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 CafĂ©
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.