Friday, July 25, 2008

Re-post 4/5/05, AWP highlights, comic relief, Susan Musgrave, Anne Carson et al.

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[April 5, 2005: A few selected highlights from AWP Vancouver (3/31—4/3, 2005)

Susan Musgrave, who was the Canadian poet who preceded Michael Ondaatje, was a wonderful surprise. The dramatically lit great hall was full—it seemed thousands were anxiously awaiting the start. I was not familiar with her work though I had heard her name before. It was hard to tell how old she was—maybe fifty or so? She had long gray hair and a slightly wobbly manner at the microphone. When she started speaking, it seemed as though she had had a few before she’d gotten there. She suggested that she might skip reading and just do Irish drinking songs for twenty minutes. She actually faked starting in on one song, which was very funny. She went on that she’d already cashed her check, and what could they do?

Then she suggested, "We should create a whole new country made of writers, including Canada, New York and Hollywood. We’ll call it A-W-P,” she said. This was all very amusing because of her delivery, which felt very uninhibited and spontaneous.

Then she told a harrowing story of how her husband (or ex-husband) who was an American was arrested for trying to transport thirty tons of marijuana into Canada. I think she said it was on a boat, and somehow things went very wrong so that her husband was being chased by the CIA, the DEA, the FBI and the Royal Canadian Mounties all at once.

Somehow he eluded almost everyone and was running through the forest and only the Royal Canadian Mounty was chasing him. (Isn’t their slogan “We always get our man”?) When the Mounty caught him, the Mounty slammed him in the head with his rifle butt, which made him protest, “I’ve got rights!” (just like an American would, of course.) Then the Mounty shouted spitefully down at him, “You’re in Canada now, m*#%@^$@#$@^!”

This was so hilarious due to the way she said it that my friends and I were parroting her line all night and even the next days.

Then she said that “You’re in Canada now, m*#%@^$@#$@^!” was going to be the title of her next book, unbeknownst to her publisher. (She confessed that it was a very un-Canadian title since Canada was the land where, if any American were to bump into a Canadian, the Canadian would always apologize.) She also mused that maybe her publisher wouldn’t feel so bad about the title if they knew a Mounty said it.

People were laughing very hard through all this, and I was struck by the humor that combined so much irony, absurdity and pathos.

Her poetry was very sharp and a powerful mixture of hard realities on the one hand and a larger ironic vision on the other. It was excruciatingly beautiful. I was really moved.

After the reading by Michael Ondaatje, one of my famous Philly poet friends, Harriet Levin, saw Erik and I near the elevators and invited us up to the private reception; she was going up with David Mura, Gary Pak and Marilyn Chin, so we got to stand around the top floor with the gorgeous panorama of Vancouver all around with all the VIPs and the exquisite catered seafood and the snooty wait staff.

(You know you’re in the VIP reception when the wait staff with beautiful hor d’oeuvres are reservedly revolted by the hordes of unwashed writers, poets etc.)

Susan Musgrave and Michael Ondaatje were both there talking with their friends, and there was a complimentary open bar, which a few people took too much advantage of, including one young guy who all but demanded a cigarette from Erik or me, and was very angry that we did not have any. Then he stalked off in disgust.

It had been a very long day at the bookfair and an equally long night of great readings, so we were all pretty exhausted. Kazim Ali made a brief appearance (sort of apparition like, to me, by that point). I told Erik what a genius Kazim was at running Nightboat Books, which elicited an embarrassed laugh from Kazim. (Kazim and Jennifer Chapis somehow started their own press just a few years after NYU and got things off to a great start.)

Anyway, the next day at the bookfair I saw Susan Musgrave walking by herself past my table. She looked a little sad, I thought, or maybe she was just very tired from the previous night’s performance. I told her that I thought her reading was very hilarious and poignant; she seemed very happy to hear this. So I went on to say, “It was very moving. It was inspiring,” and this made her smile. Then I said, “It was excruciatingly beautiful.”

That made her pause. Then she actually pulled out her little notebook and said, “No one has ever said that to me before” (she was really flattered), and she wrote it down in her little scrawl with quotation marks around it. “I want to use that,” she said. “I’m going to tell people that is what it was like when they ask.”

Then I was flattered, but I said, “Thanks, but— hey! you have to attribute it to me,” I said, giving her my card.

She said okay and scrawled my name down dutifully next to the words, and she kept my card and went off (happily, I think) on her way.

(I asked for this attribution because I once blurbed Sherman Alexie’s poetry book when I was writing reviews for The Philadelphia Inquirer, and Hanging Loose Press took my best line for the back cover and didn’t use my name! They just attributed it to The Philadelphia Inquirer. I was the only blurb author to be “anonymised” in this way. Thus, if you see a Sherman Alexie poetry book, The Summer of Black Widows with a blurb on the back with the word “Whitmanic” on it, that was me.)

Vancouver itself was very beautiful—the architecture was elegant and had a strong Asian influence. Most of the skyscrapers were not too large but extremely interesting geometrically. They could have been in Taiwan or Japan. Chinatown was also very nice though Erik and I were only there once for a late dinner—the food was great and very cheap. The neighborhood nearby was sketchy though; we were accosted by a few strange guys who might have been selling and/or on drugs.

The last day’s big reading was Anne Carson and W. S. Merwin. It was slated for 4:30 p.m., and I’d been very sleep deprived from the start, and the AWP bookfair staff wanted to kick us all out totally by 5:30 p.m., so I had to pack up everything I could carry and grab a cab and head across town to the hotel where Erik and I were staying. Then I had to rush back to the conference hotel to make the reading.

Anne Carson was a classicist, and she was extremely funny and beautiful in an eccentric way. She was actually crying a little as she got up to the podium (due to the very laudatory introduction?) and said, “This is a WAY lot of people.”

(It was standing room only, and I was, in fact, not there but in the adjacent room watching a simulcast on a big screen, which made her luminous, youthful face much larger than life-size.)

She pulled herself together a little and improvised some kind of a thirteen-second poem with audience participation. It had two choruses, A and B. She deftly divided the multitudes with an authoritative gesture, saying, “You are Chorus A,” and waved them off. Then divided the other half off, saying “You are Chorus B.” In her almost-parody-of-a-professor, she said, “Chorus A, your line is: “I’ll buy it! with an exclamation point.” This made everyone laugh. “Chorus B, your line is: “What a bargain! with an exclamation point.”

After she made the audience rehearse once, the thirteen-second poem flashed by in her fine high voice, and she merely gestured to each chorus, and it worked perfectly. The audience exploded in playful laughter and applause, and she applauded them too.

Then she had some unusual and quirky translations of Catullus, and she recited many of these. They were interesting—I’ve read enough from antiquity to know that they were as—if not more—sex-obsessed and idiosyncratic as anyone is today. She had a way of bringing to the fore just how much Catullus was so near to us. She somehow sneaked into her translations refrigerators and other modern machines. She ended this series with the most sexual lyric poem, tapping her neat stack of vertical pages on the podium with a final, “So much for the classics!”

This was followed by a really unusual poem inspired by a woman painter, and she admitted up front that she had no opinion of the art work. But she had thought about it very extensively, so her poem was comprised entirely of “If” clauses.

She was very self-deprecating as she introduced her poem. She declared something like, “It has about eighty clauses, but to you it will seem interminable.” Everyone laughed. “But let me give you some markers along the way to help you....” Then she said a key phrase for one point and another, and she said “Freud” would show up near the end, which meant that when we heard his name, unlike upon any other possible occasion, his name would give us hope. Everyone laughed at that too, and as I think about it now, I realize that her joke had many layers of meaning aside from the obvious one. It was indirectly quite revealing, in a way.

The poem was wonderful—the clauses added up to something much greater than they began with—there were significant shades of meaning in the digressions. It ended beautifully, and it did not seem long at all. Her delivery was so clear and her voice so resonant in its pitch—she might have had a soprano voice. (Somewhere during the earlier poems she sang a little, and her singing voice was very charming and lilting.) She had one of those faces that seems ageless—she could have been twenty or more years younger than she was. I was astonished to read online what year she was born!

The applause she received in the end was very warm and long. She did not stand there to receive it very long though; she took herself off the podium quickly and modestly. This reminded me of her tears before she began—it made one wonder a little about her. Did she actually know how great she was?

W. S. Merwin had to follow her, and that was an unenviable spot to be in even if you are W. S. Merwin, which he himself admitted right away. He said something about having read after Anne Carson before, and how he hadn’t learned anything (meaning: she’s a tough act to follow).

Then he told a touching little anecdote about Robert Creeley, who drove through a snowstorm to pick him up with another poet in upper state New York. Creeley accidentally, while waving his arms around talking, knocked the headlights out and just kept driving down the highway in the thick snowstorm, the snowflakes strangely luminous and falling at them. Merwin was in the back, watching all this, and his other friend carefully reached around and got the headlights back on, and Creeley kept talking, waving his arms around, and driving as if nothing had happened.

I must admit that by that time I was feeling the hours of work and the time of concentration before had taken most of my attentive abilities out of me. I was able to really focus on a few of the poems, at the start and the end, and they were very beautiful. Merwin spoke at great, great length sometimes between poems, and this seemed very spontaneous, which was good, but it seemed to take a while to get to the poems, which were better.

It was a little funny that he read one of his own translations of Catullus, which was loaded with assonance and alliterative effects, and it did sound more “poetic” than Anne Carson’s translations, but the sense of a vital and other personality coming through the translation was not as strong. He actually addressed Anne directly in the midst of his reading at that point, to talk about translating Catullus, which seemed a little unusual to me.

Harriet, though, was in heaven, and she felt like Merwin’s reading was just transcendent. I am also a Merwin fan, but I’d never heard his actual voice before, and the adjustment was not easy for me.

Believe it or not, then there was another event with Wayson Choi and Ursula Leguin, and they were at 8 or 8:30 p.m. and they were the last readers. Erik and I went out to dinner with Patrick Lawler (a very funny and wonderful poet) and two of his good friends.

Patrick, Erik and I were all still parroting that line from Susan Musgrave, “You’re in Canada now, m#$%#$%&#$&*!” We didn’t pronounce the whole thing because we were at a beautiful waterfront restaurant, and the waiter seemed to be so nice, respectful and dignified—I think we didn’t want to throw him off stride.

Anyway, the story by Wayson Choi was indelibly moving and framed perfectly by his casual conversational tone. He was clearly a master at doing this sort of performance.

Ursula Leguin admitted right away she was no talker but a writer and would just read, and then she read an interesting experimental story called “Ether OR,” meaning, a town named “Ether” in “Oregon.” A very northwest Pacific Rim kind of humor, I guess. She was great reader and there were many funny, strange and insightful moments in the work, which featured many voices of the people in the town. It was a nice, soft ending to a hard-working conference. There was a huge mob of fans for autographs afterwards.

My novelist friend from Philly, Simone Zelitch, was there in the long line. We chatted a little before Erik and I headed out—it was late, after all, and we were exhausted.

Most of the long days' hours had been spent at the bookfair, which was intense and hard. We were selling books, after all, to the toughest (and the best) audience in the world.

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Sunday, July 20, 2008

Re-post: Reading for the Colorado Center for the Book, The Lighthouse Writers & The Copper Nickel on 03/12/05

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[March 13, 2005 * On the Reading for the Colorado Center for the Book, The Lighthouse Writers & The Copper Nickel on 03/12/05]

I was very happy to read in the Tivoli Student Union Building at CU-Denver again; I was invited back by Sara Whelan who had remembered me from the reading I gave last year as part of the Denver Poetry Festival on 04/23/04. That reading was really unusual in that I was so turned on by being in Denver and by having an audience with a large number of the CU-Denver faculty there that it really didn't matter to me that the total audience was just around a dozen people. Even though the sound system sort of went berserk at one point during that reading, it actually sort of helped to convey the theme of random urban violence in the poem identity papers, which I hadn't planned to read. I did it just because the audience said they were ready for it and really interested in it. I hadn't done any part of it in a long time, it seemed, and certainly not solo. (Usually there would have been my wonderful friend Lori-Nan Engler, the actress who collaborated on the CD, or there would have been Toshi, the percussionist.) But it went so well that after the reading Sara was really intrigued and wanted to know in depth how and why I wrote in these dialogic forms etc., and so the impression I made that day was what brought about this new reading.

I started getting ready a few weeks ago; I asked Jamie Romero, a very nice poetry student who is also an actress who had gotten some great reviews, to help out by reading the Iris character. She was happy to, and we rehearsed a few times for less than an hour the week before. We also rehearsed one of the poems just a half hour before the reading. It wasn't hard. She was very quick at picking things up, and her voice was neither too high nor too low—it was just resonant enough to cut through very clearly and with great character. It was fun to have her to play off of.

I had been looking forward to this reading for a while, especially since some unrelated things had been a major and continual drain, and those things had been so hard lately that they actually were—for a first time—interfering with my reading. I was nervous! You might think that is normal, but it is actually not normal for me because during most readings that I have given I have felt very relaxed and free. But this time I had to struggle to find any ease. The joke lines were not getting the usual laughs. My mouth went painfully dry (a very bad sign). Fortunately, Jamie was solid as a rock, and it helped that her boyfriend was clearly enjoying the reading where he was. I had to internally struggle to get myself back to the core of the poetry over and over. The thing I was there for... the thing that brought me here to Colorado in the first place—it was being edged out by unrelated problems! How awful that was.

I suspect that this struggle was almost entirely invisible to everyone except that I seemed more tense than I normally would. As the poems passed, and mostly drew applause, I started to really ease up and just let the poetry take over again. I had a plan and stuck with it, and by the end I was really "on" again, and the audience was happy afterward.

One thing I did that helped was last night I slept with the poetry audio tracks playing over and over—it actually made me dream something significant for the first time in a very long time. It also meant that the rhythms were in my subconscious pretty deeply. Another thing that helped was that I actually worked on something NEW (a promising but very rough draft that had been nagging at me for a long while), so that meant good things were simmering in the creative sphere. Another thing that helped was that I'd gotten there early, and Jamie was waiting there in Room 444 in the Tivoli Student Union. It also helped that Sara got us no less than three bottles of water for the reading. Another good thing was the big turnout (around fifty people, almost all new to me), and several familiar friends and students, which is always a great thing. Another good thing was the reporter Laurie Dunklee who wanted to write about this event for a Denver paper and ask a few questions; she asked really good questions and seemed genuinely interested. She was also the first person to tell me that she had read this blog (as research, no less!) That was gratifying. So all the little things that helped really added up to a solid success. A year ago, I think I'd have felt very pumped up by all this. Tonight I feel lucky to have survived.

The next day, 03/13/05, I got this reassuring e-mail from Sara Whelan:

"Dear Jeff,

I was very pleased with the turn-out and the reading. There are few people
who have your attention to detail when it comes to expression and voice in
the reading of poetry, which gives your poems a new dimension, bringing them
into the realm of experience beyond language. (If that makes sense). As I
mentioned before you left, there's a moment of surrender I experience when
listening to your poems read aloud—a transition where my mind lets go of
the need to decode and allows the voices to take me somewhere, from the
familiar to the unfamiliar. This is really much like the experience of
listening to music, which means, to me, your employment of musical forms and
devices in composition is quite successful...."

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Re-post [3/8/05] on Galway Kinnell, the teacher/poet

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[March 8, 2005* On Galway Kinnell as a teacher/poet, something to be grateful for....]

Galway would regularly ask us to do the impossible. Once in a one-on-one conference in the spring of 1999 he was helping me with a poem about the out-of-body travel experience of a thirteen-year-old. I was struggling to show how it was both a transcendent and a sexually arousing experience. He perked up with a great idea, which went something like: ‘Why don’t you show how the spiritual and the sexual are interwoven inevitably in adolescence? I’ve never read a poem about that. Why don’t you do that?’

After the enormity of this sank in, I said something like, ‘Okay.... I guess I could try that....’ (read: Sure, just toss off the answer to a mystery that has baffled thinkers and sages for millennia).

Even though I was stumped for a very long time, the idea Galway planted took root and a year later I wrote the poem that fulfilled that idea, and it was published later in 2000.

I have always felt indebted to Galway for daring to believe in me (and so many of us) with the same kind of ambition that he had in his own work. That was a gift that you could never fully measure. Thank you, Galway!

(The poem that Galway and I were discussing this idea over was called "digression," and it was written as the second part of a series called "out-of-body travel at thirteen." I think he had already seen the third part called "out-of-body travel at thirteen"—that was the most narrative part. The next part, which took a year to write was about the transcendental and sexual elation, and it was called "elation: some variations." I brought this to Sharon's workshop the following year and explained how it came about. I seem to remember Sharon's reaction when I recollected Galway's suggestion to the class as a kind of moment when her jaw dropped open momentarily. The series can be seen as a PDF here. Thanks to Ashlie Kauffman, fellow NYU alum for asking about this.)

[The wonderful poet and fellow alum Susan Brennan sent this in to the NYU listserv about Galway:]

Once, in Galway's classroom, he played a tape of animals sounds—I remember the wolves especially and thinking—this is wild, and comforting and—so sexy. In that same class, he explained Whitman as a kind of fertility god who spoke through the lines of Leaves of Grass. I remember cherishing this note especially because the previous semester I was in an English class with doctoral students who just about crucified Whitman.

Reading Galway's work, being his student at NYU, watching him get intense over line-drives at Squaw Valley, having him generously listen to poems that were difficult to write—all these moments have conveyed to me a special knowledge about poetry; that it's a wilderness which poets can graciously and proudly inhabit. Galway has shown my poetry-creature ways to make a home in this wilderness.

A couple of summers ago, I was standing on West Third Street with Humera and we saw Galway crossing the street. He had on a bright, white shirt and it was billowing in the wind. We watched as strangers turned their heads to look at him with an impulsive curiosity. We sighed to each other "he's so beautiful and sexy and wild and free"! Poetry.


[This is from fellow alum Emily Gordon who sent this in to the NYU listserv about Galway:]

This is the Galway story I love to tell. In 2002 on the last day of Craft, he gave out books of his to everyone and talked for a little while about how much having poetry friendships has meant to him. He said, "When you leave, I hope you'll stay in touch with each other, and trade poems. The most marvelous thing is how easy it can be! You don't have to wait for the mail for weeks anymore to find out if your friend liked your poem. Now there's the fax machine, which makes it so that in only a few minutes your friend can see your poem, and send it back, and you can read it! Isn't it wonderful?" And we all burst out laughing in the most affectionate way possible, just about in tears.


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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Re-post from Feb. 22, 2005, on poets and insanity

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[February 22, 2005* the start of an extended riff on poets and insanity...]

Another hard thing in the writing world is, I must admit, the way some writers act, especially towards each other. Everyone in the writing world, especially the poetry neighborhood of the writing world, has horror stories. Some of them are so horrifying you could make them into cheesy horror movies. No, I mean real horror movies. This only gets worse when you really dig into "the field," so to speak, because sometimes "the field" is a graveyard.

Did you know that the great Victorian poet Dante Gabriel Rosetti, who had an affair with Fanny Cornforth, his beautiful housekeeper, felt so guilty over his wife's suicide that he buried all of his poetry with her? Wait wait—it gets worse. Then he realized his great contribution to English literature was in the process of decomposing along with the corpse of his wife, so he dug it up again.

The list of famous poet and writers who were suicidal, drunk, addicted, self-destructive, narcissistic, promiscuous, diseased, insane and so on is far too long to even start.

(On the other hand, I think there is an almost equally great tragedy in going to the opposite extreme and trying to make cultural icons out of poets and writers who are so relentlessly dull, inoffensive, and "nice" that you can't remember who they are five minutes after you meet them. We seem to be in a cultural moment that champions more and more of the safe and dull—poets who censor themselves so much that no one will ever have to worry about them censoring them in any way.)

Sadly, the poetry game in particular is great camouflage for crazy people. So I have to admit that I have been friends, and ex-friends, with some crazy literati and/or literary nutjobs. I learned what I learned the hard way.

But let me say this, first: some of the actually diagnosed schizophrenic poets that I knew were really brilliant (at times), and mostly very nice to be around (except for the antisocial nervous tics, the degenerative diseases, the logorrhea etc.) Genuinely crazy poets who know they are crazy (meaning: they can tell you exactly which drugs they are supposed to be on whether they take them or not) aren't necessarily bad at all, especially in contrast to those who think they are okay and are deeply disturbed.

I don't know if this one guy is still alive, so I don't want to give away his name. When I was twenty or so, he was forty or so, but he looked sixty due to his very hard institutionalization and "treatment" for schizophrenia in the bad old days of primitive psychotropic drugs. I met him through another poet (of course), and I had read one of his books, which had exquisite and beautiful lyric moments in it although it also seemed at times to verge on being an incoherent way out jazz improv with words. But even then it had some inner beauty and resilience. I really admired what he was able to do. So I was really shocked to see him looking withered, weathered, smelly, ragged, haggard, and gray. Worse, he was in nonstop highspeed raving mode, complaining about his degenerating teeth, eyes, and on and on. But as I listened to him going on and on, I was able to separate the poet from his illness somehow, and when he was out of breath I told him I really admired his poetry due to the gorgeous images and the musical quality in the lines. I was sincere when I told him that I was moved by the beauty of his lyric poetry.

Suddenly he stopped ranting, complaining, and suffering. I explained a little more about what I'd read. He paused and asked a few questions, just to be sure I knew what I was talking about. It sank in, and he felt a kind of relief or maybe a temporary release from all his grief. Someone had just recognized who he really was.

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Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Some Answers to Questions from a Poetry Student

[Re-post from February 7, 2005. Answers to some short questions (slightly edited)....]

My advanced poetry student Gwen Wagner recently asked via e-mail: "Ballpark, how much time do you find you need to spend writing a day to keep 'in the groove' or be ready when the groove hits you?"

When I was younger, I used to write for several hours a day for days on end. Sometimes whole days or nights would be spent with writing. Even though I wrote relatively little that was worth preserving in those early years (when I was eighteen to twenty or so), the habits of concentration were essential to developing a literary consciousness that was actively creating, innovating, and working. Just reading great works by others does something similar to this, also, but reading works best for young poets when they are fulfilling a need (or a lack) in their own work.

Now, I should say that due to some situations I have at work now, I have not really written a poem in a while although I feel I have lived through the material to write many (haha).

In the academic year 2002-2003, I was able to write more often and finished most of what is now invisible sister before the summer of 2003 ended. Just as an example, “Iris’ painter hears the rain music return” took maybe a dozen drafts but they were mostly just getting a sharper focus on the subject with each new version. It wasn’t grueling.

There have been a lot of what I will call minor poems, and maybe a few “important” ones, or at least important starts. What’s the difference between minor and major poems? Some things in your life carry a great deal of energy, and some are just little observations or moments etc. When I get an opening into a major field of energy that is turning into a poem, I think that could be important. I have actually had some important starts this year, but I have not rushed to work on them due to other pressures. I don’t want to botch a potentially great thing even if it means having to wait a long time until things are more calm.

In 2003-2004, there were fewer poems as invisible sister was being created at Many Mountains Moving, and that required much creative energy of a different sort, and so did arranging readings etc.

Gwen also asked: "How do you revise work without the help of peers/other writers?"

Actually, even when there are no actual “peers” (as in a workshop), I carry around inside of me (as everyone does) the voices and the ears of others who have been my peers and precursors at different points in my life. So there are friendly, enabling presences in my consciousness when I write. In fact, when I feel the most inspired is when I feel these presences the most.

A lot of times, I also share things via a free online forum that I have set up with friends and peers, which I still find enjoyable and helpful.

Reading new works aloud for various audiences also helps a lot, and so does creating audio recordings in a studio.

Also, when you write with actors or actresses in mind, they can actually have a profound impact on the work because their ways of hearing the work and giving it voice can actually create new dimensions in the work that you did not hear before. Sometimes the creativity of the actor or actress extends the depth of the character, and then you can follow that opening wherever it leads. That is one reason why I like to work with some people over and over.

Gwen also wrote: I'm reading this book called Art as Experience by John Dewey. It was written in the 1930's--amazing amounts of good stuff came out of the "depression." (Kind of like the Dark Ages.) This book discusses some theories of art, some of which are applied to poetry (though in a sort of stifled way that could be expanded by someone who knows the writer better.) In a chapter on expression two ideas which you touched on indirectly in the blog came up. One, that a work of art which has sufficiently accomplished it's message, if the viewer is receptive, can speak to that person--the artist goes through a process of creation in making the painting (art) and the viewer also goes through a creating process in order to access its meaning. Interesting thought...makes art very interactive instead of stuck in a museum and musty. Two, that self-expression (really an excuse for self-indulgence) doesn't make something is the cohesion of thought and medium that creates a cohesiveness and accessible message in the work.

I am really glad you made that connection with Art as Experience because the only reading that has really mattered to me is that in which I feel a very strong connection to the writer as though we were in a kind of an intense dialogue. (The list of writers I have felt this close to is not very long.) The reader has to be reinvented and to be actively reinventing him or herself while reading just as a person in a real dialogue with a true friend starts to awaken or engage different aspects of the self. To be inspired while reading is like discovering a true friend who turns on (or reaches) essential parts of you.

On the point about self-expression, I'd say that the first really successful things I wrote happened when, by accident, I didn't say what I wanted to as much as I let the poem say what it needed to. In fact, the first times that I stumbled into this phenomenon, I myself didn't know what the lines meant, but I somehow knew they were better than anything I wanted to say. The lines knew more than I did, which was humbling. Humility is a good place to be in the midst of the process of creating.

Whenever it happens now that I write something that I know is better than or more than anything I could ever consciously grasp or "plan," when a kind of a mysterious door opens up where I thought I knew where I was, then I feel very fortunate.

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Thursday, July 3, 2008

First impression of Anne-Marie Cusac, Great news for MMM Press: Silkie (2007) by Anne-Marie Cusac wins an award

I don't know exactly when I first met Anne-Marie Cusac, but I'm sure it was after we published her book in 2007. It might have been at the AWP where we first presented her book to the world at a book signing.

At the AWP bookfair, my first impression was very strong: she was wearing an elegant black dress, and she had very dark brown hair and very striking features. Her smile was the sort of beautiful smile that exudes great warmth and happiness. It was infectious. We were at the bookfair together for no more than a few minutes when a few guys saw her and her book with its very gorgeous cover art and bought her book on the spot. One of the guys actually said he wanted to buy the book because of its cover's {%@*@$$^$#%#} value. The cover has a painting of a voluptuous naked woman.

So, anyway, today was a great day for news for MMM Press, which follows.

Silkie (MMM Press, 2007) by Anne-Marie Cusac wins an OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT AWARD from the Wisconsin Library Association!

Silkie was reviewed in New Madrid: journal of contemporary literature and a new review is forthcoming in American Book Review.

Anne-Marie Cusac’s new nonfiction book on punishment and torture is forthcoming soon from Yale University Press.

Further, our current poetry book contest deadline is August 16th, 2008. And we are please to announce that our new judge is Steven Huff.

Steven Huff’s second book of poems More Daring Escapes was released in 2008 by Red Hen Press. A book of stories, A Pig in Paris will be released in 2008 by Big Pencil Press. He is a Pushcart winner in fiction, and his poetry has been read by Garrison Keillor on The Writer’s Almanac. He teaches creative writing at Rochester Institute of Technology and in the MFA program at Pine Manor College. He is proprietor of a new literary publishing company, Tiger Bark Press. See the guidelines at:

(email entries are accepted now as well as traditional paper submissions)

Printable guidelines with an entrant’s order form are at:

Also, you can now go straight to MMM Press at for samples, audio, links, reviews, interviews, events, and more.
(or go through and follow the MMM Press links.)

Engaged in themes such as sex, gender, race, ecology, politics, history, folklore, pop culture, the media, Surrealism, mythology, feminist revisions of mythology, the occult, madness, and spirituality, MMM Press authors inspire with relevant themes as much as with bold innovations in poetics. MMM Press does not subscribe to any particular school(s) of poetics. The books vary widely, showing influences of confessional, lyric, narrative, experimental lyric and narratives poetry, multi-voiced narratives, multi-perspective narratives, etc.

Founded by Naomi Horii in 2003, Many Mountains Moving Press grew out of Many Mountains Moving: a literary journal of diverse voices. The press continues to publish exciting, groundbreaking poets. Authors include: Alison Stone, Jeffrey Ethan Lee, Patrick Lawler, Anne-Marie Cusac and Susan Settlemyre Williams. Generally publishes one prize-winning title each year. The 2007 competition final judge was Yusef Komunyakaa. Visit the site for extensive samples, audio, reviews, interviews, links, events, etc.

MMM Press books have been used in colleges and universities around the country.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

[untitled Allentown epilogue] something old revisited

Sometimes a synchronistic moment occurs. You work on a poem you haven't thought about in years. Then you hear about the person the poem was dedicated to.

I worked on this yesterday after having forgotten about it for years. Then today a call comes with news about the person, a close friend. The news was hard news.

Speaking not as a poet but as a person, this is one that reminds me a lot of my friends. Looking at it as a "work" that might be part of a longer work, I have to say this is the first time it made any sense to me, i.e. I can see where it fits into a bigger story, finally. I think this will be the end of a book I've had in the works for a very long time....

[untitled Allentown epilogue] for P.F.H.

“D’jou hear that?”
The screams were so piercing
through the jukebox, the clamor,
I nudged Bill, alert amid the beer,
the smoke and blaring.
He nodded—we left the crowd
for the almost stifled street.
No cars running,
no drunks singing,
no pedestrians—
just the muffled roar of the bar.
But then across the street
and across the corner
we heard the scream again
and slamming doors,
boots clomping down some stairs—
an exploding front door,
a slim figure fleeing.
She fell on her knees on the sidewalk,
curled over herself, pulled into herself
as if the concrete could hide her.
He charged out shouting over and over,

His fists just above her raised.
I shouted, “HEY! LEAVE THAT
He turned, lurched toward us,
then Bill grabbed me,
dragged me into his car,
revved and pulled it out of his spot,
aimed his headlights straight at them.
The woman looked at us
while slowly crawling away from him.
He threatened her to go inside—
she shouted back she’d never.
Then he set to kick her hard.
Bill floored the gas, and he looked up, froze;
meanwhile, Bill apologized:
“I’m sorry I stopped you.
He could be armed.
But we’re safe in here.
He can’t see us very well,
but we can watch his every move.
And the motor’s running....”
We watched them argue in Bill’s headlights:
the wraith hesitated, then retreated inside.
She stayed prone, shaking in sobs.
Then Bill parked again—
we didn’t know what to do.
She looked over at us,
her eyes full, curious.
Her face was puffy,
much younger than I’d thought—
a quavering cat too scared to move.
Then Pam opened the bar door,
phone in hand, urging,
“Get in here! I called the cops already.”
She pulled me in by my shirt.
“Do you wanna get killed?”
Tearing myself away,
and going back in, then,
I realized the answer
must have been

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

My father versus Commander Riker of Star Trek the Next Generation

(How my dad took a shot at the entire enterprise of the performing arts)

Because I had been in a handful of small theater productions when I was much younger, and because my parents were frantically opposed to the whole idea, I told my dad the story of Jonathan Frakes, the son of Professor James Frakes at Lehigh University.

My dad was busy getting a cup of tea in the kitchen as I spoke.

“Jonathan Frakes’ dad thought that a life in film and TV was a terrible mistake. They had real ugly and bitter struggles because the father thought the son would not get anywhere. But look— see, now he’s Commander Riker of Star Trek the Next Generation.

My dad paused before he left with a parting shot, without looking away from his tea cup, “Just give it a few years. Soon— he’ll be nothing!”