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Monday, May 24, 2010

Portland Weekend

And of course front and center was the annual pilgrimage to Powell's Books. Oh, how I had missed it.

Portland is its roses and rhododendrons, its old-time cinemas and its many bridges, but without Powell's, it would just be another sopping wet city along the northern end of the I-5 corridor.

I took my daughter just after it opened on Sunday, and we loaded a basket with picture books for her (including a remaindered hard cover copy of Meet Wild Boars!), Erin Hunter's Warriors: The New Prophecy, books 2-6 (for my 9-year old son), and a pile of old and smelly books about the cosmos and the first men in space (for me!). I also found a wonderful coffee table book filled with colorful pics of hummingbirds. And then I spent 10-15 minutes (I could have spent a lot more, but said daughter was pulling at my sleeve to take her back to the Berenstain Bear's display) pouring over an entire section dedicated to blank books; I ended up buying three, two for me and two to give as gifts.

I was ostensibly in town to see the world premiere of my friend Stacey Luftig's libretto, The Story of an Hour performed by the Portland Chamber Orchestra. It was a fantastic show, and then I got to watch Stacey get up on stage and take her bows. And then we celebrated with beer, wine, Pellegrino, and an enormous pile of onion rings at Henry's Tavern on 12th and Burnside.

was living in Portland when I decided to take my first poetry writing workshop (with Primus St. John at Portland State), so it's that kind of a town for me.
I break out in happy hives when I see the Jake's Grill sign flashing its green fishtail back and forth, and I get teary-eyed going over the Burnside Bridge.

I had never the taken kids to Portland, so I had no idea it was also a great place for them, too. We went straight to the zoo where, much to our surprise, it was opening day of Prehistoric Predators, an exhibition of 17 breathing, roaring, water-spitting dinosaurs! It was pouring and cold but we barely noticed except to admire the way the dripping rain made Carnotaurus's toothsome jaw even more fierce.

Sunday, after Powell's, we also hit OMSI, where we touched the moon, designed a space ship for a trip to Jupiter, and created some very nice salmon spawning habitat in a giant sensory table filled with gravel, water, and little plastic trees and logs. And btw, the Omnidome movie theatre blows doors off the Pacific Science Center's IMAX theatre. We got neck aches, though, from looking back to watch Into the Deep on the ceiling. No 3-D glasses needed!

I heart Seattle in a big way, but Portland has a lot going for it, not the least of which is that it's a city I can vacation in, and it's only 2 1/2 hours away.

Next time I am definitely going to eat at Kenny & Zuke's, though. We were staying right across the street from it (the IT delicatessen of the PNW), but I didn't realize what that always-hopping establishment was until we were pulling out of our parking spot. Dang!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Thoughts on How to Have a Most Excellent Poetry Reading

The problem is, we've been focusing too much on the reading part of the poetry reading.

It's utterly all wrong.

What we need to do is focus on the poetry, which can be widely interpreted. For instance, the poetry fashion show, the interpretive poetry dance party, or the poetry make a spin art.

The old order was: arrive, scramble to find a seat, sit prim and proper reading the program, emit poetry sigh after each poem, go home a little sad because you didn't get to chat with any of your friends.

The new order will be: show up, order a lemon drop, spend 45 minutes gabbing, get rowdy and yell "oooooh hoooo!" after 10-minute reading of ooooh-hooo!-worthy poems, then spend another 45 minutes gabbing, then leave the place feeling fabulous.

The "place" should have dim, dim lightening of a reddish hue. All the pictures taken should be on I-Phones with a sepia-tone setting. Nobody should be allowed to make that damn poetry sigh sound or read more than 2 poems, three max. And mix it up! Have a performance/spoken word poet, a mime poet, a cracked poet, & a high-falutin poet. Nobody will know what's coming up next, and this will make it fun, fun, fun!

Otherwise people are just going to stop attending readings altogether. That's cuz no one has time for hour-or-more readings punctuated by lots of heavy sighing. We are all in a hurry, and we are all dying to see our friends, even if they only live across town. We are sick of Facebook; we want not only the face and the book but the breath and the laugh and the eyes and the hug.

We need speed readings, is what we need. With a disco ball and Lite-Bright.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Success: Word Counter Results

WordCounter did its thing for me. Here are the top 25 words in my unpublished manuscript, The Little Office of the Immaculate Conception. The reason tantrum and America and panel are so frequent is that I have poems about each that repeat those words incessantly. Ditto with hate and because, but this does not explain all the times.

And o, I love how there are 29 o's.

Little, nothing, good, don't: I never would have guessed.

Or, speaking of never, 24 of those.

And obviously, I have a problem with beginning sentences "Say . . . ".

A very informative way to waste a half hour. Thanks to Kelli Agodon for sharing the WordCounter site.

Here's the complete results...

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Top 25 Words in My Unpublished Manuscript

I tried to use the Word Counter program to find out what the 25 most popular words in my unpublished manuscript are, but when I copied my "text" (80 pages) into text box it overwhelmed the system. All the screen could tell me popped up in a little box singing "Error 003 Please Try Again Later."

My manuscript does not want its words counted.

Know why?

It doesn't want me or anyone to know what words I'm obsessed with. It doesn't want me to know because I would take whatever it told me and turn it into a way to feel like I'm a shitty writer who chooses shitty words.

And it doesn't want you to know because you'll think you know what kind of book it is by reading just 25 words of it.

My hunch about the 25-most popular words in my not-yet-out-in-the-world book:

I mean
holy moly
and furniture
and pepperoni
and fuck you

Or, who knows? Maybe lake takes the cake. Or drift. Maybe, because I have a poem where I repeat America fifty times, America wins.

I don't necessarily believe America should win.

Surely an insect or insect part is up toward the top. And astronaut. And probably insulation or installation.

But fuck, what if fuck is in the top ten? Fuck very well could be in the top 10. So could god. So could cloud. So could leveler. So could love.

Die and said are probably close to the top. And tantrum.

All kidding aside, I really want to know definitively, not speculatively, what these words are. I will keep trying and report back later.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Getting Carded at Safeco Field

last Wednesday night certainly did catch me by surprise, but this time instead of quipping are you blind? Are you telling me you can't see these crows? I politely showed my ID and pretended I was, well, carding-worthy.

I am not. I will turn in 50 in approximately . . . 15 months.

Yep, 50. Demi Moore and I are turning 50.

Except Demi has a personal trainer, a facialist, a butt firmer, a wrinkle remover, and an arsenal of torture tools to remove unsightly cellulite and lipo-osities.

The young don't consider that age cannot be stopped, that old people are merely young people who've been on the planet just a wee bit longer. But they're too busy having fun with other young people to consider it's not our fault we're aging.

I don't know why this little thought process has been so crucial the last few months, but I think it has to do with . . . turning 50.

[Please, please, please, by the way, don't post a comment saying "Oh, Marty, you're not old!" I am not writing this poem for reassurances or to be told I'm looking just fine. That is not, is not, the point of this post].

I feel like I can still run as fast, hike as far, carry as heavy a pack, play lava monster at the playground as well as I could've at age 20, but some weird-ass shit is happening to me and my body, my horse, my hound.

And something else: my metabolism is slowing down; I can't eat six helpings of pasta anymore without gaining an ounce. No shit!

Anyway, enough about me. The whole point of this post is actually to share a couple of sonnets I came across this past week, both about women turning 50. They both made me sit up and notice, so I thought I'd share:

The Romance of Middle Age
Mary Meriam

Now that I'm fifty, let me take my showers
at night, no light, eyes closed. And let me swim
in cover-ups. My skin's tattooed with hours
and days and decades, head to foot, and slim
is just a faded photograph. It's strange
how people look away who once would look.
I didn't know I'd undergo this change
and be the unseen cover of a book
whose plot, though swift, just keeps getting thicker.
One reaches for the pleasures of the mind
and heart to counteract the loss of quicker
knowledge. One feels old urgencies unwind,
although I still pluck chin hairs with a tweezer,
in case I might attract another geezer.

Jane Cooper

But I love this poor earth,
because I have not seen another . . .
--Osip Mandelstam

Between five and fifty
most people construct a little lifetime:
they fall in love, make kids, they suffer
and pitch the usual tents of understanding.
But I have built a few unexpected bridges.
Out of inert stone, with its longing to embrace intert stone,
I have sent a few vaults into stainless air.
Is this enough--when I love our poor sister earth?
Sister earth, I kneel and ask pardon.
A clod of turf is not less than inert stone.
Nothing is enough!
In this field set free for our play
who could have foretold
I would love to write at fifty?

Gawd, I love these both. The former appears in the Winter 2009 issue of Rattle, as part of the Tribute to the Sonnet; the latter in The Penguin Book of the Sonnet: 500 Years of a Classic Tradition in English (Phillis Levin, ed.). I just had to laugh at the tweezer/geezer couplet. But I'm not about to start showering in the dark. Fahget about it!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Pushcart Envy

According to the folks over at The American Dissident, I shouldn't be looking to Bill Henderson and his Pushcart Prize for any sort of recognition or acknowledgment that my writing is any good. Getting a poem in Pushcart means only one thing: I've guzzled down the MFA Koolaid!

That's because, according to them, "any independent thinker, as opposed to an MFA-indoctrinated poet, will immediately comprehend that being nominated for the Pushcart Prize is absolutely meaningless." Why? Because "Pushcart editors are English professors who nominate their friends."

Oh, those naughty, naughty English professors! Always up to their shenanigans! Gatekeepers all the way to hell!

However, have you ever considered how vague the term friend is? "He's a friend of mine" could mean: (1) I met him once; (2) we've known each other since birth; (3) he's an editor I never met but who's published my work.

Is an editor a friend because she has s/he published your work? An acquaintance, maybe, but would you call this editor up to babysit your kids if you were in a pinch? Make a date to hit the women's spa on a weekday afternoon? Yeah, I thought so. We call lots of people "friends"--Facebook testifies to this phenomenon most pointedly, but it is certainly nothing new--and in our culture it's rude to ask questions once the term "friend" is thrown out there. No one, for instance, asks "um, how well do you know each other?" It's as rude as someone asking, when a relative dies and you're all broken up, "but were you actually all that close"?

But hey, okay, let's go with it: the nominators are sleeping with the prize-winners. If it's not bad enough that the yearly Pushcart anthology is a thinly disguised hot tub party, there's something even more sinister than friendship brewing in that steamy tub:

"Past winners of the Pushcart read like a who’s who of the Academic/Industrial Literary Complex, including English professors, ex or otherwise, Charles Simic, Robert Pinsky, Joyce Carol Oates, Ray Carver, AndrĂ© Dubus, Margaret Atwood, and Richard Ford. Updike is also a winner, but for some reason never became a professor."

There goes that English professor clarion shrilling out its clear note again. How dare Updike disguise himself as an innocent nonacademic. Shame on him. I mean, everyone who gets into the Pushcart anthology is obligated to become a professor, don't you think??? No hiding out pretending you're not a cog in the wheel of the Academic/ Literary Complex!

Okay, time for the self-disclosure. I've been nominated for the Pushcart Prize seven (7) times, including thrice (a total of 7 poems) for the next issue. Bill Henderson, or one of his assistants most likely, has looked at over a dozen of my poems since 2003, and they have all been tossed aside for the work of . . . Academics! Damn that Simic! He is SO academic. And that Carver! F them both, and their high-brow styles!

Meanwhile, I cannot call myself a professor because I only have a master's degree and am not conducting "academic research." The research I conduct--poetry research--doesn't count. My teaching is instructing, not professing, which is why Bill Henderson won't publish my work, why he keeps on saying "NO! NO! Absolutely not! Get those poems out of here. Martha Silano is not allowed in the hot tub!!!!"

But am I an independent thinker? Do I think winning a Pushcart Prize is meaningless? NO, NO, NO! I am not an academic, and I want that fucking prize like I've never wanted anything since sixth grade when I begged my mom incessantly for two weeks for a pair of purple Converse high top sneakers.

I could wear my mother down, oh you bet I could, but I cannot wear down Bill Henderson. All I can do is check my email 50x a day to see if a message has come in from one of the editors who nominated my work. Yes, folks, that's what this non-academic has been reduced to: an obsessive email checker obsessively thinking this might be the year. Pity my stupidity, my naivety, my petty desires and wishes, my obliviousness to the way things are and the powers that be.

Gatekeepers be damned.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Announcing NPM Poetry Book Give Away Winners!

The winner of Allison Joseph's My Father's Kites is Karen J. Weyant.

The winner of my book Blue Positive is Ronald.

Please send me your ground addresses, so that I can mail you your free copies!

Thanks to everyone who entered, and to Kelli Russell Agodon for organizing the 2010 NPM Book Giveaway.


It's May 1, and I am exhausted. I never take naps, but today I took a long one. I am also fighting a cold, probably because I read three times last week in three different WA towns, and it seemed I never wore enough layers.

It was a great month, but I am beat. Even though I didn't write a poem a day, I ended up writing six or more decent drafts. What was even more exciting was making ftf contact with so many new and familiar faces. I like having a virtual connection with far-flung friends, but it sure is nice to exchange words in real time, see their expressions, hear them laugh, and, best of all, hug them.

On April 29, as I was driving to Port Townsend to read with Sarah Zale at the Northwind Gallery, I popped in a CD of James Tate reading in 1996 at The New School, just after he'd won the Tanning Prize ($100,000 purse). He does this incredibly out-there reading with poems about how popes get chosen and all these references to insects, and then in a rare uncomposed moment toward the end of the reading he lets out this huge sigh and says something like "God, I am so happy National Poetry Month is OVER!" Imagine my surprise. It's an awesome recording, but it's before there was YouTube, so the only way to hear it is to purchase it through The American Academy of Poets, or ask me to borrow it.

Oh, in closing, I'd like to share a photo of what a NPM writing day in the Po-Barn looks like (with poet Kelli Russell Agodon). Many thanks to Kelli for her enthusiasm, smarts, and generous spirit.