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 Gl├╝ck
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.