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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Dark Horses: Poets on Overlooked Poems (Joy Katz & Kevin Prufer, Eds.)

Okay, so I took it out from the library, but now I'm thinking of buying this book which pairs neglected poems w commentary by some of our nation's most esteemed poets, and Alan Michael Parker does a stand-up job articulating what's going on in Vasko Popa's "The Craftsmen of the Little Box," a poem I can't stop thinking about, reveling in, wishing I'd written, etc:

The Craftsmen of the Little Box

Don't open the little box
Heaven's hat will fall out of her

Don't close her for any reason
She'll bite the trouser leg of eternity

Don't drop her on the earth
The sun's eggs will break inside her

Don't throw her in the air
Earth's bones will break inside her

Don't hold her in your hands
The dough of the stars will go sour inside her

What are you doing for God's sake
Don't let her get out of your sight

I love how this poem begins with a contradiction: don't open / don't close for any reason.  Every word is startling, enjoyable, & makes me wish I could be 1/10 as imaginative. If it were my poem I wouldn't repeat "will break inside her" in the third and fourth stanzas, but because he did, I'm compelled to think through that choice over and over again--it seems a daring move (b/c it calls attention to how poets deliberately don't repeat  themselves in these situations, and instead strive to be continually original and startling w new verbs, images, etc.). 

Meanwhile, I've been writing poems that can fit on the left side of a postcard. One a day (or more, as I need to get ahead--reason why to follow). At first I thought I wouldn't be up to the challenge, but I'm finding  that if I lower my standards a little, focus on a place, a conversation, one small thing (like the way the clouds look), and make a poem of it--or, if not a poem, a conglomeration of words that might be a poem someday, it's kinda easy and, well, fun. And I love that I get to legitimately send my poem a day--thanks to Lana Hechtman Ayers and her wonderful poetry postcard project--out into the world on an actual postcard. And I don't even have to "think" about who I'm sending it to; the names/addresses have been provided.

Why I need to get ahead in my postcard poem writing: I will be spending next week as a Scholar in Residence on an undisclosed island.  

Friday, July 25, 2008

More Lavender & Poetic Asides Interview

I know, I know, it's just not like me to post two days in a row, but how can I not when Robert Lee Brewer has just posted an Exclusive Interview With Poet Martha Silano on his Poetic Asides blog? I mean, tiptoeing through the lavender (and being divebombed by bees) has been fun and all, but the honor of getting to gab away on Robert's site is most definitely the bee's knees. Read it and learn more about (1) manic depressive illness and its relation to postpartum psychosis; (2) how I wrote Blue Positive; (3) where and how to submit your poetry; and (4) four very good advice-y tidbits.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Oh Season of Mirth, of the Months of Plum and Nectarine

Okay, so it's been cloudy most of the week, but now the sun is back, and it's glorious out there. I just went out front and picked a bunch more lavender (we have a lavender forest in our front yard), and the bees let me know who was in charge--get your damn hands off our goods, Lady!

Yesterday I got this really brilliant idea to actually harvest the lavender this year, so I'm in the process of snipping it and hanging it to dry in the basement. So far I've hung three huge bouquets of the stuff down there, but I'm not anywhere close to done. I'm going to make at least three more bouquets, and then I'm going to pick a bunch more just to have around the house in bowls, like they do in Provence, at least according to my sister. And then when it all dries out, I'm going out and buying a case of those little fake-satin sachels they use at weddings to put birdseed or Hershey's kisses or bubble-stuff in, and I'm going to fill them all with lavender and give one to everyone I know. I was thinking I could start a little business--forget the idea of offering ms. consultations! I will become the sole proprietor of Sleeping Bumble Bees Lavender (yes, they do sleep in it).

Other than that, I've been looking excitedly forward to when I have a free minute to read the latest issues of Mid-American Review, Prairie Schooner, and Lit. MAR has a bunch of cute (but sort of scary) swimming frogs on the cover! PS has a naked woman and some cherry (pear?) blossoms! Very cool with scribbles I can't quite read and a white horse. Lit has a bird singing out all these cool looking beachy bubbles. (Yes, I am judging books by their covers.)

One important item, one writing prompt, and then you can go back to enjoying summer:

1. Whatcom Poetry Series needs your help. It's a super-duper reading series (this fall they will showcase our Poet Laureate Samuel Green, along with Nance Van Winckel and Carolyne Wright), but they are in financial trouble. Send them money right now by writing a check to Whatcom Poetry Series. Any amount is fine, but $250 makes you a Poet Sponsor, and $500 an even better Event Sponsor. Address:

Whatcom Poetry Series
c/o James Bertolino
P.O. Box 28907
Bellingham, WA 98228

Don't be part of the reason yet another cool reading series goes under. Get your check mailed today!


General: Take a well-known riddle's question and write a poem that riffs on the answer.

Specific: Write a poem that answers the question "What time is it when an elephant sits on a fence?"

Okay, everyone: back to summer!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

To breathe . . .

Inspire: in + spirare = to breathe; to breathe into; to fill with breath; to animate.

I remember the night my daughter had trouble breathing. I drove down Rainier Avenue going 55 mph, then tried to park in the ER entrance way. When it occurred to me this area was reserved for ambulances (duh), I moved my car to the street and forgot to plug the meter. I ran w her into the hospital, and when they heard her wheezing they led me to a room, a bed. Nothing like the time I had to wait seven hours b/c I was only having a period like the Red Sea. For a little tot to be gasping for breath, this warranted immediate attention.

To breathe. To animate. 

(Luckily, it was nothing a shot of steroids couldn't fix. We were out the next morning, my car (by some miracle) not ticketed).

What makes your breath quicken? Makes you go ooh, I could write about that? Or even better, the first line (or two, or three)  coming to you unbidden? As if from somewhere other than your own self? Like when you have to write it down on a napkin or some other such scrap in your car (and you're trying to do this in traffic, hoping for a red light)?

Hugo had his triggering towns. Dickinson her funerals, her bees and flowers. What do you have? What is yours and (perhaps) yours only?

I have (and have had):

1. the names of sausages;
2. the names of Oklahoma towns;
3. the birth of a nephew (he's now 13);
4. a student thinking my last name was Saline;
5. my mother;
6. The Book of Surrealist Games;
7. my children.

I have been (but have not yet fully pursued):

1. tiny vs. big;
2. unusual phenomena;
3. Christian radio stations w late-night call-ins;
4. weird medical facts, such that the stethoscope was invented b/c some guy didn't feel right touching a woman's chest to find her heartbeat;
5. death;
6. what winds up littering our roadways;
7. space junk;
8. a parenting poem incorporating lines/situations from The House at Pooh Corner;
(many more, but my brain is running dry . . .)

I have an artist friend who gets all jazzed about empty birth control pill containers. He's always pointing out to me the stuff he finds so cool in his neighborhood: little fences around plants, the stray Starburst in an alleyway. It took me awhile to get how these things animated him, what about these wires and wrappers motivated him to go down to the darkroom. 

A good reading can greatly inspire. I have been known to scribble notes on programs. To write non-stop through a reading. Not taking notes about what they're saying (though I also do that sometimes), but actually writing a poem inspired by something they said. It is embarrassing to admit this, but when this happens I cannot stop myself. Embarrassing b/c it is so damn egotistical and self-involved, so like one of those beret-wearing Poets I despised in my 20s (when did I start wearing a beret?).

Also, on an entirely unrelated note, do you believe, as Li-Young Lee does, that one's own poems are prophetic? Jeezus god, I hope not--but do you have an example of a time you wrote about something in the hypothetical (an accident, a marriage ending) only to have this scenario come true? 

 Also, unrelated, I've been enjoying Rachel Dacus's blog, and Heidi Lynn Staples'. I've added them to my blogroll--they are Rocket Kids and mildred's umbrellas. Enjoy. 

Oh, and finally: Go, Kay Ryan, our newest Poet Laureate! (I bought a copy of Elephant Rocks for 75 cents at the UW Bookstore a few years ago. In hard cover, no less. Won't be finding that kind of bargain any time soon . . .). 

If you don't know her work, you will soon enough. 

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Summer Submissions!

Diane Lockward is a gracious, talented, and very smart woman--and she's done us all a wonderful service by posting each and every magazine to submit to during the summer months. She also tells us which accept sim subs and how many times a year they publish. Get all the skinny at Blogalicious

I am on vacation, so not surprisingly working my body more than my brain, but I am thinking about where I might want to submit . . . and I've started a fairly long poem that will fit well in the manuscript that I'm finishing up (tentatively titled The Little Office of the Immaculate Conception and mostly about birthing a second child and watching my first child grow . . . ).

I hope everyone else is having a fine a summer as I am. The moon has been a growing sliver this week--and the days just keep getting better with the waxing. 

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Finding a New Little Mag to Love And in it A Poem that Startles

Okay, so I was sitting on the beach. It was nearly high tide and I'd moved my crumped out daughter twice to higher ground, beach blanket and all. I was wondering if I might have to move her/us again, if  the blanket would suddenly be drenched. All the while I had my little Burnside Review beside me (it's so cute and tiny; it's like a little hymnal. I imagine people thinking I am pulling out a bunch of church songs from my satchel). 

The tide stopped rising when it got to within two feet of our blanket. My daughter continued to lie there, not one peep, no discussion of how her corn chips were singing, nary a demand. 

Meanwhile, my son was spending the afternoon building dams and "taunting the waves." Building dams had to do with a stream that ran into the sea, and making that stream run faster or slower, depending on what he did with the sand and rocks all around him. "Taunting the waves" entailed jumping up on a rock to face the surf, stretching his arms over his head, and sticking his tongue out as far as it would go. Then he'd dance around a little, then jump down, then up on a rock and repeat. 

Meanwhile, I'm in a state of major euphoria because (1) I'm with both of my kids and actually able to read and (2) not only am I reading, but the reading is good and keeps getting better, is the kind of reading that reminds me of being really hungry and eating something that tastes really good--that kind of pleasure where you hardly even know what you're eating, it's just pure in-the-moment bliss, and you're not even thinking--you're entire being is at one with the chewing and the swallowing and the hunger that's starting to go away but still there's plenty of room in your belly to keep right on going . . . 

If you're anything like me, you read lots of poetry. Most of it is pretty good to great, some of it you just don't get, etc., etc., but once in a while you come across a poem that startles you. As always, it's unexpected. You didn't expect to feel this excitement and amazement sitting on the beach surrounded by preschoolers running by with pails and splashing wet sand on your blanket and singing a few bars from Soundgarden's Black Hole Sun. To suddenly feel like the person who wrote what you're reading is sitting there beside you, whispering his/her poem in your ear. 

You have to read a lot of good and great and not so good poems to have one of these moments. Again with the food analogy, it might be the equivalent of a foodie who, after trying out a dozen or more really bad Pho restaurants, lands on a little hole-in-the-wall that really knows how to boil its bones. 

I didn't know much about the Burnside Review until a few weeks ago when I decided to enter their chapbook contest (sorry, but you just missed the deadline), but now that I do I'm a devoted fan. The current issue has not one bad poem in it. Contributors include Larissa Szporluk (3, plus a wonderful interview wherein she discusses pig books and Pinocchio, among other things), Ben Lerner, Paul Guest, and Dick Allen. There's a wonderful story called Hawkeyes by Leslie Jamison wherein a tornado touches down on a sorority; I mean, I was really enjoying myself. 

And then, unexpectedly, a poem by Andrew Michael Roberts . . . 


God Forgets. He leaves the iron on and your beautiful city
burns to the ground. God touches you and you are it.
Alone in a Desert of Ash is a difficult game to win. Home
base is flame and smoke. Once God said Hunger. Once
he said Fuck, and how could we tell him
we'd figured it out on our own.
I'm waiting, God, for a watermelon. Say pomegranate.
Say city, say rib. An armadillo to sniff at my feel. It's
Armor and nothing else. Let's lift it like a mirror.
Put it to my ear like a shell. God puts the ocean
in an armadillo shell. It rattles of whalebones. I remember
water, but all the cacti are black. All the sand
is water beneath the ash, a calm buried sea.
God descends the sky like a spider. I can feel it.
He is everywhere, twiddling his thumbs.
I think he's waiting for me. 

Who is this Roberts guy? I look in the contrib notes and learn he lives in Seattle. That Tarpaulin Sky Press has just published his Give Up

Andrew Michael Roberts: are you out there? Have you Googled yourself lately? Better yet, are you signed up for Google Alerts? You need to comment on this poem of yours. My guess is that your influences are James Tate, Charles Simic, and T.S. Eliot, but am I very far off? Also, I wanted to thank you for making my already good day even better, for giving me one of those moments where I'm, rooting for both the poem and the poet, really hoping the expectation of the first line holds up all the way through to the end (and you did not let me down).

I never wanted to leave that beach, but a clap of thunder and we were out of there. But my little hymnal is here beside me, all safe and dry and thoroughly miraculous.