Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Christmas in Washinton D.C.

The sky is blue. There is no snow. This Christmas was so different from the last four we've spent in Cleveland, OH. Winter was something you put on and carried for months in Ohio. A thick coat. It was, as one of my friends once put it, an escape from the pressures of the outdoors. It was a chance to sit still, or bury oneself beneath bundles of clothes and face the bite of cold.

Last night, we went to see the tree that is in front of the Capitol. And for the first time this winter, we felt cold. The wind was one of those that bites through your clothes. The tree was beautiful. Blue, purple and gold lights and behind the tree that majestic stretch of the mall from the reflecting pool, to the Washington Monument (or as my son calls it, "the pencil"). There is something about D.C. in the dark. All of that granite and history weighing on you as you look at it.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Form as Meaning

I am listening to a Japanese pop song (off the songtrack to Lost in Translation) while I work on my questions this morning and I am absolutely struck by the way form carries over even without language. I don't understand Japanese, but I know this song is a pop song immediately when I listen to it and I am just as struck by the pop form (just as I would be if this song were in English, only I have left of a tendency to sing along when the song is in Japanese [ which is why I am listening to it while I am working on my questions]. I don't know why, but this really struck me this morning. Maybe it's because I am writing about the differences between form in poetry. Who knows. I guess it is the structure and sound of something that reaches the listener (or reader for the matter) above all else and creates the immediate emotional response. I wish I could place a soundclip in here so you could hear the song I am talking about, but I have no idea how to do that. The song is called, "Kaze Wo Atsumete." But if you speak Japanese, don't tell me what it means. Just like Randall Jarrell in "Deutsch Durch Freud," I prefer to not to completely understand, to just have the gist of it, as it floats down to me in its silly little pop form.

Sunday, October 01, 2006


by W.S. Merwin


First forget
what time it is
for an hour
do it regularly
every day
then forget
what day of the week it is
do this regularly for a week

then forget what country you are in
and practice doing it in company
for a week
then do them together
for a weekwith as few breaks as possible
follow these by forgetting how to add
or to subtract
it makes no difference
you can change them around
after a week
both will help you later to forget how to count
forget how to count
starting with your own age
starting with how to count backward
starting with even numbers
starting with Roman numerals
starting with fractions of Roman numerals
starting with the old calendar
going on to the old alphabet
going on to the alphabet
until everything is continuous again
go on to forgetting elements
starting with water
proceeding to earth
rising in fire
forget fire

I was debating whether or not to go for a sort run to try and clear the cobwebs from my brain so I can write again and I came across this poem by Merwin. He is so elementally lyric. And I always think of him, with his boyish smile, walking through the rainforests of Maui. He must be in his 70s now, but to me, he'll always be 40 or so (however old he was on the cover of some anthology I read where I fell in love with him for the first time). I am spending the day writing on my questions. Matt took the kids to his aunt's house. I think one of my questions is done. Now, just three to go. I am working on getting up the momentum to begin another one and procrastinating with poems once again.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Blogging as a procrastination device

Ok, now that I am writing at least one of my questions, blogging and reading poetry has become a procrastination device. I just picked up Alice Notely. Just plucked The Descent of Alette off the shelf and all of these loose-leaf poems I'd tucked in the paperback. Treasures. I've no idea what book they are from. They are just poems by Alice Notely. Like this, the opening poem from her book-length poem, "The Descent of Alette":

"One day, I awoke" "& found myself on" "a subway, endlessly"
"I didn't know" "how I'd arrived there or" "who was I" "exactly"
"But I knew the train" "knew riding it" "knew the look of"
"those about me" "I gradually became aware--" "thought it seemed

as that happened" "that I'd always" "known it too--" "that there was"
"a tyrant" "a man in charge of" "the fact" "that we were"
"below the ground" "endlessly riding" "our trains, never surfacing"
"A man who" "would make you pay" "so much" "to leave the subway"

"that you don't" "ever ask" "how much it is" "It is, in effect"
"all of you, & more" "Most of which you already" "pay to
live below" "But he would literally" "take your soul" "Which is
what you are" "below the ground" "Your soul""your soul rides

"this subway" "I saw" "on the subway a" "world of souls"

I find her work stunning. (And in direct conversation with Pound's Metro now that I think of it.) And the breath-pause created by the quotations is aurally both hypnotic and abrasive (in a subway car, jerking sort-of-way). Descent, is Notely's epic poem about unearthing her female voice.

Ok, I've got to stop procrastinating...

Saturday, September 09, 2006


I islanded myself in the world of Manhatten for a night last night -- sans children. I had, there and back, eight solid hours of reading on the train which proved immensely productive. So, when I stepped onto the platform at Penn station, I was myself islanded in metaphor theory, and H.D. criticism. I was islanded between myself before children and after children. The subway just smelled good when I got on it and headed downtown to West 4th (one of my poet friend later mentioned what I might have been smelling was nostalgia, and the freedom of my old life). Melissa Hammerle is leaving NYU CWP, so I went to pay tribute for all of her support. The reception was in the building where I had last faced Donoghue (spelling?), who now, I just fondly refute in the marfins of my reading. Then, after, we went to Cedar bar. I was surrounded by writers. Generations of them, all of whom Melissa had kindly supported during her tenure.

It was good to be in NYC. (The first time in five years!!!) but also, surprisingly, nice to leave it this morning, to get on a train and read and write, and return to my quieter domestic exsistence here in D.C.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Well, I've begun to teach 7th grade.

It is quite a change from teaching college. For one thing, there are FIVE classes! It's a long day. I see a lot of caffeine in my future. Then there's the classroom discipline thing -- you have to do a lot of getting everybody back on task. Besides that, teaching is teaching.

Jackson started pre-school today. He loved it. He wears a little uniform (a yellow polo shirt and khaki shorts -- he looks so cute!). Maxy had his first birthday last week. (That's why he's wearing a little plaid suit in the photo. Also pictured in the photo holding him is my host mother from Germany - Gaby. She and Rolf, my host father, visited us all last week. It was wonderful to see them again.) I can't beleive Max is already a year old! He really enjoyed being the center of attention for a day. It was great.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Ok - I'm trying to make a table of contents and MY GOD! How do you line all of those little numbers up? There has got to be some little plug-in on program I could use to make my table of contents without having to "eye it" as I am trying to do (and let me tell you - I don't have a good eye!).

But, the fact that I am writing a table of contents at all proves that yes, indeed, I have sucessfully collaged together yet another version of my first book manuscript. Now I have two chapbooks and a book manuscript to circulate. Now I guess I just send out and send out and send out and send out.

Monday, August 07, 2006

I am so sick of unpacking. I mean, how many books can one family have? So I am procrastinating with an entry.

Yesterday, our neighbors invited us to the island. It's this unassuming island in the Potomac, just north? of Georgetown (up the tow-path of the C&O canal) that I guess is just about impossible to get a memebership to. We didn't know what to expect, but we piled the kids in the car and drove over. To get to the island you have to walked down a rugged, stony path (which I must say was a bit complicated with Maxy on my back and a backpack on my front), then at the water's edge you ring a bell. The ferryman runs down from the clubhouse and jumps onto a dock which he proceeds to tug across the river via a cord that runs about shoulder high. It was strange reminded me on the river Styx. The island was wooded and cool. We immediately suited up and jumped into the river from the swimming dock. Jackson has become a fish. He was wearing a life jacket, but this is the first time he's ever swam on his own. Our neighbors have an older taught, Kate (she's five), so Jack was happy to follow her all around the island. Maxy even got in the water, snuggled up tight in a little tiny life jacket. It was pretty cute. It was a good day. The kind where you feel exhausted from the sun and the swimming.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Well, I did it. I finished a chapbook manuscript. This is my second chapbook manuscript. Now, I just have to get the guts up to send it out. It's called The Flying Trolley and it's all based on creative writing students I've taught mostly in public hospitals and prisons. I might have gotten a little cheeseball on the opening essay, but...What can you do. I wrote five poems this week. I thin that's a post-children record for me. My other, book manuscript is now a whopping 71 pages, but it really needs some cutting back now. The problem is, I keep adding to it when I just need to let go of parts of it. It's hard to make new poems and keep the old if you know what I mean. But it's damn good to be back in the writing saddle.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Today was divine. The air embraced it was so hot. Mexican food on a date in the city (fresh guacamole that was perfectly salted) and a new poet! Can you believe it? I was reading on the Metro and found her. Lorine Niedecker. I’d never read her before now. But her mythical miniatures eddied into my eyes today (via an article by Majorie Perloff). What a luxury to find a miniaturist that carefully constructs as Emily did, and adapts and rejuvenates myth and personal lyric like H.D.. She identified with the Objectivists (like Zukofsky who was her mentor) but her brilliance is how the personal lyric (“weedy speech”) jig-jags out of the lapping lull of her exact and dual-minded words. Here is one of her poems (Jean Valentine must just adore her! I can hear Jean’s lyrical construction in Niedecker.)

I married
in the world’s black night
for warmth
If not repose.
At the close—

I hid with him
from the long range guns.
We lay leg
In the cupboard, head
In closet.

A slit of light
at no bird dawn—
I thought
he drank

too much.
I say
I married
And lived unburied.
I thought—

Monday, July 31, 2006

I forgot to mention the sound of trains -- you hear them all the time in my neighborhood. I live within spitting distance from the Metro, but it's not just Metro trains that travel those tracks. The night is filled with the iron and steel weight of passage North. I know in a few months, I will no longer hear the sound of the trains, [because you never hear repetitive noises after while] but for now, they remain present.

This morning I drove down to my old school - the George Washington University to meet with an old Professor and to scour the library for books on H.D. It was wonderful. The library is STOCKED by the way. I found everything I was looking for without having lean on consortium. It was also wonderful to reconnect with one of the professors who really encouraged me to become a poet. He caught me up on all of the gossip and gave me a few contacts to pursue in regards to publication, teaching etc. The meeting eased my mind a little. I've been feeling as if I'm about to go back underwater for a long time -- taking on a new job -- and have been afraid I will be in a place where I will no longer have time to write or work on my dissertation. It's a necessary submerging - we need the money. But, meeting with him, somehow, made me feel better about it all. Just talking about poetry and poetics and to people who care about poetry and poetics makes me feel better.

There goes another train -- it's slow moving and feels emense.

From H.D.:

When I am a cup
lifted up,
can you hear
echo in a seashell?

Saturday, July 29, 2006

When we came home tonight the neighborhood was filled with the music of Bamba. Our street is a fast one that intersects a real hippy neighborbood with a real urban D.C. neighborhood. There are African Americans, Puerto Ricans, Germans and a muscian from New Orleans (he plays the tuba and makes a living at it! It's fascinating) all living within my tiny block.

I talked to the school I'll be teaching at yesterday and I think I had a panic attack thinking about the full-time commitment -- how will I write? When will I ever complete my exams? I guess the same way I've done every thing else -- by the skin of my teeth. I finally wrote my first question, but I haven't yet gotten a response back from my committee chair, so who knows what she thinks.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Wow - moving is, let's just say, disruptive! I've spent the last month unpacking and unpacking. So much time. However, it's amazing what you unearth when you unpack. I found 21 poems I wrote back when I lived in Brooklyn about the bog people. (Don't ask - I think I was reading a lot of Seamus Heaney) and all of these other poems I'd written in graduate school that I hadn't remebered that I had written. I saw finding them as a sign. I need to get my poems in order and my book out. I've been procrastinating long enough. So, that is now my new summer project and probably a lot of what I will be talking about in my blog.

I no longer live in Cleveland, Ohio, anymore. Now, I live in Washington D.C. I think I am still adjusting to my surroundings. We take family outings to the national mall. It's surreal. I am meeting with my old poetry professor at GW on Monday to talk about possible adjunct positions in the Spring or summer (as if I don't already have enough going on!). Then, I'm heading into GW's library to try and kick-start myself back into the Ph.D. study for your exams until your eyes bleed mode. Can't wait.

Friday, March 24, 2006

This the poem I am writing on today in my exams. Amy Lowell's "The Letter":

Little cramped words scrawling all over the paper
Like draggled fly’s legs,
What can you tell of the flaring moon
Through the oak leaves?
Or of my uncurtained window and the bare floor
Spattered with moonlight?
Your sily quirks and twists have nothing in them
Of blossoming hawthorns,
And this paper is dull, crisp, smooth, virgin of loveliness
Beneath my hand.

I am tired, Beloved, of chafing my heart against
The want of you;
Of squeezing it into little inkdrops,
And posting it.
And I scald alone, here, under the fire
Of the great moon.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Sorry it has been a long time since I last blogged. But I am in the middle of taking my Ph.D. exams and my brain is awhir (or awash) with dead poets. Today I read the first volume of Gilbert and Gubars No Man's Land. Wow. I think every female writer should read this book. I think it should be a requirement. It was like looking at my own history in the mirror. Don't get me wrong, I hardly think I'll be anthogized when I'm gone. But I'm a writer, no doubt. And though I've read the poems before, of female poets talking back to other female poets. Of women writers speaking back to their foremothers (that Elizabeth Bishop poem is my favorite)
"An Invitation to Miss Marianne Moore" where she invites Miss Moore to "please come flying" across that net of the Brooklyn Bridge. I thought about her words and the image of that awkward three-cornered hat woman with exceedingly long, gerund crammed sentences, each time I walked across that wooden-planked bridge. I'd never realized that all of my talking back to Emily and Elizabeth and Gertrude was par for the course.

And all the poems I've written back at the dead forefathers. I screamed poems at Eliot and Pound from inbetween their own words. Now, as I'm trying to intellectualize my argument about their poetics, my words are looking back at me. According to Gilbert and Gubar, my words written in the margins of Pound's Personae is a natural reaction. I can't wait to open up my old text of Frost, and Stevens. Who knows what's written in there : )

Is it unhealthy as a poet to meta-interpret oneself?

Here is that poem from Elizabeth Bishop.

From Brooklyn, over the Brooklyn Bridge, on this fine morning,
please come flying.
In a cloud of fiery pale chemicals,
please come flying,
to the rapid rolling of thousands of small blue drums
descending out of the mackerel sky
over the glittering grandstand of harbor-water,
please come flying.
Whistles, pennants and smoke are blowing. The ships
are signaling cordially with multitudes of flags
rising and falling like birds all over the harbor.

Enter: two rivers, gracefully bearing
countless little pellucid jellies
in cut-glass epergnes dragging with silver chains.
T he flight is safe; the weather is all arranged.
The waves are running in verses this fine morning.
Please come flying.

Come with the pointed toe of each black shoetrailing a sapphire highlight,
with a black capeful of butterfly wings and bon-mots,
with heaven knows how many angels all riding
on the broad black brim of your hat,
please come flying.

Bearing a musical inaudible abacus,
a slight censorious frown, and blue ribbons,
please come flying.

Facts and skyscrapers glint in the tide; Manhattan
is all awash with morals this fine morning,
so please come flying.

Mounting the sky with natural heroism,
above the accidents, above the malignant movies,
the taxicabs and injustices at large,
while horns are resounding in your beautiful ears
that simultaneously listen to
a soft uninvented music, fit for the musk deer,
please come flying.

For whom the grim museums will behave like courteous male bower-birds,
for whom the agreeable lions lie in wait
on the steps of the Public Library,
eager to rise and follow through the doors
up into the reading rooms,
please come flying.

We can sit down and weep; we can go shopping,
or play at a game of constantly being wrong
with a priceless set of vocabularies,
or we can bravely deplore, but please
please come flying.

With dynasties of negative constructions
darkening and dying around you,
with grammar that suddenly turns and shines
like flocks of sandpipers flying,
please come flying.

Come like a light in the white mackerel sky,
come like a daytime comet
with a long unnebulous train of words,
from Brooklyn, over the Brooklyn Bridge, on this fine morning,
please come flying.

Monday, February 20, 2006

I went to see the film Capote last Friday night. It was a haunting film. The whole next day I kept blurring in my mind between Truman Capote the real writer (not that I knew him personally or anything!) and the actor playing him in the film (who did an amazing job.)

It made me miss being a writer in new york. That city is a place of constant stimulus (no offense Cleveland). It also made me miss gin and tonics (until of course the end of the movie where the afternotes imply that he died from complications of alcholism). The main premise of the movie is that Capote was never able to deal with the fact that he essentialy used a horrific event, and the people involved in it, to write a great story. And something about that got under my skin.

I think as a poet, you always fear how much autobiography someone might read into your work. I know I rarely let my mother read my poetry for this very reason -- she'll read my poems vorasiously as if they were my diary. And my poems are anything but biographical. There are pieces of truth in there. But useally, those pieces are so mosiaced between what real and what's not, the real story would be tough to boil out of it.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

I just sent out 8 submissions. It was a bit of a frenzy. I'm procrastinating working on my questions for my comprehensive exam. I try to send out every time I get rejected and I got two rejection letters this week. I wonder if anyone ever feels good about submitting? My poems look so different to me when I am reading them over an trying to decide (usually on a whim) which poems fit the journal or contest I am applying to. They just don't ever seem as shiny and bright as I thought they looked when I finished them! Perhaps others have a method to their madness of submission?

Monday, February 06, 2006

Oh a silent house! Finally. The kids are in bed. I am finally by myself at my writing desk. These momments always make think about that William Carlos Williams poem "Danse Russe":

If when my wife is sleeping
and the baby and Kathleen
are sleeping
and the sun is a flame-white disk
in silken mists
above shining trees, --
if I in my north room
dance naked, grotesquely
before my mirror
waving my shirt round my head
and singing softly to myself:
"I am lonely, lonely.
I was born to be lonely.
I am best so!"
If I admire my arms, my face
my shoulders, flanks, buttocks
against the yellow drawn shades,--

who shall say I am not
the happy genius of my household?

I have finally finished a poem again! And had my reading list approved. Now if I could only get my son potty trained...

Friday, January 27, 2006

William Carlos Williams
"To Elsie"

The pure products of America
go crazy--
mountain folk from Kentucky
or the ribbed north end of
with its isolate lakes and

valleys, its deaf-mutes, thieves
old names
and promiscuity between

devil-may-care men who have taken
to railroading
out of sheer lust of adventure--

and young slatterns, bathed
in filth
from Monday to Saturday

to be tricked out that night
with gauds
from imaginations which have no

peasant traditions to give them
but flutter and flaunt

sheer rags succumbing without
save numbed terror

under some hedge of choke-cherry
or viburnum--
which they cannot express--

Unless it be that marriage
with a dash of Indian blood

will throw up a girl so desolate
so hemmed round
with disease or murder

that she'll be rescued by an
reared by the state and

sent out at fifteen to work in
some hard-pressed
house in the suburbs--

some doctor's family, some Elsie
voluptuous water
expressing with broken

brain the truth about us--
her great
ungainly hips and flopping breasts

addressed to cheap
and rich young men with fine eyes

as if the earth under our feet
an excrement of some sky

and we degraded prisoners
to hunger until we eat filth

while the imagination strains
after deer
going by fields of goldenrod in

the stifling heat of September
it seems to destroy us

It is only in isolate flecks that
is given off

No one
to witness
and adjust, no one to drive the car
There was one point last week where the craziness of my situation really hit home. I was holding my baby (who is sick with bronchitis), reading Plato (or should I say attempting to read Plato!) while Barney blared in the background with my older son marching back and forth singing the barney song.

Reading for exams with small children is crazy. In between all these serious texts I've been reading a memoir called The Color of Water. It's really beautifully written. I've always had a soft spot in my heart for memoir. (Ever since I read Michael Ondaatje's Running in the Family. It's always so poetic.

Friday, January 20, 2006

I had the great opportunity to see the critic John Carey speak at the city club of Cleveland today. He's a really approachable academic. He's brilliant, but he doesn't flaunt his knowledge in an elite way. It was an excellent lecture on the topic (he addresses in his new book) of What is art. He said some interesting things about literature and why, to him, it is the ultimate artform. He claimed that in the act of reading the reader essentially becomes an author in the way he or she participates with his or her imagination while interpreting the words. It's an interesting comment. (One that Wolfgang Iser and Martha Woodmansee no doubt have also spoken about in their writing about reader response theory and authorship respectively). But it is something that as a writer, you think about. You aren't always driving the car. You put the words on the page but you can't guess at the way they will be perceived. It's the reason why reading your work aloud to an audience is so important in the writing process because you just can't predict how your words will be responded to. You can't anticipate the authorship of the reader.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

I've found a great daycare for my son. It's in a good neighborhood and it just happens to be across the street from my favorite bakery, so I don't see myself losing the baby weight anytime soon. I see a lot of croissants soothing my Mama-guilt in the future. Max isn't too excited about eating from a bottle. But, the people at the center assure me the eventually he'll do it. It seems like he's teething too -- poor guy. Luckily, he won't remember any of this later.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

I've been looking at daycare centers for Max lately and this search has led to the expected tidal wave of emotion. It's easy to look from the surface of it and see the reason and logic of leaving your baby for a few hours a day with a care provider. I need to work. I need to study for exams. But that surge of guilt and responsibility to be home with him is strong and it has quite an undertow. I looked at a great place today that's affordable but it's in a sketchy neighborhood. So, we'll see.

I've moved on from reading Emily Dickinson to Walt Whitman and Hart Crane. This week though I've been reading Sappho again. In fact yesterday I read everything by her in a sort of binge reading (it's not much to brag about since not that much of her work survives and what does is mostly in fragments). Today, I've been reading Burnett's commentary on her poems. It is interesting that so many modern women writers either referred to Sappho in their poems (Emily Dickinson), or wrote letters to her (Amy Lowell) or responded to her fragments because the Sappho's poems were written as part of a type of creative writing class or as part of a finishing school for girls where writing good lyrical poetry was of the highest priority. Maybe it's not just that Sappho was one of the few female poets in the classical cannon, maybe modern female poets were responding to an almost pedagogical tone in her verse?