Friday, December 29, 2006

Gneiss going!

Robert Thomas will read as part of the Gneiss Poetry Series (with Gayle Brandeis) on Tuesday, January 9, 7:00 pm at:

Auditorium - Room B-100, UCR - Palm Desert Campus
At the corner of Cook St. & Frank Sinatra Dr.
In the building closest to the parking lot.
See University of California Riverside for directions.

Wish I could go and hear Robert and maybe get some warm weather!

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

End and beginning

Merry, happy everything to all of you out there. Our Christmas was quiet, the only less-than-perfect was Nathaniel waking up at 4:00 in the morning with food poisoning from the party the night before. (John, Jen, and I had been at the same party and were fine, but none of us ate the sushi.) N's being off put a crimp in our Christmas -- and meant that John ate all the bacon himself. But after a bit, N. was not exactly fine but in good enough shape to have some of the maple pecan wreath bread that I make every year.

We had a quiet day -- eating and sitting by the fire and watching SNL from the first season (John and I just going out and were living together in Manhattan back then and, boy, those shows bring back memories. We had in-jokes about the Great Fabod and ...). But still it fell to me to do all the cooking and more of the cleaning than I would have liked, and so I am not too sorry that I'm stuck today at the Superior Court for jury duty and forced to sit. John probably doesn't mind too much either, since his plan for today was to do nothing and I'm not sure I could have allowed that :)

But it's raining, I've got Internet access. So far, a room full of people is just waiting and waiting. The dog -- she liked her presents, esp. the dried chicken breasts, and she lost no time burying her new bone in the back yard -- will miss me today.

We did hear sobering news of two deaths -- three if you count James Brown, and you really gotta. One of these was one of John's poker buddies who was part of the group we had dinner with last New Year's Eve. He wasn't exactly a friend of mine, for reasons I don't want to go into here, but still. Hella difference a year makes ... .

May be my last post before the big night, so best to you and may life be good to you in 2007.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas Eve Miscellany

Sunny, chilly weather (chilly meaning 50, not 35 degrees), a perfect California Christmas Eve. We got the last of the decorating done (lights on the big schiffelera plant on the front porch). Annie did the tree and stashed greenery around the living room, quite artfully. I didn't have to do much this year.

We have various social plans but the real holiday means no one getting up early, no shopping, no work, just music, reading and the 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle of James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, and Clark Cable (I actually typed Clark Bagel first--time for breakfast) on the dining room table now that the wrapping apparatus has been cleared. We don't have to cook Christmas dinner, we're eating with friends tomorrow. I'm making a persimmon cake though (with the most fabulous ginger-lemon whipped cream). I think I have a poem brewing. At last.

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

And so it goes ...

I don't know how I knew, but I did, that Demimonde would not make the cut at Tupelo. The story so far: I submitted my ms. to Tupelo for their July open submissions last year, in 2005. We were supposed to be informed by the end of October. Finally, I emailed at the end of the year to find out that my manuscript came close but was not chosen. As a booby prize, Jeffrey Levine entered it in the Dorset Prize for me, even though the deadline had already passed. And Demimonde was a finalist.

I submitted it to the Tupelo Prize, which was first books only, and it was not only a finalist, but one of five runners up.

I submitted Demimonde to the July open submissions again this year, along with 999 others, or thereabouts. I was told it was one of 25 that would be considered -- four would be taken.

Earlier this week I learned that it was one of nine still on the table, but I didn't have a good feeling about it. A few minutes ago, I got the following email:

Dear Diane,

We have made our final decisions. Your book was on the table until the very end, but . . .

I know it must be off-the-charts frustrating to keep coming so close. I wish I could offer something more helpful than it's a great manuscript (which it is), and that it WILL get taken -- here or elsewhere.


I'm grateful for the closure. The waiting and hoping was driving me crazy. And so, in less than 2 weeks, we start another year.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Red-haired poets, etc.

Did anyone hear the live Prairie Home Companion from NYC today? We were on our way to Funston to walk the pooch and heard it on KQED. Guy Noir was hired to help? cheer up? someone's daughter who had moved to NY, dyed her hair red (!), adopted an all-black wardrobe, and become a poet. Regardless of what one thinks of Keillor's avuncular approach to poetry or his perhaps ill-advised anthology, this was very funny! A "former poet laureate," played, I think by Billy Collins, reviewed this poet's first collection in the Times and said its major mistake was that it was legible. He, the PL, is revealed to be the person who invented MFAs, wherein a poet is put in a room for 2 years, made to write, and charged $20,000 -- and at the end of two years is awarded an MFA. Ah well, maybe you had to be there -- there being listening to the radio -- but it was quite amusing, if you can find it to listen to on a podcast.

And believe me, if I can be amused these days, you can be amused. Though I have no information of any sort, I'm pretty sure the news I'm waiting is not good. I'm so tired of hoping.

My life is getting busy, busy, busy. I will be juggling two different contracts soon, a writing and an editing one. As of the end of January, I should be teaching writing (not poetry, alas) at SF State. In March I'm doing another Poetry Workshop for City College CE.

But all I want for Christmas is for my manuscript to get picked up by somebody. How can all these people like it but not enough to publish it?

Oh, I also want Santa to bring me some new reading glasses, because I lose the damn things all the time.

Can anyone out there help us with our updating problem in BlogRolling? It was working fine for ages but now doesn't seem to work at all (doesn't show blogs as updated when they have been)? I haven't been able to get any help from them, though I'm still trying. Thanks,

Saturday, December 16, 2006


Hard to believe we're going to the Sing-Along Grease today at the Castro theater. Annie and three of her friends, Linda and I and two of our friends. Love that movie but I'm not sure about this. Also hard to believe I'm going to wear a little knee-length pleated skirt and a fuchsia-colored boat-neck sweater. Linda's wearing a leather jacket and white T-shirt and plans to do something icky with her hair. I'm sure we won't be the only grey-haired Greasers there. The audience will be as entertaining as the show. Annie is being very tolerant. At 14 I wouldn't have gone out in public with my parents dressed like their high school days.

Will report back later.

Thursday, December 14, 2006


Malaise is a nicer word, I think, than dis-ease, though they have the same root meaning. I've been suffering from mal-ease for weeks (mais je ne suis pas malade), not a consequence of the holidays, nor the weather, nor my girlfriend spending too much time watching football nor my daughter barely touching ground at home, these being explanations I've been tried on. Besides, Linda (girlfriend) is who she's always been, Annie (daughter) is having a great time being a freshman in high school, a remarkable accomplishment, I like Christmas this year for no good reason and the weather has only been dreary for a week or so (should change on Sunday anyway).

It's a writing malaise, or a not-writing malaise. I'm not writing and so I'm not all right. That simple. I can't get in the writing gear, my few efforts go bad. No disease, just a case of going nowhere now. A comment from Richard Powers (who just won a National Book Award) on NPR yesterday made it clear to me. He said "If you're a writer and you haven't been writing for a couple of days, everyone around you will see you're out of sorts." Or something like that. And if you haven't been writing for weeks and weeks? I guess you're ready for the recycling bin.

I don't suppose writing a blog entry counts.

Monday, December 11, 2006

'Tis the Season

I go about in my own little world, up here in the grayness that is San Francisco. I just jumped about a foot at a knock at the door -- the postman leaving a package I ordered (books for my son, AI and programming). Very heavy scent of cologne when I opened the door, even though the postman was already down the steps and jumping into his truck. Anyway, the books -- not the postman or his cologne -- reminded me of a conversation at a party yesterday. I was conversing with a physicist. He asked me what I did and I could have said, should have said, maybe, that I'm a technical writer and editor, but I said I was a poet. The next question is usually, "What kind of poetry do you write?" But this time, it was whether I was published. I said yes, and he asked me if I was in any publication he had heard of, like the New Yorker. Once we established that I was not in any publication he had heard of, he said he doesn't read poetry. He tried once or twice. He tried to read "The Wasteland" and couldn't get it.

I really want a good answer when some stranger puts me in the position of defending poetry, especially when they use Eliot as a weapon. I tried asking if he gets all the music he might listen to. I said if he just experienced the poetry he would get something out of it -- and why worry about "getting" everything. I said I thought part of the problem was one's high school teacher and all those papers that had you discuss three metaphors in XYZ and how they relate to the theme of death and resurrection in ... Oh, then he asked what my poetry was about. But we didn't get much further than that in the conversation. I joined a friendly group discussing photography, jazz, Hawaii, and various hilarious episodes about marijuana and flying.

Well, the season is in full swing (plugged in and running on its own momentum, as I said to someone in email). I'm both oddly calm and very tense (see above, jumping a foot) at the same time. Still waiting to hear about my manuscript in "early December." But I've already accepted that it will be a no go, so why should I be tense?

John's photography got a wonderful reception from the Opera hierarchy, but no date for a show yet.

Tomorrow is the twelfth day of the twelfth month. What does that mean? Haven't the faintest, but I'd be careful around noon, if I were you.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Some Like It Hot

I’ve been interested in the discussion among Mark, Eric, Josh and others about immersive vs. anti-absorptive literature. I think those terms originated in Charles Bernstein’s essay “Artifice of Absorption,” where he defines the terms this way:

By absorption I mean engrossing, engulfing
completely, engaging, arresting attention, reverie,
attention intensification, rhapsodic, spellbinding,
mesmerizing, hypnotic, total, riveting,
enthralling: belief, conviction, silence.

Impermeability suggests artifice, boredom,
exaggeration, attention scattering, distraction,
digression, interruptive, transgressive,
undecorous, anticonventional, unintegrated, fractured,

In other words, “absorptive” literature values all those qualities “prized” in “mainstream” “art”: “What a spellbinding novel!” As Susan Schultz says in her essay “Postmodern Promos,” “one cannot ‘get lost’ in a Language poem the way one can get lost in a Harlequin romance.”

The terms immersive and anti-absorptive capture just what I’ve been trying to articulate in a couple of earlier posts here, e.g., “I think there’s a difference between poetry that makes the commitment of entering its own world—whatever that world may be—and poetry that keeps its distance.” Obviously I have a different perspective, though, as I am praising the very immersion that others criticize. Of course it’s easy to see the point of the criticism, the value of writing that forces us out of our comfort zone (as opposed to a mystery or romance we immerse ourselves in like a warm bath). And yet, and yet … I can’t help feeling that criticism of immersion conceals a fear of immersing oneself in life itself, a fear of commitment. Not to mention fear of sexuality, fear of eros, fear of romance, Harlequin or not. Sure, when you take your kids to the park to play on the swings, it’s good to be meta-aware of all the sociological and class implications of what you’re doing. On the other hand, at a certain point doesn’t all that awareness become an excuse to maintain a safe and ironic distance from your own children?

The distinction between immersive and anti-absorptive may be post-postmodern, but it goes back all the way to Plato, the sort of smugness Plato seemed to have—all the time he was praising Socrates he was quietly arguing the superiority of his writing to Socrates’ speaking, the superiority of written literature to oral poetry, for precisely the reasons that writers now criticize immersive work: it encourages the listener to be passively entertained rather than an active and critical participant in the work.

Mark et al. talk about Roland Barthes’ distinction between the “readerly” and the “writerly,” and that seems exactly to the point: immersive literature is readerly and anti-absorptive is writerly. I wish I could remember what poet I was reading recently who talked about the crucial turning point in his writing that came when he realized he was not even writing the sort of poems he wanted to read. Isn't there something very curious about this fear of the terrible bourgeois corruption that will result if the writer ever dares to get into bed with the reader and share some pleasure? It seems to hide a writer’s contempt for the reader within himself, or within herself, as well as for the readers in the world.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

God's Chatter

That’s the title of William Logan’s latest review in The New Criterion. But wait! Before you read it, take the quiz.

Match each of the six poets Logan reviews:

A. R. Ammons
Louise Glück
Paul Muldoon
Mark Strand
Natasha Trethewey
Franz Wright

with the line from the review that refers to their work:

Even if you paid through the nose to get a vanity press to publish this, you’d have to bribe the typesetter not to cut his own throat.

__________ writes of his/her parents with no fury or sympathy or even regret, just the blank courtesy of a barista at Starbucks.

These poems rely too heavily on props left over from the 1970s—night and moon and stars, all available by mail order.

The pleasure the poet takes in the senses lies partly in the gratification of disgust.

__________ writes so many poems about a blinding light, I wanted to buy stock in Sylvania

__________ never runs out of things to say, only things worth saying.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Snowman and bougainvillea

Walked the pooch this morning a little late, in the clear light of day. When she's in a good mood (she was), Greta likes to abandon our usual routes and explore. It was a fine morning for that for both of us.

The good burnt toast smell of D'Melanio's coffee roasting filled the neighborhood. The sun was shining. I past a house with a not-yet-inflated snowman and a Santa, then another snowman, then another -- all ghostly empty on square handkerchief-size lawns -- then a hollow plastic 3-D snowman, then a wicker snowman, then another empty one waiting to be pumped. Was there a sale on these things? Did I miss the memo?

I know why the snowman is pervasive, of course. After all, I brought up a kid in a mixed cultural family. For him Christmas was not about a baby Jesus at all. It was about Santa and presents, and he had a hard time giving up the reality of St. Nick! And a snowman is even less freighted with significance than the Santa; it's safe.

Still, it's an odd sign of the pervasiveness of the "dominant paradigm," isn't it? And funny, the snowman next to the bougainvillea.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

A conversation about poems

I don't live where I grew up. I don't have to worry about bumping into someone from my past by the avocados in the supermarket (although this actually happened to John here on this other end of the continent). But seeing some people I knew from "back then" this fall, with thoughts of my manuscript actually (oh please) getting published before too long made me feel weird. I gave the manuscript to a few people to read. Tonight I heard from one old dear friend:

"If one purpose of poetry is to allow a reader to see things from a wholly new perspective, it worked …" he said first. That's a good thing, I think. If there can be one purpose of art it must be to change the way one person, maybe, views the world. I would never presume to say to see another reality. Who says my views are real? I do think we go here, go there, then later look back and connect the dots. Any actual cause and effect is fiction. Or we take A and add it to B and come up with an equation that works -- but is it reality? This may be what Charles was talking about recently … Was it?

My friend also asked, "Where DO you get all of your ideas from???" To this I answered: "It's really not a question of ideas. W.C. Williams said, in an injunction to poets of his day: "No ideas but in things."


Let the snake wait under
his weed
and the writing
be of words, slow and quick, sharp
to strike, quiet to wait,
---through metaphor to reconcile
the people and the stones.
Compose. (No ideas
but in things) Invent!
Saxifrage is my flower that splits
the rocks.

And I continued: "I'll go further than that, in a way. Some ideas come from things -- in those cases, it's a question of how much to reveal, explain, clarify, and how much to evoke and leave mysterious. ('---through metaphor to reconcile / the people and the stones.') But often my ideas come from words, rather than the other way around … The [poem we were talking about] is a poem about language -- at least as much as it is about anything else. (Okay, it's also about loss of innocence or whatever.) But the whole poem involves the way people spoke in Yonkers back then … though I have no idea if young people speak that way now. I'm hyper aware of how people speak. A lot of the poem was intent on capturing that."

He also said: "I admire your courage - I could never be so honest." To which I said, "It's not autobiography. I can be honest because: it's a poem, it's words, it's art." But also, what would be the purpose of being dishonest. It's not as if I'm going to get rich from this stuff.

Friday, December 01, 2006

As in Orwell, the rats ...

That line's from one of my own poems, so I can steal it. This is the story: It became obvious that the smell in the basement was more/other than just the turkey carcass in the compost. It came from under the basement stairs, where we have stored the wooden cradle, rocking horse, high chair. Recently, Greta set to barking, and I heard a rustling there. I asked John to check; he poked around and then, after a bit, the rustling quieted down.

I figured he'd scared away the mom rat, and, well, see below, the process of orphanization (but it won't help). Somebody had to check again, and my hero did so while I was showering this morning. All that was left for me to do was vacuum the dust and cobwebs with the shop vac before putting everything back. Anyway, I was right about the scenario. You want your movie plots ruined, I'll be happy to help.

In other news: In case anyone is keeping track, the reason I haven't posted about the outcome of John's meeting with the Opera personnel is it hasn't happened yet, has been put off until December 7. So we are both waiting on pins to hear news this first part of December. It's either going to be a very good Christmas … or it isn't.

News this morning that the documentary of the making of the Dr. Atomic opera (that my John was a top scientist in) is going to be at Sundance.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Process of De-Orphanization

I just found online the Library of Congress description of my book. The Library of Congress reviewer must either be drunk or else have a very post-postmodern perspective.

Publisher Description for Dragging the Lake / Robert Thomas

With more than half of drug targets based on GPCRs, translating into billions in worldwide sales, there is great interest in finding high-resolution structures for recombinantly expressed GPCRs, discovering novel drug interactions, and designing tailor-made, structure-based drug therapies that display improved efficacy and selectivity with lesser side effects. This book describes the physiological role of GPCRs and their involvement in various human diseases. Chapters present current approaches in drug discovery that include target selection, establishment of screening, functional assays for GPCRs, and the continuous de-orphanization process of orphan GPCRs. The book also covers recombinant GPCR expression for drug screening and structural biology, different methods to obtain structural information on GPCRs, and the importance of bioinformatics.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Crystal clear

Cold and windy in The City. Of course, it doesn't get that cold here, not Minnesota cold or Canada cold, but houses here are not constructed for cold. Closets aren't either. Walking the dog at dawn, I threw on, above my yoga pants, a cotton camisole, a long underwear shirt, a cotton jersey, a fleece vest, and John's hooded jacket, warmer than anything I own. I also wore a wool beret and scarf. And I was cold! No gloves--I've lost both pairs. That's something for my Xmas list…

I would have liked to walk fast to warm up, but Greta cannot be rushed. What does she care! She's got her Akita double coat.

But then the light was beautiful -- a golden, hopeful light topping off the trees.

It is crystal clear as well; once again, you can see the cliffs of Pt. Reyes from here. John's got three pairs of binoculars on the bookshelf. He's such a voyeur -- not in a bad way. He hinted he would like one of those telescopes for our living room. Maybe…

The wind has quieted since I started this. I can hardly hear John's windchimes that were chiming like crazy earlier.

I have a new poem for Sunday. It's still raw, but better than nothing. Maybe I can sneak some time from work to cook it a bit today.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Hunter in an Arctic Midnight

A “secret informant” suggested that I check out the acknowledgments page of Norman Dubie’s latest book of poems, Ordinary Mornings of a Coliseum. Imagine my shock as I read down the page and suddenly see this: “‘Hunter in an Arctic Midnight’ is dedicated to the poet Robert Thomas”! My first thought is that he must mean another poet Robert Thomas. How would Dubie even have heard of me? As is obvious from two old posts of mine, The Poetic Idea and The Clouds of Magellan, Dubie is one of the handful of my favorite poets. I guess he must really have had me in mind, though, because of the connections between his “Arctic Midnight” and a poem of mine, “The Blizzard.” I just can’t say how much this means to me. Dubie is a generous human being.

Sunday, November 26, 2006


We've got us some weather today, as they say. Wet, wet, wet. Greta only got a teeny little walk today. I was lazy, okay? Tired and cold and maybe a little down, the flip side of all my manic activity over the holiday.

I did get some competition submissions together. There's time to get them to the P.O. tomorrow. (I love the machine in my local Sloat Blvd. Post Office. While the line goes out the door, I stroll over to this thing, put in my debit card, and send all my packets. Voila!)

Well, John is up at the studio printing, will be back soon. Last night I cooked up the carcass of that poor dead turkey. Tonight I'll make soup. Poor skinny husband has to eat it all by himself this year, because I no longer eat meat. I'll cook it, but I won't eat it.

I've been helping with the pies though. I had pumpkin pie for lunch. There's still some left, along with half an apple pie and a piece of pecan.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Op-Ed Poets

I felt a little shock and awe when I opened the Times this morning to the Op-Ed page and found poets not pundits. Mary Ruefle, Phillip Levine, Jennifer Michael Hect, Billy Collins and James McMIchael over breakfast.

So poetry is not dead after all or at least not without influence. Maybe someone somewhere (e.g., The Poetry Foundation?) did a bit of arm-twisting. Whatever. I didn't really love the poems, except maybe Hecht's, but on Black Friday I could feel another day of thanks.

Poetry the Morning After

Diane and John outdid themselves yesterday with an incredible dinner for 12 lucky people. I have to get those recipes for brined turkey and cornbread/wild rice stuffing, plus 19 or 20 delicious side dishes, appetizers, and desserts. The conversation was great, although I did feel a bit out of it when it turned to the pros and cons of the Nintendo Wii (thumbs up) versus the PlayStation 3 (thumbs down).

Meanwhile, I got a message taking a survey on two questions: “Why, after all, do you write poems, and how do you make a living while you’re doing it?” This was my response:

I’ll start with the “easy” question of how I make a living. I work four days a week as a legal secretary. I’ve found it a pretty good way to make a decent living while still leaving time and energy to write, if you don’t mind not having anything very cool to tell people when you introduce yourself and they ask you what you do. I’ve found there’s a big difference between working four days a week and five days a week, and I also think it’s crucial to find a position (no matter what you do) that doesn’t drain you emotionally. I suspect the particulars of individual jobs are more important than the line of work. I’ve had horrendous jobs as a legal secretary that left me too exhausted to write. The job I’ve had for the past few years, however, has been great, even though the job descriptions for both jobs said pretty much the same thing. I suspect the same may be true of teaching and everything else. Teaching composition and literature at one community college may be a nightmare, but doing more or less the same thing at another school may turn out to be invigorating and inspiring. Most ways of making a living don’t seem to work very well for most poets I know, and they keep looking and experimenting until they find a small niche that does work for them. I taught high school for a year many years ago, but found it impossible to write while teaching. Maybe it would be different now.

Now for your harder question . . . I think of Kafka’s statement that “A book must be an ice axe to break the sea frozen inside us.” Books have certainly had that effect on me. Strangely enough, the book I think of first is Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. My older sister gave it to me when I was 12, and I read it over and over until I almost knew it by heart. I think it let me know that there were people out there somewhere who had thoughts and feelings like mine even though I didn’t seem to find them in my home or my school or my neighborhood. I think that, like a lot of people, there were strange thoughts and intense emotions and bizarre imaginings inside of me that I didn’t find echoed in any of the conversations my family had at the dinner table or my teachers and friends had at school or on the playground or the families on TV had at their dinner tables, but I discovered they were echoed in books, whether Crime and Punishment or Catcher in the Rye or the little poem by Emily Dickinson I remember an otherwise utterly uninspiring teacher reciting:

I never lost as much but twice,
And that was in the sod.
Twice have I stood a beggar
Before the door of God!

Angels—twice descending
Reimbursed my store—
Burglar! Banker—Father!
I am poor once more!

I remember hearing that and the emotional force and complexity of it just hit me like Kafka’s axe, the extreme imagination of God as burglar and banker at the same time, the emotional intensity of that paradox, how taboo it was to talk about feelings like that and how true. It made me want to create something like that, something where “thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears” would find a place where they could not be denied. And oh yeah, I also wanted to be Bob Dylan singing “Like a Rolling Stone.”

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving

Yes, Happy Thanksgiving to all of you.

Savoring a moment of of blissful peace before turning in (and waiting for John to finish his computer game!). Some glitches here, but mostly all going well.

There was a downpour here earlier this evening, but it didn't last long. Nathaniel and Jen brought over Chinese food from Eric's in Noe Valley -- yum -- and we didn't have to cook. I made them take home the leftovers, 'cause there ain't no room in the refrigerator.

Just realized that today was November 22nd. If you are old enough, you will never forget where you were on November 22. I was thirteen when JFK died, and I remember it like a wound. At my class reunion last September someone told me remembers me on that day in 1963, how I was crying and how I said things would not just go on. I was too young to know that things always go on, one way or another.

I have many things to be thankful for and wish the same to you.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Calm Before the Storm

Tuesday: Heard on the car radio that Robert Altman died. I'm sad; he was one of my favorites. His movies were interesting, always interesting, in the way that people are interesting. Robert said, in email: "It's funny: I think everyone loves some Altman film. You can almost define your taste by which one." But I'm not sure I could pick one, and I also liked his failures and his little known films. I loved Gosford Park, but I also enjoyed The Company, Kansas City, Short Cuts, Pret a Porter -- lots of others. Oh, also The Player!


Monday evening, and I'm feeling oddly calm. I even went over to the YMCA and worked out; I cooked salmon burgers and salad for dinner; and here I am blogging. Some of the calm is earned in that our Thanksgiving crowd has shrunk from a hefty 14 to a mere dozen. With my job, I'm back to writing instead of pretending to be a graphics artist. And John was let out early from Opera and came home around 3:00; he vacuumed and took Miss Greta on her second walk. We even had plumbers here to fix the drain on our bathroom sink …

But mostly, I know, I'm like this. I'll think it's a piece of cake. I'll mosey, I'll take my time. And then at some point, I freak. I know I'll freak. John knows I'll freak. It's only a matter of exactly when the tornado will hit. My mother was like this. The waking up in the middle of the night obsessed by things I have to do was just like her. I hope I'm not quite as obsessed as she was. She was like that day in and day out. Really.

But we'll get through. Tomorrow, early, we'll go over to Tower Market and get the turkey and the few remaining things Trader Joe's did not have. Wednesday morning we'll scoot over to the flower mart on 6th and Brannan and see if I can find some flowers that go with our tablecloths and maybe some chysanthemums for the front stairs. (I still have to work all day Tuesday. It's bad enough that as a contact worker there will be three days this week I can't bill for!) And Tuesday evening (very bad timing), I'm getting a haircut. (Oh, I don't like being fussed over in a hair salon and always put it off. But I do really like my stylist. He's an African American guy, and he knows curly hair. He does such a great job, I've been going to him since before my son was born, and that's forever. We've seen each other through a lot-we are nearly the same age--and we really get along.)

But now I have to revisit my lists and nag my husband …

Saturday, November 18, 2006


How about listening to Robert Thomas's Nov. 7 reading/interview on Jan Beatty's Pittsburgh radio poetry show.

It's great!


Glorious day to be alive and living in San Francisco. A bright 75°, and one didn't need a jacket even at Funston -- though it's almost always windy and cold there. And once again, pods of dolphins swimming south, leaping in and out of the waves. They are becoming more frequent, but still, they are amazing.

Not half the stuff got done that needs to be done. I mailed out one envelope with an upcoming deadline. I ordered shades for the windows of my office. (Too expensive, but I can't work there most mornings with the sun in my eyes.)

We picked up some stuff at the Albertson's -- a thermometer, a new corkscrew, lightbulbs. I need to get a garlic press; I forgot that.

Then John had to exchange the portfolio he bought at Flax for his big presentation in two weeks, and now he's gone to Opera. I've got plenty I can do on my own -- pay bills, for one, start cleaning …. Maybe I'll turn on Singing in the Rain later and leap around with Gene Kelly.

Oh what a gorgeous sunset, all bruised purples and orange pinks. From my window I can see the pinpoint lights of six fishing boats out there on the ocean, like a constellation.

Friday, November 17, 2006


I'm not sure it's wise for me to be blogging now, after drinking a glass of wine, after driving an hour and a quarter back from Alameda … The thing is, it wasn't dark when I left, but it was going to get dark; I knew that. That's why I was so steering-wheel-clenched nervous, because I don't see in the dark. And because gnarly turned into insane as soon as I hit the bridge. But that's no excuse for not remembering to turn on my headlights until I was four blocks from my hill. O mi god.

Well, anyway, I survived, and don't believe I caused anyone else any accidents. I'm not a very good grownup. Although I could be worse. I'm skipping working out because, well because it means going out there. But until John and doggie get home, I'll not have any more wine.

The presentation at my (contract) job did nor go exceptionally well. I didn't think it would, but it really didn't.

And somehow, though it's rather daunting to have work that I have to fix sitting there waiting for me to fix it, I'm going to have to forget about that for now and try and wrap my mind around cooking Thanksgiving dinner for fourteen in my tiny house. And try to not wrap my mind around the dental torture coming up in the future.

I know this post has nothing to do with poetry. I'm getting some applications out. I'm sending out some manuscripts. I emailed an old friend a couple days ago to see if he had read my manuscript but he hadn't yet.

And so it goes.

I think maybe it's time for a list.


Monday, November 13, 2006

Invisible Ink

Following Diane’s post below “About Seeing,” on Linda Gregg’s essay, I read Mary Ruefle’s essay from the same collection.

I was struck by this sentence: “There is a world which poets cannot seem to enter. It is the world everybody else lives in. And the only thing poets seem to have in common is their yearning to enter this world.”

And how can you resist an essay that includes this story: “In the 2001 Kentucky Derby, which I watched live on television, Keats ran against Invisible Ink. There was no way I was going to miss this race ....”

Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Falcon Cannot Hear the Falconer

I watched The Maltese Falcon again last night for the nth time. What a movie: where is John Huston when we need him? Perhaps my great weakness as a poet is that my writing is more influenced by The Maltese Falcon and Bringing Up Baby than “Meditation at Lagunitas” or “Mock Orange” or “Howl,” more influenced by the voices of Peter Lorre and Rosalind Russell than Robert Pinsky or Adrienne Rich. Is there any news (other than the election) more exciting than the recent release of a restored version of Renoir’s Rules of the Game?

I’m exaggerating but I think one thing about these films that’s directly relevant to poetry is their rhythm and speed. How I love those fast-talking guys and gals! How I love them especially after going to one too many poetry readings in that slo-mo style we’re so familiar with: “So much depends [pause] upon [pause] a red wheel [pause] barrow [pause] glazed [pause] with rain [pause] water [pause] beside the white [pause] chickens.” Of course Williams himself (if you listen to the old recordings) did not read his poems this way at all—it’s a contemporary affectation. Do poets think the audience is too dumb to follow the poem unless they talk ... really ... slow?

I love to imagine Bogart reading the lines instead: “Yes, angel, I’m going to send you over. So much depends upon a red wheel barrow glazed with rain water beside the white chickens.” The film even makes fun of its speed when Bogart fast-talks the cops and then says to the stenographer, “You getting this alright, son, or am I going too fast for you?” And the kid replies, along with us in the audience, “No sir, I’m getting it alright.”

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

About Seeing

Okay, this post could be called About Gloating -- one feels like gloating -- or About Celebrating, because one feels like celebrating too (and I'm happy to say I did my small part to help in the defeat of the Republicans) but, after all, this is a poetry blog, and this post is about poetry and about seeing.

i was just looking at Linda Gregg's essay on Can't remember why I went to the site. I kind of left her essay up until I had time to read it. As usual, there were things I agreed with, things I didn't, but I was struck by this paragraph:

I am astonished in my teaching to find how many poets are nearly blind to the physical world. They have ideas, memories, and feelings, but when they write their poems they often see them as similes. To break this habit, I have my students keep a journal in which they must write, very briefly, six things they have seen each day—not beautiful or remarkable things, just things. This seemingly simple task usually is hard for them. At the beginning, they typically "see" things in one of three ways: artistically, deliberately, or not at all. Those who see artistically instantly decorate their descriptions, turning them into something poetic: the winter trees immediately become "old men with snow on their shoulders," or the lake looks like a "giant eye." The ones who see deliberately go on and on describing a brass lamp by the bed with painful exactness. And the ones who see only what is forced on their attention: the grandmother in a bikini riding on a skateboard, or a bloody car wreck. But with practice, they begin to see carelessly and learn a kind of active passivity until after a month nearly all of them have learned to be available to seeing—and the physical world pours in. Their journals fill up with lovely things like, "the mirror with nothing reflected in it." This way of seeing is important, even vital to the poet, since it is crucial that a poet see when she or he is not looking—just as she must write when she is not writing. To write just because the poet wants to write is natural, but to learn to see is a blessing. The art of finding in poetry is the art of marrying the sacred to the world, the invisible to the human.

I can remember many years ago when John and I lived in Manhattan -- no, even longer ago -- I lived in the Bronx and he lived in Manhattan, and I would take the subway down to visit him. I was going through a depressed period, and I couldn't write anything. John, who is and was a photographer would ask me, as one asks a child what she learned in school that day, what I saw on the subway on my way downtown. And I started looking, so I could see and tell him, and then I started seeing. And it saved me then, in a way.

Friday, November 03, 2006

About meaning

Should be working, but as always, there are better things to do. Really loved this quote by the curmudgeonly William Logan on today's Poetry Foundation blog:

" I don’t look to the poem’s content for the meanings of life, or for consolation in the losses life demands. I find solace in the language itself, in the way meaning plays through syntax and form, in the blink of wordplay or the cocked gesture of the well-turned phrase. I don’t say there isn’t meaning to be had… the life carries the language, not the other way around. The language doesn’t hold the meaning; the language is the meaning."

Hey, I would be terrified to have him review my book, but I totally agree with him here.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Very Bad Day Climate Patterns

Apparently, the weather is moving my way.

Anne says, on Rebecca's blog: "I had a Very Bad Day on Saturday. Apparently, bad days move from east to west, and took a few days to reach you. I'm sorry. If it helps, I had a pretty good day yesterday, so you can look forward to yours along about Sunday."

I hope that's a promise.


Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Work in Progress

I was looking at my manuscript today, looking at it with others' eyes, I told myself (see below). Of course today, after recently getting a half dozen of the lot out, I see a glaring problem, something I can't believe I didn't see before. In my eagerness to put the most powerful poems up front, at least one poem of the first section doesn't belong at all in the first section. In another two poems, I wanted to change verb tense.

Do I make these changes now, before sending out the next batch -- or do I hope someone will take the book and I can make the changes before the book goes to print? I am weighing the pros and cons.

In the meantime, I'm feeling weary, generally discouraged about things, while just a short time ago all was bright and shiny.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Halloween (but not here)

Feeling a bit down, probably the letdown after all the excitement of one reunion and two weddings. Either that or the jetlag.

It's funny, I've given my manuscript to a few people of late, none of them poets. I feel like I have to wrap it in a plain brown wrapper -- or at least enclose a warning that it is not fact checkable -- it's poetry. But none of these people are poets and I don't know what they expect. Some of them know things about my life they will read into the poems. It's a strange vulnerable feeling.

On the other hand, I've found that it's way more important to me than it is to others. Poetry doesn't make a very loud thud when it is dropped in the real world. You can scarcely hear it.

Well, this is a throwaway post, but I thought I should check in now that I'm back from Back East.

Not much Halloween happening at my house. Young people can get free candy in far easier ways than struggling up my very steep hill.

Sunday, October 22, 2006


Exploring the mountains of stuff at my mother's house yesterday, I found the first poem I wrote. I must have been all of six years old. I know I was too young to know how to write because my aunt wrote down the words for me. I guess I had a leaning toward the blues even then. Here it is:

Bees in the cupboard, cows in the corn
Bees in the cupboard, cows in the corn
I wonder where the dog was born

That's it. I could probably learn something from the economy of my early work. Obviously, I identified with the dog.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Madness in Method

I recently read Lee Strasberg’s classic book on Method acting, A Dream of Passion, and its relevance to poetry was striking. Well, its relevance to poetry was striking to Strasberg too, as he traces the roots of Method acting back to the Romantic poets, Wordsworth and Coleridge, and also to the great Modernist writers, Eliot, Proust, and Joyce. Writing in specific sensual imagery is rather out of fashion and has become almost a cliché, but Strasberg reminded me how emotion is in fact rooted in sensual particulars (Proust’s cookie). Strasberg talks about the acting process:

The correct process of inducing a response is through the senses. He [the actor] tries to remember where he was. Say he was in the yard. The actor cannot simply think in generalities. The yard is composed of many objects that he sees, hears, touches, and so forth, to which he assigns the word yard. Only by formulating the sensory concreteness of these objects can the emotions be stimulated. It is not sufficient to say, “It was hot.” Rather, the actor must define precisely in what area he experienced the particular heat he remembers; the actor localizes the concentration in that area to create not just a memory but a reliving of that particular moment. The actor remembers what he had on: the sight, texture, or sensation of that material on the body. The actor tries to remember the event that caused the emotion, not in terms of the sequence of the story, but in terms of the various senses that surrounded it.
This feels to me so much like the process of writing a poem! It’s all about imagining the texture of the fabric one is wearing, the feel of the wind on the only spot on one’s neck uncovered by the scarf, the color of the bench at the bus stop—and not just the important details but the unimportant, because, as Strasberg says, “In the midst of severe crisis, an individual’s attention will often register the smallest details related and unrelated to that crisis.”

Again, Strasberg makes the connection to writing and says the task is the same: “Affective memory is a decisive element in most artistic creation. The only difference is that in other art forms, the affective memory is created by the artist in the solitude of his own environment. … The link between affective memory and creativity has been a constant presence in poetry.”

The phrase “a dream of passion” is taken from Hamlet’s speech about acting, and it captures, I think perfectly, the artist’s balancing act: the need for art to be passionate, but it’s not exactly passion—rather, a dream of passion. A dream without passion is not poetry, but it must be a dream. As Hamlet says, “What’s Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba, that he should weep for her?”

Friday, October 13, 2006

Cooling Time

Been reading C.D. Wright's Cooling time. I actually met C.D. Wright years ago, at SF State, when she and Forrest Gander were just getting together. (I doubt she remembers.) The Associated Students were trying to close the Poetry Center, so John and I attended the hearing, said the Poetry Center was one of the reasons we came to San Francisco. People, I'm sure wondered what was in it for us, why we bothered. I'm not sure I know.

In 2004, when I was at Squaw, C.D. was one of the faculty poets. She hadn't won the MacArthur yet. More than a few people were scared of her, bothered, bewildered. She did scare me a little, though I liked her. It's always been easier for me to relate to men than to strong women.

This book though knocks me out. I could quote almost anything. I'm going to quote all that I can before I lose patience with the typing:

"I believe in a hardheaded art, an unremitting, unrepentant practice of one's own faith in the word in one's own obstinate terms... I believe the word used wrongly distorts the world...Also I think that antithetical poetries can and should coexist without crippling one another. They not only serve to define their other to a much more exacting degree than would be possible in the absence of the one or the other; they insure the persistence of heterogeneous (albeit discouragingly small) constituencies... I am not sure of where I am going...

"We come from a country that has made a fetish if not a virtue out of proving it can live without art: high, low, old, new, fat, lean, and particularly the rarely visible, nocturnal art of poetry."

"An atmosphere of depression will arouse artists' attention over an atmosphere of prosperity nearly every time. Also true, ruins are beautiful to us; blues make us feel good; it is through the wound that we perceive the body alive alive-o."

"Poetry and advertising (the basest mode of which is propaganda) are in direct and total opposition. If you do not use language you are used by it. if you do not recognize the terms peacekeeper missile and preemptive strike as oxymorons, your hole has already been dug."

" 'I think poetry must / I think it must / Stay open all night / In beautiful cellars,' [Thomas] Merton insisted. And so do I..."

"Writing is a risk and a trust. the best of it lies yonder. My linguistic skills expand on the horizon. So does the horizon. my goals are higher-minded than they once were. Once you could say, I had ambition. I never could write any old way. And like many from my generation, I desire the integrated life."

Poets are mostly voters and taxpayers, but the alienation of the poet is a common theme. Among poets there are also probably higher than average rates of clutch burnout, job turnover, rooting about, sleep apnea, noncompliance, nervous leg syndrome, depression, litigation, black clothing and so forth, but this is where we live..."

I guess that's enough for now.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Yes, again

Today's mail brought notification that I am again -- this time one of three -- finalist in a manuscript competition. This is the 19th time Demimonde has been a finalist. It was called "emotionally engaging" and "marvelous." Will it ever just be good enough?


A fine fall day in SF. Walked the dog in that pooch paradise, Funston. After I finish my Moroccan mint green tea, I'm going out again. The garden calls.


Addendum: Monday is yet another anniversary of John Lennon's birthday. Well, I have this essay I wrote recounting my adventure meeting Lennon and working in his entourage for one weekend--his birthday weekend--in 1971. Does anybody out there know of a publication (online is fine) that would be interested in this?

Just for starters, don't anyone suggest Rolling Stone.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Mystic Word

Interesting piece about Hart Crane in The New Yorker by Adam Kirsch:

Once a poet calls his myth a myth, he prevents the reader from treating it as a reality; we use the word “myth” only for stories we ourselves cannot believe. That is why a poet cannot create myths; he can only employ and embellish the ones he has inherited. Homer could not have invented the Olympian gods, or Dante the cosmology of medieval Catholicism, and still have written as he did. By striving so effortfully to turn the Brooklyn Bridge into a religious symbol, Crane forces us to recognize that all he has really created is a vague and problematic metaphor.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Poetry Readings, NY & PA

I know I've been absent from the blog for while, but it's been a hard time. My mother passed away a couple weeks ago after a chock-full 89-year life, and next week Cheryl and I are going to Wisconsin to bury her ashes in her home town. I'd planned a small book tour, but because of these events, it's going to be even smaller. I'm keeping a couple commitments I'd already made, though, and would love to see some people at these readings!

Saturday, October 7, 2006, 2:00 p.m.
Bowery Poetry Club
308 Bowery (between Houston and Bleecker), New York City

Reading with Julie Sheehan, author of Orient Point (W.W. Norton, 2006), winner of the Barnard Women Poets' Prize, and Thaw (Fordham Univ. Press, 2001), winner of the Poets Out Loud Prize.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006, 7:30 p.m.
Enrico’s Tazza D’Oro Café
1125 N. Highland Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA

Reading with Lori Wilson, winner of West Virginia Writers Poetry Award, and Arlene Weiner, author of Escape Velocity (Ragged Sky Press, 2006).

Wednesday, October 11, 2006, 7:00 p.m.
Milkboy Coffee Writers Workshop
2 East Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore, PA (outside of Philly)

Reading and discussion with Ken Kalfus, author of novels A Disorder Peculiar to the Country (Ecco, 2006) and New York Times Notable Book The Commissariat of Enlightenment (Harper, 2006).

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

What It Takes

I couldn't sleep last night (or this morning) -- again. Something about the change of seasons, being in between jobs, two upcoming trips Back East, and still, thoughts about the reunion.

So I answered my new/old friend's question:

I say I have many questions but really it is all one: how does one sit down and write a poem?

(He is a writer, but not a poet.) This is what I said to him:

There isn't one answer, of course. Get thirteen poets and you'd get thirteen ways of looking at that blackbird. But it's a good question, nevertheless. I'm going to be teaching a five-week class this spring, a poetry workshop; I ought to be able to answer it.

Picasso, when dared as a child to draw a donkey, drew a donkey with one stroke starting at the leg. You could start anywhere, and it wouldn't necessarily limit where you ended up.

I often have to sneak up on a poem. If I face it squarely, head on, it eludes me, it disappears. (That's why the poems I've been struggling with about the reunion aren't working. I tell myself I'm writing about the reunion and they're out of here. Maybe in six months I can pull them out, tell myself they're not about the reunion but about a Robert Altman movie -- and it might work.)

For me, sound is key. It's the best and worst aspect of my poems. I often start with a phrase that just comes to my head.

I take notes all the time. I make a note in a notebook about something intriguing and forget it. These notes can be sounds, reminders of something read or said, dream sequences, ideas I need to research and pursue -- or anything. Often the notes don't go anywhere at all, but sometimes they do. Sometimes, when looked at later, the mishmash of the scribble creates the poem. A misspelling, a shape suggests something to me. I wrote a poem after seeing Walk The Line, the Johnny Cash movie. I wrote it on a narrow sheet of paper. The poem is about crawling off into a cave to die, and the poem is narrow like the paper and cramped like a cave. It is, as you said associative. It's best not explained in the poem.

Sometimes, more rarely, the note is the poem. The poem Sonhar that is on my website was a reverie, some rather disorganized thoughts that came to me sitting in my garden and drinking a glass of wine and thinking about the one boy ever who cried for me, someone back in college. I hardly wrote it; it wrote itself. He'd grown up in Brazil, which is why the Brazilian / Portuguese references, but there would be no way one would know that.

But that's unusual. More often, I write whatever and in the clear light of day edit it, look for the form it contains, remove the dead matter. When my mom was dying of a brain tumor in 2000, I wrote dozens of poems to deal with it. They were 90 percent awful. I ended up taking all the lines I liked from those poems and putting them in one composite poem. The star image you liked in Fraught With Danger was cannibalized from a poem I wrote very long ago, in the seventies, imagining my own conception.

I don't necessarily have any idea where the poem is going when I start writing it. My latest accepted poem, Conjugated Visits, which will be published in Field in the spring, started with a note about a snail and a question about styles of love. It ended up as a sort of grammar of love: she, he, they, we and so forth.

Maybe writing a poem is like any other writing, but more so, taking more advantage of the serendipitous, not necessarily arriving at answers when it asks questions.

Okay, poets out there in the blogosphere, what does it take for you?

Monday, September 25, 2006


Hot in San Francisco today. I mean you can't wear a jacket or sweater hot. This is our summer. I'm sipping Peet's coffee over ice and enjoying the feeling of my bare feet on the cool wood floor. I opened the back door. I put on shorts.

Wood floors stay cool in hot weather. In the house I grew up in, my bedroom was on the top floor under the slanting roof. It got very hot. I don't know how many people had air conditioning in those days, but we just had one big ceiling fan in the middle of the house. On hot nights in summer, back then, I'd lie in the nude on my floor.

Once I put this interesting bit in a poem. It was years ago, at Squaw, in Sharon Olds's workshop. I remember she scolded me: If I wanted to talk about masturbation, I should just say it. This I found very funny, because I hadn't thought about that at all, neither back then nor when writing the poem. I just wanted the coolness of the floor.


Bees are buzzing. Monarchs are migrating.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Criticizing the Critics

OK, what, really, is the function of criticism, or, specifically, of most of the literary criticizing that goes on, from Poetry magazine to attack-mode blogs? To teach and enlighten the reader? To impose one's own aesthetic? To suppress what you personally dislike or consider inferior (to suppress through intimidation)? To protect your own turf? It seems like that's what it's all about. I love someone's take on a poem or a poet that gives a new angle, a thought I never had before, something that enlarges the work. I hate reading criticism driven by some form of envy or threat, or worse, that's meant mostly to make the reader think the critic is pretty damn smart. Hubris seems to be high on the list here of what characterizes literary critics.

Brouhaha over BAP

I couldn't sleep last night. I was anxious about several situations that have arisen -- mostly the usual, jobs and money. No need to bore you with the details. But I was also thinking about the recent reunion I went to and a parallel to the brouhaha (an onomatopoeic word if there ever was one) over the BAP 2006.

Years ago, in the dawn of prehistory when I was in high school, I was first literary editor and then co-editor in chief of the literary magazine, called the Compendium. I was very serious about my responsibilities, worked hard to get submissions from all six grades (the school was 7-12), did my best to find unobjectionable if not stellar work, and put together a prize-winning magazine. Upon publication, however, there was a huge uproar. A certain faction accused me of elitism, nepotism, and probably a lot of other isms they wouldn't say to my face. A countercultural version of the magazine came out, called True -- no I'm not kidding. It seems that I had rejected the work of the guy who was considered the school bard -- oh, he was cool, he was. It didn't seem to matter to his fans that what he had submitted to the Compendium was word for word copied from the liner notes of a Dylan album. I also sinned and published my two sisters, the other editors, and myself. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, do you think I had a lot of other possibilities? Besides, if I didn't publish my sisters, my mother would have creamed me.

So why do I remember this many years later? Because the person who put out True was there at the reunion and still held a grudge. He still considers me to be a JAP, a person of privilege (if only he knew!), and evil to the core.

Well, why does this remind me of the BAP? The situation is different, but honestly, I don't think those editors are evil. I think, well, they must have had their reasons. I'm sure they felt and feel that the book they put out was the Best one they could under whatever circumstances they worked under. I don't think it's terrible that Lehman's assistants are published in the book. I don't even think it is so darn terrible if Lehman's wife is in the book. She is a poet. Her poem was published in a legitimate magazine. Maybe if she hadn't been Lehman's wife, her poem wouldn't have surfaced -- but there are an awful lot of ifs in the publishing world, in the art world. If Eliot hadn't known Pound, he wouldn't have been published in Poetry. If Ashbery hadn't been called to Auden's attention, he wouldn't have won the Yale Younger. The list is long.

So I don't mind that this book is out there as it is. I say that even acknowledging that I don't like a lot of what I've read of the current book so far. I say this even though I find Lehman's introduction to be inane and Collins's to be insulting. I find the BAPs interesting and usually buy them, if I can, even though I've only thought a couple through the years were really good books and sometimes find the contributors' notes the "best" part.

I agree with the bloggers who feel the fuss is way out of proportion -- and doesn't even help the situation. Honest, if you don't like the series, don't buy 'em, don't talk about 'em.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Poetic Genius?

The MacArthur "genius" awards were announced today. I noted the absence of a poet on the list. There's a fiction writer, a playwright, a sculptor, several musicians, some other artists, but not a poet in sight. Is this one more commentary on the sad state of poetry today? Seems like everywhere you look someone's musing on the stagnation of contemporary poetry, the harm done by the MFA proliferation, the remoteness of poets from readers/audiences (except for performance poetry). Could be just an off year--and there ARE many good poets around--yet...

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Life is what happens...

Robert's mom died yesterday. I'm posting it here in case any of you want to send him your condolences. She was 90 years old and a difficult woman, but she raised Robert without his father; she was a doctor; she brought up a boy who grew up to be Robert, a wonderful poet and great friend.


I have been back home since late Sunday night, after an awful flight. It's taken me a day or two to recover from the flight and the weekend, so I'm grateful I work at home. I so loved seeing old friends and catching up on the decades that have past, but I'm glad and grateful, too, to be back in San Francisco, for all those things I take for granted: my sweet patient husband, my pooch, just people walking, people of every type speaking every language living side by side (we're not all singing Kumbayah, but people get along and can usually find time for a Good Morning when I'm out with the dog); the different foods; the presence of ocean; oh, and the coffee (Peet's!).


And this morning, after a long drought, I got a poem accepted, an email from David Young, by Field!

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Blogging the Reunion, Part 2

My computer says 4:44 a.m., 'cause that's the time back home, making it the third morning in a row I've been up before 5:00. So it's 7:45 local time and was nearly 3:00 by the time I was in bed. My head hurts and my knee hurts; I was a dancing fool.

What a trip! That was what I I heard our class saludatarian say last night -- and I could be wrong, but I doubt she ever took one (acid, that is). It was a trip. On this trip, everyone was 56 years old. Everyone had aging or dead parents. Many of us live far, far away from where we knew each other, in high school.

Last night, in the grand ballroom of this grand place, we played who are you and told the same stories over and over. Amazing the people who looked the same--or better--than they had 38 years ago. And the people who looked, well, bad. No one who was there had nothing going for them though, it seemed. T'hose people stayed away.

Happily I fared pretty well, according to consensus. I do not look the way I did back in 1968, but plenty of people said so. Of course, people are funny. They also thought that my sister-in-law and I looked alike, just 'cause we both have chin-length curly hair -- though I'm a redhead and she's a blonde (now) and she's taller and thinner.


Now it's Sunday at 5:15 and I'll be flying out in 45 minutes, with any luck. We spent the final afternoon at the park down the hill and a few blocks from where I lived. The house is smaller, of course, the trees bigger, and very lush. The park seems fairly well tended. There were geese and five swans. Caterers barbecued the usual. I had corn and cole slaw and chips and a piece of sorta cold, very greasy cheese pizza, Yonkers pizza.

I am so effing exhausted. But I had a fabulous time, a wonderful time. I told secrets, made connections, kissed and hugged (it seemed) a thousand people, and talked with folks who wouldn't have given me the time of day back in the day as if they were friends. The organizers of this bash (mostly one woman) threaten to do this again in two years -- this time a cruise off Florida. I don't know about that. I think this weekend could last me a long time, but it was great.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Blogging the Reunion

Hell, I know some of you out there in the blogosphere aren't even 38 years old -- you cannot fathom what it's like to be at a 38-year high school reunion. Well, I'm here, and I can't fathom it either. We're staying at a large estate on the Hudson, sort of what I imagine royalty would inhabit if kings and queens roamed Westchester County. Hey, we didn't go to school here! We went to school in Yonkers, a decidedly lower scale sort of place. Well, imagine acres of rolling green and tall trees and neo-classical (or should I say pseudo classical) statuary like an Edward Gorey stage set.

And everyone here talks like the Sopranos. Okay, there are people I know where I live in San Francisco who think *I* have a NY accent, but believe me, I don't; not like this. I'm sharing a room with my sister-in-law, Jeannette, who is John's sister and who was "most popular" or "most friendly," I don't remember which, 38 years ago. I was class Dove and "most idealistic." It was 1968.

Last night, we walked into a room with people we didn't know but were supposed to know. Actually, in a class of over 300, there were plenty of people I hadn't known even then. So you go up to someone and say, "Hi, I'm ...." and they say "Hi, I'm ..." and then you both stand there.

There are people I remember though, some (besides my sister-in-law) I've kept in touch with over the years. Not a lot, but a few.

Tonight's the Big Event, a dinner dance. So far it's just warm up.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


UPDATE: Email from Tupelo Press:

7th Annual First Book Award Winner Announced
David St John has selected:

Cloisters by Kristin LaTour

as the winner of Tupelo Press's 7th Annual First Book Award.

Runners up:

Phebus Etienne, Montclair, NJ Chainstitching
Diane Kirsten Martin, San Francisco, CA Demimonde
Susan Settlemyre Williams, Richmond, VA Ashes in Midair
Pamela Sutton, Philadelphia, PA Bone House Broken
Angela Shaw, Swarthmore, PA The Beginning of the Fields
Eleanor Stanford, Philadelphia, PA The Book of Sleep

And (sigh) so it goes…

So late last night I was printing out a submission from my manuscript, and I discovered a mistake. A prose poem of six paragraphs or sections is missing the last section. I'm pretty sure this happened when I moved the manuscript from FrameMaker to Word sometime last spring. Adobe doesn't support FrameMaker for Macintosh System X, so I was forced to do that. Yes, I intend to get a MacBook (hello, son!) when I can so I can run both operating systems, but I haven't been in the position to.

I don't know whether to email the press where my manuscript is being considered or not. I don't want to make a pest of myself. Surely, it doesn't matter that much, and yet it does. This poem leads the section it is in, the third of five sections. I wonder how many other mistakes have crept into my manuscript over time. I hate to think.

I'm generally feeling stressed out of late. I leave for the high school reunion the day after tomorrow. I'm working on finishing my contract by the last week of September and starting a new contract with a different company on October 2, my thirtieth wedding anniversary. I need to make reservations for a trip to NYC at the end of that month. We've got two weddings to attend on consecutive weekends in that neighborhood, so we'll be doing NYC for our anniversary. Anybody know some reasonably priced B&Bs or other places to stay there? We're both from there, but it's been years.

I wish I would get some good news to pack away and sustain me during this reunion trip. The kind of news that doesn't wrinkle.

Friday, September 01, 2006

3-Day Weekend

Woohoo! Check this out! (Maybe it's been out there forever, but you know...)

Warning: rather noisy.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Mo' Update

Only posting because it's about time someone posted here. Robert won't be, since his mom is in the hospital. So this is my news, and it's not good: I got a very nice no thanks from the superduper press I was waiting on. I'd be lying if I didn't say I'm disappointed and depressed and dismayed and all the rest of dis.

Still a chance that the Famous Poet will pick me as a winner of competition number 18, but I wouldn't lay any big bets on it. Pretty soon this will start fermenting into a whine, so I'll stop here.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Poetry and Islam

Maybe I should begin with a warning that this post is rather inflammatory, with comments both critical and in praise of Islam.

To start with the critical, I find it hard to totally dismiss the controversial remarks of someone like Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith, who argues that it is dangerously sentimental to refuse to consider the possibility that some religions may simply be morally superior to others. He asserts, for example, that Buddhism is superior to Islam:

You cannot deny that the Israeli occupation is at least part of the problem. The Israeli settlers are themselves religious extremists who are putting us all in danger. Their notion of God as some omniscient real-estate broker is one of the principal sources of conflict between the West and Islam. But anyone who thinks western or Israeli imperialism solves the riddle of Muslim violence must explain why we don’t see Tibetan suicide bombers killing Chinese children. The Tibetans have suffered every bit as much as the Palestinians. Over a million of them died as a direct result of the Chinese occupation of their country. Where are the Tibetan suicide bombers? Where is their cult of martyrdom? Where are the throngs of Tibetans seething with hatred, calling for the deaths of the Chinese? They are not likely to exist. What is the difference that makes the difference? Religion.
To switch to a radically different perspective, though, and a much longer historical perspective, one that sees the dare-I-say beauty of Islam, I think any artist, but especially any poet, has to acknowledge an enormous debt to Islam. Thinkers like Joseph Campbell have long argued that something unique in human history was born sometime around the 12th Century in southern Europe and northern Africa, something that arose out of the unique meeting there of Christian, Jewish, and Islamic influences.

Campbell essentially argues that Islamic culture opened the Judeo-Christian mind in a way that ultimately resulted in the Renaissance, and this opening was first visible in the flowering of poetry—from the Provencal love poetry of the troubadours through Dante to the central stream of “Western” poetry that continues to this day.

But the argument goes further and says that the Islam-inspired troubadours, with their praise of an individual’s love for another individual (as opposed to both spiritual and carnal love and desire for everyone) made possible the Renaissance assertion of individual vision.

In effect, the troubadours made possible not only Dante and Keats, but Galileo. It’s not a coincidence that Provencal poetry is also one of the origins of the figure of the jester, that archetypal questioner of authority (including Shakespeare’s king-mocking fools), and the jester itself may go back to Islamic-Sufi figures like Mullah Nasrudin, whose “jokes” are often compared (to bring this post full circle) to Zen koans. As one of Nasrudin’s stories says:

“Nasrudin, is your religion orthodox?”

“It all depends,” said Nasrudin, “on which bunch of heretics is in power.”

Saturday, August 19, 2006


Go check out Robert's poem on Verse Daily!

Friday, August 18, 2006


“Do stuff. Be clenched, curious. Not waiting for inspiration’s shove or society’s kiss on your forehead. Pay attention. It’s all about paying attention. Attention is vitality. It connects you with others. It makes you eager. Stay eager.”

--Susan Sontag

Monday, August 14, 2006

Update on update

Just thought I'd show up here and bring this blog up-to-date (more or less) on what's going on with me. In a previous post, I mentioned 1) waiting for word on my ms., 2) waiting for word on a job, 3) waiting to hear if an article written on spec would be accepted. Well, 1) still waiting, 2) they gave it to someone they'd offered it to before they interviewed me, 3) no.

The manuscript is still being considered by a press. I'm also waiting on a competition where I'm a finalist and where the judge is still deciding (#17). I just heard from another competition, where I found out I was a finalist after it was all over. So I suppose that is/was #18. Is there a Guiness Book of Records entry for these things, folks?

I'm also working--another contract job. I'm not complaining. I get to stay at home and write. The view from my window is stunning. My garden has never seen this much sun, and it's loving it. Also, I'm in charge of my own hours. As soon as I finish this cup of tea, I'm going to the YMCA to work out. TTYL.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Ashland Idyll

Linda, Annie and I are in Ashland at the theater festival where life is good. We have a suite overlooking Lithia Creek (could it be lithium in the water? is that why everyone's so mellow?). These days we have to get a suite in order to have some separateness between the teenager and the parents. We've seen 3 plays, one more tonight. We had dinner last night at an Italian restaurant (Cucina Biazzi) that not many tourists here know about, off the beaten track, but as good or better than any in the Bay Area. We heard about it from a friend in Mt Shasta.

So, the theater. Actually the options were disappointing this year. We've seen three, one more tonight ("Bus Stop"). "Intimate Apparel," about a black seamstress in Lower Manhattan in the early 1900s, was very good. "The Importance of Being Earnest" not so good (both female leads BAD), and "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" (which Annie chose) way better than expected. Great performances, but even better, a nuanced exploration of the mind through a Victorian lens. The mind being one of my favorite subject (e.g., former posts), I was happy. I'd expected something a little more heavy-handed, good and evilish.

It's easy to be happy here, even with a cranky teenager in tow. Weather in the 70s, everyone here for the plays, abundant good food, lovely valley ringed with mountains, and the backstage tour fascinating. Just a little unreal. Sort of like going to the Napa Valley conference only you don't have to produce anything.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Not so...

After reading the Bill Knott interview that Eduardo sent me to, I can hardly complain. I just wanted to update: I did not get the Perfect Job, but will start in again on a contract job on Monday.

No news on the manuscript or article.

Weather here sunny and in the low 70s. I wrote a bit (revised). I may do some gardening. Dog is with John. I may take myself for a walk.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006


Sonoma Roses
I'm not a photographer. When you are married to a photographer for 30 years, using a camera can be about as intuitive as moonwalking. Yet the early evening light on the roses Scott (thanks, Scott!) brought down from Sonoma on Sunday (our workshop day) has been so beautiful that I had to try. I really like the way the picture came out. It makes me think of the light in Vermeer's oil paintings.

Still no definite word on anything, but as far as I know, I'm not out of the running for the job I applied for. I've been offered another contract, which makes things a wee bit hairy. I'm not good at juggling.

But anyway, I've been enjoying the end of my slow summer, of staring off into my garden, of wearing flip-flops, of sipping my peppermint tea. The grind will start again soon.

Oh, I'm also reading a very interesting book (actually reading about six books, multi-tasking) called After Confession: Poetry as Autobiography. It's a collection of essays, edited by Kate Sontag and David Graham and published by Graywolf, by everyone you could think of, practically, about the question or questions involved in writing from or about or in or around the first person. I got the book in Interlibrary loan, but I may have to buy it so I can mark it up, digest it.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006


Update on job situation below: I found out that I am at least still in the running for the perfect job, mentioned below-- although they continue to interview more candidates. So, still waiting and hoping here.

I'm playing a waiting game here -- hardly an exciting thing to blog about, but I don't have much of anything else to say. What am I waiting for? At least three things, at the moment....

I'm waiting to hear about a job that I interviewed for yesterday. I would be soooo perfect for this job. If you people who interviewed me yesterday are reading this, I really would be awesome, despite my possibly dorky interview answers. Unfortunately, rest of the world, I can't give any more details, lest I blow a really good thing, but stay tuned.

Also, I'm waiting to hear about my manuscript. Yes, I know that's not exactly news. But above and beyond the multiple competitions I've entered and open submissions I've submitted to, Demimonde is being considered now at a publisher that asked to see it. How cool is that? And I'm a finalist (again), one of 25, in one of the aforesaid competitions. (This is #17, folks.) So I may yet see this book published before I die!

I've also submitted a review I've written, on spec -- not an earthshaking thing, but interesting, and I'm waiting to hear the outcome of that.

And that's all the news, or most of it. I wrote a check today for the high school reunion I'm going to in September. Lord help me. It's a 38th high school reunion, and across the country from me. It's costing me money I don't have, and I just hope it isn't too horrible.

The weather here may be the best anywhere, now. It's been pushing 80° or maybe 85° during the day, but a blessed fog is in this evening, and the mornings have started cool as well. My house is high on a hill and faces west. With one window open there (the only one that does open at present) and the back door open to the deck, it's been just lovely all day The dog has stayed with me, rather than go up with John to San Rafael where it's been in the 100s. She's eleven now, and moves slowly enough. In the heat, she moves so slowly, she might as well be going backwards!

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Unformulated Experience

I've gone missing from poetry for a while, a pretty long while for me. Needed to be away, for various reasons, but mainly the pot has just felt empty. What I'm full of late is, not poetry, but a project exploring the nature of unformulated experience, (a term from psychoanalyst Donnel Stern). Rather than thinking of the unconscious mind as attic space, where unwanted, hated, repressed, discarded parts of experience stay stored away, the unconscious is what one has never been able to experience because it's never been constructed linguistically. The mind being primarily a linguistic organ, we require words to think. We can't make anything conscious or available for reflection without language. People in therapy, whether they realize it or not, are reaching for ways to create new emotional experience rather than to recover it.

The connection with poetry is clear. What people do in therapy is, in some ways, a loose, uncrafted version of what poets do, i.e., create something new through speech. What stops us is the limits on our ability to think and create. Experience becomes restircted to old, familiar linguistic pathways. We may know other possibilities exist but like ultraviolet light we don't have the equipment to experience it directly.

People come to new understanding & experience in therapy (freer understanding and experience) by creating words for it. These experiences may be just out of reach or far out of reach. Even close to awareness they can't make the leap. Speech in therapy is encoded, requires another mind to read between the lines, so to speak. There's a distinct aesthetic to clinical work.

Psychodynamic training plays with theories of the mind, but the effort of learning to listen & grasp elusive qualities of clinical expression is similar to learning to read poetry (and other writing than relies on linguistic devices like associative leaps, word play, imagery, etc). Like being able to understand, appreciate atonal music or contemporary art, it takes exposure and reflection on one's experience of it. Otherwise these things seem crazy and alienating (like some of contemporary poetry...).

I'm going to teach a class on this eventually.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Those darn Irish

Poetry Daily has posted a really interesting interview with Eamon Grennan, which is from the current Kenyon Review. I often joke with John (my husband), whose mom is from Dublin, that the Irish poet could say, "Pass the salt," and sound good. And that's not even counting their influences and education, which seem to give their poetry a great advantage. But Eamon Grennan has spent as much of his life (or more of it) here in the States, so there are those influences too -- though he admits to insulating himself quite a lot from popular culture. Here's a bit of the interview, just to tease you and get you to read the rest:

"...The whole issue of lyricism is about fragmentation, for me anyway. The moment. The fragment. Fracture. The things seen in passing. The notion that things halt but only in our imagination for a half a second and poetry is an attempt to slow things down a bit and hold on. ...

...I'm very interested in the nonreductive, not forcing the thing to make sense, but allowing it to hover with a number of senses. That's some of the work I've done. You don't do these things consciously. When I read my own work, I see that I'm trying to get many things to move around one another centrifugally and centripetally at the same time. To shoot off and come in. What did Frost say a poem was? "A momentary state against confusion." That's what interests me – the attempt to bring many things into some balance, into a kinetic equilibrium. It's what atomic theory tells us is the case. I know nothing of that, really, but the little picture we are given of the atom and the molecule and the things inside the atom, the whirl of things that make the desk, your hair. If you slowed it down you'd start to see the everything start to disintegrate, but it's held together. That seems to be what lyric poetry is all about, holding together the stuff that is flying off. That would be my metaphor for it anyway – sort of molecular activity. ..."

I very much like this.

Thursday, July 13, 2006


I’m not a ballet fan, but I happened to read Joan Acocella’s review of “Giselle” in The New Yorker and was struck by the opening paragraph:

Diana Vishneva, a principal dancer at the Kirov Ballet and at American Ballet Theatre, once told Francis Mason, of Ballet Review, that in any ballet she always tried to find “a particular thing that allows me to know what I am doing with the role, not just to do it beautifully.” She needed, she said, to find her own “secret.” Sometimes when you hear such words, you tremble. Many theatrical absurdities—chaste Carmens, happy Hamlets—have been perpetrated by people on similar quests. But, in a performance of “Giselle” . . . at A.B.T. in mid-June, Vishneva . . . did find her own secret to that ballet, and the result was a show that left people sitting dazed in their seats afterward.

That’s just how I feel when I’m writing a poem! I can work and work on a poem but it never quite comes together until I feel that I’ve found the poem’s secret. Not that the poem needs to reveal its secret in some corny epiphany—in fact it’s probably better if it does not!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Chain Link

Giving credit where credit is due department: David Galenson "discovered" it, Daniel Pink wrote about it, Wired published it, Jilly Dybka (Poetry Hut Blog) posted it, C.Dale Young linked to it, Robert Thomas pointed me to it. I'm talking about this theory that there are two kinds of geniuses, the ones whose brilliance flowers at an early age (the Conceptualists) and the ones who slowly come into their own later in life (the Experimentalists). Wow! You can see right off why this excites me; it means hope for those of us who have gray hair as well as gray matter (heh, heh -- figuratively speaking, because I'm not gray) and have more lines in their faces than their bios.

I'm actually interested in the whole concept of creativity and genius, beyond the need to prop up my perennially sagging self-esteem. I've always wondered how much opportunity, encouragement, and, well, luck has to do with the making of genius. You may think I'm finding excuses yet again, but take, for instance, everyone's favorite example of genius: Picasso. What he painted at fourteen just totally boggles the mind. But. Picasso's dad was an artist. No genius, he was a competent painter who was also a teacher. He recognized young Pablo's talent. (In fact, it is said that he gave the 16-year-old Pablo his brushes and he himself never painted again.)

What if Picasso had a dad like mine? My dad refused to let me apply to a liberal arts college with a creative writing department because, he said, no self-respecting man would ever go there. Note: I'm not now nor ever was a man. But Dad was sending me to college to get married, and the kind of man that filled the bill didn't apply there.

I'm just commenting. This is light years away from the article referenced above. But it ties in with it in my mind as well as to other reports I've been reading about young women who don't consider themselves Feminists (and, bless 'em, don't need to).

Over and out, for now.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Something Uncontrollable

In case I’ve been missed, I’ve been working on a series of poems about this woman, La Donna Velata. With any luck, I’ll be finished sometime in 2008. I saw this portrait in Rome over 25 years ago, and though I’ve never been back, it’s haunted me ever since. Painted by Raphael about ten years after Leonardo painted Mona Lisa, for me it has all the mystery and force that I imagine people found in Mona Lisa before it became a cliché. As this article in The Guardian says about the painting:

Something uncontrollable is happening under her rich clothes, as the silk of her sleeve goes into convulsions, but she looks back at you boldly. Vasari thought this was the woman for whom Raphael lusted to death. Others say it was a baker’s daughter. All that’s certain is that this is a different Raphael, painting like an open-hearted Venetian and not a Roman careerist. Pity he didn’t do it more often.

Friday, June 30, 2006

End o' June

End of day, end of week, end of month. I'm finished with my contract. There are no more sessions of my class. I'm oddly relaxed. The fear of what comes next hasn't set in yet.

Today, where I live, we had about two hours of sun. Now a fierce wind has started up as the sun and fog vie for control.

I want to say more, but I'm very tired. Here's a link to a strange but appealing video inspired by Blake's Tyger.

Next day--The link isn't working properly. I'll try and embed the video here:

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Prelude to Fireworks

I liked this bit from an interview with A.S. Byatt:

One of my theories of British literature is that it suddenly began to flower—the British novel—in the 1970s because the novelists realized they didn’t give a damn about literary theory. Or literary critics. And they started telling stories. And the reviewers were still saying, you know, stories are vulgar. Everything is random and haphazard and kind of a miasma. But the storytellers, people like Salman Rushdie and Angela Carter, continued telling stories. I'm sure it has to do with a kind of split in my generation between university and being a writer.

And yes, as hinted by the mysterious “R” in Diane’s post below, I’m heading off for a week in North Carolina for a writers’ conference and Fourth of July 30th anniversary celebration of the Warren Wilson MFA program, fireworks and all. Mostly I hope to sit in the sun (or the thunderstorms), but there will also be workshops, readings, etc. (I’ll be part of a reading on July 3 if you’re in the neighborhood).

The poets in my workshop have already exchanged poems, and it’s a pretty impressive selection. What’s most impressive, I think, is how different all the poems are. We’re all Warren Wilson alumni, but I’m glad to see we’re not stamped in a Warren Wilson mold but have gone in radically different directions. That probably says more about the quality of the writing program there than anything else I can think of!


D: Well, you must be gearing up to go. Are you doing your usual packing light? I couldn't do that... Are you going to have time to blog before you leave? I could post something I suppose....

R: I leave Thursday morning. Yeah, I'm packing light. I plan to take just one carry-on bag, although I'm also shipping myself a small box of books to sell while I'm there. I'm not going with intentions of getting a lot (or any!) work done. I just plan to hang out with people (or by myself), maybe go for walks in the Blue Ridge Mountains, sit and read, etc. I'm not bringing much reading material, though. I'm bringing The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, which I probably mentioned I've started, and that's probably all.

I don't know about blogging. I just get a sick feeling of guilt now every time I look at the blog because I know I should be posting more but I just can't get into it.

D: Oh don't get a sick feeling of guilt about that. There are plenty of other things more important to worry about than the blog. I'll see if I can post something today. I just don't want to post anything that I'll be sorry if my class reads. And I don't want to jinx anything re my manuscript. And that leaves?

R: You could blog about some of the interesting stuff you were saying a few days ago about confessional poetry etc., distinguishing between honesty and nakedness, between matter-of-fact nakedness and exhibitionist nakedness, etc. Poetry does seem to be split between these two extremes of people who believe that only "abstract" poetry is valid, preferably a sort of abstract un-expressionism, and people who believe that only naked poetry is valid, preferably a sort of graphic nakedness, Portrait of the Artist Menstruating.

D: You mean: "I really like what you have to say about lines. (I may quote you.) I think that I felt the short lines indicated a lot of pauses, as you say....

When you say that TH is in favor of confessional, are you sure that you don't just mean narrative? I know some people equate the two. I see a difference among a) poetry that is strictly confessional--and maybe only people like Dorianne Laux are doing that now--or has she even moved beyond that; b) poetry that uses emotionally charged seeds to go somewhere (but those seeds may not even be organic to the writer)--exemplified perhaps by C. Dale's poem "Torn" or for that matter by my "Mom Poem," and c) poetry that is narrative, but maybe more distant from the writer (though Freud might say it's not!) like your narratives. And I suppose there's a whole range above, beyond, between, left, right, and center from all these. A lot has to do with intention, I think. Is the point "what happened," or is what happened merely the kinetic force of the stream? A lot depends on, too, how important it is that the reader believes X,Y, and Z really happened to the writer. That is, when you read the body of Sexton's work, you get a good idea of the realities of her life. Or Lowell's of his life. You don't get that from mine, I don't think, even if I used pinpoints of recollection in "Sonhar," for example, to evoke the flavor of a non-working relationship. Maybe I'm saying it's the difference between being honest emotionally (and I think your poems are) and being naked, even a difference between being naked in a functional way and exhibitionistic, like a flasher. Of course I'm showing my prejudices here..."

Friday, June 16, 2006

Fanny and Alexander Meet Al Gore

I haven’t yet seen the Al Gore movie, An Inconvenient Truth, about global warming, but I know it warns about earth reaching a “tipping point,” possibly in the very near future if we haven’t reached it already, where the destructive effects of global warming will be impossible to turn around. Bear with me here, but last night I happened to find Bergman’s great film Fanny and Alexander on TV and watched it again. What it made me realize is that the human race may also be at a tipping point when it comes to our emotional, psychological life, the life of the soul. This film is incredibly rich in imagery and imagination, so sensual and philosophical at once, and has an emotional range that would be inconceivable not only in most Hollywood movies but almost anywhere in our society.

I think it’s this issue of emotional range that for me is the key. I imagine that if you hear sounds and music only within a narrow frequency, or see colors only within a narrow band of the spectrum, you slowly but surely become blind and deaf to anything outside that narrow band. Once that happens, you just can’t hear those sounds or see those colors anymore. You’ve lost them for good. Doesn’t the same thing happen when we’re only exposed to a narrow range of emotions day after day in the media? We literally can’t feel anything outside that range anymore. This is serious! When you wonder why people don’t feel more outrage at Bush claiming a God-given right to ignore the law, is it perhaps because they’ve crossed a tipping point where they can literally no longer feel that sort of outrage? Have our hearts atrophied to the point where they are so small that once they’re filled with the fake sentimental emotions of talk shows and politicians, there’s no room for anything else? If they haven’t reached that point yet, they’re moving in that direction, and there will come a tipping point. Isn’t that exactly why poetry and art are so crucial? They’re all that keep us open to something more than the pablum we’re fed every day. Okay, end of rant. See the film. Both of them—they’re connected!