Monday, April 5, 2010

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Shared Reading?

For anyone who'd like to join in, I have a six month plan to move through Carolyn Forché's anthology Against Forgetting. I know many of you are already familiar with this stuff, and many of you are busy! But I'm always salivating for more poetry conversation, and with this book especially it would be helpful to pair reading with discussion.

I'm also thinking of taking Anne Carson's Eros, the Bittersweet and C. D. Wright's Cooling Time with me to Japan... these are the kind of meaty books that would benefit from the focus the airplane and being surrounded by a foreign language provides. At least that's what I'm hoping, since I haven't made much progress with either on American soil! I also like the idea of reading them at the same time; both are prose-on-poetry. So anyone who might like to attack one/both of these over winter break and then chat it up is very welcome to join me.

Only a little bit is left of the semester now! Best of luck to all during this final push.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving, ladies.

Mine is, of course, tomorrow, given the nature of the teaching profession + traveling, and mine, also, is the last poultry-laden one--at least for my plate. I'm transferring back to my vegetarian ways, which seems so very meek compared to the culinary appetites of the rest, but I have a mild dairy addiction and a love of wool and honey, which will keep me forever from crossing the boundaries to veganism.

Despite this, I cannot help but poke and prod at my little turkey-carcass, which is currently brining in the refrigerator I dis-assembled for holiday purposes. I'm feeling a bit accomplished, as if I could flex a little and a word or too might pop out of that tattoo.

I wanted to send a quick note of thanks for this Tuesday evening's Thai get-together. I hope we can find spaces of time to see each other more often; I'm becoming more energized and less frustrated with my over-exertion and am finally ready to put down the knitting needles (most of the time) and the cookbooks and thrust myself right back into academic life. Watch out, chapbook.

After the turkey, the editing. (And I brought along three manuscripts: Colleen's, Kevin's, Jasmin's plus any stray poems from us second years I neglected.) But mostly, the chapbook. I'm here, in Michigan: what better place to finish than in the place it began?


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

september readings

2: The Works @ Bryant Lake Bowl @ 7 pm ($6-$10)

11: Poets John Koethe and Joanna Rawson, 7:30 @ Common Good Books

11: Beloved on Earth: 150 Poems of Grief & Gratitude, 7 pm @ Loft

13: MFA program launch @ 7pm @ University Club of St Paul

18: John Minczeski publication reading, Loft @ 7 pm

22: Novelist and short story writer Jim Shepard, 7:30 pm, Coffman Theatre

23: Red Dragonfly Press poets, 7 pm @ Loft

29: Kate Greenstreet & Norma Cole, 7:30 pm @ Micawber’s

30: Maxine Hong Kingston @ Ted Mann, 7:30 pm

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Responsible Traits

I finished Kimiko Hahn's Narrow Road to the Interior on the megabus from Maryland to NYC. It was a good ride! My favorite poems/portions seem to fall at the beginning and end of the book, "Utica Station" and "Shelling" especially.

However I did ultimately decide not to assign this book in Intermediate Poetry. As a contemporary zuihitsu it aims for an improvisational feel, folding in emails, notes for course proposals, and other almost informal journal/diary elements with writing that we'd consider "poetic" in traditional ways. As a reader I enjoyed the variety of forms, but as a teacher I was concerned that undergraduate students could misinterpret Hahn's aims and use that misinterpretation as an excuse for slacking in their assignments. I'm always striving to get my students to reflect more upon their writing, and they seem to have enough clever arguments against revision ("First thought, best thought") without adding fuel to the fire. Have any of you had similar experiences?

Yet as a graduate student / developing writer I really appreciated the moments when Hahn pulls back the curtain and speaks frankly about her process and consideration of forms. Here's a great conversation-starter on prose poems:

Paragraphs absorb the emotionality differently than lineated poems. When I tried rendering a few scribbled paragraphs into conventional poems they did not work; there was an over-sentimentality that was not evident in paragraphs. It wasn't that the feeling was camouflaged, more, there was an absorption, an acceptance of emotion that the verse could not bear.

Those lines come from "Pulse and Impulse." But it was a different line from this work, a single sentence, that has had a powerful influence on my own thoughts about poetry lately:

Intuition, like subjectivity, is not treated as a valid, responsible trait.

This idea of subjectivity as a responsible trait has triggered a return to my old considerations of the role of the "I" in poetry. I've begun to wonder if poetry itself has a responsibility towards The Self, the subjective "I." In this way Hahn's writing has pointed towards a gap in my own, a responsibility I may have neglected... These thoughts are sure to influence the next few poems I write, I'm interested to see what will come of it!

I also enjoyed Hahn's loose tankas immensely, and it was in these that I could feel Bashō's presence the most. Here is a portion of "Wellfleet, Late Summer":

By the outdoor shower, the pine drop their needles in the sandy soil. By morning we find them in our double bed.

Rain a third day. We'll still walk at low tide to look for moving things. I can stop thinking about my daughter for a second.

When he picks a conch out of the bay it furls back inside. Who wouldn't?

Rolls of waves off Wellfleet. This could be Maui. I could be my mother.

At the beach I avoid the blankets of squalling children but miss my own.

Lying together on a towel, the sand flies bite us till we return to the rented bungalow. What strange foreplay!

Returning with bagels and the news, a cicada has fastened onto the screen door--a broach for a daughter I think I don't think enough of.

I love how thoughts of children continuously invade upon the scene of romantic seclusion / natural beauty, and the irony of feeling the daughter is not thought of often enough when she seems continuously present. But the exclamation about foreplay is so essentially Bashō to me, good stuff!

cited: Kahn, Kimiko. Narrow Road to the Interior. New York: Norton, 2006. 50, 62.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Right in the Nick of Time...

Did I read Rita Dove's Thomas and Beulah while it was still July? You'd better believe it! Am I bicycling all the way to Saint Paul tomorrow because I didn't finish my grant application soon enough to put it in the mail? Yes indeedy.

Deadlines are marvelous, magical things, even when we're late or miss them entirely. It's wonderful to have something asked of you... but attach it to a specific date and the whole feeling's electrified. You will get SOMETHING done one way or another, even if it's not the thing you originally intended.

I believe it was at our very first poetry group meeting in McC's old apartment (sniff!) that I mentioned wanting to read Rita Dove's Thomas and Beulah. I'm glad I waited. This book, like The Pillow Book is of a stripe best read apart from the semester frenzy. It requires attention yes, but also patience, as you sort through the timeline in the back and try to fit all the pieces together.

The book is structured around the lives of Dove's maternal grandparents, or so the web tells me. It's organized into two sections: Mandolin, which conveys Thomas' experiences; and Canary in Bloom which provides Beulah's. There is a note in the beginning which specifies that the poems should be read in order as they are meant to tell two sides of a story. I've chosen a poem about work from each section to share here.

From Mandolin:

The Zeppelin Factory

The zeppelin factory
needed workers, all right--
but, standing in the cage
of the whale's belly, sparks
flying off the joints and noise thundering,
Thomas wanted to sit
right down and cry.

That spring the third
largest airship was dubbed
the biggest joke
in town, though they all
turned out for the launch.
Wind caught,
"The Akron" floated
out of control,

three men in tow--
one dropped
to safety, one
hung on but the third,
muscles and adrenalin
failing, fell
six hundred feet.

Thomas at night
in the vacant lot:
     Here I am, intact
     and faint-hearted.

Thomas hiding
his heart with his hat
at the football game, eyeing
the Goodyear blimp overhead:
     Big boy I know
     you're in there.

From Canary in Bloom:


The hat on the table
in the dining room
is no pet trained
to sit still. Three
pearl-tipped spears and Beulah
maneuvering her shadow
to the floor. The hat
is cold. The hat
wants more.

(The customer will be
generous when satisfied
beyond belief. Spangled
tulle, then, in green
and gold and sherry.)

would have settled
for less. She doesn't
pray when she's
terrified, sometimes, in-
side her skin like
today, humming
through a mouthful of pins.

Finished it's a mountain
on a dish, a capitol
poised on a littered shore.
The brim believes
in itself, its
double rose and feathers
ashiver. Extravagance
redeems. O
intimate parasol
that teaches to walk
with grace along beauty's seam.

Mostly I'm interested in hearing what others think. It's late and my brain-functioning is starting to slow. But one of the things that strikes me here and in all the poems is the progression of images. Instead of slipping into a scene by giving us the gradual zoom-in or zoom-out, Dove's movement is rapid and wildly unpredictable. She shoots around so much that it's often not until I've read through a poem 2/3 times, revisited what may have come before/after, and checked the chronology that I'm able to get a picture of the complete composition. This speaks to the complexity of her representations, and the good news is that they always pay off in the end.

I'm really interested in hearing what Molly and McC think, as they each have written about family before the program and during. Maybe Molly's post will have more about the dynamic between the lovers themselves, as my selections here don't speak to that. But this is certainly a compelling collection and I'm sure I'll have more to reflect upon it post-deadline!

cited: Dove, Rita. Thomas and Beulah. Pittsburgh: Carnegie-Mellon University Press, 1986.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy 4th, everyone!

This month, Meryl and I are going to read Thomas and Beulah by Rita Dove. Please feel free to read along, comment / post, etc. Also please feel free to comment on our Pillow Book entries--just because we've finished the book ourselves doesn't mean the conversation is over.