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Friday, November 28, 2008

No Tell Motel Announces Pushcart Nominations

Oh, boy! No Tell Motel has just announced their Pushcart Prize nominations for 2008, and my poem "Ten Days in Arkansas" is one of them.

Reb Livingston accepted this poem last July or so, much to my surprise. I still didn't feel like it was done, though, so I worked on it for several more hours . . . and I am so grateful that I did.

I think my mother will be most pleased of all; the cemetery where this poem is set is right down the street from where she and my dad live. 

Thanks to Reb Livingston and Molly Arden for doing their best to get me into Pushcart XXXIII, Best of the Small Presses 2009.

* * * *

I also want to thank editor Douglas Goetsch for including my poem "Wagoner" in the new New Plains Review, an entire magazine devoted to work about workshop and MFA experiences. Jeffery Harrison's poem "Fork" is worth the price of admission. 

I hope you're all sufficiently turkey-and-stuffing-ed out. I think I've now eaten enough pumpkin cream cheese pie to keep me satisfied till next November. 

Sunday, November 23, 2008


Listen, I like looking at photos of a frosty morning on Mars as much as anybody. Or getting a toolbox eye's view of the Space Station. 

But sheesh, that said I have a huge beef about the cost of all this spacin' it up. 

For instance, I think a water recycling system is a very nifty gadget. In case you hadn't heard, it's a contraption they brought up this time in the Space Station that turns urine into water.

(Do you think someday they'll be able to turn the urine into water, and then turn that water into wine? That would be sweet!)

Anyhoo, the little pee-purifier thing-a-ma-bobber is (of course) malfunctioning, so no one's toasting with wine OR water just yet, but the thing that really burns me up is the price of said non-working piss-fixer-upper: $154 million. 

I know, you're sick of hearing how this Pentagon toilet seat costs $80 million and that toolbox that slipped out of so-and-so's hand was worth $100 grand, but listen: a ho-hum numbness to government spending's never gonna get us anywhere. 

Damn it! I want NASA to come down to my son's elementary school with its repaired wee wee cleaner and use it to take the LEAD out of the water in the drinking fountains. Or else, let's have a silent auction for this piddle renewal system and use the dough to build a bunch of new public schools. 

I know, I''ve been reduced to let's-have-a-bake-sale-for-NASA-type ranting. What will be next? But jokes aside, it sucks. I'm getting me a sandwich board that says I DON'T PAY FOR TELL-TALE INSTRUMENTS THAT PROVE THE WIND IS BLOWING ON MARS. 

Otherwise, things are fine with me. How about you? 

Friday, November 21, 2008

Back to the Island

Part 1:
Don't hate me because I'm mobile. Because I have a satchel full of books, lit mags, drafts, ideas for poems about * and ** and ***. Don't hate me when I tell you I took a walk on the beach or into the woods. Or that I spent an hour browsing at the firemen's thrift shop. It's only for three nights, and then I am back to the usual grind.

Part 2:
I just want to say thanks to Edmonds Bookshop, David Horowitz, Joannie Kervan Stangeland, and Jack McCarthy, and all the lovely audience members for a wonderful evening of poetry last night. It was one of those rare nights when words and reactions to them are perfectly matched. I am still high off it, even if I did get a $124.00 ticket for supposedly running a stop sign as I headed back up 5th Street (don't worry: I plan to contest it).

Have a great weekend, everyone.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Write an Inaugural Ode

If this call for poems doesn't indicate sweeping change in America since last Tuesday, I don't know what does.

David Lehman's Call for an Inaugural Ode: 

Write an ode for Obama's inauguration, a poem suitable for reading aloud on 1-20-2009. 

It has to have 16 lines (four quatrains); a rhyme scheme is optional.

The ode must have one line lifted from a line in The Best American Poetry 2008 or from the book's forward or introduction. This line needs to be "sourced" at the bottom of the page you've typed your poem on. 

The ode must also contain three of the following words: honor, integrity, faith, hope, change, power.

Type your ode in 12 point Times New Roman. Send your ode as an attached Word document to Your subject line: the words "Poetry Contest." Include the title of your poem, your name, address, email address, and telephone number in the body of the e-mail. Do NOT put any identifying information on the attachment, however. If the poet's identity is revealed, the poem will be disqualified.

Deadline: 12-5-08, midnight eastern time (9 pm west coast time).

If you are chosen as the winner but don't respond to your email or phone within three days, another winner will be chosen.

Your poem will be posted on the Best American Poetry website and you'll get a really nice (cloth bound) signed copy of BA 2008 signed by the series editor and several of the yearly eds. Also, a broadside edition of your ode, and some other books (titles not disclosed). 

You can't have any affiliation w BAP, The New School Writing Program, or Scribners. It said something about valid only within the 50 states, but I'm not sure if that means you can't send in a poem if you're currently living abroad (maybe check the BAP website to confirm that). 

Are you up for the challenge? What cracks me up is that a very smart person who knows a lot about writing poetry is giving us a month to write a poem. It sort of perpetuates that die-hard myth that poets write quickly. HA! 

But aside from the swiftness in which we must move our pens, I was thrilled to see this posting. I thought to myself, as a I listened to Obama's victory speech on election night: my GOD, there are going to be poems written about this man--serious, praiseworthy, patriotic poems.

Imagine that. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

He won. It  finally happened. We have a smart person and a smart first lady coming to live in the White House. In the White House will be a man who knows about odds, about opportunity, about hope. Living in that house will be a man who knows about being a Black American, but also about what it is to be White. He cares about our planet, and he cares about those who for so long had no say in politics. He knows about hatred based on the color of one's skin. He knows what it means to want the best for one's children, what it means to not have health care benefits, and he knows what a huge freaking mess he is inheriting when he takes office in 76 days. I believe him when he says he might not be able to fix things in one year, or even in one term, but I am not focused on that right now. I'm focused on today; today is a little bit better than yesterday, and I know tomorrow is going to be even better. If he can believe that change is possible, than so can I. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Let the Healing Begin

On Being Told I Don’t Speak
Like a Black Person


Emphasize the “h,” you hignorant ass,
was what my mother was told
when colonial-minded teachers
slapped her open palm with a ruler
in that Jamaican school room.
trained in England, they tried
to force their pupils to speak
like Eliza Doolittle after
her transformation, fancying themselves
British as Henry Higgins,
despite dark, sun-ripened skin.
Mother never lost her accent,
though, the music of her voice
charming everyone, an infectious lilt
I can imitate, not duplicate.
No one in the States told her
to eliminate the accent,
my high school friends adoring
the way her voice would lift
when she called me to the phone.
A-ll-i-son, it’s friend Cathy.
Why don’t you sound like her?
they’d ask. I didn’t sound
like anyone or anything,
no grating New York nasality,
no fastidious British mannerisms
like the ones my father affected
when he wanted to sell someone
something. And I didn’t sound
like a Black American,
college acquaintances observed,
sure they knew what a black person
was supposed to sound like.
Was I supposed to sound lazy,
dropping syllables here, there,
not finishing words but
slurring the final letter so that
each sentence joined the next,
sliding past the listener?
Were certain words off limits,
too erudite, too scholarly
for someone with a natural tan?
I asked what they meant,
and they stuttered, blushed,
said you know, Black English,
applying what they’d learned
from that semester’s text.
Does everyone in your family
speak alike?, I’d question
and they’d say don’t take this the
wrong way, nothing personal.

Now I realize there’s nothing
more personal than speech,
that I don’t have to defend
how I speak, how any person,
black, white, chooses to speak.
Let us speak. Let us talk
with the sounds of our mothers
and fathers still reverberating
in our minds, wherever our mothers
or fathers come from:
Arkansas, Belize, Alabama,
Brazil, Aruba, Arizona.
Let us simply speak
to one another,
listen and prize the inflections,
differences, never assuming
how any person will sound
until her mouth opens,
until his mouth opens,
greetings familiar
in any language.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Locked Out

 My husband, my kids, and I headed out the front door this morning. They were heading to the zoo. I was heading for the recycle bin. In my pajamas and slippers. I turned around, headed back up  the porch stairs, turned the door handle and . . . the door was locked.

Has this ever happened to you?  Locked out of your own house? I started to call out to them, but they were speeding away. 

Did I really want them to come back? (It's always such a feat just getting them all out the door.)

I remembered the key I'd hidden, but I was almost certain it wasn't there anymore. I was right. 

So I knock on a neighbor's door and start calling friends with spare keys.

But it's Sunday morning, so I'm leaving messages.

I tell my neighbor Mike, whose phone I just borrowed, that I'm going to work in the garden; his wife kindly offers me some shoes. 

I'm out in the yard pulling up soggy tomato plants. I'm wondering to myself "Am I eccentric? Does this qualify as eccentric behavior?" when I see Mike coming towards me with a big smile: "Your friend said she's in her pajamas and doesn't feel like driving over. She wants you to walk over and get your key." Normally this wouldn't be a problem, except I'm wet and dirty, and I'm in a NIGHT GOWN. 

And then I remember another detail: I was poaching a piece of chicken when I got locked out.

I tear across the street yelling "Mike! Mike! I need your phone again!" 

When I tell my key-bearing friend my predicament, she comes right over with the coveted key. I open the door to find my downstairs full of smoke, the chicken smoldering in the iron skillet. 

I'm not big on this kind of drama and near-catastrophe on a Sunday morning. My style is more a cowboy coffee cake, cup o decaf, Johnny Horn preachin' the blues situation. 

But there's something about being locked out, being forced to depend on neighbors and friends (and to work in the garden), that's almost baptismal. Okay, maybe that was the rain, but as I yanked out plants by the roots, watching worms come belly up from the rich, dark soil, I felt lucky to have been forced out into the wet morning to look a little closer at this glistening world.