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Poets buy poetry

Tuesday July 24, 2007 @ 12:11 PM (UTC)

So as I stir my morning oatmeal, the local hour of KQED’s Forum plays. It’s about the upcoming San Francisco International Poetry Festival. The host starts taking listener calls, asking that they share poets, especially little-known ones, whose work they love, or talk about poetry and its significance in general.

The second caller wants to know how to get his sonnets published.

For Muse’s sake here, people. I’m well aware of the Magic Cover Letter Effect—the irrational belief among unpublished writers that there is one thing they could do that would get them published, and the resulting tendency to ask embarrassing questions at panels and readings. However, for poetry it’s worse.

I’ve written some poetry in my day. And I never, ever try to get it published. Why? Some of it isn’t awful, but over the years, I haven’t been a consumer of poetry. Until I entered the MFA program, I had never bought a literary journal or a book of poetry that wasn’t an anthology for class. I reasoned that I had no right to ask anyone to publish my poetry if I wasn’t consuming other people’s.

And this is one of those times when I break my own rules and say, “My way is Right.” If you are a poet, if you feel in your heart that you’re a poet, that someday people will be reading your poems in journals and chapbooks—walk down to Powell’s, or your local independent bookstore, or, if all else fails, Borders (they have a decent number of litmags). Buy some poetry journals. Mark the poems in the journals you really love, and look up the authors. Buy a book of poetry. I love Jeannine Hall Gailey’s first book, Becoming the Villainess. You could also pick up Dorianne Laux’s Facts About the Moon, or Joe Millar’s latest, Fortune, or a book by someone I’ve never heard of, someone you’ll discover for yourself in the musty rows at Powell’s, someone whose poetry you will hide on the way to the register, unsure they’ll really let you buy this for only X dollars, feeling like a thief.

“Everyone’s a poet,” Jack Hirschman, San Francisco’s Poet Laureate said on Forum today. But it takes more than that, I think. In order to really be a poet, you have to realize you’re taking part in an ancient art that has fallen on hard times, that is sustained by love, and by the generosity of those who have little. Who is going to spend ten, fifteen, twenty dollars on a book of poems? On a thin book with much blank space, on a genre even public radio callers distance with a “I don’t read poetry, really, but…”? Who is going to do that? Maybe you. And maybe then you’ll see which markets your work would be good in, maybe you’ll see opportunities for your own work to improve, maybe you’ll find inspiration and strength. Maybe you will become a part of a community of writers. Maybe you’re a poet. Go and see.

Recent uses of Book Darts, part III

Monday July 23, 2007 @ 04:19 PM (UTC)

“Fiction begins where human knowledge begins — with the senses—and every fiction writer is bound by this fundamental aspect of his medium.” – Flannery O’Connor, Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose

“There is no excuse for anyone to write fiction for public consumption unless he has been called to do so by the presence of a gift. It is the nature of fiction not to be good for much unless it is good in itself.” – Flannery O’Connor, Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose

“It’s said that when Henry James received a manuscript that he didn’t like, he would return it with the comment, ‘You have chosen a good subject and are treating it in a straightforward manner.’ This usually pleased the person getting the manuscript back, but it was the worst thing that James could think of to say, for he knew, better than anybody else, that the straightforward manner is seldom equal to the complications of the good subject.” – Flannery O’Connor, Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose

“To me the fairy tale is like the sea, and the sagas and myths are like the waves upon it; a tale rises to be a myth, and sinks down again into being a fairy tale.” – Marie-Louise von Franz, The Interpretation of Fairy Tales

Jonah Day

Tuesday July 10, 2007 @ 04:49 PM (UTC)

My understanding of the term ‘Jonah day’ appears at the beginning of this blogget.

After a short night of sleep, broken by recurrent nightmares of waking late and the persistent impression that my left eye had swollen shut, I woke to find that I had, in fact, managed to disable my alarm and I had, in fact, woken late. I stared at my phone for a few precious minutes, trying to make the numbers mean something else. Then, left eye not swollen shut, but definitely swollen (I’ve managed to get a mosquito bite on my eye socket), I ran to the shower, and wondered if, since I wasn’t sure of the existence of shampoo, water, feet or light, I would be safe to drive soon.

Panicked hurry and a cup of yogurt fix all ills, and soon I was driving to work, encountering horrendous traffic, NPR reports cheerfully saying that every highway was backed up and no one knew why, and phone calls from my superiors asking me to pick up extra caramel at a neighbor store.

By the time the work day was over, I was excited, truly excited, by the prospect of heading home and napping for hours. bump bump bump, whispered the Poky Puppy. BUMPBUMPBUMPBUMP, it reiterated as I neared the freeway onramp. It occured to me that in the vast miasmatic parking lot of the morning commute, I had taken the rightmost lane, not my usual second from the right. I know the potholes of the second lane quite well, but the first lane…it had gotten me at least once. Could anything have been jarred at those crawling speeds? Would I have noticed this rhythmic vibration at all on the abysmal pavement and genuinely ridged concrete?

I chickened out of the freeway and drove to Ryan’s palatial workplace, where he frowned, nodded, and insisted on using his new gadget rather than the powers of the indoor intertron to find me the nearest mechanic.

Paranoia thus seconded, I hastened to the small auto shop, where a very friendly man said the magical words, “tire separation”, thus bringing to the top of my mind buried memories and allowing me to realize why the sound and sensation gave me the feeling of a looming leeshore. My tire:

separating tire

Right glad am I that I did not compete with these Californian speed demons in their pothole derby with that lurking! The mechanic put my spare on and inflated it, and confessed when pressed that he did have a friend at a nearby tire shop. He refused payment, though I shall have the last laugh when I bring him a frosty beverage one of these days.

After the shortest tire store visit ever (and, of course, a not entirely tiny bill), I drove off homewards. I thought it was homewards. I was so proud, because I was navigating…here in the Silicon Valley!...entirely by feel. The arterial I sought hung ahead on its overpass like a particularly ugly necklace, and I was so pleased with myself. From my first mention of the car problem to Ryan to the moment I drove on four sound tires was less than two hours, and despite the sick yellow tension in the gathering thunderheads, life was falling back into order. I would get home, try to stop the mosquito bite from claiming my eye, and catch some shut-eye. I stared at the red light, an amazingly long red light, then looked around me in incredulous anger as a dump truck rolled softly into my car.

What a day. And the storm hasn’t even started.

Why today (now yesterday) was awesome

Friday June 29, 2007 @ 01:21 AM (UTC)

Reading went okay.
No one but me noticed flaws in reading.
First semester student said I looked like Kate Winslet giving reading.
Wasn’t under the glass light fixture dome when it spontaneously dropped and shattered, covering entire floor of my dorm room with shards.

Oh yes! A good day!

End Notes

Wednesday June 27, 2007 @ 07:09 PM (UTC)

Once again, I hear people saying that we have reached the end of days. When I hear or read these words, I stare.

Do they not know that every two generations feels the grip of armageddon? That the Visigoths, the Vikings, the coming of Genghis Khan were all seen as clear signs of the end?

When you say to me that you “know we are in the end times,” you say nothing about the world. You tell me that you do not care to consider the sweep of human history. You tell me you are trapped in “the ghetto of the here and now.”* You have never imagined the fearful Roman potter listening to the sounds of battle, the despair of the monk whose brothers are slaughtered, the boy running to warn the village of the approaching horde. How can you lack the curiosity, the empathy to realize that this despair is the common lot of man? How can you not even have imagined the thoughts of a woman crouched in a bomb shelter, smelling the top of her baby’s head, hoping not to hear above the radio’s talk of Cuba the dim reverberations of the world’s end?

*In a craft talk, David Long described the world without reading as “the ghetto of the here and now.”

One of us! One of us!

Tuesday June 26, 2007 @ 10:07 PM (UTC)

Names in this story have been changed to protect the silly (writers are seldom innocent).

Some time last year a gifted non-fiction writer of my acquaintance, Karin, told me she did not understand fiction writers. “I couldn’t do that. How do you decide what happens?”

“You just do. You find something cool, and have it happen, I guess?”

She shook her head.

Last night, I sat at a kitchen island chatting with Elsa, a wild-eyed fictionist like myself. Elsa wiped the blue formica clean as we spoke, the action almost subconscious for a fastidious parent.

With the indiscreet clicking and clacking characteristic of dormitory doors, Karin emerged from her room. She looked stunned.

“That surprised to see me?” I said.

“Are we keeping you up, honey?” said Elsa.

“I’m writing…a story.” She half-smiled.

Elsa and I exchanged glances, then studied the transfigured face of our friend. “Fiction?”

“Yes. I never wrote any before. Never.”

“You made something up!?” one of us said, and “Good for you!” the other, all at once, as we surged forward to grab Karin’s hands.

The residencies are transformative, remarkable. They are crucibles and comfort. Imagine this change! Imagine the confirmed teller of truths — or, depending on your philosophy, seeker of them — turning to fiction. It can happen. After all, I’m a confirmed confabulator, and I just wrote this.

Small joys

Sunday June 24, 2007 @ 03:33 PM (UTC)

A small joy from my grad school Residency, rife with joys of all sizes: sitting in front of a notoriously enthusiastic poetry professor at a poetry reading. His good-poem exhale (you know this exists, right? Go to a poetry reading, a good one, if you don’t. Synchronized exhales when the poem ends) is louder than average, and if someone’s poem is really good, he’ll say, almost subconsciously, “Geez!” I used to fear mentioning it to him. I thought maybe he’d suppress it if he knew he did it. But I am sure now that he knows, and knows we love it, and knows that when he lets out, as he did two nights ago at one of Joe Millar’s poems, the entire name-in-vain, “Jesus Christ!” it is the best and most sincere compliment.

The return of "feisty"

Wednesday June 20, 2007 @ 06:52 AM (UTC)

Apparently the BBC website didn’t listen to me last time. I ask you, is continuing to serve as a parliament member under threat of suicide bombing “spunky”? Perhaps it’s “frisky.”

New word: the amazement!

Friday June 15, 2007 @ 02:03 PM (UTC)

Sadly, I so enjoy sweeping along in Patrick O’Brian books that I often fail to note and look up the words I do not know (another good use for BookDarts!) Today, however, I decided I had to look up ataraxy, if only out of shame for having forgotten to mark, look up or even correctly recall something like ‘vaticination’ a chapter or so earlier.

Merriam-Webster hides the word behind its pay-wall, so I had recourse to the Wiktionary. The first example in the definition is, hilariously, the sentence that lies over my knee in HMS Surprise: “There was no longer any need for fortitude: he felt nothing at present and there was no point in artificial ataraxy.”

Without further ado then:
ataraxy: sullen indifference, or imperturbable calm.

Given the laudanum-related context, the latter seems more likely.

Recent uses of Book Darts, part II

Wednesday June 13, 2007 @ 09:22 PM (UTC)

You’ll doubtless be shocked to know that I’m in the midst of original fiction for this website. Standalone, even! In the meantime, here are more quotes I’ve saved with Book Darts of late:

“I sew his ears on from time to time, sure.” – Dr. Maturin on friendship, Patrick O’Brian, Post Captain

“Have you any notion of how many books are written about women in the course of one year? Have you any notion how many are written by men? Are you aware that you are, perhaps, the most discussed animal in the universe?” – Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

“Unfortunately, it is precisely the men or women of genius who mind most what is said of them.” – Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

“For books continue each other, in spite of our habit of judging them separately.” – Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own, also quoted in Eco’s Six Walks in the Fictional Wood

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