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.