Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Next Big Thing (take 2)

So, I tagged a couple of other writers whose writing I adore but they do not have blogs or websites yet so I've offered to host their responses here:  First up the beautiful and talented: Amy Glynn Greacen:

What is the working title of the book?

Romance Language

Where did the idea come from for the book?

Oh, kind of a confluence of things. A lot of elegies and Love Gone Wrong poems. Poems with settings where those actual languages are spoken. A lot of toying with Romanticism. And a seemingly irresistible urge to set particle physics up on a blind date with Tantra.

This is what that date would look like.

What genre does your book fall under?

Non-Lucrative / Irrelevant. That is to say, poems.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

I find it is quite difficult to cast poems and would really need a sensitive auteur director type and a badass casting director who could talk anyone into anything including not working for scale.  That said, not that I would ever be solipsistic enough to write anything “autobiographical” but supposing I did, Julianne Moore: call me, sweetie! I think Pete Posselthwaite would have been a great Giordano Bruno, but as we’ve lost him, I’d go Ben Kingsley or Alan Rickman, both of whom have gravitas and a world-class glower. Do you think I could get Orlando Bloom to play Bernini? Other cast members (this list is not complete and I can’t disclose whom they would be playing) would include Robert Sean Leonard, Cary Elwes, Dev Patel, Alexander Skarsgaard, and David Duchovny. Actually, you know what, Skarsgaard can just hang out in my trailer. In fact, can I demand that?

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

Love will, in fact, kill you.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

A year so far and am a little over half done. That said, a few of the poems in this collection were written much longer ago than that, including one that took 15 years to finish. That is not a typo.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Again, a confluence. Several unrequited love situations. Two trips to Italy. James Merrill’s Ouija board. And my own ongoing fascination with science and mysticism.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

There is a lot of sex in it! Is your interest piqued? If you are a reputable literary agent or publishing entity whose interest is piqued by sex and high energy physics – CALL ME.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Well, considering agents won’t touch your poetry unless you also wrote Harry Potter or are a rock star on the side, and considering self-publishing is also a much more viable route for rock musicians than for anyone who wants a teaching gig, a grant, a fellowship, or any form of academic cred, I’m hoping the answer is NEITHER. Unless of course my agent is dealing with it because my novel happened to sell for seven figures right around the time this book was ready to go ship. Otherwise I’m afraid we’re stuck with “blind-judged” Competition Roulette. Won’t that be nice? Because I have really enjoyed the past three years playing Competition Lotto with my first book. I have been Matron of Honor for some of the finest publication awards in our great nation – in a couple of cases multiple years in a row! It is exceedingly rewarding to know how close you were. Isn’t it?

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Next Big Thing

For the purposes of relevant and full disclosure in sole relation to my own specific publication and not to be attributed beyond this author--

Amendment to the Title:
The Next Kind of Large Thing

Amendment to the Amendment of the Title:

 The Next Smallish As in Garden Gnome Sized Thing

Or just choose your own title for this:

 The Next Drop in The Ocean Thing

 The Next Hydrogen and Oxygen Particle Sized Thing Collected in the Rain Gutters All Across the World Thing

The Singular Glistening Salt Crystal Dangling On The Quivering Chin Begotten From One Watery Tear Whence the Eyes of the Forlorn Poet Thing.  

Ok.  We can start.  I apologize beforehand to those who I have already offended or who I will offend.  Or nevermind.  I think I should stop apologizing for my work now .

What is the working title of your book?

Axe in Hand

Question about the Question:  

What does “working” mean?  I mean… are you implying some titles are lazy and do not work, are you saying that some titles just sit around all day, forget to take showers, wear the same underwear for a week and spend too much time on the internet?? I think you’re implying that some titles are on welfare.  Well, screw you.  This question must be a part of an anti-democratic communist/socialist type of agenda. FYI my title works when it wants to work.  My title works when it is inspired to work.  Worry about your own title. Yeah, I hear your title “works” your title “gets around” your title has been rubbing up on all the other titles and can’t be trusted. 

Where did the idea come from for your book?

Q-tips: Instruments of Death

My thesis advisor and writing mentor R.H.W. Dillard and I would often go through our advisory sessions not talking about my writing—that seemed too much drudgery, and instead we began this game, a kind of mental challenge…the “Anything Can Be Used to Kill You” idea. My argument was: No, anything cannot be used to kill you as there are some objects that are utterly harmless.  So each time we’d meet I’d come up with a list of items that I thought could in no way cause harm. From a single feather to rubber-bands (too easy) to Q-tips and cotton-balls he always came up with some morbid story in which the item could be used to kill.
So, then I started thinking about what it means to be a weapon, and I figured fine, if anything can become a weapon to kill you then the opposite is true also, objects that kill can also save…and from there, well…

There was an Axe.  There was a hand. To make an axe you have to use an axe…and you have to have a hand to hold the axe to make the axe, see? So, yeah, in simple terms this metaphor means: You use what you have and it is perfectly fine to use members of my family in poems. (Is this destructive, is it a weapon or is it something that saves?) I don’t claim to know but for conscience’s sake I will hold to the latter.

Is this person about to kill you or chop down a tree for firewood?

Often, and I unapologetically confess here: I borrowed (hacked out) as many ideas, images, themes, words as I could from every poem or story I have ever read and internalized.  Yes, all things… from Oscar Wilde’s The SelfishGiant to Poe’s Annabel Lee.  There’s some hero mythology, a touch of Frost and a quarter of a pound of Pound, yes, Eliot (whatever I can be inspired by who I want to be inspired by) and a nod to Snyder’s Axe Handles and other Axe poems (dating back to the earliest) and of course there is the turtle, (Claudia Emerson) and physics (Michio Kaku) and a ballad, (Dolly Parton) because what’s poetry without music and science and a turtle?  I wanted a poem of a horse in there carrying secret acrostic messages, because who doesn’t love Chekov and Nabokov… but I just couldn’t make it fit. Also Bogan, Oliver, Olds, Wier…and too many contemporary poets to name. 

Well, wow, that all seems way too complicated and likely a bunch of bullshit.  No one cares about that.  This explains the germination, the origins of, but it is never just one thing and most likely really it is just one thing, the one thing I have neglected to remember and mention. Isn’t this annoying?  I think I've just embodied the reason so many people hate poetry.

 Okay.  How’s this?  Ignore the above.

Life is really hard sometimes. Sometimes life sucks.  I would rather life be joyful. I would rather it have meaning. I would rather find some spots of humor in the darkness. I believe Poetry can be funny and serious at the same time especially when you attempt to answer the question:  What makes life suck less? Words can be a weapon, yes, but words can save too.  At least that’s my hopeful opinion.

What genre does your book fall under?

Boil on the Butt of the Literary World
(a.k.a. Poetry)

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

This book is fairly schizophrenic. It's rather a mess.  I can’t imagine Axe in Hand as a movie unless it was something like Pink Floyd’s The Wall, with appropriate psychotic stimulants applied, or What Dreams May Come with Robin Williams plus a dash of Attack of the Killer Tomatoes and a dollop of the Night of the Lupine.

 Or perhaps My Little Pony visits One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, or no, more like Scooby Doo and the Mystery Crew take on the Ghost of Lizzie Borden.  There are poems with insects as the main characters, and poems with missing body parts as the “character” so I guess we could go the direction of The Fly.

However, in between the morbid gathering of “Freak Shows” I have included many personal poems about my children and family so I’ll just pick their characters: 

  • Halee, the oldest, would be Batman: Absolutely not the Val Kilmer one though.
  • Ashley, the second oldest, would be Michelle Pfeiffer: early Grease 2 version.  Or Xena, the warrior princess.  She’s fairly intimidating when she’s angry.
  •  Ben, the middle child, would be Carl from the Walking Dead, or Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory. 
  • Analee, the second youngest, would totally be Buffy the Vampire slayer.  Or a Care Bear.
  • Matt the youngest would be a muppet.  I mean that it a good way.  I think muppets are awesome. 
  •  So I’d probably be like one too, Oscar the Grouch maybe though I’d rather be Glenda the Good Witch because I always really dug her big fluffy gown.
  • My Dad would be a cowboy-- any cowboy.  
  • My husband would be Gerald Butler.  Hello? 300? Irish Accent? No, really...
Nevermind. Here's Michael Fass-whatever...who cares.  Much better than Butler.  (P.S. You're Welcome.)

What was I saying? Umm. Huh? Oh yeah, characters:

  • My Mom would be a cross between Mrs. Trelawney of Hogwarts and Sinead O’Conner, who I know is not a character or actress but it’s my world so I do what I want.
  • My brother would be Sisyphus.  Because he is.
  • My sister would be the moon.  Because she is.
  • My grandmothers would be the paper and the ink, because they are.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

There are, in this our strange universe of entropy, on this speck on which we live, so many seemingly unrelated moments and yet some of the events that seem to occur at random (yes some just are random) but sometimes, when you look long enough and get really lucky there is a pattern that reveals itself in these fractals of repeating sounds and images, snowflakes against the windshield of a car, or like the chorus of a song---the ring around the roses pocket full of posies that you learned as a child that you never can forget, the meaning behind the thing…the I am here…why the hell am I here…the why have so many people just checked out of this world early, the why do I have to watch my own children suffer because of that, the plucked petals of he loves me he loves me not…


 Never mind. That’s getting way out of hand and too complicated again.  One sentence, okay, here:

It’s about life and death and shit and not always in that order.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

I hate this question.  

Not that it’s a bad question or more or less interesting than any other question I just don’t like thinking about it or remembering the process of it any more than I try to recall or enjoy sharing memories of the exact moment in labor one of my children crowned…sorry about the visual and the cliche' of comparing the writing process to the birthing process but with five kids I get a pass on that and you probably get it now, right?

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I can't remember where I stole this picture from.  Sorry.  If it's yours let me know and I'll give you credit for it.

What else about your book might pique a reader’s interest?

Poetry is air. Or…Poetry is breath.  You need air to breathe and you need to breathe to live.  So it logically follows that you need to buy and read this book so you don’t die of asphyxiation (I spelled that right on the first try.  You might not be impressed but I just surprised the hell out of myself.)

In short: You will DIE if you do not read poetry.  Believe it.  Poetry is not dead.  You are.  If you don't read it. Poetry, (good poetry I mean) and specifically this book: Axe in Hand, of course. 

So, do you want to live or not?

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

It was published around this time last year, NYQ Books.  I’d never self-publish a poetry collection.  I’m just not that good.  

Okay, so the way this works is first of all Thank you, wonderful, amazingly talented soul-sistah, Kelli Allen for tagging me for this (bet you regret it now huh?)

Next up for "The Next Big Thing"  TAG you are IT: C.L. Bledsoe who writes so many reviews for others I thought he should review himself.  Amy Glynn Greacen who does not yet have a book published but she has a manuscript and a ton of awards, has been in Best New Poets so many times you can't really call her "new" anymore, and why some fools have passed her up I do not know.  I'm thinking this should be her year.  Also this next lady is SO smart and personable and a "cross between Yeats and a seasoned moonshiner:" Elizabeth Leigh Hadaway...come on down!  Mara Eve Robbins, what's up?

Friday, July 29, 2011

Not Knowing What to Say, Still Finding a Way to Say it

Often there are times in my life where I deal with being mute, overwhelmed with all that happens from day to day.  I use music and writing to find my way.  This helped.  Hope it helps you.

And one for my brother:


Repetition leads to insanity, but I am grateful
for the shade.  Grateful for the colonials
which almost seem planted to shield my face
from the mid-day sun.  Oh my brother,
there you are in your cell, again, me in mine.
Wasn’t our childhood fucked up?
We both knew that the red room was haunted,
but never spoke of it.

 So isolated,
yet  rising together, bubbles in a vat of tar
rolling in the heat of self-pity.  Enough of this being together
in our aloneness bullshit.   Let’s talk.
I cannot handle anyone being too near, won’t be touched
or held for too long, and even my children’s fingers
on my face or in my hair is unbearable.  You always knew
this about me, always gave me safe distance, until now.

A thousand miles and I don’t know how many steel bars
separating us. I can’t call you to ask:  Are you safe?
 Are you scared?  Can you breathe?
Can you sleep at night?

I remember the trailer park and the boys
who hid in the bushes, threw rocks at you.
I chased them down and caught one,
knocked him to the road and rubbed his face in gravel.
The violence was a joy, as close to feeling happy
as I’d ever felt, and I demanded punishment,
told you to stick up for yourself, told you to punch him
or bite him, or kick him, 
anywhere, hard.  But you, with the bruises rising
on your face, you with your wounded eyes,
looking at me like I had been the one to hurt you,
would not come near me,
would not touch him.

I thought you were a coward. I thought revenge
was justice. I didn’t know it then but you showed me
justice is less about getting even,
and more about just getting through. 

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Poetry Matters: A List of Loved Poems and the People Who Love Them

—in no particular order:

1. Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken,” Dennise Westland
2. Mara Eve Robbins, “Sequence 134,340— Phases of Pluto,” Elizabeth Matthew Jones
3. W.S. Merwin, “A Birthday,” and “Separation,” Pamela Johnson Parker
4. James Merrill, “Lost in Translation,” Constantine P. Cavafy “Ithaka” and Robert Frost, “Directive,” Amy Glynn Greacen
5. Chris Haven, “Janis Joplin’s Eulogy to the Graduating Class of Thomas Jefferson High in Port Arthur Texas, 1960,” Judy Swann
6. Louis Bogan “Several Voices Out of a Cloud,” Elizabeth Hadaway
7. Elizabeth Bishop, “One Art,” Sharon Miller
8. Richard Siken, “Litany in Which Certain Things Are Crossed Out” Megan Hippler
9. Samuel Becket, “what would I do without this world” and Theodore Roethke, “The Waking,” James Priestley
10. Louis Bogan, “The Night,” Chris Noonan
11. Edward Dorn, “The Sundering UP the Tracks,” Tuli Kupferberg, “Nothing,” Steve Bunch
12. Percy Byshhe Shelly, “Ozymandias,” Ken Thornsbury
13. Mary Oliver, “Wild Geese,” Mara Eve Robbins
How this list was compiled: April was National Poetry Month and I decided to write an article including my own 25 top picks for poems, and then my computer died a horrible death, sending all my writing files to the darker realms of cyber-hell and all my hopes and dreams into the deepest of all abysmal abysses. Abysmal Abysses. Say that ten times fast. Now pretend you are Elmer Fudd and say it. (See, better now, life doesn’t sound so bad when you are lisping.) When rewriting this article, pulling myself up by my bootstraps, figuratively speaking, though literally if I had boots I imagine they would have straps—to the point though, I had an epiphany: I don’t want to know what I already know, I want to know what other people feel about their own favorite poems, or maybe it was just that my fingers started cramping and I got tired, one or the other. Anyway, I posted this question on facebook: “What's your favorite poem, ever? Or right now. Right this minute. Now. No, now. What poem, or lines of, is/are stuck in your brain at this time?” The above list was born from that question. I then gave the participators the chance to participate further, if they so chose, and asked, like I usually do about everything, “Why?” Here are those responses:
1. My name is Dennise Westland and I chose Robert Frost's poem "The Road Less Traveled." I am a student at Virginia Western Community College and transferring to Radford University to get a Bachelors in Biology. I chose this poem because I am at a transitional place in my life; I'm at a fork in the road. Unlike most teenagers my age, I'm 100 percent focused on my studies instead of being in the social scene. I'm taking the path less traveled by.
2. “Pluto—poor, poor, poor Pluto.” Elizabeth Matthew Jones is from Roanoke, VA. She studied creative writing and theatre at Hollins University.
3. From: “A Birthday” by W. S. Merwin (Flower & Hand)

and each waking to you
when I open my eyes you are what I wanted to see.

After only three months, my boyfriend proposed to me, at dawn, with these lines. I'd turned him down six times before, but this time…what an aubade! Ten years later, early one Saturday morning, he repeated these lines to me on the birth of our daughter, Raleigh.

Elizabeth Bishop writes in "Filling Station," that "somebody loves us all." When I recall these lines of Merwin and Harvey's earnest face, I remember who and when and always.

Your absence has gone through me  
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.

"Separation," by W.S. Merwin (The First Four Books of Poetry)

Last summer, after 23 years of a brilliant marriage, my husband died.  These lines of Merwin have held me together, much as the patches of a quilt are held together, by often-invisible stitching.  The thread runs true.  Even though Harvey's no longer physically here, he still gives my life its color. I've continued to write for this reason. 

Pamela Johnson Parker is the author of A Walk Through the Memory Palace and Other Four- Letter Words.  A four-time Pushcart nominee, her work is included in journals such as Oranges and Sardines, New Madrid, Ocho, and Anti-, as well as being chosen by Broadsided for its Switcheroo contest. Pamela teaches at Murray State University and lives in western Kentucky, where no Bakelite bracelet is safe from her clutches.

4. Amy Glynn Greacen's response forthcoming. (Hopefully) She loves those poems, ya dig? She’s a busy mom from Lafayette, California. She studied creative writing at Lancaster University.

5. I chose Chris Haven's "Janis Joplin's Eulogy to the Graduating Class of Thomas Jefferson High in Port Arthur, Texas, 1960" because it reached into the Janis Joplin I carry in my bag of myths and resuscitated her. Yes, I read Love, Janis when it came out (though I did not see the play). Once I redrew the Cheap Thrills album art, making it Iowan, like me. At about that same time, when my sister was a freshman, she had a roommate in the dorms, a fencer, who claimed to have slept with Janis and who was nice to me when I, a lowly high school sophomore, came for overnights in the dorm. This girl also later committed suicide. I wish I could remember her name or that she were still here so I could send her this poem. It starts out "You’re not all dead yet but soon will be," and flows from there: the sassiness, the bitterness, the acceptance, the intelligence, all of it. And written by a guy—that just blew me away.

Judy Swann lives in gorgeous Ithaca, NY in a small house painted in Frida Kahlo colors.She writes on the beach. Her poetry has been published in Lilliput Review, Thema, Soundzine, Verse Wisconsin and other places, both in print and online.

6. Elizabeth Hadaway: Louise Bogan’s “Several Voices Out of a Cloud”

Wednesday of Holy Week, I was walking the Stations of the Cross called Greater Morgantown Job Expo. Having a book published, three graduate degrees, and an “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” earworm did not pimp me out at this hiring fair. Thomas Gray kept muttering “Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,/And waste its sweetness on the desert air” while I tried to sell myself to HR reps. I’d just spent five years living in a country churchyard “with uncouth rhymes and shapeless sculpture decked.” I was missing its yew and hyacinths and my role as Mary Magdalene in the torchlit Passion Play which sometimes caught the yard on fire. In a new state, in a coliseum of people competing to be cocktail servers, Gray proved, all day, a distraction and a deliverance. My view of Bogan was what Rupert Giles said of Emily Dickinson: “Pretty good—for an American.” Yet, asked for a favorite poem, I started chanting “Several Voices Out of a Cloud.”

Both “Several Voices” and Gray’s “Elegy” are about merit that can’t be measured by commercial or communal standards. They’re the “God alone can judge me” tattoos of poetry. I love Bogan’s version more. It’s bracing, with wonderful knobbly mouthfeel. The title-as-stage-direction makes the poem a fragment of Greek drama, its liturgical roots showing—whether comedy or tragedy depends on how much the unworthy have sacrificed for the laurel’s sake. The poem is concise and the rhyme scheme makes it a harsh delight to memorize and perform. So does the meter. Each stanza begins with a long mix of iambs and anapests: “Come, drunks and drug-takers; come, perverts unnerved!” is almost entirely anapestic and goes quickly. The increase in iambs on “Receive the laurel” is a deliberate slowing, a regal presentation, while the anapestic substitutions mark by-the-way reminders that divine and human schedules are not the same. The second stanza goes hypermetrical for the teeming list of “Parochial punks, trimmers, nice people, joiners true-blue” ordered to “Get the hell out of the way of the laurel.” Then we come to the only line break on an unstressed syllable in the whole poem. “It is deathless” threatens for a second to trail off and up in that dippy, ethereal way people who can’t break lines inflect them. Then, in the same anapests as the first stanza’s ending, Centurion Bogan delivers the coup de gr»Éce: “And it isn’t for you.”

*See more about Elizabeth Hadaway's work here:

7. Mary Oliver and Elizabeth Bishop are on my mind. Yeats, Plath, Heaney, Neruda, Shelley, are not, because it is April in Minnesota and I need honest, manifest, mortal, hands-in-dirt redemption. We had snow on the ground at 5, for several days running this week, and it may be a white Easter. Every view is a Wyeth painting, and the Siberian squill, so faithful, have their collars against the wind like a rock star offstage, their blueberry, hyacinth blue gone gray. I find such solace in Elizabeth and Mary, their words, without sentiment, but with great emotion and compassion, fill that yearning for Mother Nature that makes Eliot talk of April and cruelty. I simply desire daffodils. I read my books in my room, the raindrops with tiny hearts of ice make a bell-like ping on the glass.

Sharon Miller is from Duluth, Minnesota. She studied at The College of St. Catherine and Hollins University.

8. I love Siken, Crush is by far my most worn poetry book.

Megan Hippler is from South Charleston, West Virginia, she currently lives in California.

9. James Priestley: Give it up, and begin anew, is what this pair of poems says to me. I dwell in Yarmouth, Maine, USA. I'm from a distant galaxy, serving as intergalactic diplomat these past six thousand years. Addendum: Progress has been slow, but I am greatly encouraged by recent developments.

10. I just got Bogan's collected - Blue Estuaries - she's wonderful....'Bogan' is a derogative Australianism - i guess the equivalent would be your 'red neck' - or some such - Chris Noonan is from Australia, his work and bio can be found elsewhere on Mortal Corkscrew under the name Chris Noman.

11. “Nothing,” lyrics by Tuli Kupferberg, recorded with many lyrical variations by the Fugs. If I remember correctly, Kupferberg wrote his lyrics to the tune of an old Yiddish folk song about an unvaried diet of potatoes: “Monday potatoes, Tuesday potatoes, Wednesday, Thursday potatoes, etc.” In Tuli’s various versions, which changed with changes in politics and pop culture, he offered up philosophers, poets, rock stars, politicians, social movements, and on and on as just the same old nothing. Some might argue that the song is an expression of post-modern nihilism, but I think its spirit goes back to Ecclesiastes, in which we are told that there is “no thing new under the sun” and “all is vanity.” The version I posted is from “The Fugs’ First Album,” but other versions appear on “The Fugs Live from the ‘60s,” “The Real Woodstock Festival,” and “Golden Filth,” as well as this performance at the memorial service for Tuli last year, with Ed Sanders leading the surviving Fugs:

“The Sundering UP Tracks,” by Edward Dorn, is the final section of the long poem “The North Atlantic Turbine.” The larger poem is a freewheeling and blistering dissertation on Western history—ranging from the slave trade to American consumerism to geopolitics and the depredations of capitalism. In “The Sundering UP Tracks,” the railroad is emblematic of all these evils as seen in the American westward expansion. The poet is surprised and disappointed to learn that a black friend coming to visit him in Idaho is staying across the tracks on the black and poor side of town. The tracks divide the country socioeconomically and politically while also being part of the engine that drives capitalism and commerce. I posted the recording of the poem, because Dorn was an excellent reader of his work. The North Atlantic Turbine is out of print, but I think the poem is collected in Way More West: New & Selected Poems . There’s also a sizable collection of Dorn’s recorded readings at PennSound.

Stephen Bunch lives and writes in Lawrence, Kansas, where he received the 2008 Langston Hughes Award for Poetry from the Lawrence Arts Center and Raven Books. He also is a recent Pushcart Prize nominee. His poems can be found in Autumn Sky Poetry, The Externalist, The Literary Bohemian, Fickle Muses, and Umbrella. From 1978 to 1988, he edited and published Tellus, a little magazine that featured work by Victor Contoski, Edward Dorn, Jane Hirshfield, Donald Levering, Denise Low, Paul Metcalf, Edward Sanders, and many others. After a fifteen- year hibernation, he awoke in 2005 and resumed writing. Preparing to Leave is his first gathering of poems.

12.  Ken Thornsbury is a writer living in Virginia.

13. Mara Eve Robbins made the list both as a favorite poet and as a poet who has favorite poems—
go figure. Of Mary Oliver’s, “Wild Geese” Mara says, “Whenever I’ve had a difficult day, like—today, there are lines from this poem which I’ve memorized, that have become a chant, a mantra. It literally helps me get through the day.” Mara lives in Floyd County, VA.


Here are the first lines from all of the poems. Why? Because I believe in synchronicity and Magical Poetry Talk.  Maybe. Also, Robert Hass mentioned something during a lecture…the whole of a poem can be found in its first sentence.  Notice there are no quotes around that, memory is its own disclaimer here.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
Astrology is not as much of a cop-out
Something continues and   I don’t know what to call it
Your absence has gone through me
A card table in the library stands ready
As you set out for Ithaka
Back out of all this now too much for us,
You’re not all dead yet but you soon will be.
Come, drunks and drug-takers! Come, perverts unnerved!
The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
Every morning the maple leaves.
what would I do without this world faceless incurious
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
The cold remote islands
I never hear the Supremes
Monday nothing Tuesday nothing Wednesday and Thursday nothing
I met a traveler from an antique land
You do not have to be good.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Elementary Spelling Book (Fable I, Of The Boy Who Stole Apples)

A few weeks ago I went to Pulaski, VA.   Pulaski is full of historical old relics, dilapidated railroad stations, empty store-fronts, abandoned factories.  Once a city buzzing with commerce, now just a skeleton of what was once a fully fleshed out community.  While walking around Pulaski I rambled into a pawn shop and found, next to a stack of graphite records (which I couldn't justify buying, but really wanted to) the above speller.  It was just sitting on a shelf, no other books around it, as if someone had just dropped it off there and forgotten it.

When I opened the book and saw that it was published in the 1880's by The American Book Company, my heart started pounding.  I imagined the many hands that might have held this book before me.  I sat down on the floor, right there, next to the graphite records and started searching through the pages.  The words were arranged in columns, with example sentences for grammar purposes thrown in.  The language was so archaic, I instantly fell in love.

I sat there, nearly drooling over this book.  As casually as I could I got up and approached the counter.  "So, how much do you want for this?"  I tried to keep the eager gleam out of my eye and the stupid grin off my face.  The cashier barely glanced at the book.  "Three bucks." He said.  I nearly jumped up and down, but I saved that for when I left the pawn shop.

Later on, when I was investigating the history of this book I found out Noah Webster, the father of our modern American Dictionary, was the author.  (He was also the very first to obtain copyrights and to promote laws protecting author's rights in the U.S., interestingly enough.)  The book was mass published and mass marketed, also known as the Blue-Back Speller and was used in the majority of elementary school classrooms around America. 

There are several disturbing images in this book, including a picture of a man being eaten by a bear and a cat being hung upside down by its tail...and a subtext of conformity relating to Puritan Christian values, with God mentioned several times and biblical quotes used as examples of words in context.

The most interesting section to me, which I may consider doing a follow up on later, is the Fables section.

For your enjoyment, Fable One:


An old man found a rude boy upon one of his trees stealing apples, and desired him to come down:  but the young saucebox plainly told him he would not.  "Won't you?" said the old man, "then I will fetch you down;" so he pulled up some turf or grass and threw at him; but this only made the youngster laugh, to think the old man should pretend to beat him down from the tree with grass only.

"Well, well," said the old man, "if neither words nor grass will do, I must try what virtue there is in stones;" so the old man pelted him heartily with stones, which soon made the young chap hasten down from the tree and beg the old man's pardon.

MORAL. If good words and gentle means will not reclaim the wicked, they must be dealt with in a more severe manner."

Now,  I wonder, WWJD?  Would He have pelted a young saucebox with rocks.  Somehow, I think not. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Part Three: "Not here/Not here the darkness, in this twittering world.” – T.S. Eliot

“We live in a world where bad stories are told, stories that teach us life doesn’t mean anything and that humanity has no great purpose. It’s a good calling, then, to speak a better story. How brightly a better story shines. How easily the world looks to it in wonder. How grateful we are to hear these stories, and how happy it makes us to repeat them.”

– Donald Miller, Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life

Spanish vowels make my tongue feel fat. There’s an inflection in the present tense which makes the sounds of “eeyah” and “endo” trip across my lips. Still, the first sentence that I said (which I actually formed and understood before speaking) gave me a feeling of utter elation and accomplishment. I’ve learned more and retained more from my attempt to communicate with my Spanish speaking friend than I have in all the classes I’ve taken. I learned my friend is from Nicaragua (De donde es usted?) and when she told me where she was from the only word I knew to use to ask about her homeland was “Verde?” Although I didn’t understand every word of what she was communicating, I understood the desperation, the trials, as she replied “No Verde,” and then mimicked trying to pump water from a spout as she explained “Ninguna lluvia. Ninguna agua.” (no rain, no water) por seis meses (for six months). “Aqui es moi verde.”

In preceding essays I’ve tried to tackle the task of explaining the value of words, our purpose for using them and specifically, in poetry, why it is so important we understand the worth of words in communicating. The first sentence I was able to formulate in reply to a question in espanol that didn’t sound like it was coming from a 2 year old was,

“Tengo gusto de manzanas verdes con la sal.”

That’s what poetry should be, a question or reply, a conversation, an attempt at understanding, waking people up to a new experience, forming a shared encounter, a connection which promotes empathy, coming to an understanding with the reader concerning the often confusing foreign languages of the inner psyche, or soul.

From T.S. Eliot, four quartets:
II. East Coker V.
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate,
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion. And what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate - but there is no competition -
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.
I’ve noticed a lot of contemporary American poetry seems to get caught up in the expression of the individual, there is nothing wrong with that, however it seems that many writers write to validate themselves as “writers” rather than to validate the human experience. They forget about the soul. I’m using that word when I might mean psyche or self, but “soul” has a deeper historical significance. Let me put that another way, we only ever lose ourselves in what we put on a page, if we attempt to find ourselves there I think the ultimate end is insanity. Maybe that’s hyperbolic, but what are we trying to communicate, and why?

I used to get really annoyed when in a workshop or writing course I would hear statements like,
“But, what does this MEAN?”

My reply was always “Why does a poem have to “mean” anything? Can’t it just be?”

After several years of struggling with this, heck I don’t know what my poems mean until after I write them, I figured out that my annoyance wasn’t so much with the intention of the question but with the word “meaning.”

A poem can express emotion or reveal a truth to the subconscious mind and the “meaning” may not be clear on an intellectual level but on an instinctive gut level there’s communication which occurs. (If the reader allows it.) The question above I think would be better phrased as “What is your intention, what are you trying to communicate and why?” As the intention of a poet can only be guessed at, it requires a certain amount of faith from readers that the intention of the author isn’t just to confuse you, or to make themselves sound smart (although sometimes, yes, I think some poets get caught up in this and some good indicators of getting lost on the page are oblique references to mythology, or in other words name dropping a greek God here and there.) When done well, it works, when used to fluff up the poem…it doesn’t. How can you tell the difference? Intent.

But back to Eliot, before I get lost on the page here—
Four Quartets again,

IV Little Gidding I.
You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid.

Oh so often I’m confronted with statistics about publishing and numbers related to gender issues. I read articles continually berating MFA programs and the academia, or the opposite-- I hear or read negative things said about blogs or online poetry workshops. That’s all bullshit, folks.

I’ve been thinking about turtles. Sea turtles. There’s one type of sea turtle that comes to the beach (the same beach they’ve been coming to for a millennium) and they come alone, sporadically, laying their eggs. When the eggs hatch and the little turtles start to scoot across the sand they are easy mark for the predators, most don’t make it.

The other type of sea turtle comes in a hoard, thousands upon thousands descend upon their beach (the same beach they’ve been coming to for a millennium) at the same time. The nests are all laid at the same time, the baby turtles all hatch at the same time. Millions of scooting turtles surge to the sea, a wave of turtle-ness. In this case, the predators are so overwhelmed the survival rate is multiplied a thousand times more than the above.

If you haven’t gotten the parallel I am making about the writing world and the many poets today (considering how in previous posts I compared poets to ducks, well…now here, we’re turtles.) Let me spell it out for you: It is a GOOD thing to have so many people writing poetry, speaking poetry, interested in poetry. It doesn’t matter if it’s slam poetry, formal poetry, academic poetry, nautical poetry, poetry about oranges or apple pie, good poetry, bad poetry, whatever. There will be survivors. No one knows what is coming next. I can’t watch the news about Japan without feeling sick. I’m not an apocalyptic type of gal, but I do think words will be the salt which preserves humanity (are you following me here, from turtles to salt?) Or maybe not the salt, but time capsules buried in the sand to emerge one day, like those sea turtles…so we might live on, no matter what comes next.

Oh, Eliot says it better than I do: (Quartets again, II)

We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and the empty desolation,
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning.
My only hope for poetry is the statement above “In my end is my beginning”, my fear for it the same-- in the future, may this never be said of us:

III The Dry Salvages II.
We had the experience but missed the meaning

Friday, March 4, 2011

Guest Interview: Melanie Huber Speaks With New York Quarterly Editor Raymond Hammond | Savvy Verse & Wit

Savvy Verse and Wit
click on post title to find interview, click on Savvy Logo to go visit the home page

And check out the NYQ website.  Two NYQ books are on the best seller list for Small Press Publishing.

click here for NYQ website

Monday, February 28, 2011

On the Scene: Into Space--Marginal Arts in Roanoke, Virginia--What in the World?

This week, 3rd-8th, Roanoke Va. will host the much anticipated Marginal Arts Festival.   Participating in the festival, The Unicorn Stables Project is a studio which will be showing a large variety of artists in an unusual promotional venue:

The showing corresponds with the Southwestern Virginia's Premier Science Fiction & Fantasy Convention, ShevaCon,  March 3rd-6th.  Local established and emerging artists are participating in the art event at Unicorn Stables.  Including Cathryn Hankla, Ann Glover, Judith Starchild, J.D. Whitney, Susan Jameson, Morgan Strong and many more.  A few examples of Strong’s art are included below:
Planets   I

This previous Saturday, Feb. 26th,  the The Unicorn Stables Project Studio was a-buzz with activity as Cameron Niedermayer worked on finishing her sculpture:
Niedermayer explained her inspiration for the pyramid comes from the alien associations with monolithic man-made constructions.  Although she doesn’t intend for her art to have a political message, she is aware that the work she is doing can be seen in a new context due to the recent upheaval in Egypt.  The symbols shown in the picture below have a spiritual significance.  On the side not showing in the picture, Neidermayer has painted the Vulcan IDIC symbol from Star Trek.  IDIC stands for Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations.  She was pleased to consider the symbol as applicable in a wide variety of philosophies, both theological and political. 

Another artist hard at work and the brain-child behind the project, Tiff Robinette.  Robinette explains that the showing will include: installations, live performances, a projection, 2-dimensional paintings, encaustic, sculptures, and sound pieces.  Of her own installation piece, which is a womb-like cave space (Saturday it was already filled with pink stalactites hanging from the ceiling, the stalagmites were still under construction) she explains, “I’m interested in female space, perceptions and traditions of gender.  My inspirations are mythology and literature, particularly biblical narratives of the end and of fear that comes from above.”

DSCF1334 (2)Robinette goes on to share that the imagery found in her art often comes from dreams.  As she is the oldest of nine children, only one of her siblings was a boy, it is no wonder her themes relate to gender and variations of this theme are repeated in symbolic motifs through-out her work.  “I create mythology,” her artist statement unapologetically proclaims.  The picture is a sculptural representation of Robinette’s take on a confectionary tradition called the “tea cake.”

Two other Unicorn Stables artists were busy at work this past Saturday, Julie Schneider with the help of Megan Robinson was preparing her instillation “Contemplations of the Universe at a Slumber Party in New Jersey, 1996”
The alien in the picture is Bob from the planet Bob.  He was a donation from Fenn and Jackson Walker, the youngest contributor to the showing at 8 years old dressed Bob in his own clothes for the exhibition.  
     DSCF1335                                          DSCF1310         
 Another exciting contributor is Urban Artist, Toobz.  When entering into the Secret Histories of a Space Age, be sure to check out his sci-fi mural in the hallway. Here’s his work-in-progress space-creature:


Friday, February 4, 2011

A Reading List for the Egypt Crisis -

From the New York Times:

A Reading List for the Egypt Crisis

It took only a few days for Egyptian protesters to bring the regime of Hosni Mubarak to near collapse. But it took decades for the conditions for revolt to ripen. A range of widely noted books offer clues to the country’s accumulated discontents and thwarted desires. Max Rodenbeck’s Cairo: The City Victorious is a cultural and social history of the Arab world’s largest city, written by the Economist’s Middle East Correspondent. Mary Anne Weaver’s A Portrait of Egypt examines Egyptian society in the 1990s, with an emphasis on Islamist opponents of the Mubarak regime.
Dispatches From the Book Review
In recent years, scholars have fervently debated the evolution of Egypt’s main opposition movement, the Muslim Brotherhood. Does it seek to drastically remake Egyptian society along strict religious lines, or has it entered a “post-Islamist” phase characterized by moderation and tolerance? The latter argument is made by Carrie Wickham in her study of grass-roots activists, Mobilizing Islam. More jaundiced views of the movement in Egypt and its offshoots elsewhere can be found in a new collection edited by Barry Rubin entitled The Muslim Brotherhood. Even as the Brotherhood moderated its message and perhaps its worldview, some of its former members turned to acts of spectacular violence. Their doings are the subject of Giles Kepel’s Muslim Extremism in Egypt, and Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower, which suggests that Mubarak’s torture cells radicalized Egyptian Islamists such as the future al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, and helped bring about the Sept. 11 attacks. Lee Smith’s The Strong Horse explores the Mubarak government’s cynical efforts to manipulate popular sentiment and maintain power.
Though Egypt’s cultural prominence has faded, it remains the home of important literary figures, many of whom work in the shadow of the late Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz. Mahfouz’s Cairo Trilogy and Cairo Modern examine the ideological and erotic entanglements of Cairenes in the last years of British influence. Alaa Al-Aswany’s The Yacoubin Building is a popular novel about a Cairo apartment house whose fortunes reflect those of the country at large. Among the most admired Egyptian novels of recent years is Sonallah Ibrahim’s Zaat, which turns an office worker’s aspirations to become a world-class consumer into bitter comedy. A many-layered picture of 20th century Egypt emerges in the novelist Taha Hussein’s memoir The Days, which follows a poor, blind village boy who makes his way to Cairo, acquires an education, loses his university post for his controversial writings on Egypt’s pre-Islamic past, and eventually becomes a cultural hero.
Readers interested in assessing American influence in Egypt might turn to Master of Games by the longtime CIA officer Miles Copeland Jr.. Copeland, the father of Stewart Copeland, the drummer for the Police, and Miles Copeland III, the record producer, relates (and perhaps embellishes) his elaborate efforts to keep General Nasser from slipping into the Soviet orbit. In his classic Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age, the historian Albert Hourani looked back further to a time in the early 20th century that seems especially relevant now — a moment when Egyptian and other Arab thinkers steeped in Enlightenment ideals hoped to see a robust democracy emerge from a moribund dictatorship.


**Also: Please consider "Letters From Cairo" By Pauline Kaldas
Kaldas offers insight into the complexities of Egyptian culture, alternately taking on roles of linguist and cultural interpreter and addressing everything from class issues and political activism to education and the impact of Western culture. But it is her moving, often entertaining letters and her children’s emails and poems that will charm readers and resonate with devotees of travel narratives and multicultural literature. This book captures the images, character, and passion of an extraordinary country. Marked by spare, graceful prose, drawing on observations and friendships past and present, Kaldas offers a unique lens for observing Middle Eastern societies, one that the reader will not soon forget.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Part Two: "Not here/Not here the darkness, in this twittering world.” – T.S. Eliot


Words. It occurred to me that in using words to determine the value of words I’ve created quite an impossible fix for myself, one which will be difficult to find my way out of. What are words, exactly? I’m no linguist so I can’t use that kind of terminology to determine their value. Here, these words are no more than pixel bits, lines and loops, dark dotted shapes and shadows of thought illuminated on the face of a plasma screen. I do not know how this plasma screen works. I don’t even know what the plasma consists of, yet I can push some buttons on my keypad and by some force completely foreign to me, the things I think become the words I type and these sentences you now can read.

Reality demands that I acknowledge the fact that words themselves are pretty worthless—

marks on a page, blips on a screen. You can’t smell them, taste them or touch them. I have heard it said many times and have read in several places that “words are food” and “poetry is bread” (for i.e. See Mary Oliver’s Poetry Handbook, which I quoted from in an essay I wrote for NYQ issue 65). They are not. I once thought this was true, but words actually have no nutritional value. You won’t find a calorie count on the back of any book. Words can not sustain a body. You can make a sandwich out of bread. You can spread peanut butter on bread. Try spreading peanut butter on a word. It’s not going to work very well.

So what makes them valuable?

And, at what point does a word obtain its value? Is it in the mind, in the way we construct meaning, how we think in words and images? Does a word only obtain value when it is spoken, or do words become something of value only when they are commoditized or written down? Perhaps (and it may be obvious to some) it is not so much words themselves which have value or not, but what determines their value is the use of them in communication, their role as the nuts and bolts of language
So now let's consider what it is about the nuts and bolts in the machinery of language which gives words their value--

A few days ago I was sitting and crocheting at my son’s baseball practice when an elderly Latino woman approached me. This is the second year her grandson and my son have been on the same baseball team, and although I’d smiled at her and said hello each time I saw her, it was clear from watching her interactions with her grandson that she was not very fluent in English and so we never really had a chance to strike up a conversation beyond “hello.” She stood over me and pointed to my sad attempt at a scarf and said a word in Spanish, then used her hands to mimic the act of knitting.
I smiled, and shrugged my shoulders to indicate I wasn’t sure what she was asking.

“Crochet?” I asked.

“Crochet?” She repeated.

When she repeated the Spanish word for crochet she made the motions with her hands again so I attempted to repeat the word back to her. Her face brightened and she giggled as if I’d told her a funny joke, or maybe my pronunciation was so awful that I said a dirty word and didn’t know it. She sat down right next to me, and my Spanish is very bad, but I did remember this at least:

“Hola’ me llamo Melanie, como te llamo?”

Her smile widened even further as she told me her name and then I think she asked me if I spoke Spanish.

“Porquita, me espaniol es muy mal.” I answered.

“My English, too, very bad. We help each, you, me?” She asked.

“Sure!” I replied, “Si!”

I tried to find a way to communicate with her, scanning my mind for what little Spanish I could remember, knowing somewhere rattling around behind a door with very rusty hinges there had to be a word or two I could use. Ding! Te gusta? Me gusta? Found two.

“Te gusta baseball? What is baseball in espaniol?” I asked.

“Baseball.” She answered.

“Yes baseball, in espaniol?”

“Baseball is baseball.”

“Baseball is baseball?”


Ah ha!! “Okay! Baseball is baseball! Te gusta baseball?” I repeated

“No, no me gusta, me encante baseball.” She replied, crossing her arms over her chest as if she were giving herself a hug.

“You love baseball?”

“Love? Encante is Love?” She asked.

“Si, encante, love. You love baseball?”

“I love baseball, si” she replied.

The next fifteen minutes I found out her English is much better than my Spanish. She asked me if I studied Spanish in school, I managed to pick out a few words I knew: escribe, libro, la professora, escula. It was humbling to become such a handicapped communicator, forced to use words that a two year old would use. We went over body parts, eye-oho, nose- narisa, mouth- boka, hands- manos. It was wonderful, miraculous even, how simple it was to form a connection…just the naming of body parts enabled us to relate to each other in a way that would not have been possible without the use of words. We giggled like fools as I kept mixing up the body parts, calling fingers hands and hands fingers. Near the end of our conversation she held her shoulder and grimaced dramatically, I did not understand a word in the sentence she spoke to me then but I understood quite clearly that she was telling me her shoulder was troubling her.

Language is more than words, obviously, but without words we simply do not have the tools to survive in this world. Words may not have nutritional value for the body, but at the end of our conversation my new amigo patted her hand over her heart and told me,

“Thank you. Is good— for here.”

I imagine the first spark in the first man (or woman’s) skull when a mark in the dirt or an etching on a rock wall became a symbol of something else. Evolution happened when man began using tools, yes, but this moment, to me, is the true mark of evolution—when man desired to share his thoughts and feelings using the tools of language, words, to project his thinking outside of himself.

Words are what make us human, and it is the way in which we use those words which proves if we are or are not.

But how does this relate to poetry, and what value it has beyond commodity?


Stay tuned for part 3 (Sea turtles and Eliot forthcoming)

Here's a preview of where we will be going on the next leg in this journey: (Thanks to the delightful Richard Bausch for giving me permission to use his quote.  He credits Conrad for the premise.)
"Every really good story, no matter how short or how long, carries something of its justification for being and all its attendant parts in every single line. It is a unified created work of word art and that is why it is so difficult to do. So let go of expecting it ever to get easier. It won't. Just get on with it. Be willing to stumble all over yourself trying to be splendid."