Follow by Email

Search This Blog

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Gone to London

This is the interior of George Bernard Shaw's writing hut, which he dubbed "London" so he wouldn't be lying when he told folks he was "gone to London."

So, it's off I go to London. I'll get back with you once Nat'l Poetry Month is fully revved up. Stay well, and listen for my poem on The Writer's Almanac on Saturday, April 9, 2011. Cheerio!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Down the Researching Rabbit Hole

So . . . I was reading the new issue of Tin House, The Mysterious Issue, which I happened to pick up while I was working on my manuscript in progress, House of Mystery, which I expect to complete in the next year or so. I was immediately drawn to the piece by Cheston Knapp titled
"True Enough," a fascinating trip down the rabbit hole otherwise known as The Firm Belief in UFOs, Including Ones You Never See Because UFOs Implant Memory Blocks Into Humans So We Can't Access Our Own Histories.

This got me thinking about mysteries in general: the paranormal, seances, channeling, ghosts, out of body experiences, abductions, telepathy, clairvoyance . . . you know, that whole Madame Blavatsky thing.

According to Lauren Redniss, author of Radioactive, a book I'd coincidentally just finished reading, the Pierre and Marie Curie also participated in seances with someone by the name of Eusapia Palladino. Apparently, being able to see through a hand (the discovery of x-rays and radioactivity) unleashed, at the beginning of the 20th century, "blurred the boundary between science and magic" (Redniss 52). The question everyone was asking was: "if invisible light could pass through the flesh and expose the human skeleton, was it so fantastical to believe in levitation, in telekinesis, in communication with the dead?" (52) The question is, of course, rhetorical.

The likes of Edvard Munch, Arthur Conan Doyle, Alexander Graham Bell, and many notable physicists of the time joined in on the fun. Suddenly mediums were everywhere, and the scientists were proving their legitimacy by weighing them before and after their sessions (one gained six kilos while in the process of channeling).

So, then I had to research mysteries in general. And UFO sightings. And, and then I made a list of things I have to do soon:

1. Rent the second season of Twin Peaks;
3. Re-read Kierkegaard;
5. Continue my Roswell research;
6. Read this interview with Yeats about Madame Blavatsky;
8. Track down a copy of The Coming of the Saucers by Kenneth Arnold & Ray Palmer;
9. Does Portland, OR still have a UFO museum? (There's a PO box and a specified location, but is it open by appointment only?).

And then there was the other aspect of my book, namely the HOUSE part. So . . . a second list:

1. Famous houses, such as the Fallingwater home of Frank Lloyd Wright;
2. Research writing sheds of famous writers;
3. Visit the House of Mystery, down in Southern Oregon.
4. Research famous haunted houses, other possible houses of mystery around the world.

Anyway, this should all keep me busy for the next year. If I get a chance to apply for a grant, you can bet I am heading down to the Oregon Vortex and down to Irvine, CA for the MUFON 2011 Symposium. Till then, it's back to grading ...

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Nick Cave and his Life-Affirming Soundsuits

This afternoon as I was waiting for my daughter's kindergarten classroom door to open, for her teacher to begin the daily ritual of calling out names and reuniting children with their families, the conversation turned to "those incredibly patient and reserved people on the brink of nuclear holocaust." A grand mom piped up "You know they're not showing us the worst of it on TV. They can't; it's just too much to bear." And we all nodded in agreement.

And then this other mom kept asking me for answers, wanting to understand what in those clouds of steam pluming out of those reactors, and which part or parts of the body it might effect.

So I told her about Strontium 90 being a bone-seeker, about how the people right by the plants shouldn't drink the milk of local cows, about the radioactive isotopes that have a fondness for the thyroid, but then it was too much to contemplate--the earthquake, the tsunami, the fuel rods leaking radiation, those heroic plant workers finally having to surrender--and I wasn't even sure I was much good at explaining why finding Cesium 137 in the atmosphere was particularly alarming; it felt like gossip, is what it felt like--talking trash about a friend, or like playing video games when you have work to do, haven't yet earned your reward.

And then I heard someone ask "But how long can a person stay sealed inside their home"? and I didn't know how to answer that, and anyway luckily it was rhetorical.

As I was standing there those minutes felt endless, and then my daughter and I were walking toward the light rail station, heading for the Seattle Art Museum, to Nick Cave's Meet Me at the Center of the Earth.

I expected to enjoy this show, but I didn't quite expect to feel elated, excited, humored, and inspired all at once. Cave's Soundsuits, crazy costumes made of florescent hair, woven-together stuffed animals, porcelain song birds, beads, toy tops, noise makers, lace doilies, mesh bags, tinsel, glitter, sequins, buttons and more buttons, are just about the wildest, fanciest, funniest, celebratory art pieces I've ever seen.

The best part about seeing this show at SAM is that you have to walk past a display of traditional ceremonial costumes and masks before you get to it. That way the whole dress-up-in-a-costume-and-fly-around-like-an-eagle thing is working in your head.

Dressing up as someone or something else and sorta going wild with it used to be a key part of being human. But somehow when we became so-called civilized and rational, we shed for the most part our need or desire to run with the myths and legends, with the gods. We've stopped honoring rites of passage, and we don't dance to ward off evil spirits, to be saved.

Sad, sad, sad.

Why have we stopped being human in this way? What is wrong with us?

The giant video footage of folks wearing Cave's costumes and dancing their asses off on endless loop made me realize how much I needed to, if not actually dance, watch a person in a pink furry get-up go native, go human, get on his or her dance, dance, dance.

We don't celebrate this way enough, we busy-bees, we nose-to-the-grindstone, all of us imagining the horror and anticipating that great radiation cloud heading east. It might be unfitting to dance right this minute, but somehow this Cave show engendered a great feeling of humanity in me, of our one-ness in the many, Fukushimian and Seattle-ite, Japanese and American, how we are all descended from the great dancers of yore.

This is the Latest

It is official: there is now so much conflicting information about what is going on at the Fukushima nuclear power plants and how the numerous radiation releases will affect its people that I am moving my attention away from the screen and toward the hope that the containers holding the cores will not explode, that all four cores, or not even one core, will melt down. Instead of growing increasingly rattled by the contradictory statements from website to website, from sentence to sentence, from scientist to scientist, from article to article, from news agency to news agency, I am writing poetry about how it feels to be far away and yet very much not far at all from this place on earth most of us had no idea existed until a few days ago, these people who must be tested for radiation, who must ingest iodide tablets, who must not drink or eat the food that is growing around them, who must seal themselves in their homes and wait, wait, wait.

As I often do and have done, I turn to poetry for comfort and strength.

This is the Latest


Lobster in the bathtub. Christmas Eve.
Scrub the tub first. Hand off cleanser.
Rinse well. We don’t want Comet
in our lobster.
He’s clicking
against the porcelain. Everyone leery
of going to the bathroom.

Bubbles had risen when we lowered him in,
now he’s limp.
Stare into the water
that wears a similar gooseflesh.
The lobster is dispatched.

* * *

Wrapping an oversized box
(a coffee maker),
can’t find a swathe of paper big enough.
Start to cobble bits together
with tape (ah—chitinous)

and the joints look like repeated segments
of a carapace.
A pilot blue glows. Haemocyanin—
a blood based in copper not iron

while the broth of something Proven├žal
sings from the pot, a little tomatoey,
a little stigma (not stamen) of crocus sativus
under the Star of

* * *

If the universe is—this is the latest—
bouncing between inflation
and shrinkage, as if on a trillion-year
pendulum, why wouldn’t
an infant’s sobbing, on the exhale,
have a prosody
as on the inhale have the chemistry
of tears and seas

or our bouillabaisse,
a primal soup contain
—besides babbling
and nonspeech and raspberries—
in the briny speech stream

a scuttling underwriter?

Monday, March 14, 2011

To Melt Down, or Not to Melt Down

Indeed, that is the question.

I am very much buffeted by the news that the Japanese prepared for this type of disaster by building reactors that do not leak significant amounts of radiation. I mean, if this is true holy cow, I am impressed to the very max. If these catastrophic accidents at three (3) nuclear power plants end up to be, well, a teeny bit of radioactive material, I am so going to be ecstatic.

And in many ways I wouldn't be surprised it would be the Japanese who could outwit a disaster like this; heaven knows, they've dealt with disasters, and they have shown time and again they are a resilient, strong, resolute, determined, and exacting people. Hiroshima and Nagasaki speak to their resilience; Toyota, Honda, Panasonic, JVC, Pentax, and on and on ad infinitum speak to their ingenuity and high standards for designing and manufacturing top-notch products.

I am sure those who designed and constructed the plants at Fukushima are brilliant, too, brilliant souls who thought hard about preventing disaster, anticipating even the worst of all possible sequence of events--for instance, an earthquake/tsunami/extended power outage scenario like the one unfolding right now.

And I hope so much that the "key differences" between Fukushima and Chernobyl are indeed key, that boiling water reactors, do have "elaborate systems of containment designed to constrain radioactive leakage." Oh, how do I hope and hope.

I am waiting for the newsflash that states All Three Fukishima Nuclear Reactors Completely Shut off and Cooled Down. Amount of Radiation Released Kinda Like What You'd Receive from Having a CT Scan

Until then, I am here in Seattle--grief-stricken, horrified, and wide-eyed as I re-vision the images and stories of Japan and its people I heard and saw last night on my television. Like everyone else, I don't want to see any more people hurt or killed.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

What It All Boils Down to in Fukushima

Nuclear fission. That's it right there.

This process, while providing electricity for millions, creates a tremendous amount of heat. When water can't get to the fuel rods--those babies that heat the water that turns the turbines that create all the electricity--we have a big problem on our hands.

At Fukushima right now, the cooling systems are operating on "back ups of back ups": steam-powered batteries. In the last 24 hours "radiation levels in one room [of the Daiichi 1 plant] spiked to 1,000 times the normal level" according to The New Yorker's senior editor Amy Davidson.

Four other reactors are in similar states of coolant emergencies.

When you take a look at the International Nuclear Event Scale, you'll notice that Chernobyl is at the top of the pyramid, a Stage 7 - Major Accident. What I woke up thinking this morning is this: the Chernobyl accident involved one reactor that melted down, but this "event" in Fukushima involves up to five nuclear reactors, and who knows, maybe more.

But it gets even scarier. One of the plants is not a Uranium 235 plant; it's plutonium. Plutonium, people. Do you know what that means? Way worse than Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. Way worse. I am not a nuclear physicist, and I am not an extremist crack pot survivalist; I am merely reporting what is in the news right now.

Plutonium is way more dangerous than Uranium 235. Way more, because it takes much more to cool it, to stop the reaction.

Where on the scale would this latest event be placed?

I hate to alarm you, dear event scale creators, but I think you're going to need to do some revising of your scale here pretty soon.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

This Awful Synchronicity I Wish Were Not True

Last night I read, in one riveted sitting, Lauren Redniss's Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie, A Tale of Love and Fallout, a spellbinding book about the wonders and mysteries of radioactive materials that captures the lives of two amazing scientists and shares the story of what their discoveries lead to, including atomic bombs, the Nevada test site, and the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl Disasters.

This morning I woke to the news that a Japanese nuclear power plant is "teetering on a nuclear meltdown." As I type this, it might already be melting down. Either way, released radioactive material is already being carried by wind to who knows where.

In Radiation, Redniss explains how disasters are "created by multiple, unanticipated failures in a system--a collection of small, simultaneous mishaps that lead to one massive catastrophe" (102), and this is precisely what is going on at the Fukushima plant right now.

The tsunami cut the electrical power off at the plant, and without electricity the coils can't keep the core cool. There's a back-up generator, but guess what? The batteries last only 8 hours. Yes, 8 hours.

As I type this, I am not sure if scientists have stepped in to save the day. Or are in the process of saving the day, the night, the afternoon, the millions of people who live just 240 km from this plant, to everyone of us, because this cloud of radiation will circle the globe.

Take a close look at those pictures of Chernobyl. Look at the children. Then think about the costs and benefits of nuclear power.

Pictured above: a page from Radiation, by Lauren Redniss, the Three Mile Island Explosion, Japanese health official testing children for radiation exposure near the location of the Fukishima Nuclear Power Plant.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Lots of Different Stuff

What I am Reading:

Ange Mlinko's Shoulder Season. In three words, I love it. Win-Win is one of my favs. She has this cool and fun and cerebrally pleasing way of moving from straightforward statements of fact about her life to totally wild and wonderfully unexpected images, metaphors, & word play, and back again. Her poem Treatment is a perfect example of that. No small wonder Paul Muldoon loves her.

What I am Listening to:

Having a bit of a 70s nostalgia thang:
Sonny & Cher's "I Got You Babe"
Paul McCartney & Wings' "Bip Bop"

What I am Researching:

Names of stars (did you know that most common names for stars are in Arabic cuz Arabs were the first to name all the shiny objects of the heavens), bizarre town names (there's a place called Why, Arizona--I am trying to imagine someone saying "Wanna go grab a beer in Why after work?"), literary names for dogs (my favorite is Dashielle, but I also like Faulkner and Chaucer).

What I am Thinking:

1. I wish Cher didn't get her nose fixed.

2. Tsumanis are scary because they are sudden, unpredictable, take a supremely serene place and turn it into a death zone. I have never been at 10 feet above sea level during a tsunami warning, have you? If so, please share. I barely slept last night. Every time I heard the wind through the trees it sounded like a giant wall of water.

3. Of all those in Japan hurt or who lost loved ones.

4. Chihuahua puppies are v. v. cute.

What's for Lunch?

Probably a turkey sandwich on wheat.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Reading at Portland State University, Portland, OR

First and foremost, I must rave about Mary Rechner's new and amazing book, Nine Simple Patterns for Complicated Women. Mark my words, you will be hearing more from this amazing writer; her new book is the funniest, smartest, most accurate portrait of motherhood in the 21st C. I've come across. I can't put this book down! Also, I find myself re-reading just about every line, going wow, wow, wow.

For example:

Like a flood or a tornado, it was easier to conceptualize early childhood as it wound down. In the midst of it there had been too many diapers, tantrums, breast infections, jars of baby food, rashes, bloody lips, chest colds, financial crises, bumped heads, swollen gums, months without sex, nights without sleep, and days off from preschool to reflect with any depth.


All she needed was a trio of happy seamstresses: one to cut the fabric, one to stitch it, one to press the seams. But she wasn't Cinderella. It amazed her, how the triplets loved those grisly fairy tales. She tried in vain to get them to understand the sexist subtexts. "Keep reading," the girls insisted. "Just read." I'm only on the first story, but I am completely and thoroughly hooked, set to buy this as a gift for every mother I've ever cried with, drank with, shared my darkest bad-mommy secrets with. I strongly advise you to purchase a copy right now. You will not be sorry!

Okay, and now for the rest, the part about being in Portland, about seeing old friends, about reading at PSU.

If you read my blog, you know how much I love Portland, Powell's Books, and the zen of driving I-5 back into my past.

This trip did not disappoint. I arrived a few hours before the reading and was deeply ensconced in the Rose Room within minutes of my arrival. From there it was onto Blue, my fav, fav, because that's the poetry room, where I found a first edition of Maxine Kumin's The Nightmare Factory, along with an absolutely splendid Kenneth Koch collection, lovingly introduced and selected by Ron Padgett. Oh, and an obligatory trip to the kids section for much-requested Charlie and Lola.

I wrestled up some grub at the food stall lot on 9th and Alder, where I chose E-San Thai because, well, all entrees are $5, and I was in the mood for Phad Thai. I thought for $5 I'd get a tasting size, but this was a full dinner-size entree, so this meant I also got the next day's lunch.

And then I was off to the student union to read at my ol' stomping grounds, where I took my first poetry writing classes with Primus St. John and Henry Carlile in 1987/1988. What a trip to be back there! It was so wonderful to be introduced by Michele Glazer, a poet whom I've stayed friends and continued to admire and be inspired by since 1988 when we met in Henry's formal poetry class. Such a treat to have a chance to catch up.

(In case you don't know of her, Michele Glazer is a daring and visionary poet with a new book out from U of Iowa Press, On Tact and the Made Up World.)

And then it was a night of luxury: crisp white sheets, a bed all to myself, and a room with dark shades, so I actually slept in till 7:30 am! And then the best thing of all: a jog along the waterfront, saying hello to my favorite bridges, and getting back to the hotel just before the sky opened up in a startling downpour.

I breakfasted on hard boiled eggs, toast, OJ, and coffee in the little atrium while the rain beat down on the glass roof. It was divine.

Two more hours in my cozy room, and then a relaxing drive back to Seattle.

O such sweetness. One could do worse.