Sunday, March 30, 2008

In Praise of Open Studio

I've been following the thread at WomPo and some of the blogs lately, about Poetry Workshops, particularly in CW and MFA programs, and how dysfunctional they can be.

I wonder if we could learn something from Visual Artists, and their use of Open Studio. I experienced this at Vermont Studio Center a few years ago, where I was on a writing residency in a setting that was primarily visual artists (painting, sculpture, mixed media, installations), with writers in a minority. As I remember it, once a week there was "Open Studio Night" where several of the visual artists would just open their studio up to the community, there was wine and maybe a little food, and you just went from studio to studio taking in the work, talking about it if you wanted, asking a question if you wanted, and socializing. It seemed incredibly stimulating and supportive. We weren't there to "fix" the person's art, but merely to experience it, understand it, be with it for a while, reflect on it. And usually not just one piece in isolation, but a whole room full of all the pieces they were working on: some finished, some near complete, some very raw and rough and still in the conceptual phase.

Could we do the same with Poetry Workshop? Once a week, for the class to go to the "studio" of one or more of the writers, where a group of poems they were working on were posted on the wall, maybe some books they have been reading or were interested in lying in piles, maybe some rough drafts scattered around in notebooks -- who knows what else might be included. And the point being to experience where that writer is at the moment, to understand what he or she is trying to do, and reflect on it. More of a social-experiential-collegial thing, than the judging-correcting-henpecking thing that CW and MFA workshops can deteriorate into.

Hmmmm . . . . a thought.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

I received this new book in the mail yesterday and read it through over dinner and before bed. Poems by a Palestinian-American physician, winner of the recent Yale Series of Younger Poets. It's a lovely collection. The poems remind me a bit of Li-Young Lee. The intro by Gluck is a bit long-winded and incomprehensible. Just go straight to the poems. And have a cup of tea at your side (you'll see what I mean).

Monday, March 24, 2008

I woke up this morning with an idea for a political cartoon. I can't draw, so I'll just tell it to you. Barack Obama (and/or his wife) is riding a witch's broomstick and sky-writing "Surrender Hillary" across the sky, and laughing uproariously. Hillary and Bill and their entourage (AKA the "Hill-Billies") are dressed like the characters from Wizard of Oz, walking the yellow brick road toward the White House, and Hillary has stopped, one hand over her mouth, looking to the sky and clutching Toto.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

A corn flake shaped like the state of Illinois sold for $1350 on Ebay. My oh my. I wonder what I could have made for my cashew shaped like a shoe!

The F***ing Miracle of Life

Saturday was postively Spring-like (finally). The baby bok choy I planted two weeks ago is up (wheee!), a nice little row of teeny tiny sprouts that I will thin in another week or two. Dean and I spent the morning and early afternoon preparing the beds, and planting lettuces (romaine, butter, red oak leaf, green leaf, mesclun mix, etc) and spinach. Some from seed, and some from starts. I know, starts are cheating, but I don't care, I want to get some fresh salad ASAP!

We covered it all with some fine netting, because there a few cats in the neighborhood that think our raised beds are merely high-end out-door litterboxes. The netting keeps them away fairly well, but sometimes I have been know to hiss, yell, throw things, and spray water in their general direction. I have not yet used the bee-bee gun (that is for the squirrels). But I think these cats (and their owners if they are reading this) should perhaps maybe consider themselves warned.

We also divided and replanted the Angel's Fishing Rod, so we could have one near the bird bath. As well as this plant we can't remember the name of, which was a little overgrown and dead in the middle. Now it is three smaller plants.

Today, if it stops raining, I may cut back the wisteria (it is already setting buds). If it doesn't stop raining I may just sit inside all day and watch the NCAA tournament games and eat pita chips and salsa. Or maybe create my own little "In Treatment" marathon on HBO. Don't you just love that show?


Saturday, March 22, 2008

Happy Easter

I wonder if Plath was at all alluding to this [Francis, ooops not Francis] Henry Bacon painting of the same name, when she wrote her pre-Ariel gem?


A garden of mouthings. Purple, scarlet-speckled, black
The great corollas dilate, peeling back their silks.
Their musk encroaches, circle after circle,
A well of scents almost too dense to breathe in.
Hieratical in your frock coat, maestro of the bees,
You move among the many-breasted hives,

My heart under your foot, sister of a stone.

Trumpet-throats open to the beaks of birds.
The Golden Rain Tree drips its powders down.
In these little boudoirs streaked with orange and red
The anthers nod their heads, potent as kings
To father dynasties. The air is rich.
Here is a queenship no mother can contest ---

A fruit that's death to taste: dark flesh, dark parings.

In burrows narrow as a finger, solitary bees
Keep house among the grasses. Kneeling down
I set my eyes to a hole-mouth and meet an eye
Round, green, disconsolate as a tear.
Father, bridegroom, in this Easter egg
Under the coronal of sugar roses

The queen bee marries the winter of your year.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

It looks like "After The Pillow Book" was the "poem of the day" podcast at the Poetry Foundation yesterday. I still stand by this poem, and read it at readings sometimes. But in this recording I think it sounds a little like I need a throat lozenge? I dunno . . . Give it a listen here:

Monday, March 17, 2008

Trying to be the good son . . .

Spent a fair amount of time in the hospital over the weekend, with my mother. Those of you who have been through this with an elderly parent know the drill: weakness, weight loss, falls, aches and pains, atrial fibrillation, coumadin, bruising, etc., etc. Add in low platelets and depression, and you've got a wintry mix. We're looking for Assisted Living and/or Extended Care Nursing Home. It's really for the best. And even she agrees now. I guess the upside is one gets to see almost the whole family together in one place. For instance: a very fun lunch break with several sisters, turned family conference at Panera. And our Mom can still crack a good joke now and then: she had the Nurses Aid in stitches over something that ended "I said VIP, not VIB."

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Lambda Literary Award Finalists in Poetry are:

Blackbird and Wolf, Henri Cole (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
A Gathering of Matter/A Matter of Gathering, Dawn Lundy Martin (University of Georgia Press)
Otherwise Obedient, Carol Potter (Red Hen Press)
Fata Morgana, Reginald Shepherd (University of Pittsburgh)
The Second Person, C. Dale Young (Four Way Books)
Human Resources, Rachel Zolf (Coach House Books)

It's a strong list. Congratulations to you all! (~I am so jealous.)


This Basic Instructions comic is funny as hell: "Poetry is the most challenging of all the 'useless arts'". HAHAHA(click image to enlarge)

Thursday, March 13, 2008

SDSU and YouTube Poetry vids

I had a great time reading in San Diego. I stayed at the Sofia downtown: a newly remodeled old hotel (used to be called the Pickwick). A teeny-tiny room, but gorgeous and comfortable, with a live potted orchid and comfy queen bed and flat screen TV. The attached restaurant, The Currant, was pricey, but excellent food. So, if you are traveling to SD, I'd say two thumbs up for the Sofia. (Gawd this feels like a hotel review).

Had a lovely dinner with VF before the reading. We are so simpatico in terms of politics and life-view. The reading was fairly well-attended (especially given that Tracy Kidder was reading on campus at the same time). I read some new stuff, and then from the two books. The MFA and CW students asked great questions after: one thread had something to do with Borges, Kabala, wordplay, and Portuguese-Jewish heritage, and how some of my writing, particularly the anagram stuff, reminded the student of Borges. I am going to have to research Borges' life story now (I love his stories and poems).

Up early now for a morning flight home. Wish I could have stayed longer.


Speaking of anagrams: I was self-googling (I know, I know . . . but tell me you don't do it too), and I found two YouTube videos of my poem "Anagrammer," made by students (I think). They're pretty fun! Check 'em out here:

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Off to San Diego

I am really looking forward to the reading, and to some sunny weather.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Fun with Language Log

ah, the oft-derided passive voice . . . .

I just noticed (I was forced by a joint project to spend some time messing with the vile Microsoft Word) that if you type this:

Every chicken must logically have been preceded by an egg out of which it developed.

Microsoft Word's grammar checker will (if you have foolishly left it switched on) underline the sentence with a wavy green line, and if you run a Spelling and Grammar check to see why, it will recommend that you change this sentence (it's a passive, you see, and all passives are bad juju) to the following:

An egg out of which it developed must logically have preceded every chicken.

It will also recommend changing Every incarcerated prisoner in California is housed by some penal institution, which is true, to the "corrected" version Some penal institution houses every incarcerated prisoner in California, which is false.

Language Log's free online grammar-checking service hereby recommends that you do not follow Word's advice on such matters.

Spring is here (not officially, but essentially). Yesterday we planted bok choy by seed in the small raised bed next to the raspberry patch. We cut back the last of the tall grasses out front. And we moved a salvia that was crowding the contorted filbert (aka Harry Lauder's Walking stick). Crocus and scilla and paperwhites are up everywhere. And the pear is about to burst into blossom. The world is right again.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Pistola is HOT

Happiness is a warm gun.

Art by CANDE, poems by Molly Bendall, Jason Stumpf, William Stobb, Rochelle Tobias, Todd Fredson, moi, Sarah Vap, and more. Check it out!

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Yay Christian!

I thought he was the best designer on the show. Jillian and Rami both made beautiful clothes, but they did not have that certain je ne sais quoi, that touch of the poet, that magical charge to them.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Went to hear Eavan Boland at Seattle Arts & Lectures last night. I'd love to have her life: teaching half-time at Stanford, living the other half of the year in Ireland.

A lovely dinner at Ten Mercer with T and R.

Today I am off to Port Angeles for the Foothills Writers Series.


Sunday, March 02, 2008

February Reading

In no particular order:

In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." I want to print this out as a poster, and put it in all my exam rooms.
The Paris Review, Winter 2007: I love how they print 4-5 poems of each poet, and call it a "folio."
Now You're the Enemy*, James Allen Hall. One of the most memorable books I've read in a while.
The One-Strand River*, Richard Kenney: Sometimes a little too clever for its own good, but overall a terrific new book.
The Art of the Poetic Line*, James Logenbach
Letters to Yesenin*, Jim Harrison: from the Copper Canyon Classics series. His life-changing epistolary poems to the suicided Russian poet. Still a great read 35 years later.
Rock & Sling, Winter 2007
Apparition Wren, Maureen Alsop
A Book Called Rats, Miguel Murphy
The Enemy, Rafael Campo
The Essential Gwendolyn Brooks, Elizabeth Alexander, editor (American Poets Project)
The Grace of Necessity*, Sam Green: the new book from WA's new poet laureate. The "Daily Practice" poems written after 9/11 are wonderful.
The Kingdom of Ordinary Time, Marie Howe
Now, Molly Tenenbaum
Behind My Eyes, Li-Young Lee
Backward Days, Stuart Dischell
Telephone Ringing in the Labyrinth*, Adrienne Rich: as I have said before, her best book in years.
Elegy*, Mary Jo Bang
Poetry, February 2008


Saturday, March 01, 2008

Dean and I went with K and S to see La Compania Nacional de Danza last night at Meany. Wow. What a great show. One of the best of the last few years, I think. There were three pieces: "Castrati" which was an all-male dance, full of strong and gymnastic movements, with the men dressed alternately in these Matrix-inspired long coats, or in very gender-bending girdles, while all the while the very high-pitched notes of a castrati singing in the background. "Gnawa" was a very sensuous and romantic piece, danced mostly by male-female couples, with Morrocan inspired music. And the last piece "White Darkness" was the best: supposedly about addiciton and desire, ending with a stunning image of the lead dancer standing in a spotlight as a sheet of fine white sand gently cascades down on her, and she slowly collapses. Bravo!