Friday, March 30, 2007

Thought for the Day...and a Question

The contemplative life must provide an area, a space of liberty, of silence, in which possibilities are allowed to surface and new choices--beyond routine choices--become manifest. It should create a new experience of time, not as a stopgap, stillness, but a "temps vierge"--not a blank to be filled or an untouched space to be conquered and violated, but a space which can enjoy its own potentialities and hopes--and its own presence to itself. One's own time. But not dominated by one's own ego and its demands. Hence open to others--compassionate time, rooted in a sense of common illusion and in criticism of it. Marcuse has shown how mass culture tends to be anticulture--to stifle creative work by the sheer volume of what is "produced," or reproduced. In which case, poetry, for example, must start with an awareness of this contradiction and use it--as anti-poetry--which freely draws upon the material of superabundant nonsense at its disposal. One no longer has to parody, it is enough to quote--and feed back quotations into the mass consumption of pseudoculture.

The static created by the feedback of arguments or of cultural declarations--or of "art" into its own system--is enough to show the inner contradictions of the system. So Madhyamika shows the opponent the absurdity of his position "on principles and arguments accepted by him." However, when his supposed values are returned to him in irony, as static, he will not accept the implications. That is his problem.

-From: The Asian Journals of Thomas Merton (November 7, 1968) pp.117-118

Question: Does this mean that Thomas Merton is the spiritual godfather of Flarf?

Wait thirty-five years, add Google and hit "I'm Feeling Lucky."

Almost Random Notes, Part 9

1. No, I won't be participating in "National Poetry Writing Month." It's impossible for me to work full time, teach four hours a week (and prepare for class, grade papers, etc.) help take care of the kids (even Marcia will tell you I am fairly diligent about this), take the dogs out, shop, cook, etc., and make a realistic promise about writing a poem a day for the next thirty days. Anyway, I'm not so comfortable with that approach to writing. I'd get discouraged about the work because, at the pace of a poem-a-day, everything I wrote would be...well, "underperformed."*

2. I could set an unrealistic goal and try to achieve it--say 80-100 "finished" lines of poetry for the month. That would probably amount to 3 or 4 poems. Although that pace is still wildly ambitious. Because I have an appointment with my retinologist in early April (next Friday, as a matter of fact) I already anticipate several wasted days--one to worry about the visit--I am, truth be told, already obsessed with it--one with my eyes dilated, and two or more days baffled and discouraged after what can only be bad news.

The eye charts are stacked against what we think we are.

3. I have a reading at the Grand Rapids Public Library on Wednesday, April 18 at 7 p.m. I'll be reading with Heather Sellers, Jackie Bartley and Jack Ridl, all members of the faculty at Hope College. It should be fun. If you are in the area, please come to hear us read.

That's all I have going for regular-old National Poetry Month.


*Translation: It would suck.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

A Moment with Stephen Mitchell

Though most well-known as a tanslator of Rilke, The Book of Job, The Tao Te Ching, and other texts, Stephen Mitchell is also a poet in his own right--and a very good one.

Here's a small poem of his that is something to think about on a busy day. I understand that Parables and Portraits is out of print, or at least, difficult to find. A used copy is worth seeking out.


Blessed are the poor in spirit,
who realize that they have no more
than what is their own. They stand
tiptoe in the bright kingdom
of the moment, like children looking
down from the bedroom window,
waving hello, goodbye.

-Stephen Mitchell,
Parables and Portraits (HarperPerennial, 1991)

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Thought for the Day

Once Monet had reached maturity, he displayed a fascination with roads and paths, like Pissaro and Cezanne, and indeed all the great Impressionists. Highways, whether rail or carriage or footpaths, are the one subject that the Impressionists were never very far from. Was it because roads for the first time in European history all became safe and used by everybody? Was it a new awareness of mobility? Monet's Gare St-Lazare takes on a new light when we notice all of these roads, even if we know it is a station where one takes the train from Paris to Giverney. And in his full maturity, and on into old age, Monet devoted himself to two subjects––his lily pond, a diversion of the river Epte across the road from his house at Giverney, and the haystacks in the field adjacent. Add to this the Epte itself, with its lines of poplars, and you have all of late Monet in an acre of French countryside, so dull and ordinary that no photographer would waste a frame of film on it, and so bland that today one passes it in an automobile with no awareness that here is the original of some of the most beautiful landscapes in all of art.

-Guy Davenport, Objects on a Table: Harmonious Disarray in Art and Literature (Counterpoint, 1998) p. 16-17.

Monday, March 26, 2007

What Work Is, Part 7

Work is good news and not so good news. I received the royalty statement for my book with the University of Wisconsin Press, and celebrated by treating myself to a delicious bag of chunk light tuna. The good news is that I received the edited manuscript of Figured Dark from Arkansas.

Who needs tuna fish when one has hope?

Sunday, March 25, 2007

A Moment with Ted Hughes

Ted Hughes was interviewed by Drue Heinz in Number 134 of The Paris Review (Spring, 1995). They had this exchange:


Are poems ever truly finished?


My experience with the things that arrive instantaneously is that you can't change them. They are finished. There is one particular poem, an often anthologized piece that just came––"Hawk Roosting." I simply wrote it out, just as it appeared in front of me. There is a word in the middle that I'm not sure about. I always have this internal hiccup when I get to it because I had to make the choice between the singular and the plural form and neither of them is right.


Has the answer occurred to you yet?


No, I don't know how that could be solved. It's one of those funny things. So that poem was abandoned insofar as I couldn't solve that problem. But otherwise it's a poem that I could no more think of changing than physically changing myself. Poems get to the point where they are stronger than you are. They come up from some other depth and they find a place on the page. You can never find that depth again, that same kind of authority and voice. I might feel I would like to change something about them, but they're stronger than I am, and I cannot.


Here's the poem:


I sit in the top of the wood, my eyes closed.
Inaction, no falsifying dream
Between my hooked head and hooked feet:
Or in sleep rehearse perfect kills and eat.

The convenience of the high trees!
The air's buoyancy and the sun's ray
Are of advantage to me;
And the earth's face upward for my inspection.

My feet are locked upon the rough bark.
It took the whole of Creation
To produce my foot, my each feather:
Now I hold Creation in my foot

Or fly up and revolve it all slowly––
I kill where I please because it is all mine.
There is no sophistry in my body:
My manners are tearing off heads––

The allotment of death.
For the one path of my flight is direct
Through the bones of the living.
No arguments assert my right:

The sun is behind me.
Nothing has changed since I began.
My eye has permitted no change.
I am going to keep things like this.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Thought for the Day

"Industry in art is a necessity––not a virtue––and any evidence of the same, in the production, is a blemish, not a quality, a proof, not of achievement, but of absolutely insufficent work, for work alone will efface the footsteps of work."

-James McNeill Whistler

The painting is Whistler's Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket (1875). I've talked about it before on this blog. Yes, it will be on the cover of my forthcoming book, Figured Dark (University of Arkansas Press, 2007).

My thanks to The Detroit Institute of Arts and The University of Arkansas Press.


Friday, March 23, 2007

A New Poem, Redux


Thought(s) for the Day

"The experience of the artist and the experience of the mystic are completely distinct. Although it is quite possible for a man to be both an artist and a mystic at the same time, his art and his mysticism must always remain two essentially different things. The mystical experience can, on reflection, become the subject of an esthetic experience. Saint John of the Cross could convey, in poetry, something of his experience of God in prayer. But there always remained an impassable abyss between his poetry and his prayer. He would never have been tempted to suppose that the composition of a poem was an act of contemplation."

-Thomas Merton, The Ascent to Truth (1951)

I wonder if Merton would have said the same thing in the later years (say, 1966-1968) of his life?

I don't think so.

And I think John of the Cross would have "supposed" that his poems were, in fact, acts of contemplation. What makes "Hail Mary" an inherently better prayer than the verses of "The Spiritual Canticle" or the "Ascent of Mount Carmel"?

What did Miguel Murphy say?

"Poetry, if we're awake enough."

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

A Cancer Poem

Here's to my wife, her doctors, and a year in remission.

We are very grateful.

This poem originally appeared in The Georgetown Review.


They call it fine needle,
not for any beauty
in the sharp itself, but because
it is thin, keen, attenuated--
a point brought so delicately to your throat,
you said you felt only
motion: pressure against the skin,
then a slight wiggle of the doctor’s hand
and the needle withdrawn.
The nurse brought me to you
and we drove home in near silence,
the bandage on your neck
marked by a dot of blood.
After you were settled
with your magazines, a cup of tea,
your chestnut hair lit by the sunlight
of that October afternoon,
I went back to work––having no choice,
I claimed––and as I drove
south of town, I saw wrens
massed in a stand of trees, fluttering
down––two, four, three-after-one––
because that is the way of wrens, gathered
in autumn. They were lit
by the same light as your hair, the trees––
they were aspens––gold, and the birds’ wings
illumined, front and back. Then,
in my blind spot, I lost the wrens
and became almost frantic, until Yes, they came
again in the rearview mirror––their wings
lit up, their bodies still fluttering
endlessly to ground.

A Quick Word with Fernando Pessoa

"To have opinions is to sell out to yourself. To have no opinions is to exist. To have every opinion is to be a poet."

-From Fernando Pessoa's The Book of Disquiet (Penguin Classics, 1998)

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

A Note from William Stafford

The poet William Stafford was interviewed by William Young in Number 129 of The Paris Review (Winter, 1993). I think Stafford is an amazing writer--a genius, really--in terms of his productivity, in the grace and quality of his work, and in the way he lived his life. Here's what he had to say about the place of poetry in the contemporary world, a question that our current generation of poets--like so many before this one--seems obsessed with.


Is poetry a way "to bring strangers together," as you imply in your poem "Passwords"?


I remember writing that poem. I like to say things like that to see whether they'll fly. That poem didn't come out of conviction. It was more like an experiment: how do I feel about this? Well, I think language does bring us together. Fragile and misleading as it is, it's the best communication we've got, and poetry is language at its most intense and potentially fulfilling. Poems do bring people together. And not just the people who come to a workshop. But everybody--they are addicts of poetry without knowing it. Walking down the street, someone comes out of church and says, "Oh, Bill, hello, been writing? How come some people don't pay any attention to poetry these days?" When they've just been in church with hundreds of people reciting the Psalms in responsive readings, singing the songs, responding to rhymes in the hymns. They are addicted to it. They're victims of it. And yet they come out and say, "How come people aren't interested in poetry?" It's because they have compartmentalized their minds. Maybe it's our fault that they feel that poems only appear in literary magazines. Poetry is everywhere. Here I am preaching about it. Oh, yes, I think it brings people together. When they go to church and they hear, "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love," and so on, they're into poetry.

Lettter From Robert Lowell to Robert Frost

[April ? 1949]

Dear Robert:

I wish you could arrange through Merrill to come out and visit me. I have a Dante and a Shakespeare, but it is tough sledding not seeing another poet.




From: The Letters of Robert Lowell, (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005), p. 138. In April, 1949, Lowell was a patient at Baldpate Hospital in Massachusetts, recovering from a manic episode.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Notes on the New Poem

I have revised the draft throughout the day, cutting and adding here and there, simplifying lines. The most significant questions seems to be those of verb tense and the passage of time within the poem. I intended this to be read as an "agenda" of what was to be done during a somewhat fanciful (and dreary) month.

The poem may want to be something else.

I'll have to sleep on the question of how time passes within the poem; of how much "will" happen and how much simply "happens."

A New Poem


Saturday, March 17, 2007

Rainy Afternoon at the Gotham Book Mart

One of poetry's most famous gatherings occurred on November 9, 1948, at the Gotham Book Mart on West 47th Street in New York City. The occasion was a reception for the British poet Edith Sitwell and her brother, the writer Osbert Sitwell. In attendance was much of the royalty of American literature, including Elizabeth Bishop, Delmore Schwartz, Randall Jarrell, and Marianne Moore. The bookstore (which has, in the past several years, moved to a new location at 16 East 46th Street) still sells copies of the "famous photograph" of that gathering. A photograph in the same series also appeared in LIFE magazine, along with a lengthy feature about the Sitwells. As suggested in the following poem, the photograph on sale at the Gotham Book Mart (shown above) is not quite the same one that appeared in LIFE.

If you haven't been to the Gotham Book Mart, plan on stopping by the next time you are in New York. The employees are friendly, they know their stock, and the store is full of old journals and hard-to-find books on every subject, many of which are of special interest to poets.

This poem originally appeared in Margie: The American Journal of Poetry, and will also appear in Figured Dark, my new collection, forthcoming from The University of Arkansas Press in the fall of 2007.


The sign reads Wise Men Fish Here
and away from the slanting rain
is a miraculous draught of books:
old novels, first editions, an entire wall
of poetry. The center table spills over,
as if a trawler has just dropped
a thousand titles onto a raised deck.
I find Allen Tate's Collected,
an anthology of Czech poets
in face-on-face translations
and a print of the famous photograph,
"A Collection of Poets"––the reception
in 1948 for Edith and Osbert Sitwell.
They are posed center-left
at the rear of this narrow room,
for what Elizabeth Bishop called, "a party
in a subway train," circled by Stephen Spender,
Marianne Moore, Tennessee Williams,
the famous and the now-neglected others.
To the right, that's Bishop and Randall Jarrell,
in the foreground, Delmore Schwartz,
all in the shadow of Auden, who has draped himself,
Christ-like, across a black stepladder.
I've seen the article from LIFE,
with its gushy Sitwell headlines:
"They Sprang From a Famous Family,"
"They Brave New York," six pages
spread among the adverts for Minit Rub
and Studebaker, for Lucky Strikes
and Apple Pyequick. This print
is one exposure after the one in LIFE.
See for yourself--this head turned,
a poet's arm raised. Jarrell and Bishop,
who've been discussing Rilke, now look
stage-left and out of the frame, as if
already seeking an exit. Schwartz,
who interupted them to press
some obscurity with Jarrell,
has gone slack jawed,
as if he's just foreseen the years to come.
I go back to the shelves, where I find
Delmore Schwartz: Life of an American Poet,
with its 1961 photo: Schwartz, seated
in Washington Square––
destitute, averting his eyes,
his cigarette held in the familiar style,
a tabloid, headline screaming
tossed beneath the bench.
I pay for the books, the famous print
and for an extra dollar, buy a plastic sleeve
to keep it safe, then step through the jangle-bell door
into the rain on West 47th––the rain
that slants from the crowded light, The rain
of pour and pouring down
,––a storm
that Bishop told us, Will roar all night.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

What Work Is, Part 6

1. I stayed home today and worked on a few poems, then put a couple of packets together and sent them off; the first time I've submitted new work since my book was accepted. I know it's rather late in the season to be submitting poems, (I hadn't planned on sending anything out until the fall) but I've become a bit anxious for editorial feedback. I don't yet have a firm sense of whether what I'm working on now is "good" or not. The poems are different. One track is a bit more lyric than I am used to writing--at least, a more lyric series than I am used to. The other track is a group of highly narrative poems about a 19th century American landscape painter in Brazil.

I have a sense that these divergent poems will soon begin to talk to each other.

That, or I will begin talking to the walls.

2. Robert Thomas has raised the question of whether the creative process can ever be understood by analytic means. As he has suggested, I tend to think not. I believe in archetypes and mythologies. I am of the school of Campbell, Hillman and Jung.

Here's what Carl Jung says, in "On the Relation of Analytic Psychology to Poetry"*:

"...The creative process, so far as we are able to follow it at all, consists in the unconscious activation of an archetypal image, and in elaborating and shaping this image into the finished work. By giving it shape, the artist translates it into the language of the present, and so make is it possible for us to find our way back into the deepest springs of life. Therein lies the social significance of art; it is constantly at work educating the spirit of the age, conjuring up the forms in which the age is most lacking. The unsatified yearning of the artist reaches back into the primordial image in the unconscious which is best fitted to compensate the inadequacy and one-sidedness of the present. The artist seizes on this image and in raising it from deepest unconsciousness he brings it into relation with conscious values, thereby transforming it until it can be accepted by the minds of his contemporaries, according to their powers."

He continues:

"...The normal man can follow the general trend without injury to himself; but the man who has takes to the back streets and alleys because he cannot endure the broad highway will be the first to discover the psychic elements that are waiting to play their part in the lives of the collective. Here the artist's relative lack of adaptation turns out to his advantage; it enables him to follow his own yearnings far from the beaten path, and to discover what it is that would meet the unconscious needs of his age. Thus, just as the one-sidedness of the individual's conscious attitude is corrected by reactions from the unconscious, so art represents a process of self-regulation in the life of nations and epochs."

3. No, I am not saying that my poems are speaking to "the nations and the epochs." My poems tend to regulate (at best) nothing but themselves. Though for any of us, wouldn't it be pretty to think we are speaking to something larger than ourselves? I am only saying that, correctly understood, what Jung says is what the poetic process involves, if it is to be (or do) any good.

4. Against the archetypes, to anchor them, to make the work whole, I set what I know of poetic craft and the natural world--cedar trees, the bodies of birds; in August, thistles biting into the field. On my better days, I aspire to what Czeslaw Milosz says: "To find my home in one sentence, concise, as if hammered in metal. Not to enchant anybody. Not to earn a lasting name in posterity. An unnamed need for order, for rhythm, for form, which three words are opposed to chaos and nothingness."

5. Finally, I believe that poetry is a form of prayer, and that if not a form of prayer, we are wasting our time.

*From The Portable Jung , edited by Joseph Campbell, (The Viking Portable Library, Viking-Penguin, 1971) pp. 321-322.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

A Poem by Deborah Digges

Simply because this is how life seems at the moment, here's a poem by Deborah Digges, from her wonderful book, Trapeze (Alfred A. Knopf, 2004). Digges was born and raised in Missouri, and now lives in Massachusetts, where she is a professor of English at Tufts University. She also teaches in the low residency MFA program at Vermont College. She is the author of four collections of poetry, including Rough Music (1995) which won the Kinglsey Tufts Prize, and two memoirs: Fugitive Spring (1991) and The Stardust Lounge (2001). She has also collaborated on translations of the poems of Maria Elena Cruz Varela.

Deborah Digges' poems are lovely and broken and poignant and whole. If you haven't read her work, seek it out. You won't be disappointed.


Split by the light, wrought golden, one of a thousand cars stunned
sun blind,
crawling westward, I remembered a day I stopped for an old snapper,
as huge as, when embracing ghosts, you round your arms.
Who did I think I was to lift him like a pond,
or ballast from the slosh of hull swamp, tarred as he was, undaunted,
that thrashed and hissed at the worst place to try to cross,
where the road plunged east, the lumber trucks
swept daily down from the blue hills
past winter-ravaged toys blanching by makeshift crosses.
An old sea shimmered in the asphalt.
Spared over the mirage to ancient footpaths, he lunged again,
and spit, turning his oddly touching head toward the project
of the steep embankment. Such were the times.
Hardwired, the way. Cross here or die. Die crossing.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

A Letter From James Wright

Reading the blogs in recent days, I remember what I hoped the writing life would be-- and what I hoped the community of writers might be like--when I became a poet. Sometimes, it helps to go back to the great epistles for courage. Sometimes, reading them and thinking about the current state of the poetry world makes me sad. Here's one by James Wright, from A Wild Pefection: The Selected Letters of James Wright (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2005) edited by Anne Wright and Saundra Rose Malley.

New York City
September 6, 1975

D. Groth,

You kind letter made me happy. Poetry is a strange adventure: at crucial times it is––it has to be a search undertaken in absolute solitude, so we often find ourselves lost in loneliness––which is quite a different thing from solitude. America is so vast a country, and people who value the life of the spirit, and try their best to live such a life, certainly need times and places of uncluttered solitude all right. But after the journey into solitude––where so many funny and weird and sometimes startlingly beautiful things can happen, whether in language or––even more strangely––in the silences between words and even within words––we come into crowds of people, and chances are they are desperately lonely. Sometimes it takes us years––years, years!--to convey to another lonely person just what it was we might have been blessed and lucky enough to discover in our solitude.

In the meantime, though, the loneliness of the spirit can be real despair. A few years ago, when I lived in St. Paul, Minn., I received unexpectedly a short note from a young poet* who was bitterly poverty striken in Chicago. He had never published anything; but it so happened that he had sent a few poems to a close friend of mine, Robert Bly, who in turn showed them to me. I thought then, and I still think, that the Chicago poet was an absolutely, unmistakable genius. I am not using the word loosely. But when he wrote to me in St. Paul, I did not know him personally. As I say, it was some years ago. I have long since mislaid or lost the short note to me, but I can still quote it, and I believe I will remember its words, its absolutely naked truth, until I die. He didn't even address me by name. Luckily, he did sign the note, and the envelope included his home address. Here is exactly what he said: "I am so lonely I can't stand it. Solitude is a richness of spirit. But loneliness rots the soul." I have made so many mistakes in my life, from the superfically silly to the downright stupid and destructive and self-destructive, but when I die and report to get my just deserts, I figure I ought to deserve at least six months or so in purgatory for my response to that young poet's short note. In the first place, I wrote him a reply without even rising from my desk. It so happened that his note had arrived on about a Sunday; the first day of Thanksgiving week. It also happened that I was living alone myself, and lived too far away from my home in Ohio to get home for Thanksgiving with my parents who were still alive at that time; and the kindly parents of one of my students had invited me to spend Thanksgiving day with them in the little town of Ogden, Iowa, which is within reasonable distance of Chicago. And so, without asking anyone's permission or making any plans whatsoever, I promptly wrote a reply to the young poet in Chicago, and within an hour I had posted my letter to him by air-mail special delivery. I had no more idea what he looked like than Howard Hughes. Nevertheless, this is what I told him I was going to do: without making the slightest reference to his remarks about his loneliness, I bluntly informed him that at approximately 2 p.m. on Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, I was going to arrive at his furnished room in Chicago (a very poor section of the city, by the way), and I informed him he could be absolutely certain that I would be accompanied by (1) two vivacious and pretty girls and (2) a large bag of fresh bananas.

And by God, I did it!

The poet was waiting for us. He was very poor as I said above, and he worked a night-shift at a charity hospital in a skid row. Nevertheless, he had received my letter. His faith never faltered. There he sat on a broken three-legged chair at a rickety table in the center of his single room, and in the dead center of the table sat a gleaming unopened bottle of Jack Daniel's whiskey.

I suspect that anybody who ever really tries to write poetry secretly hopes that at least once he will be strucken by the Muse of inspiration in a way so unpredictably nutty that not even Shakespheare or Dafydd ap Gwyllam would have imagined such an insiration even in his weirdest dreams. As for me, the thought of cheering up the lonely Chicago poet by visiting him with two pretty girls was merely conventional, though of course pleasant. But the bananas still fill me with such total delight that I sometimes mention them in my prayers. God knows how much second-rate bilge I have written in my many books. But a bag of bananas! Think of it on a tombstone: "He cheered up a lonely, unhappy poet with two charming girls and a bag of bananas."

Yes, we need one another in deep, strange ways. Thank you for writing me your kind words. Now: will you do me a special favor? Will you send me a couple of your poems? And by the way, will you please indicate whether or not you're a girl or a young man? "D. Groth" could be either, and left me off balance.


James Wright


*The poet was Bill Knott

Thursday, March 08, 2007

We Have a Winner

Congratulations to Troy Jollimore and the good people at Margie/Intuit House. Jollimore's Tom Thomson in Purgatory (Margie/Intuit House, 2006) has been named the winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry.

Not bad for a start-up, eh?

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Thought for the Day

Reading everyone's reassesment of what it means to attend (or not attend) the AWP Conference, and the discussion of whether there ought to be a different, "more pure" alternative, made me think of this from Laurie Scheck's poem The Inn, from her book The Willow Grove (Alfred A. Knopf, 1996):

If this is the world, we must find some way
to belong to it.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Some Good News

Some good news came in the mail today. The Southern Poetry Review and the University of Arkansas Press are publishing a 50th anniversary anthology of the best poems published in the journal since its founding by Guy Owens. "The anthology, with an introduction by Billy Collins, will survey over 300 pages of some of the best contemporary poetry published in the past fifty years. It is aranged by decades to show changes over time but also to show constants, including themes, and even some writers, who span decades."

Anyway, two of my poems, For the Lord G-d Bird, No Longer Extinct and Were We Speaking, Had You Asked, will be included in the anthology. Both poems also appear in Figured Dark, my forthcoming collection from Arkansas.

As I understand it, they are planning a big debut party and reading for the anthology at the 2008 AWP Conference in New York.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Almost Random Notes, Part 8

1. The AWP Conference was big and loud and pushy and overwhelming and finally (I think) worthwhile. It will take a few days, maybe weeks for it all to sink in. The best moments were several panels and readings I attended, most notably:

a. "The Writers' World," a presentation on a new series of anthologies in which writers of different nations talk about the writing process. The anthologies are from Trinity University Press and each is edited by a prominent writer from that nation or by a translator who has worked with writers from that nation. The first three volumes are on the work of Irish writers, Polish writers, and Mexican writers, and the panelists included anthology editors Eavan Boland, Adam Zagajewski and translator Margaret Sayers Peden. The series is edited by Ed Hirsch, under the general editorial supervision of poet Barbara Ras.

b. "Narrative Poetry: Past, Present, Future," a panel featuring B.H. Fairchild, Kate Daniels, and David Mason, moderated by David Rothman. I love everything by Fairchild and while I didn't know Mason's work, I was very impressed with his presentation.

c. "In the Beginning There was the Middle: A Panel on How Poems Begin," featuring Sharon Dolin, Beth Gylys, David Kirby, Phillis Levin, Lisa Russ Sparr, and Connie Voisine. I thought Voisine's essay was outstanding and have a sense that Beth Gylys also had a lot of worthwhile things to say, if only the panel hadn't run out of time. David Kirby's reading of his hilarious (and poignant) poem "Motherfucker" was marred by a ringing cell phone. I sat there thinking, "Who is the idiot who left his cell phone on?" only to discover that it was me! Kirby (a friend) handled it by looking at me incredulously and intoning, "Motherfucker!"

Note to self: Toss cell phone off Techwood Drive Bridge.

d. I also enjoyed the Bread Loaf reading and the Bread Loaf craft lecture panel and the Purdue University MFA faculty-alumni reading. I thought the University of Arkansas Press "first book" reading was great, though I never did get to talk to Enid Shomer.

2. I stayed in the Castleberry Inn, a small hotel in the Castleberry Hill district, south of the Georgia Dome and Philips Arena. The only time the distance got to be a problem was during the Thursday morning downpour, when I was drenched walking to the Hilton. I finally had to buy a new shirt and sweater to avoid hypothermia--my thanks to Katie and the good people at Brooks Brothers (a place I haven't shopped in since I quit being a "Dress-for-Success" lawyer) for outfitting me so well and so curteously. The only other mild disaster was losing my prescription sunglasses on Friday night.

3. I introduced myself to Paul Guest, said hello to C. Dale Young, had lunch with poet Gail Peck, and spoke with Elizabeth Hadaway and her husband. I spent an hour or-so with John Dufresne, Lola Haskins, and C.D. Mitchell, another reformed lawyer. It was good to see Diane Wakoski, Sebastian Matthews, the amazing Todd Davis, Patrick Philips, Kenny Hart, Phil Sterling and Sue William Silverman, to see Derick Burleson and Robert Wrigley again, and to meet Tree Swenson of the Academy of American Poets. Did you know that she's married to Liam Rector? I didn't.

4. On Friday night, Roy Jacobstein, Gary Lilley, Robert Thomas (from "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird"), Rick Bursky, George Higgins (along with George's lovely daughter, a freshman at Emory University) and I went out for dinner at Fuego. The food was great and it was good to catch up with poet-friends who are also graduates of the Warren Wilson MFA program.

5. Despite all this name-dropping, the truth is that I didn't socialize much at the Conference. I didn't go to any of the evening events (Uhmm...I can't see all that well in daylight!) and because I don't drink--being in an alcohol-fueled social setting makes me nervous, even 17 years into the mission--I try to avoid bars and cocktail parties.

6. My eyes were troublesome. That will be the last Conference I go to without Marcia along to guide me around, or perhaps without a white cane. I sat in the front row at most of the events, however, and didn't have any problems seeing the presentations. I was rather proud of the fact that I never seemed more lost than anyone else and didn't bump into anyone or knock over any of the book displays.

7. I did think that the Book Fair was claustrophobic and poorly organized, but the organizational problems probably had more to do with the space and the small tables than anything else.

8. No, I never did find Mary Biddinger. I wandered from the Steel Toe Books table to the RHINO table several times looking for her. I now have the only unsigned copy of Prairie Fever sold at the AWP Book Fair. Everyone kept saying, "You can't miss her; she's really tall. Like, about six feet or something."

9. The best restaurant I ate at was Wasabi, a small sushi place on Walker Street. It was so good (and so close to my hotel) I ate there twice. Check it out next time you're in Atlanta.

10. Or perhaps the best part of the Conference was running into Mary Leader, one of my instructors from Warren Wilson, at the Purdue University reading. Mary is now on the faculty at Purdue and I regret that I didn't have much of a chance to talk to her--she was off to the airport immediately after the event.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

After the Gold Rush

I'm back from AWP but don't feel that I can write about it in any useful way until I've had eight hours of sleep and worked the 11th Step.

Meanwhile, a foot of snow in the yard, the moon rising and the wind at work, audible in the pines. As Paul Simon once wrote, Michigan seems like a dream to me now.

There, I've mixed my first metaphor.

Thank God it wasn't a Jack Daniel's and branch water!