the country, I think about Barbara Kingsolver's beautiful Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and I'm ready to move tomorrow.

But I really must wait for the housing market to perk up before I can do anything like that. And to see what becomes of Obama's health insurance ideas. I've always thought that if Obama did provide some kind of national health insurance, it would free up many people to live more creatively. How many of us are working for our health insurance?

And at the same time, I hear my farming forbears laughing at me--those people who spent so much time and energy escaping the farm. Still, they weathered the Great Depression in better shape than most. When you own a farm, you'll always have food. You may wear holes in the souls of your shoes, but you'll have something to eat and a roof, even if it leaks, over your head.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Sing for the Cure

"Sing for the Cure!" said the subject area as I scanned my e-mail inbox.

Hmm, this should be interesting, I thought. We'll get together, we'll sing, we'll collect money somehow, we'll sing some more--hopefully in a place with good acoustics. So much more civilized that jogging to find a cure for breast cancer.

Alas, it's not a group sing-along. It's a concert. Sigh.

I'm tempted to rant a bit. I'm tempted to say that the decline in civilization started when we all stopped doing the creating and paying someone else to do the creating for us. Why make music ourselves, when we've got professionals to do it? Why spread sprawling paint on canvas when we can pay for someone with an M.F.A. to do it the correct way? Why cook, when we can go to a restaurant.

I suppose I shouldn't rant. It's a concert for a good cause. But at least with a Race for the Cure event, there's group involvement, and people have gotten healthier so that they can complete a road race.

I suppose you could make the case that a concert could bring similar benefits, albeit psychological instead of physical, to the listener. We can listen to voices soar and feel uplifted. Voices singing in harmony probably have some sort of psychological bonus.

And in these tough economic times, if we go to a concert, we're supporting artists. I like doing that, as long as I remind myself that I have permission to create art as well.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Early Bird Registration for Writer's Conference in South Florida

Here's some information about a writer's conference, including a discount for early registration. I've heard good things about this conference, and the price seems reasonable to me, including a great deal on the hotel. The only possible drawback? It is during hurricane season. But it's late in hurricane season (the peak is in mid-September). Of course, the most damaging hurricane to hit Broward County in 50 years, hurricane Wilma, came in late October.

But your chances of avoiding a hurricane are pretty good--so, if you're one of the rare people who still has travel in your faculty budget, come on down. If you've been yearning for a tropical writer's retreat, come on down.

Early registration is now open for the 23rd annual FIU Hutchinson Island Writers’ Conference, set for October 22, 23, & 24 at the Marriot Hutchinson Island Beach Resort near Stuart, Florida.

The conference, co-sponsored by the Martin County Library System (MCLS patrons enjoy a $50 discount) features classes, readings, and manuscript consultations with faculty from FIU’s top-ten-rated MFA program as well as a number of visiting distinguished writers, poets, editors, and agents.

The visiting slate includes Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist and memoirist Madeleine Blais, poet and WW Norton Editor Jill Bialosky, award winning fiction writer Matthew Sharpe (Jamestown), Inkwell Management founding partner Kim Witherspoon, Akashic Books Editor andPublisher Johnny Temple, and best-selling novelist Debra Dean (The Madonnas of Leningrad). FIU faculty include prose writers JohnDufresne, Lynne Barrett, and Dan Wakefield and poets Denise Duhamel and Campbell McGrath. Conference director is novelist and historian Les Standiford (LastTrain to Paradise), head of the FIU Creative Writing Program.

Registration is $300 until June 1st, with manuscript conferencesavailable for an additional $50. Call FIU at 305-919-5857 for details or go to; Rooms at the Marriott are only$129 for participants. Call 1-800-775-5936 and use code FIUFIUA.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Dreaming of Other Career Paths

One of my South Carolina friends wrote to me about her niece (who is about 22 years old) who is launching an Etsy site and trying to sell her crafts. I feel oddly jealous. No, jealous is the wrong word--too many negative connotations. I envy that youthful energy. I wish that I had this kind of new project (but I don't, do I? If I did, I'd launch it).

I've been following Kristy Bowen's blog for a while. I'm fascinated by her ability to run a micropress and an Etsy site and to make it all look blissful and effortless.

Now I know that she has to hold down a regular job (in a library, I'm surmising) to keep all of this going. I try to be realistic. But some part of me just yearns for something different. I try to be grateful that I have a job that funds my daily needs and creative needs and wants.

My response to the normal irritations of my job (last week, I found myself having to revisit and redo part of the Summer schedule for at least the 4th time, due to no fault of my own) lately seems to be looking at online graduate programs. Yes, I have a Ph.D. in English. What would be the point of an additional degree?

But it's not my logical brain that goes to these sites. A few weeks ago, I contemplated a Biology program (for several reasons, not the least of which is that I was enjoying Natalie Angier's book, The Canon). Last night, I went to this site to read about their graduate certificate that might qualify me to be a spiritual director.

So far, I've always come to my senses before I plunked down any money.

So, I'm trying to turn my frustrations into something positive: dreaming of land in the country! A creative retreat center! A place to flee to when Florida is under water (a friend with a scientist father thinks we have 10 years--yikes). Perhaps it's no more constructive a response than enrolling in an online graduate program or launching an Etsy site (since I don't have time to do the crafts I would need to do to fill the orders). But at least it's cheaper. At least it is until I start looking at actual land options.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

More on Twittering and other Electronics

For those of you still wondering what all the Twitter fuss is about, I point your attention to this Washington Post article. It's the first thing I've read that made me feel almost enthusiastic about Twitter. As I've said before, and recently, I can hardly manage the technology that's in my life right now.

Kelli Russell Agodon has blogged enthusiastically about her iTouch here. Her post almost convinces me. Back in February, I was on a plane, where the space was so small, I could hardly hold my hardcover book open. I found myself longing for a small electronic gadget that would take up less space. I was also fresh from my reading at the Library of Congress, and feeling inspired. I found myself wishing for an electronic gadget that would let me carry all my computer files with me. It's the first time I understood the appeal of Blackberries and the like.

Lately, I'm a woman of many calendars, another experience that's helping me understand the appeal of electronics. Unfortunately, even if I got such a gadget, the IT department at my school is very strict about who can use their personal electronics with the school equipment. I kind of understand. Still, at the same time, it's frustrating to have all these media who can't communicate with each other.

For those of you who are tired of reading about gadgets, head on over to the Delirious Hem blogsite (a note for future readers, who may surf over after the blog has moved on to something else--go to the May 8, 2009 entry to get started). They're doing an amazing series on what being a feminist means today. I'm 43, so some of these poets seem young to me. And yet, how disheartening to read that they're still experiencing some of the same things. Still, lots of opportunity for hope, as you'll read.

I first fell in love with this blog when they did their series on the Gurlesque (here). I eagerly await the book that will come out some time this year.

Monday, May 18, 2009

What Temptation Looks Like from Here

With everyone posting pictures of their pretty Spring flowers, I couldn't resist some pictures of tropical fruit. As mangoes ripen, they glow red from the green trees. I've been thinking of the Adam and Eve story, and the fact that Milton chose apples as the fruit of temptation. But mangoes--ah, mangoes! Those would be a better choice. Surely the Garden of Eden was tropical--or perhaps it was a truly magical place where fruit and vegetables from every agricultural zone grew side by side.

I included the picture below, even though it's a bit of a disappointment. I couldn't capture the color of the one ripe mango. But it does show all of you non-tropical people how mangoes grow. Ten years ago, we moved down here, and I was shocked at how much of the foliage was utterly unfamiliar. I saw these almost sinister ropes hanging down from trees. It was only later that I said, "We've got mangoes growing all around us!" And mangoes fresh off the tree are so different from any mangoes I had while living up north; those mangoes were stringy and odd. Kurt Vonnegut once said the mangoes taste like peaches soaked in kerosene, but he should have had one of my friend Andrea's mangoes--those would have changed his mind!

You'll also notice a Pooh Bear hanging from the tree. He's been there for several weeks. I don't know why. This tree isn't mine. It's my neighbor's. But the mangoes hang so temptingly above my fence. My mango tree, alas, has all of about 9 mangoes on it. It's never produced well. The birds and insects eat the buds.
So, perhaps these images will give you ideas for poems. Or perhaps they'll just make you happy to be in a land where you recognize the foliage. Or maybe you'll yearn for a tropical vacation--now is the time! The northern crowds have gone, and we had a terrible tourist season. You can probably pick up a good deal from our hurting industry.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Independent Musicians and the Internet--Any Lessons for Writers?

I continue to be intrigued by all the ways the Internet, and faster Internet connections, creates possibilities that wouldn't have been there ten or twenty years ago. And since I've always wished for musical talent, stories about musicians call to me more than say, stories about stockbrokers. And there's always the hope that stories about creative people will inspire me, even if they're working in a different discipline.

Today's story in The Washington Post intrigued me because the musician built his audience by posting a song a week on his blog. He's become successful with no radio airplay--that would have been close to impossible twenty years ago. He decides which cities to visit by how many people write to him to request that he visit. He prints T-shirts and burns CDs on demand, so he's not lugging around excess inventory.

It's that song a week on the blog that hooked me. At some point, I plan to see if my acceptances have risen since I created my blog and my website. I feel like they have, but I haven't looked at my records to be sure. And I like to think that by the time of my next book publication, whenever that may be, I'll have created a wider audience by my blogging efforts. I know that I've bought books by poets who have created blogs that I enjoy.

And of you're really interested in these stories about how technology is changing the daily fabric of our lives, you might read this story while you're at The Washington Post website. It talks about the way we're watching T.V. programs, while not necessarily watching the T.V. What impact might that development have on poetry? Right now, I'd tell you not much--but then again, ten years ago, I wouldn't have conceived of all the intriguing ways we're using the Internet.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Of Perspiration and Inspiration

I've often gotten some of my best writing ideas while exercising, driving, or doing something else besides staring at the blank screen or page. I come from a family of exercisers, and we've debated through the decades about the value of exercising while plugged in to some technology (used to be a Walkman, these days it's an iPod).

While I understand the value of a beat that keeps you moving, I've usually been exercising outside, and I don't want to cut off one of my senses. I've lost count of the number of times that I've been able to avoid being hit by a car because I could hear it before I could see it (lots of speeders and stop sign runners in my neighborhood). More importantly, I don't want to signal to rapists and muggers that I'm a convenient target because I can't hear them coming.

If I exercised indoors, I might be able to listen to music and still get good writing ideas or solve problems that I'm having with a piece of writing. After all, I drive and listen to music, and I don't find that process affects my inspiration.

Lately, as I've jogged through my neighborhood, I notice many people walking and talking on their cell phones. Are they exercising? I don't know. Some of them are walking to the bus stop or walking the dog. But some of them seem to be working out while talking on the phone. I admire the breath control that must be required to do that, not to mention the motor skills. I can hardly make my cell phone work while standing still with sweat-free hands.

But the main reason that you won't see me working out with a cell phone--or with a friend--is that I value my alone time. My muse won't talk to me if I'm talking to others.

Friday, May 15, 2009

What Kind of Art Supply Are You?

At the creativity retreat from which I've just returned, we spent a lot of time thinking about ourselves as art materials, as well as having a lot of fun playing with art supplies. We also spent some time thinking about God as art material. If you want to read about this from a more theological aspect, feel free to visit my other blog; go here to read about God as art material, and here to read about humans as art supplies.

But that writing made me think about possible poems, so I thought I would post some ideas here as well. If you could describe yourself as an art material, which one would it be: clay? fabric? steel? potting soil? paint? copper? words?

What art material would you rather be? How does yearning for the different qualities of this art material mean that you don't appreciate the inherent worthiness of your own art material self?

A pastor/painter friend remarked about clay that clay doesn't spend its time wishing it was steel. Sure, it can't hold up a building, but it can do other things. Art materials have their own properties. They're very happy with who they are and see no need to change.

I felt like my head would split open as I realized how much I don't appreciate my own qualities, how much time I spend trying to improve myself and change myself for the better. I'm all for improvement and evolving, but some of my feelings stem from periods of self-loathing, which I wish I could let go of. I've made progress since adolescence, but occasionally, those old feelings well up, and I find myself surprised: "Hello, self-loathing, it's been awhile. What will you focus your laser-like intensity upon today?" What would happen if I accepted myself just as I am?

If you thought about God as an art material, what metaphor would you choose? Is this metaphor different from the ones you grew up with? How would your friends view God, when using the lens of an art material?

On Sunday, I taught a class on Women in the Bible, and I talked about feminine images of God (appropriate for Mother's Day, I thought). A lot of our old metaphors for God may not work anymore--God as parent is a troubling idea, since we never get to grow up to full adulthood, under some of the metaphors. But God as art supply takes us to a whole new poetic place.

I've long been fascinated with Julian of Norwich (whose feast day was a week ago) who created such unusual metaphors for God, unusual for a medieval woman, and in some ways, unusual even today. What metaphors could we poets create that would transform the way we see God?

What metaphors can we create that will transform the ways we see ourselves?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

I Gave Away a Decade's Worth of "Poets and Writers"

For years, I've subscribed to Poets and Writers. Long ago, before the Internet became such a useful tool, P & W was a great way to find out which publications were looking for what kind of writing. I enjoyed the articles too. Again, this was before I read so many of these articles that they began to have a sameness about them.

I've decided that as my magazine subscriptions come to an end, I may not renew them. I may change my mind as I get closer to time, but it will be easy for me to let some magazines slip away. There are many, MANY spots on the Internet that fill the same information gap that I used to need those magazines to fill.

On Tuesday, I contemplated the issue of back issues. Since a P & W subscription isn't cheap, I've kept back issues. I envisioned a time that I would go back and savor them. Or maybe I thought that some day I'd have an academic job that involved only creative writing, and I'd have plenty of resources.

And as they piled up, it became harder to decide what to do, as they kept taking up valuable book shelf real estate. And after a decade of keeping them and never--NEVER--looking at back issues, it seemed more and more stupid to keep them.

So, on Tuesday, I decided to give them away. I thought about asking for money, but decided I just wanted to pass them along. When I was a younger writer, if I could have gotten such a treasure trove for free--how much that would have meant to me.

I left it in my husband's capable hands. He does quite well with E-Bay and Craig's List. And now, they're gone. Some part of me wonders if I've made a terrible mistake, but the larger part of me feels relief. I hang on to so much stuff, partly because of the money I spent, but mostly because I hope it will be useful some day. I try to let go of more of it, especially if I think it can be useful to somebody else, today, right now.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Twittering, Tweeting Poets

I confess, I've not thought much about Twitter and various art forms that are created via Twitter and cell phones. I can barely remember to keep my cell phone on when I've said that I would, so I don't anticipate moving my artistic endeavours to Twitter any time soon. I'm more likely to disconnect an incoming call when I try to answer it than to speak to someone--I swear that I'm not doing it consciously! My friend says she has an old-fashioned cell phone that only "doubles as an alarm clock and tip calculator and that's it"--an alarm clock? Could my phone do that? I don't even set up the message inbox, because I don't want people to think I'll check it and return their calls.

So, you'd think I'd be the last person in the world to be thinking about Twitter and other cell phone apps. In fact, I only recently started to think about poetry and Twitter when I recently read this article about tweeting recipes. I started thinking about how Twitter would require one to condense, condense, condense--a practice similar to what I force poetry students to do. The next week, I force them to write longer and larger, just to be fair. I think we tend to get in a rut. We do what's worked best for us in the past, and we rarely stretch ourselves once we figure it out. But what if there's another method that might yield interesting results?

Twittering could be useful, in that it forces us to work with new media and for most of us new form. How many of us force ourselves to write something powerful with just 140 characters? Don't count the haiku that you write to fulfill your National Poetry Month Poem-a-Day Challenge!

It reminds me of a time I wanted to enter a short short story contest. I started with the shortest short story I had ever written and discovered that I still needed to cut some 700 words. I looked at every sentence, evaluating its importance. Cutting those nonessential sentences still left me with substantial cutting to do; I ended up evaluating every single word.

I suppose that if I was a really good writer, I'd replicate this process with every piece of writing. I do not. Twittering might force me to do so.

And yet, and yet, and yet. I love blogging. I expected to love blogging, and yet, I love it so much more than I thought I would. But I must admit that I suspect blogging takes me away from poetry work, while, oddly, at the same time enriching and nourishing my poet self. I read more because of the Internet, yet, I have to admit at the same time, that I read less--less in the form of old-fashioned books. It's difficult for me to want to add yet another process that's likely to shorten my attention span and the amount of time available for poetry activities. And then there's the cost of the technology . . .

If you want to read more about poets and Twitter, and you want a list of poets who twitter, go to Collin Kelley's post.

If you want a voice that convinces you that you'll never want to Twitter, go to Rebecca Loudon's blog and read this post. She says, "Twitter seems to me the dumbing down of texting." And then there's yesterday's bit on NPR's Morning Edition. You can either read it or listen here.

These are interesting questions. Are the gains we're making enough to justify sacrificing our privacy in the ways that so many people do? Are we all just trying to avoid our deepest thoughts? Or does this technology help us to connect with our deeper selves?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Interviews and Inspirations

The always talented interviewer, Serena Agusto-Cox, has two interviews up at the 32 Poems blog (go here for an interview with Sidney Wade and for an interview with Erika Meitner, go here) and several on her own blog (go here for an interview with Clive Matson that isn't on the 32 Poems site).

I love these interviews because they always make me want to go straight to my notebook and write. And these days, I need that inspiration. I've been travelling too much, which I've enjoyed, but which always leaves me feeling like I've left some part of my brain somewhere else.

Or maybe it's just this time of year. Mary Biddinger writes a blog post about feeling like she's written the last poem she will ever write. I felt similarly, before reading the interviews that Serena has done.

I love the window that these interviews provide into the different writing processes that poets have. Sidney Wade says, "I also don’t think it’s productive for poets to insist on writing every day. Poetry is so intense an involvement that I can’t even write more than three days or so per week, even when the going’s good." What a revelation to me, a perfectionist who not only thinks I should write every day, but at least 4-5 hours should be spent on writing tasks every day. My current life will not support that goal. Yet I still have these ideas left over from when I had more free time.

I notice the same dynamic with exercising. I used to be able to exercise not just once a day, but several times a day. I wish I still could, but I have an administrative job that requires 40 hours a week to be spent in an office; it's a more corporate life than I ever anticipated, and I'm having some trouble getting my expectations and hopes to bend to my current life circumstances.

Maybe this trouble should be telling me something . . . Erika Meitner writes about her current project: "Many of the poems deal with the human geography of urban border-lands—people on the margins of society. Who do we leave behind or look past? What do we discard, as purposeful markers or accidental refuse? How can these people, places, and objects be woven into larger ideas about nature, sense of place, home, exile, and both personal and collective memory?"

Maybe I, too, am in a marginal land, albeit a margin that often isn't considered. I tend to think of margins and exile in terms of gender, race, class, or homeland, by which I mean a physical land on a map. But so many of us start out our lives thinking we'll be in one profession, only to end up in something radically different. We inhabit a marginal landscape too. Like many exiles, we may adapt and thrive. But we shouldn't discount the grieving process that may need to accompany us on our journey.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Last Time I Saw the Bishop

First, let me say that I won't blog much here about the serious work that my church's Synod Assembly did. If you want to read my blog posts about the sexuality statements that we passed, you can to my theology blog here (for the short report) or here (for the longer report). You can go here if you want the official website of the Synod, and here for the official blog (go here for a specific blog about the vote on the sexuality statements and other first day events).

I spent the Synod Assembly watching the Bishop of our Synod officiating, and thinking of the last time that I saw him in person. It was after Hurricane Wilma, in 2005.

I was part of a different church then, one which sustained heavy damage. I pulled out all the waterlogged carpeting from the sanctuary. I was almost done when I noticed two men come in the door.

They must have been dressed in casual clothes, because I asked, "Are you the carpet guys?"

The assistant puffed up a little and said, "This is the bishop."

Oops. Like I said, I'm fairly sure they were dressed in casual clothes. If the bishop had come wearing his purple shirt and his impressive cross, I'd have known he wasn't the carpet guy.

Somewhere there's a picture of me, dirty and wet, shaking hands with the Bishop.

The Bishop looked at our damage, took notes, and left us with a case of bottled water and some tarps.

At the time, I remember wishing for a bit more help with the physical labor, as I went back to ripping up carpet and hauling it to the curb.

But later, I got a great poem out of it. I won't post the whole thing, since it hasn't been published elsewhere, but here's a taste:

Strange Communions

Jesus showed up at our church to help
with hurricane clean up.
“The Bishop was so busy,” he explained.
“But I had some time on my hands,
so I loaded the truck with tarps and water,
and came on down. What can I do?”

“Our roof needs a miracle,” I said.
“Do you know a good roofer?”

“I used to be a carpenter.
Of course, that’s getting to be a long time ago.
Let me see what I can do.”


I know how I would end this poem--where would you go from here?

Friday, May 8, 2009

Why We Need More Women in Leadership Positions

Today, our Bishop gave us one bathroom break--one--during a morning of events. And it was 15 minutes long. I thought, of course, he's a man, he doesn't understand the logistics of the ladies' room, with lines that form and snake down the concourse.

So, I played with a poem idea which grew into a book idea. Could one create a whole series of poems centered around reasons why we need women in leadership? Reason #173 why we need more women in leadership positions: we need people who understand bathroom logistics and plan breaks accordingly. Write it up in poem form.

So, there's your writing prompt. Or here's another: write the previous 172 reasons in poetry form.

And here's reason #174: I grow so weary of sports metaphors for ministry, for team building, for . . . oh for everything. Write a poem. Go.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Off Again

I'm headed away from the computer again for a few days. I've been chosen as a voting lay delegate (as opposed to ordained delegates) at Synod Assembly (the Lutheran church is divided into synods by region, and these synods gather once a year to vote on various pieces of legislation and to elect leaders).

Will it be a mountain-top experience like a retreat at Lutheridge? Will it be more like a multiple day department meeting? I shall report back.

While I'm away, I plan to do some thinking about what I'd like to accomplish this summer. I can't believe how April seems to have just slipped through my fingers, and now May seems to be doing the same thing. I did get a lot of poems and scraps that might become poems written down in April. I mailed out some poetry packets. I'd like to return to my poems and think about a different book-length manuscript--more about that when I return!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Creating a Creative Community

As my husband and I drove up to North Carolina, we played with our recurring daydream of buying land in the country. Land around Newberry, South Carolina still looks beautiful to me--close enough to Columbia, the capital city, to get what we would need, but still beautifully rural in spots. Land in the Upstate (South Carolina) also looks good--close to mountains, but still underdeveloped. Sadly, the land around Asheville is distressingly developed. When I was a kid going to camp at Lutheridge, you really had to pack carefully--there weren't lots of stores nearby (and when my Mom was a counselor, back in the 50's, there was NOTHING nearby). Now, there's a SuperWalMart across the street from one of the camp gates. Sigh.

I love the creativity retreat that I attend at Lutheridge every year, and as I do with events/gatherings/people that I love, I always leap to wondering if there's a way to keep that going year round. I'm also interested in intentional communities of all sorts, and wonder if there's a way to create a community that does sustainable farming, creative pursuits, and social justice. And I wonder, could there also be a religious component (I have an abiding fascination with monasticism).

If someone wanted some of the elements, but not others, could the community still work? It seems to me that even if someone didn't want to participate, they'd still have to agree not to undercut the activities. So, you don't have to pray several times a day, but I don't want you to denigrate those of us who do so.

Now, for the more important question: how would we finance this?

I wouldn't want an old-fashioned commune, where everyone would have joint shares. I'd prefer to own the land, rather than all the founding members pooling their money together. I guess I'm an old-fashioned capitalist that way. How strange.

The most important question: could such a place be self-sustaining? We could farm and sell what we raised. We could have retreats regularly. We could offer creative workshops and day-long events.

Now all we need is for Obama to create some kind of national health care plan. Otherwise, it's likely we'll all need to keep working somewhere else for our health insurance.

Or maybe I'm dreaming too small. This Washington Post article inspired me today.

At one point, I'd have been resistant to the idea of buying land. I'd have worried that it would involve too much work. What I like about the article is that it reminds me that there's intrinsic worth in restoring the land and keeping it healthy. And now that I have a job that would really like to consume every waking hour, I'm open to other possibilities that I might not have been before. What do I want to create with my labor during my time on this earth?

Perhaps that's really the most important question.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Back from the Mountain Top

Here I am, back from my Creativity retreat at Lutheridge, near Asheville, North Carolina. What a beautiful part of the country!

People who saw me yesterday said that I looked rested and refreshed. I'll take those compliments, although I don't feel as rested as I hoped I would. My spouse and I drove to the mountains of North Carolina from South Florida, not a trip to a place that's right next door.

I always feel a bit of dislocation when I come back from travel, even when it's not a mountain-top experience. I look around my study and think, what was it I was doing before I left? And what should I work on first? Those poems that I created in April? Older poems? Should I send out one last mailing before all those journals stop reading for the summer? Write a book review?

Of course, there's laundry to be done, and I can't remember the last time I did proper grocery shopping. Maybe nobody does that any more. I used to create menus and shopping lists. That girl who did that seems like a distant cousin to my current life.

At least I don't have grading to do. That's one of the advantages to have more of the life of the administrator.