Friday, January 30, 2009

Hands, Clenched or Open

I've had hands on the brain for several weeks now. That line of Obama's about how we'll be willing to extend a hand if others unclench their fists has stuck with me.

I had already been thinking about hands because of visiting with my nephew, who is 2 and a half years old, over Christmas. He's not shy about asking to hold hands. One night, he even wanted to hold hands at dinner. I like his ability to ask for what he needs, whether it's hands to hold or someone to play with, or a book to be read.

Last night, after my poetry class, I was thinking of Tennyson's poem, "In Memoriam, A. H. H." I thought of the image of hands stretched out with no one there to hold them, which is so prevalent in the poem (but is it throughout the poem or just in the one chunk that I used to teach? I'll have to look it up later). I've always found that image so devastating.

If I was writing my dissertation today . . .

No, I wouldn't have enough material. Still, I'd love to know how many times the image of hands shows up throughout the history of poetry. It's a powerful image, perhaps more powerful than that tired image of the heart. Or perhaps it's just a more flexible image, since hands can be held, clenched, used in so many ways.

I like Obama for many reasons. I love the pictures I've seen of him, when he's holding a book, and he's got a finger in it to hold his place, as if he was interrupted during his reading, and as soon as the consultation is finished, he'll dive right back into the book. Much has been made over his nonfiction reading habits, but his speeches show that he's got an understanding of the poetic image as well.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

When a Beloved Author Dies

After I wrote my post yesterday, I came across several other media offerings, which I thought I'd offer, in case you're mourning Updike.

Like Lorrie Moore, you may be feeling the world is emptier without Updike in it (go here for the whole article, a lovely piece of writing). I usually feel that way when an author dies, even if the author wasn't a favorite of mine. I feel the same way about many artists in all sorts of mediums.

But if Updike was your favorite author, you must read John Guzlowski's post on beloved authors who die. Here's a taste of it: "It's hard when a writer you love dies, but it's only hard for a while. His death begins to fade when you pick up his book again, return to that secret place."

If you're wanting to hear Updike interviewed, listen to the Fresh Air broadcast from yesterday. Go here, either to listen or to read a remembrance.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Thinking about John Updike

First, a confession. I haven't read a complete John Updike novel since high school. I read Rabbit Run and thought it was O.K. So I went on to Rabbit Redux. I was horrified by its depiction of adult life, with all its boredom and worries that one's best days are back in high school. I spent my high school days thinking, if these are the best years of my life, let me kill myself now. And here was Updike, telling me it could be worse?

During one adolescent summer when I was bored (say around 1981), I picked up Couples. I was hoping for a racy read, but once again, found myself repulsed by the characters. I couldn't fathom the sexual lives of Updike's characters. I much preferred the vision of sex offered by the racy romance novels that I read on a regular basis.

As an adult in midlife, I haven't gone back to revisit those novels. And I won't. Why plunge myself into existential despair? Life is short, and my reading time shorter.

Still, I've always appreciated Updike's views on writing. I've heard him talk in interviews through the years, and I've always felt like I learned something about the life of a writer. And he was so much older than I am that I never felt threatened as a fellow writer, never felt like Updike was my competition (unlike Henry Allen, who wrote an interesting Washington Post article on Updike here). Updike already inhabited a different universe, and a whole different set of questions interested him.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Observing Gorillas, Observing Poems

On Saturday, I watched a PBS show about gorillas. They interviewed one researcher whose wife had spent over 1,000 hours observing gorillas.

I immediately felt inadequate, even though I did a quick calculation and determined that I had spent over 1,000 hours observing poems (by observing, I included reading poetry, writing poems, and revising poems--I didn't count typing poems up/entering poems into the computer and sending poems out). I thought about gorillas and poems--could I develop differences between poems in the wild and poems in captivity? There's a poem in here somewhere I suspect, but it has yet to come. If it inspires you, swell.

I also thought about all the other areas of my life where I've spent 1,000 hours: grading essays (which requires some semblance of reading them) came immediately to mind. I've spent over 1,000 hours in classes that I've taken and more than that in classes that I teach. I've probably spent 1,000 hours jogging. But do I look like an Olympic athlete? Sadly no--because I also have spent over 1,000 hours cooking and baking.

Somehow, none of these activities sounds as impressive as spending 1,000 hours observing wildlife, especially wildlife that may soon be extinct.

I wonder if that researcher would feel the same: she thinks about the observations she's made in the wildernesses she's camped in, and she wishes she had been writing poems and creating book length manuscripts.

Maybe we all wish for skills and talents that others have. Or maybe that neurosis is uniquely mine.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Library of Congress Promo

This reproduction might be too small, but I couldn't figure out a way to enlarge it. I got the attachment by way of e-mail on Friday, and have been tinkering ever since.
So, if you're in downtown DC on Feb. 10, and you'd like an alternate lunch activity, please join us. Poetry at the Library of Congress--what could be better?

Friday, January 23, 2009

Putting the Cost of Education into Perspective

As the Assistant Chair of my college department, I think a lot about education, both in its present state, and its possible future states. I'm astonished at how much higher education costs the student these days. I wonder if this state of education is sustainable.

I'm not alone in thinking these things. In a recent New York Times article, Stanley Fish references a book, The Last Professor (go here to read his thoughts on the subject and the book), which I've added to my reading list.

It's easy for me to slip into doom and gloom mode. I think back to my graduate education. If we had a teaching assistantship, then our tuition cost only several hundred dollars a semester. We could take all the classes we could manage, and we were paid a small stipend. A very small stipend. Recently, I found a notebook with my graduate school budget inside. How did I live on so little? We were paid around $7,000 a year, which even in 1987-1992 terms (when I was in school), wasn't very much--but tuition was cheap!.

One of my friends even took 18 graduate hours in a different field. I wish I had done that, especially when I research graduate school today.

Why would someone with a PhD in English, like me, go back to school? All sorts of reasons. I miss school. I miss being in a class, which means that I'm not the only one reading a book; I've got an instant discussion group (book groups just don't do the same thing for me). I miss having that kind of life of the mind. Some day, I might like to teach new subjects, although the ones that interest me, like Theology and Religion or History, have even more dismal job prospects.

It's hard for me to get around that price tag. But on Kelli's blog, I found a great entry that puts it into perspective. She talks about the MFA this way: "They are pricey little diplomas. By the time this poet is done, there will be $20K to $30K+ spent. Of course, someone once pointed out to me that it is the same price of a mid-sized Sedan. They told me to: Just consider your education is one less Camry you'll own in your lifetime. And honestly, I'd rather have had the experience of my program than a Camry, so I feel I came out ahead."

Thursday, January 22, 2009

A Poet Considers Inauguration Day

Tuesday was quite the poetry day for me. By the end of the day, I fell into bed, completely wrung out by the emotions of the day.

To begin, the inauguration ceremony itself had an actual poem, something which has only happened in 3 past Inaugurals. I was pleased with Elizabeth Alexander's poem, although there was some part of me that couldn't resist thinking of the images I wish she had developed, especially that idea of patching. And I wanted to see how it was written on the page. I wondered if her delivery would have been different in a different setting; I can't imagine how difficult it must be to read a poem in blinding January light, in sub-freezing temperatures, in front of the whole nation.

If you, too, want to see the poem, either on the page or via video, go here to Collin Kelley's blog.

I thought the rest of the ceremony had plenty of poetry too. For example, the benediction had its poetic moments, with its use of "Lift Every Voice and Sing" (stirring poetry in that hymn) and its updated images from Scripture--my favorite was turning tanks into tractors.

I spent much of the ceremony thinking about how I would have written things and offering silent revision tips. Is this the writer in me? The Composition teacher in me? But overall, I was pleased.

No, that's an understatement. I was profoundly moved: by the words, by the images, by the history, by the music (that piece that Yo Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman played--I may never recover!).

And then I tried to clean up my tear stained face, and I went to the Palm Beach Poetry Festival. I heard 2 excellent craft lectures by Denise Duhamel and Gregory Orr.

Then I zipped down to my office, and zipped back to the Festival for the evening reading. I heard Denise Duhamel read and then Martin Espada. They were two very different readings, but both very compelling.

I had picked up some books before the reading, including Denise Duhamel's new book, Ka-Ching!, hot off the press (I'll write a review soon), and I had planned to have them signed.

But after the reading, I watched all the people stream towards the small room where the signing would take place, and I just had this desire to be in my car, headed towards home (it's a 30 minute drive). Going home, I stumbled across a program on the Oldies station, bits of Obama speeches mixed with inspirational songs from the 60's and 70's, like Stevie Wonder. It was a great way to finish the day.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

What Does Dreary Economic News Mean for Poetry?

I'm seeing all sorts of posts about what the dismal state of the economy means for the state of poetry, especially since the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival has been cancelled for 2010, and perhaps forever. For the bleakest posting, go here--the post appeals to my inner Apocalypse Gal, but I try not to give Apocalypse Girl the reins too often.

And of course, there's bleak news from across the country, even if the programs and institutions don't have the name recognition of the Dodge Poetry Festival (although I don't know how many of my non-English academic colleagues would even recognize the name of the Dodge Poetry Festival). Ann Haines tells us that the Writer's Center of Indiana has laid off its staff and here Collin Kelly tells us that most of the staff at The Literary Center at the Margaret Mitchell House (in Atlanta) has been let go. Sigh.

Can there be any possible bright spots?

Diane Lockward reminds us here that poets are lucky because poetry programs can be run on very low budgets. She sees possible opportunities, as does Reb Livingston here (scroll down to Jan. 15 entry).

And of course the brightest spot is that most poets realize that poetry will never pay the bills (unless we're living very cheaply). I can't think of any living poets who are living solely off the proceeds of their poetry. That might be a good thing. Having to do something because you have bills coming due can strip the joy right out of an activity, even if you started doing it because you love it.

And we can do poetry cheaply. I don't even need a computer to write poetry, while I would never again consider writing a novel without a fairly up-to-date computer. I don't need space to write poems (the way I would if I did ceramics or large paintings) or expensive supplies. I love to write on lavender legal pads with cheap ballpoint pens (a Bic round stic fine, if you want specifics, blue ink or black).

I write poems because the process affects the way I see the world; it suffuses the world with wonder and with connections that I would never make, if I wasn't on the lookout for interesting material for poems. I move through my work day with the sense that I also have a larger purpose (my art), even if that purpose isn't always honored by the larger world. I move through my world feeling a sense of blessedness and purpose. If I never made a penny, those benefits would be enough.

Monday, January 19, 2009

A Poem inspired by Martin Luther King

In 1996, when I was feeling despair, my friend Shannon gave me my favorite Martin Luther King quote: "The arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice." I'm fairly sure he said this the night before he was killed, or perhaps it was the night before the night he was killed.

What a hopeful image. It inspired this poem, which was published in The Evening Reader, a beautiful literary journal published on newsprint (and the size of one of those newspapers that are often offered for free around cities). Since it was published in Newberry, S.C., it didn't have much of a wide-reaching distribution. Still it was one of my first publications as a grown up poet, so I shall always feel fondness for it.

Here's the poem, in all its youthful exuberance (as I reread it, it also seems rather appropriate for tomorrow's inauguration):

Arcing Towards Justice

Martin Luther King said that the arc
of history is towards justice,
and I must arc
towards justice as well:
ignore the politicians who would leave
children to starve
and adults to rot in prisons.
Some days I slump towards despair;
I don’t believe I can even save
myself, much less others.

Like Harriet Tubman, I cannot tarry
long in the swamps of despair.
I must go back, stretch out my arms, ferry
others to safety:
teach them to write, to analyze,
to dream the world they would want to inhabit.
I must teach them not to suckle
on the hatred spewed
by scared, old, white men
who are losing power, and so spurt poison.

I can build an ark of activism
for the diaspora of the dispossessed,
a sanctuary where we wait
for the old, white men to choke
on their own vituperative, vindictive vitriol.

We won’t even have to remove the mantle
of authority from their cold corpses.
It has been ours all along, from the moment
we claimed it as our own,
decorated it with our own bright threads,
chose our own best ways to wear our multi-hued
mantles, beacons to gleam and glitter
in the dark days of exile,
like comets arcing through the skies,
lighting the way home,
as a legacy of hatred burns
into harmless, intergalactic dust.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

An Article for Martin Luther King Day

Just in time to get us in the mood to celebrate the life of Martin Luther King, The Nation offers an article on the transformative (and redemptive) power of nonviolence. Primarily an interview/discussion between Jonathan Schell and Taylor Branch (with moderator Suzannah Lessard), the article reminds us of how much social change is possible through the power of nonviolence.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Palm Beach Poetry Festival

If you live in the southern part of Florida, and you're in town next week--or if you want a good excuse to escape those wintry northern places--I'm hearing that the Palm Beach Poetry Festival still has some seats left if you want to audit one of the workshops. And the Festival has always a wide selection of wonderful events that are open to the public, some of them free, some of them with a minimal fee ($12 adults, $10 seniors, $8 students). There are craft talks and readings and panel discussions.

The poets scheduled to appear are: Denise Duhamel, Martin Espada, Kelle Groom, Kimiko Hahn, Michael Hettich, Laura Kasischke, Thomas Lux, Anne Marie Macari, Taylor Mali, Gregory Orr, Lynne Procope, Victoria Redel, and Gerald Stern.

The Festival runs Jan. 20-24. Go here for more information.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Creating Characters

On her blog, Leslie Pietrzyk has a great writing exercise for developing characters. She offers it as an exercise that she uses with her fiction class, but I plan to use it when I talk about narrative poetry in my class, Creative Writing: Poetry Workshop, this quarter (starts tonight!). I'll be interested to see if it gives us interesting poems, and I'll report back (don't look for a report soon--we don't get to this part of the syllabus until 6 weeks or so).

Leslie writes: "Here’s another great character exercise that I may have mentioned before but that’s always worth resurrecting. Again, I swiped this idea from a student, who told me that she was in a class with Michael Cunningham (author of The Hours) who had everyone come up with a list of THIRTY phrases/words to physically describe their characters. I’ve tried this, and while the first ten or so aren’t that difficult (5’6”, brown eyes, etc.), to get to thirty, you really have to come up with some new, interesting stuff. Of course, this is the stuff you keep for the work, not the boring brown eyes."

I've pasted from her blog, but you can go here for the whole post. Or go here, if you're in need of words of wisdom.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Local Libraries

My nephew, who is 2 1/2 years old, is very excited that I'm coming to read poems at the Library of Congress. However, he's a bit confused; he thinks I'm coming to read at his local library in Germantown, Maryland.

I think it's cool that he loves the library so much (it's his favorite outing) and at such a young age. I think it's cool that my sister and her husband have fostered this love of reading and books. As I remember our family dynamics of our youth, I was the reclusive one with her nose always stuck in a book, and you couldn't pay my sister to read. I'm glad that she's changed; now, as grown ups, some months, depending on our schedules, she reads more books than I do.

However, there's a tinge of sadness in my joy. I know that many local libraries will be suffering funding slashes during these days of economic distress. Or maybe the economic downturn will be good for local libraries. Nothing makes people appreciate the library, with all its many services, like a financial squeeze.

Diane Rehm did a great show on this last week. You can go here to hear it, but you'll need to scroll down to the 11:00 section of the show.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Benefits of Entering Contests and Applying for Grants

A few years ago, I made a decision about whether or not to enter contests. With rare exceptions, I only enter contests with an entry fee when get something in return: a copy of the winning book, a subscription to the journal, an issue of the journal, or something the press published in the past. I'll even settle for a special price on something else the press offers. I'm happy to help support literary presses, but entering a contest where I get nothing (often, not even a rejection letter) just began to feel too abusive to me.

I know there's some debate on this subject. In fact, in the latest issue of Poets and Writers (Jan./Feb. 2009), Jacob M. Appel argues the case for contests. On the other end of the spectrum, on her blog, Reb Livingston has argued that we'd be better off saving our contest fees and starting our own publishing ventures (see, for example, her August 27, 2008 entry--but you'll have to scroll down).

My happy medium: if I get something in return, I'm happy. Even if it's something I'd have never spent my hard-earned money on, I'm happy because I can say that I'm also supporting small scale publishing.

Often, I make discoveries I'd have never made without the contest. The same can even be true of grant applications. Years ago, I applied for an individual artist grant from the state of Florida. I didn't get it, but when they sent the publicity (complete with samples of the winning work) about the people who did, I was blown away by Michael Hettich's poem, "The Point of Touching." I can't find a copy of it on the web, but his website is here, and you could buy his book Flock and Shadow, which I highly recommend.

I thought of this experience the other day, when Michael Hettich's new chapbook, Many Loves, appeared in my mailbox; I ordered it when I entered the Yellow Jacket Press Chapbook Contest for Florida Poets (Florida poets, the deadline seems to be Dec. 31 of each year). I love Hettich's specific details: the old man who works in his garden in his dress-up clothes, the various smells that waft through the poems, the birds and plants, a rickety ladder in the rain. I love that Hettich uses details from normal, everyday life to hint at something larger. I love that Hettich doesn't tell us outright what the something larger is.

I've been enjoying the work of Michael Hettich for almost a decade now, and I probably wouldn't have ever stumbled across him on my own. If I hadn't applied for that grant, I likely never would have read his work. The discovery of a poet who writes such wonderful poems makes the fact that I didn't get the grant (all those years ago) almost inconsequential.

Monday, January 12, 2009

My Apocalyptic Christmas Reading

Over the Christmas break, I read two books that were published before I was born, and that I last read in the early 80's. I was surprised at how well they held up, at how much I still enjoyed them--not always the case when one revisits the obsessions of one's adolescence!

I read Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle in one big gulp. It's an alternate history kind of book that imagines the world as it would be if Germany and Japan had won World War II. It also includes an alternate history book in the novel that imagines how the U.S. would be different if the U.S. had won the war--yet the history that it spins out is different than the real history. I think I actually appreciated the book more now, because I know more of the history of that time period, and so I could appreciate Dick's imaginative leaps.

It also makes me a bit dizzy to think about how much history could have been radically changed if just one detail turned out differently. In the book, FDR dies in the 1930's, and so he isn't there to lead the Allies to victory. It's a similar theme that we find in many holiday movies (thank you It's a Wonderful Life), so it was even more interesting to have my reading experience juxtaposed to holiday movies--and to have them all juxtaposed to the steady stream of dreary news.

It's not unusual for me to have an apocalyptic appetite, but I usually don't indulge in it during the holidays. Just before the break, however, I watched part of the greatest nuclear war movie ever, Threads. So, I was more than ready for my next apocalyptic book, A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller, Jr. This book, too, is a sort of alternate history, complete with monks in a monastery, keeping knowledge safe (or inaccessible, depending on your viewpoint). The book revolves around technology and its power to both save and redeem.

I also read Home, by Marilynne Robinson, which, although it didn't have a nuclear explosion (or several, the way that A Canticle for Leibowitz did), was rather apocalyptic in its own quiet way. It asks the question of whether or not we can ever escape our childhoods or learn to make happier choices. It's a slow-paced novel, yet I never wanted to throw it across the room. I was reminded of Beckett's Waiting for Godot, where the characters wait and nothing much happens and doom threatens--yet we continue to hope it will all turn out OK.

Will I be reading happier things in the new year? Only if I stop reading the newspaper!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Invitation to Read at the Library of Congress!

I got an interesting phone call Friday--the Library of Congress invited me to read my work (and at least one poem by another person) for their Poetry at Noon Series. I'll read Tuesday, Feb. 10, with 1 or 2 others, and the theme is Love (in advance of Valentine's Day).

Now, the director of the poetry program didn't pluck me out of thin air--I applied. In fact, I also applied in 2007, but the postage rates had just changed, so I put the wrong postage on the envelope and it was returned. I felt mopey, and thought, well, I'll try again next year. And hurrah, acceptance!

It's on a Tuesday at noon, so I’m guessing the audience will be similar to those who go to a weekday concert series at a church--office workers from nearby will drop in, as will tourists, as will local poets.

There’s no money for travel, either from the Library of Congress end or from my school. I don’t care. I have family in the area, so I have a place to stay, and I was lucky to find cheap airline tickets. I knew that there was no travel money when I applied, but I knew that I could afford it anyway. I wouldn’t have applied to read at, say, a New York City venue, because I don’t have resources in that city.

So, I'm feeling optimistic about 2009 as a year that gives us kudos for creativity!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Latest Poem Publication

I just got my contributor's copy of Ruminate. In issue 10 (Winter 08/09), my poem, "Eucharist," appears:


I knead the bread leavened with beer,
stew a lamb shank in a pot of lentils,
prepare a salad of apples, walnuts, and raisins,
sweetened with wine and honey.
No one ever had herbs as bitter as this late season lettuce.

My friends gather at dusk, a motley band
of ragtags, fleeing from the Philistines of academia:
a Marxist, a Hindu, a Wiccan, a Charismatic Catholic,
and me, a lapsed Lutheran longing for liturgy.

Later, having drunk several bottles of wine
with prices that could have paid our grad
school rents, we eat desserts from disparate
cultures and tell our daughters tales from our deviant days.
We agree to meet again.

Gnarled vegetables coaxed from their dark hiding places
transform into a hearty broth.
Fire transubstantiates flour and water into life giving loaves.
Outcasts scavenged from the margins of education
share a meal and memories and begin to mold
a new family, a different covenant.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

In Need of Group Blog Wisdom

Yesterday, at one of our faculty development sessions, we decided to start a school-wide blog, where faculty can exchange ideas for how to inject more creativity into their classrooms. We're going to set it up with Blogger, which will let us have 100 users. I think we only have 300 or so faculty members, many of whom want nothing to do with one more technology application, so I don't think that will be a problem. People who only want to post once a quarter or so can just forward their postings to me (yes, I volunteered to be administrator), and I'll post them. People who want to post more regularly can sign up as members. I plan to have the blog open to anyone, who can visit and post comments (which I'll delete, if they're icky). So, students could read and comment, but only faculty would be posting (would administrators and staff want to post?).

I'm wondering if anyone has experience with group blogs that are made up of users that are bound more by their institution than by friendship or family bonds. I'm in search of good ideas, cautionary tales, any wisdom that the blogosphere has to offer.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Reading List 2009--One Miss

A few weeks ago, I posted my reading list for 2009. So far, I've made good progress. I'll post more about the positives tomorrow, when I have more time.

I feel terribly guilty about the one book that I've already abandoned, Mary Doria Russell's Dreamers of the Day. I read the first 75 pages, and then gave myself permission to stop. I hated the main character, even though I wanted to find her plucky. I hated her mother--although the woman died early in the book, she continues to be a voice in the main character's head.

When I was younger, I felt that I had to read every book I started. Some time during grad school, I gave up that idea. Life is short, and my reading list grows ever longer. It still feels strange to commit to a book for 75 pages, and then give up. I usually make a keep-reading-or-stop decision in the first 10 pages. So, for you fiction writers out there, those first pages really are as important as they tell you--or at least, for this one reader.

I feel particularly bad because I've always loved the work of Mary Doria Russell. Her book, The Sparrow, is one of the more startlingly original books I've ever read. I read a lot of books (or at least, I once did, and hope to again), and I rarely remember much about them very long. But this book stays with me and I find my thoughts wandering back to it far more often than most other books I've read.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Thinking about Reading Habits

I've just read Michelle Slatalla's New York Times article about reading habits that really resonated with me. In the article, a mother observes the reading habits of her daughters during the recent holiday break. She envies her daughters' abilities to lose themselves in a book.

I agree. I miss the reading habits of my younger self. Of course, when I was younger, I was usually reading as an act of desperation. I couldn't stand high school, and reading took me away. We didn't have cable TV or a VCR, and since it was the 1970's and early 1980's, we didn't have Internet access. Books provided the only escape I had from the boredom that often came with life in a safe, suburban neighborhood.

Now that I'm older, I'm reading more, but less of the material comes in book form. I read several newspapers a day online, but am I really increasing my knowledge? In a broad sense, yes. In a deep sense, I'm not so sure.

My restlessness has led me to a reading resolution for 2009, and so far, it's working. It's like taking any kind of public pledge: I'm more likely to accomplish what I've said I would do, if I'm being held accountable. It's that kind of dynamic that makes me think about going back to school: nothing makes me buckle down more than the fear of an F on my permanent record.

But for now, let me focus on my reading list. Let me prove to myself that I can have an administrative job that requires 40 hours a week in the office and still be able to be a reader.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Writing Prompt #4 (from Kelli's blog)

This prompt comes from Kelli Russell Agodon's blog. I'm in a lazy mood, and thought I'd end up with one of those strange, food-obsessed poems that come out of my brain occasionally. Instead, I focused on my computer that didn't want to work on the first day of the new year, which I'm trying not to see as a harbinger.

Here's the prompt from Kelli's blog:

Writing Exercise--

New Year's Poem

***Make a list of at least 10 specific items or images that you saw, touched, tasted, or heard on Dec 31st or January 1st. Now write down 4 things that you did either on New Year's Eve or New Year's Day.

Now write a poem that includes two of the things you did on New Year's Eve or New Year's Day as well as 6 of the items/images from your list.


My list of 10 images included sweet potato chips and bacon wrapped dates, the black screen of death and seeing the earth from an airplane.

My list of activities: sorting mail, flying back to Florida, wrestling with the recalcitrant computer, and sitting around a fire pit.

I wrote a prose poem:

On this first day of the year, the computer gives us a blank stare, the black screen of death. We have eaten ourselves sick with sweet potato chips and bacon wrapped dates, so we stare sullenly at the screen. We wish we could return to the airplane, so many yards above the planet, where we aren't allowed to use personal electronics. We go back to bed, no Internet to distract us.

Is it done? Will it stay in prose poem form? Does it have potential?

I have no idea--but it was fun to play, and it always amazes me that I could start with no ideas (complete blankness, in fact) and a few minutes later, have something bubbling up from my brain.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Back to the Blog with my Latest Publication

I've been away, visiting family in the D.C. area. While I was gone, my contributor's copy of Interdisciplinary Humanities arrived. It's the "Quiltworks" issue (Fall 2008), and it's one of the more enjoyable reading experiences of an academic publication that I've had in a long time. It's a great mix of scholarly articles, interviews, book reviews, poems and film reviews.

I love the fact that the journal is organized around the theme of quilting. I think that having a theme really, REALLY helps, whether or not it's a blog, an academic journal, a book of poems, or a novel. Of course, I have a PhD in English, so it makes sense that I think a theme is important.

Here's the poem that appeared in the journal:

The Precious Nature of Junk

If God is an old woman,
She uses no recipe.
Long ago she learned
what she needed to know:
how to make do with scarce
resources, how to create successful
substitutions, how to create
magic from simple kitchen chemistry.

If God is an old woman,
She saves all our old clothes. She alone
has a vision of a collage of cloth.
She cuts new shapes out of our discards
and pieces them into an intricate quilt,
even though she knows we will fail
to appreciate her demonstrated skill.

If God is an old woman,
She longs for closer connection.
She sends cards for every occasion
and fills the answering machine with cryptic
messages. She has such important
information to pass on and such little
time left. We listen
and wonder at her mental state.

If God is an old woman,
She knows that everything could have a larger
purpose. She hoards items we’d have discarded
long ago. She understands the precious
nature of junk.