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.