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Monday, April 26, 2010

Last Place Effort

I am not revving it up AT ALL this Nash Po Month. In fact, my output has been abysmal. I've always been a tad contrarian, but this year I am just plain out of steam. I wrote for the first 10 days or so, and then I needed to face facts: I was two weeks behind on grading, I hadn't seen my kids in several days, and the house was a mess. Besides, I had six Nash Po Month readings on the horizon. Who has time to actually *write* during this month o po?

It's been a decent month of revising, however. I dug up a few poems I haven't been able to finish in years, and maybe they are getting closer to being done. Also, Ms. Contrarian broke the cardinal NPM rule and submitted a bunch of poems to magazines. What the hey.

It's also been a great month for reading poems, however. The Winter 2010 issue of The Southern Review, the most recent Willow Springs, Joel Wenderoth's Letters to Wendy's, Susan Rich's new The Alchemist's Kitchen, Deborah Ager's Midnight Voices (blog interview forthcoming). Lungfull, 32 Poems, and oh so many more, and so many waiting bedside and desk side, bench side, still quite few to be purchased--Allen Braden's A Wreath of Down and Drops of Blood, Sandra Beasley's I Was the Jukebox--waiting for a time between swing pushes, hospital tag, and lava monster, between assuming the roll of bridge troll or manicurist, between nursemaid, gardener, college instructor, and professional dishwasher.

But I know I will get some poems written during my next writing day with Kelli Agodon (later this week!), and on my next writing residency/retreat (four whole days and nights!).

And that I will be inspired by Rita Dove's SAL reading (May 13)--still time to buy a ticket!

So okay, I am not an April hero or heroine or she-o-ine or be-all-and-end-all-ine. At least I'm no longer a Cheap Wine & Poetry virgin; at least I wrote a few really bad drafts at Nancy Pagh's and Oliver de la Paz's fabulous Field's End workshops.

And still more fun to come! I finish off the month with two more readings! Northwind Arts Gallery in Port Townsend with the lovely Sarah Zale (4/29), and am the featured RASP reading in Redmond (4/30).

And then Nash Po Month is over, and it's time to get back to writing.

Monday, April 19, 2010

What Happened After That (AWP Wrap-up)

Wrapped up, indeed. An hour after my last post, I called a cab and headed out the door. Noticed another woman standing around waiting, presumably, for a cab, so asked if we might double up when one showed up (cabs, we soon learned, were in short supply). This other woman turned out to be Elizabeth Treadwell. We waited a half an hour, happily getting better acquainted (I'd *known* her for years, but never met her in person) and wondering if we'd make it to the WILLA reading on time. Thankfully, the cab arrived and, after a few tries of explaining where the Denver Press Club was, we were soon seated at a small bar in what must've been a men's only establishment up until the 1970s (at least?).

Elizabeth wanted a Cosmo, but the bartender didn't know what a Cosmo was, so she ordered a rum and Coke, while I sipped a glass of Pinot Grigio. The room was soon packed, and soon the procession of two dozen or more readers (with tasteful burlesque-dancing interludes between each of three sets) began. Except for a few ridiculous guy-folk who took it upon themselves to be sexist assholes, the reading and performances were a delight. I had never seen a burlesque performance, and I am here to report that I appreciated the way it celebrated female form without devolving into smuttiness. There was a certain innocence in the grand-finale star-shaped, glittery-green pasties, is what I am trying to say. [Were these burlesquers sex workers? Are they being exploited? Should the jeering men have been asked to leave? Did their jeering spoil the relative innocence and unadulterated beauty of her performance? Would the burlesquers be disappointed if I told them I found their performances innocent? Did they, in fact, enjoy the jeering? I am not sure, but it is questions like these that remind me that I am educated in a way and move through a literary circle that demands these sorts of questions, like it or not. [When women started to share with me that they were uncomfortable at this event, I immediately felt like I might be a female sheep or lemming, the equivalent of one of those student turned Nazis, who, when the authorities told them to, began torturing their subjects.]

Then back to the motel, then sleep, then missing the 9 am panel I really wanted to attend (Hot/Not) because I needed to teach (I brought my classes to Denver, virtually, that is), then blowing off the entire rest of the conference so I could (1) have brunch with a bunch of really cool ladies and (2) visit the Denver Art Museum.

Then the Starting Today reading, which was completely and utterly wonderful, and then raced off back to the Convention Center to hear the tail end of Barbara Ras's reading, and all of Robert Hass's (rock and ROLL!).

Then taxi, then pack, then bed, then Super Shuttle leaving me in the dust 5 minutes earlier than they said, then $60 Swanky Car Service, then scrambled eggs with tomatoes, then having to fork over my bottle of Beautiful in the Mouth Chardonnay (Keetje Kuiper's new book and a special wine label to match--sigh) then sitting next to the mother of a synchronized skater (Canadian), then $2.25 to take the light rail back to my beautiful Seattle home.

My kids knocked me over with hugs and kisses.

I threw my suitcase down and didn't touch it for two days. In the meantime I hugged them and hugged them, cooked them lentil stew, baked them their favorite oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.

But one glance at the floor beside my overflowing bookshelves reveals just how many magazines and books I bought in Denver (more than I can read in 6 months), and I filled an entire notebook with thoughts, quotes, ideas, reactions, and other random scribblings.

Oh, and I really liked downtown Denver, and the DAM rocked.

I am so glad I went.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Day #2: Why I am Here

Mark Doty nailed the essence of AWP, no surprise, when he characterized it as "a social situation that makes everyone want to feel known and recognized, and then makes the known the recognized want to run and hide."

Nope, I couldn't have said it better myself.

That said, my response to the "look at me/get away from me" impulse is to attend the panels, listen to the poems being read, take notes, and be inspired by both poets you've admired for years (Albert Goldbarth, Dorianne Laux, Kim Addonizio, Sherman Alexie), as well as poets you had no idea existed yesterday and are now smitten with (Erica Dawson, Stacey Waite, Karl Elder).

That's the main reason I am here, anyhoo, to get that po-buzz, to be moved to laughter/tears by the music and meaning of words.

Once again, I only made it through two sessions today, sex poetry and the Beloit Poetry Journal 60-year anniversary celebration.

I chose well. Both of these rocked.

The sex poetry panel was all good, but especially Stacey Waite (Whoa, that woman can write and perform like nobody's business) and Dorianne Laux, who, in "Dolly's Breasts," describes Dolly Parton's knockers as "a pair of fat-cheeked Baptists dreaming of peaches." Oh, and Jan Beatty's poem "I Saw One of Blake's Angels" -- whoa, that was amazing. Oh, and so was Aaron Smith's "What Christian's Say During Sex," so really this was the ticket through and through, including Sharon Doubiago's "How to Make Love to a Man," and the factoid she provided that there are at least two Bibles bound in Comanche skin.

The poets on stage talked about censorship, having trouble placing their work, not getting to share their work with high school students. Waite lamented the fact that "high school students read Adrienne Rich's 'Aunt Jennifer's Tigers' year in and year out while being forbidden her '21 Love Poems.'" Laux, however, was more upbeat, reminding us that The Poet's Companion, with its quite sexy and explicit Erotic Poetry chapter, is a textbook used in hundreds of high schools across the country.

Great job, panelists, especially with answering the question from the audience about how to be a het male and write het love poetry without coming off as misogynistic (interrogate, investigate, go deeply into the experience so that it's yours and yours only, basically).

And then it was off the the Beloit Poetry Journal 60th Anniversary Celebration, the crown-jewel of my CCC/AWP experience to date. After a lovely, loving introduction from co-editors Lee Sharkey and John Rosenwald, Goldbarth (who first pubbed in BPJ in 1972) had us all rapt within seconds as he launched into a poem I can't possibly begin to describe, though (sorry if you weren't there!) it brought down the house.

Susan Tichy bravely and beautifully followed, and then Karl Elder took the stage, a man in love with the 26 letters of the alphabet in a way I didn't know possible; he writes abecadarians like nobody's business. His work is lively, honed, exact, sublime. A poem for his grandson Owen, titled "Ode to O" appears, along with Goldbarth's, in the BPJ chapbook of Chad Walsh Prize winners. (I will not spoil your experience of reading any of these fine poems by excerpting them here.)

Next came Janet Holmes and her incredible pastiche on the Chinese musician and instrument-maker Parch, and then, the finale, Sherman Alexie, who shared a very rousing reading of "Defending Walt Whitman," one of my all-time favorite Whitman-inspired poems, right up there with Allen Ginsberg's "A Supermarket in California."

Before he left the stage, Alexie reminded aspiring poets that "it's still almost all about rejection," and shared the fact that his poem in the just-out BPJ chapbook needed to be "heavily edited" before it could be printed. "And I am happy for that," he said more than once, because he knows that inferior work does not deserve to be published.

And now I am back in my shoddy motel room munching cinnamon gummy bears from Cook's Fresh Market (if you are wondering where to get really good to-go food to take back to your hotel room--fresh salads, yummy sandwiches, gourmet cheeses and crackers--this is the place for you).

Doty's right; it's all a bit of an existential circus, but just like back home it's really all about balance. When you've had enough of the Big Top, head back to your room, run a hot bath, and pour yourself an ice cold Sanpelligrino. Then sit back, relax, and keep in mind that you wouldn't sell many books if they're wasn't no AWP.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

AWP Day #1: My v.v.v Personal Fav Highlights

Day 1, Reading 1: The Poets Guide to the Birds

Marianne Barouch read a kick-ass poem about sandhill cranes "like flimsy aluminum chairs left out all fall in the yard," their sound "like plastic scraping plastic raw."

They are "deliberate as monsters" and "never stop talking."

[cranes or poets?!?!?!]

David Huddle read a Robert Wrigley poem about raptors, wherein the speaker does not envy them their flights, their beauty, the air they fly through, or even their dignity, but admires them for "knowing many things, but not hatred, not need, not human love."

As the youngsters say, word.

Day 1, Reading #2: The Swallow Anthology

Erica Dawson's poem "High Heels" rocked my world. Big-Eyed Afraid, her first book, is recently out from Waywiser Press (I love that about AWP, how you can walk into a stuffy windowless room, hear a few poems, and come out a groupie).

I've admired Joanie Mackowski's work since she was an MFA candidate at the UW in the early 1990s, so it was all the more wonderful to hear her markedly untamed poems (I was so dazzled I hardly missed the old Joanie, the one juggling fire while reciting John Donne's "Batter My Heart Three Person'd God" in a hippy skirt and sporting long & flowing locks).
I also enjoyed J. Allyn Rosser's work, especially "Internal Revenue," and in general the notion of taking a dull, everyday term like "Internal Revenue" and make it shiny and new again. She also read John Foy's "Terminal," another fine example of a dead word resuscitated.

At the end of this reading, David Yezzi spoke in defense of formalist (so-called) constraints, as did the three above-mentioned ladies. Form should not be viewed as limiting but as generative--a handy tool that provides us with "the antithesis of convention because (as Joanie said so well) it makes us drunk." And I think it was Rosser who said "tossing out rhyme would be akin to a bunch of graphic artists getting together and saying 'hey, let's skip the color from now on; it's been so overdone . . . ' " She had a good point, indeed, though I winced at the thought of having to read/comment on piles of really, really bad rhymed poetry, though this led to the realization: if poetry is going to be bad, it's going to be bad whether rhymed or free verse, right?

I had plans to continue attending readings for the rest of the day, but then I stepped into the time-less, PA-less vortex otherwise known as The AWP Bookfair.


So, then it was 5:30 pm and I was heading down Colfax looking for the #15 back to my sketchy hotel but hey, get this: FREE wireless and my nightly room rate just a smidgen more than . . . the wireless fee at the Hyatt.

Take that, HA HA Hyatters!

And while I am eating my sour grapes (err, my room-service quesadilla with green chili side for $1o plus a very modest room service surcharge and tip), you can enjoy your view (mine is a covered swimming pool) while I sack out here with my pile o treasures:

2 issues of Ecotone, ooh la la! Southern Review, Georgia Review, Joel Wenderoth's Letters from Wendy's (finally bought it, only $8 at the Wave table), and the luscious Spoken Word issue of Rattle. (Low hotel rate = more $$ to burn on supporting small magazines and presses, not overpriced corporate-backed luxury.)

I will leave you now so I can dig into Letters and a most delicious bowl of green chili, but one last thing:

There was a woman wondering around the Colorado Convention Center with Sharon Olds' "I Go Back to 1947" tattooed to her right bicep and shoulder. Now that's what I call enthusiasm.

Stay tuned for more!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Poetry Book Giveaway: Nat'l Po Month 2010

Poet Kelli Russell Agodon came up with a fantastic idea to give away free poetry books during National Poetry Month this year, and I am honored to be one of the many who have opted into this freebie extravaganza (her blog has a complete list of participants).

To win one of the two books below, all you have to do is post a comment to this post saying "count me in" (or something along those lines), and I will add you to a random drawing of two names, each of whom will receive one of the following books:

Allison Joseph's My Father's Kites, just out from Steel Toe BooksOR my book, Blue Positive, also pubbed by Steel Toe Books (2006).

Yesiree, free poetry is available on this site; all you have to do is post a howdy comment, and you are in the running!