Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Curative Activity

My whole intellectual life as I've started to emerge from the misty darkness of autism has been an adventure in beauty housed in form and structure. My most favorite curative activity was listening to my father read Shakespeare and ask me to describe the symbols, poetic devices and structures which make the plays work, so I came to ModPo comfortable with close reading. I get my parents to take me to the Uffizi so I can study Botticelli, my music theory teacher shows me how Mozart is structured, so it is not surprising that until I took your class I thought poetry was words stuffed into forms. 

-from Jacket2


The language of absence, privation, nothingness has scientific, moral and emotional force. As dark is an absence of light energy, not an entity in itself, death too is an absence rather than a force or a being. That conviction underlies the statement that Love's alchemical limbec turned the leaden soul, with its “dull privations and lean emptiness” into the golden sense of being. The theology and science, the terms of nothing and being, absence and presence—it's all a way for the poet to sharpen the understanding of what he lacks, and what he loves. The poem's athletic feats of wit may entertain readers, or disconcert them, but it has a purpose beyond rhetoric: it is an act of mourning ... and, maybe, an act of self-heartening, too.

-Robert Pinsky on John Donne at Slate


Who has not fantasized about the books they would write if only the right conditions could be found! I have carried around just such a dream, sparked by a weekend alone in an austere mountain cabin in the Austrian Alps when I was a boy. Rumination was unstoppable, and poetry just poured out.

-David Wood in the New York Times



Thursday, December 6, 2012

This Is You

Hey, I think I finished my second manuscript. In this context, "I think" means that there are enough pages of poetry for a book, but that aforementioned pages aren't yet good enough. Ya dig?


These “massive open online courses” (MOOCs) have exploded on the American educational scene. The Washington Post dubbed them “elite education for the masses,” with universities like Harvard, Stanford, and Princeton offering free classes. Coursera, the for-profit company that offered Filreis’s poetry class among many others, is less than a year old and counts more than 1.7 million as students. Many of the courses offer certificates of completion, so while a degree from these schools may still cost upward of $100,000, you can theoretically—and that’s a big “theoretically”—get the education for nothing.

--Elliot Holt at The Poetry Foundation


This is you. You want to own something that means something to you. The pleasure of an original thing is that, like anything you truly love, it attaches itself to the original part of you and builds it like a muscle, makes you feel more like you. It also connects you to someone else, the artist—but you don't have to tend that relationship, it's just there, simple, pure. You never have to meet the artist if you don't want to, but if you want to, you can ask the artist all about this thing you now have, and you will find that the artist also wants to hear what you see in it, and eventually you will both agree that neither of you really penetrates what the thing fully is, which is maybe why both of you love it so much. Let's say you have a couple more criteria: Maybe you would prefer art by someone local, someone who does not have a leg up in the 1 percent game of the international art world. And: You do not have money to burn.

-Jen Graves at The Stranger


The people who fret over the Future of the Book talk about the loss of the tactile, of the physical act of holding the book. Me, the only thing I worry about is no longer having used books.

-Michelle Dean at The Rumpus


Marjorie Perloff’s essay “Poetry on the Brink” in the May/June 2012 issue rekindled conversation about innovation and canonization in contemporary poetry. To continue and extend the discussion, we cast a wide net and invited 18 poets to address the following question: what is the most significant, troubling, relevant, recalcitrant, misunderstood, or egregious set of opposing terms in discussions about poetics today, and, by extension, what are the limits of binary thinking about poetry? Their responses range from whimsy to diatribe, with meditation, appraisal, tangent, touchstone, anecdote, drollery, confection, wit, and argument in between.

-Opposing Terms: A Symposium on the Poetic Limits of Binary Thinking at Boston Review (featuring Ange Mlinko, Samuel Amadon, Matthew Zapruder, Annie Finch, Noah Eli Gordon, and many other excellent voices).


Music for a rainy Thursday here in the American Northwest.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Thanksgiving Prayer

Thanksgiving Prayer, 2012

It is the day we give thanks
to be at a full table, and outside
the Olympics teeth the dusking
horizon. Here we’re surrounded
by certainty in the midst of the uncertain:
for mountains will not move even
for superstorms or homelands
in upheaval: the incontrovertible danger
of stepping outside: the losses we have
or haven’t named to one another.
But here: there is a richness.
There is a feeling of something complete:
meats waiting to loose the juices
that have been simmering in smoke,
lasagna and stuffings and casseroles
that are each a small history
of ourselves. Let us be grateful in our faith
that what is unseen is not unheard:
that families, ours and others,
extend beyond bloodlines, that we have arrived
here, where recipes steam
from memory at a place beyond
our griefs. Let us remember
that while we may be hundreds
of miles from the places we were born,
we are not far from home.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Serious Romantic

Jack Gilbert, a poet whose frank, forthright, emotionally fraught works observed the grand universal realities of love and death from a perspective off the literary grid, died on Tuesday in Berkeley, Calif. He was 87.

-obit. from the New York Times

Gilbert’s work embraces what most poets have been trying for decades to subvert. A self-proclaimed “serious romantic,” Gilbert writes poems full of feeling, working to cultivate “something that matters to the heart,” a romantic notion approached these days with a strong inoculation of irony, if at all. While many poets working with such hot materials might seek a mitigating factor when casting them into verse — fragmentation and abstraction are two modes currently in fashion — Gilbert courts danger by pursuing a far more traditional approach. Crystalline imagery, direct speech, the language of place and the self are hallmarks of Gilbert’s style from his first poem to his final book.

-Jeremy Bass at Los Angeles Review of Books 

Later, I was living in the East Village and this one night there was pounding on the door and there was Cleve standing in the hall. He was agitated and said, They’re looking all over for you. I asked who, and he explained that somebody wanted to give me the Yale prize. I didn’t know what to do, how to express it. I took him out with my two friends and we had milkshakes. 

-Jack Gilbert's "Art of Poetry" interview with The Paris Review


Two poems:

"Pachyderm" by Sherman Alexie

"My Father's Soul Departing" by David Wojahn


Life in the Internet age has undoubtedly helped a certain ironic sensibility to flourish. An ethos can be disseminated quickly and widely through this medium. Our incapacity to deal with the things at hand is evident in our use of, and increasing reliance on, digital technology. Prioritizing what is remote over what is immediate, the virtual over the actual, we are absorbed in the public and private sphere by the little devices that take us elsewhere.

-Op-Ed by Christy Wampole in the New York Times


This flattened me:

Monday, October 22, 2012

However Falteringly

The reëlection of Barack Obama is a matter of great urgency. Not only are we in broad agreement with his policy directions; we also see in him what is absent in Mitt Romney—a first-rate political temperament and a deep sense of fairness and integrity. A two-term Obama Administration will leave an enduringly positive imprint on political life. It will bolster the ideal of good governance and a social vision that tempers individualism with a concern for community. Every Presidential election involves a contest over the idea of America. Obama’s America—one that progresses, however falteringly, toward social justice, tolerance, and equality—represents the future that this country deserves.

-The Editors of The New Yorker endorse Barack Obama. It's worth reading the whole essay as it, to my eye, makes a compelling case.


I want to ask if you will join me in a small, inexpensive, but possibly life-altering experiment. Over the next thirty days, let’s all buy a favorite book of poems and send it to someone who doesn’t usually read poems. This could be a family member, friend, your local representative, whomever! I believe poetry enriches our lives and our hearts. I believe that by sharing poetry with others we are taking part in humanizing our culture.

So that we may all share in the experience, you can tweet the book title you mail and whom you are sending it to with the #shareapoem hashtag.

-Matthew Dickman has good ideas.


-Roxane Gay at The Rumpus


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Red-Handed Babbling

Johnson doesn’t give us a blow by blow account of the end of that marriage or of the end of his mother’s life; rather he invites us into the emotional landscape of a family’s collapse. The result of this technique is that we are moved along with the poet. He doesn’t dictate to us what he felt; he invites us along for the emotional ride.

-Benjamin Myers discusses four of his favorite titles from NYQ Books


The author of some of the spookiest, darkest songs in the American folk canon seemed jolly on this late-August day. Even if he was accompanied by a reporter, generally not his favorite species of human, the motion soothed him. “I’ve always been better moving than I am standing still,” he said.

-Wonderful feature on Neil Young in New York Times Magazine


Here’s what happened. In 2005 my copyeditor at Harcourt, David Hough, had to subcontract out Workshirts for Madmen to an eighty-five year old woman who lived in New York City. She kept changing sentences like “I only want to dig a hole and sit down in it” to “I want only to dig a hole…” I wrote “Stet” in the margin. She kept changing these sentences, and I kept writing “Stet.” Somewhere along the line she wrote “Do you people in the South not know this rule of grammar?” When she changed it the next time, I wrote “I want only to kill you.”

-George Singleton interviewed by Steve Almond at The Rumpus


Don’t imagine that the art of poetry is any simpler than the art of music, or that you can please the expert before you have spent at least as much effort on the art of verse as the average piano teacher spends on the art of music. Be influenced by as many great artists as you can, but have the decency either to acknowledge the debt outright, or to try to conceal it. Don’t allow ‘influence’ to mean merely that you mop up the particular decorative vocabulary of some one or two poets whom you happen to admire. A Turkish war correspondent was recently caught red-handed babbling in his dispatches of ‘dove-gray’ hills, or else it was ‘pearl-pale,’ I can not remember. Use either no ornament or good ornament.

-'A Few Don'ts by an Imagiste' by Ezra Pound


Sort of obsessed with this right now.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Ignorance and Wonder

The One Pause Poetry mp3 Project is a national digital resource for teachers, students, readers, and listeners. Each poet is asked to record and submit three mp3 files to the site: one poem of his or her own, one by another poet, and one poem for kids.

If you're not familiar with One Pause Poetry, you should check out the website. You'll find excellent recordings of Charles Jensen, Malena Morling, Alfred Corn, Mark Cox, Keetje Kuipers, and many others. They're spreading and celebrating poetry in some truly wonderful ways. The link above takes you to my recording, which includes my poem "After the Ark," A.R. Ammons' wild and whirling "Coon Song," and Shel Silverstein's extra-sticky "Peanut Butter Sandwich."


What I was getting at was the most important thing: originality, which might also be construed as character. We can't judge Rilke by the standards of Neruda. The greatest poets write from a necessity that forms style and carries from book to book, but their new poems fail to be the old poems. The poems that I'm writing now are to a large degree fictive and in third person, so I am working out of ignorance and wonder, and I hope to always do that.

-An interview with Rodney Jones at Poetry Daily


In the ongoing process of becoming a writer, I read and reread the authors I most loved. I read for pleasure, first, but also more analytically, conscious of style, of diction, of how sentences were formed and information was being conveyed, how the writer was structuring a plot, creating characters, employing detail and dialogue. And as I wrote, I discovered that writing, like reading, was done one word at a time, one punctuation mark at a time. It required what a friend calls “putting every word on trial for its life”: changing an adjective, cutting a phrase, removing a comma and putting the comma back in.

-Francince Prose at The Atlantic


Sometimes, when I am feeling high-strung or cross-eyed about something, I call Jess Walter. Forget, for a moment, that he drives a sports car and shops at the GAP: I like to think of him as a literary Gandalf, holed up in a cave in Spokane, wearing ragged gray robes and leaning on a warped staff. I trust him. Because he’s good-hearted. Because he works hard and writes enviously well. Because we grew up in similar circumstances. Because he has carved out a life for himself as a full-time writer. And because, over the past few years, he’s become a pal who knows how to share a whiskey and tell filthy stories and give good wizardly advice. On almost every occasion I have asked Jess what he thinks, his response has been, “Don’t be in such a rush.”

-Benjamin Percy at The Rumpus


Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Complexity and Terror

The meaning of a story should go on expanding for the reader the more he thinks about it, but meaning cannot be captured in an interpretation. If teachers are in the habit of approaching a story as if it were a research problem for which any answer is believable so long as it is not obvious, then I think students will never learn to enjoy fiction. Too much interpretation is certainly worse than too little, and where feeling for a story is absent, theory will not supply it.

My tone is not meant to be obnoxious. I am in a state of shock.

-Flannery O'Connor writes to a Professor teaching her stories.


Imagine your audience. I may not know what reviews are for, but I know who they are for: their readers. And it behooves reviewers to keep those readers in mind. One reason I’ve enjoyed reviewing for Poetry is that I picture its audience to be pretty much my ideal one, knowledgeable enough that I can assume familiarity with poetic concepts and history, but broad enough to keep me on guard against the excessively technical or clannish. But not every reviewer for Poetry has imagined its audience in the same way, and it’s fascinating to hear how many different pitches echo through the archives.

-"100 Years of Poetry: Re-reading Reviews" from The Poetry Foundation


I am in an extremely frustrated phase with poetry...what do I want out of it? I am feverishly tearing through stacks of books and not finding whatever that is, so I go back to what has stuck with me: Lisa Robertson, Juliana Spahr, Anne Carson, Alice Notley, Erin Moure, because the thinking is so well formed with these poets. Because I believe the thoughts. There is writing that knocks me out: Vanessa Place, many of the women in the Conceptual Writing anthology, but there is something I am longing for that I’m not finding either, and I guess I want to acknowledge that. It’s a longing for the world, the body, the emotive, the quotidian, intellect, play...and an expansive canvas, but also a sense of place, and an accurate representation of the moment. The complexity and terror of our moment. I may be identifying for myself a frustration of nostalgia. 

-"Women Who Write Poetry Criticism (Roundtable)" from the BAP Blog 


The idea behind the veil of ignorance is relatively simple: to force us to think outside of our parochial personal concerns in order that we consider others. What Rawls saw clearly is that it is not easy for us to put ourselves in the position of others. We tend to think about others always from our own personal vantage; we tend to equate another person’s predicament with our own. Imagining what it must be like to be poor, for instance, we import presumptions about available resources, talents and opportunities — encouraging, say, the homeless to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and to just get a job, any job, as if getting a job is as simple as filling out an application. Meanwhile, we give little thought to how challenging this can be for those who suffer from chronic illnesses or disabling conditions. What Rawls also saw clearly was that other classic principles of justice, like the golden rule or mutual benevolence, are subject to distortion precisely because we tend to do this.



Wednesday, August 8, 2012

I Am Better At Not Knowing What I Am Doing

Poems are made of words that live in bodies — bodies shaped by line breaks, and fixed forever in space, on the page. Picture a gymnast in relation to the trampoline, the invisible line between the two driven equally by unseen forces of gravity and the gymnast’s own strength. When a poem is read aloud, it is a moment of flight. Its words are released into the air, into the spaces between breaths. Many poets, like Charles Olson and the Beats, see the line as an actual unit of breath. The white space left in the wake of the words is the breath materialized. When I was pregnant with my son, I had to re-lineate all my poems to shorten the lines, so I could speak them without becoming breathless.

-Erika Meitner's "One of the Components is How Long You Are in the Air: On Poetry and Trampoline" at Los Angeles Review of Books. If you haven't been reading "We Can Be Heroes: Poetry at the Olympics," you've been missing out.


I am forever telling my students I know nothing about poetry, and they never believe me. I do not know what my poems are about, except on rare occasions, and I never know what they mean. I have met and spoken to many poets who feel the same way, and one among them once put it this way: “The difference between myself and a student is that I am better at not knowing what I am doing.” I couldn’t put it any better than that if I tried.

-The Volta, On Mary Ruefle's (Hollins grad!) new collection of lectures.


Another question poets old and young are typically asked in interviews is when and why they decided to become poets. The assumption is that there was a moment when they came to realize there can be no other destiny for them but to write poetry, followed by the announcement to their families that had their mothers exclaim: “Oh God, what did we do wrong to deserve this?” while their fathers ripped out their belts and chased them around the room. I was often tempted to tell the interviewer with a straight face that I had chosen poetry to get my hands on all that big prize money that’s lying around, since informing them that there was never any decision like that in my case inevitably disappoints them. They want to hear something heroic and poetic, and I tell them that I was just another high school kid who wrote poems in order to impress girls, but with no other ambition beyond that. Not being a native speaker of English, they also ask me why I didn’t write my poems in Serbian and wonder how I arrived at the decision to ditch my mother tongue. Again, my answer seems frivolous to them, when I explain that for poetry to be used as an instrument of seduction, the first requirement is that it be understood. No American girl was likely to fall for a guy who reads her love poems in Serbian as they sip Coke.

-Charles Simic's "Why I Still Write Poetry" at The New York Review of Books


While teaching at Hollins University for the last seven years, I’ve also been helping my wife and kids work a little Permaculture farm/homestead, where among the many food/soil building systems, we raise a Nubian goat dairy herd. We make cheeses, yogurts, kefir, and ice cream from that goat milk. We don’t get too crazy with the flavors, and I doubt we’ll get into milking gorillas anytime soon, but in every line of this poem are at least two things we grow, raise, or wild-harvest (and then process and eat) from our 18 acres and the surrounding fields, forest, streams, and rivers. Today there was basil and walnut in the pesto we mixed into a chevre spread for lunch. And the pawpaw will be ripe before too long.

-Thorpe Moeckel over at Poet Lore


-Kwame Dawes' "Memos to Poets: A Twitter Journey"


Friday, August 3, 2012


Two micro-essays on craft by two young poets to whom you should be paying attention:

Recently I heard a Slovenian poet draw a distinction between two kinds of writers: those who write facing a wall and those who write facing a window. His point being: the writer who faces a wall engages in a tête-à-tête with the imagination, whereas a window gazer performs the diligent, all too loyal office of copying down the visible world. Clearly, this poet preferred—and considered himself a member of—the wall-facing variety.

-Will Schutt at Blackbird


But. Religion, or at least the basic tenets and concepts of Judeo-Christianity, figure prominently in my writing life because, though I am not a religious person, some of my favorite poets were or are. I used to be a poet, so the writing fanning out in back of me, stretched out in a long haphazard peacock-dazed line, is largely still poetry. Some of my favorite poetry has the fire and fury of the Old Testament and some the sweet forgiveness of man’s sins the New Testament promises.

-Amber Sparks at The Rumpus


If we assume (on the basis of very incomplete evidence) that literature has in fact helped to diminish acts of injuring—not only during the Humanitarian Revolution, but also in other epochs—what attributes of literature can explain this? Three come immediately to mind: its invitation to empathy, its reliance on deliberative thought, and its beauty.

-Elaine Scarry at Boston Review


The Poetry Foundation and Poetry magazine announced 29 finalists for the 2012 Ruth Lilly Fellowship. They'll announce five winners, each receiving a $15,000 award, by September 1.

I'm honored and amazed to have my name on the list of finalists. It's an astounding group of poets, and I'm thrilled to join so many young poets I admire. All we can do now is hope!


Friday, July 20, 2012

The Peril



Despite Greg’s age, his case was swiftly waived into the adult justice system. Facing the possibility of life in prison, he accepted a plea agreement of guilty but mentally ill. In early 1994, Greg, then 15, entered the Indiana penitentiary system to begin serving a 60-year sentence. He was one of the youngest adult inmates in the state’s history.

-NYT Magazine


The summer of 2012 offers Americans the best chance yet to get their minds around the problem. In late June, just as a sizzling heat wave was settling across much of the country—in Evansville, Indiana, temperatures rose into the triple digits for ten days, reaching as high as a hundred and seven degrees—wildfires raged in Colorado. Hot and extremely dry conditions promoted the flames’ spread. “It’s no exaggeration to say Colorado is burning,” KDVR, the Fox station in Denver, reported. By the time the most destructive blaze was fully contained, almost three weeks later, it had scorched nearly twenty-nine square miles. Meanwhile, a “super derecho”—a long line of thunderstorms—swept from Illinois to the Atlantic Coast, killing at least thirteen people and leaving millions without power.

-The New Yorker


Last month the world's nations, meeting in Rio for the 20th-anniversary reprise of a massive 1992 environmental summit, accomplished nothing. Unlike George H.W. Bush, who flew in for the first conclave, Barack Obama didn't even attend. It was "a ghost of the glad, confident meeting 20 years ago," the British journalist George Monbiot wrote; no one paid it much attention, footsteps echoing through the halls "once thronged by multitudes." Since I wrote one of the first books for a general audience about global warming way back in 1989, and since I've spent the intervening decades working ineffectively to slow that warming, I can say with some confidence that we're losing the fight, badly and quickly – losing it because, most of all, we remain in denial about the peril that human civilization is in.

-Rolling Stone


"More than anything, I am aware of how comfortable I (and many other straight people) have become in staying silent on this issue. If we choose to not speak on an issue of injustice out of fear, or how our peers might perceive us, we’re part of the problem. We know the truth, and vainly refuse to uphold it, when people’s lives are caught in the balance."

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Straightforward Articulation of Suffering

I'm grateful to Washington State's Poet Laureate, Kathleen Flenniken, for featuring one of my recent poems on The Far Field


I remember reading John Berryman’s “Dream Song #14” in my twenties, with its famous opening words, “Life, friends, is boring.” I remember being struck by its wit, irony, playfulness, delight: it is the kind of poem students read aloud to each other in a pool of laughter and admiration, and there is nothing wrong with that, for it reinforces their sense of cynicism and superiority, and it is crucial at that age we find a like-minded group to whom we can belong. I remember rereading the poem, not for the second time, some thirty years later, and being struck by its excruciating pain, which is entirely without irony. Many persons who knew Berryman have remarked that he spoke, always, without irony, which means, simply, that he always meant what he said. If you are going through a particularly stable period of your life, and you encounter his bleakest statements, you will react with chagrin and disbelief, as if listening to the ablest jester. If you are going through a particularly unstable period of your life, the straightforward articulation of suffering that has already twisted and dislocated its bearer renders a tension that will very nearly kill you. But I did not know this then.

-Mary Ruefle at Poetry


A kind of brain fever moved through me as I drove across Ohio and Pennsylvania toward my home in Boston. It was as if I were coming to life, like an insect or tree. The raw fact of my body breathed again. And I felt joy thinking of the elms still standing in Massachusetts after a half century of their blight spreading across America. Hasn’t someone confected blight-resistant elms by now that spring up “like a fountain” (Longfellow)?

-Henri Cole at The New Yorker


One thing I will say is that you don’t know what will happen if you write the truth. You don’t know what will happen if you decide to write what you feel really compelled to write. You think that there might be this consequence but there might actually be a different sort of outcome, and it could be a positive one.

-An interview with Cheryl Strayed over at The Rumpus


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Inveterate Doodlers

Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.

He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed - love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.

-Faulkner's Nobel Speech; listen to him deliver it




Less well-known is that the world’s literati also are cross-talented—that in addition to writing works that have shaped our culture, many poets and authors have practiced visual art as a vital component of their creative output. From William S. Burroughs and Charles Bukowski to Henry Miller and Sylvia Plath, renowned writers of the twentieth century made paintings, drawings, and collages. These creative outpourings enhance our understanding of their authors’ written works, and stand on their own merits as well. Some of the art is whimsical; Mark Twain and Kurt Vonnegut, for instance, were inveterate doodlers. Other examples—such as the work of e.e. cummings—is astonishing in its mastery. Here is a look at the visual output of 19 literary greats.

-Imprint Magazine


The raw thrill of both “How Should a Person Be?” and “Girls” (and let me acknowledge here that I am hardly the first person to compare the two) is in the way they treat heterosexual coupling as secondary, and how they depict the profundity of female friendships, not to mention their real perils—which are quite different from the competitive jockeying that is so often imagined. It is other women, not men, Dunham and Heti seem to be saying, who most impact the evolution of girls into women. Other women, not men, who provide the opportunities for self-expression and self-discovery. Other women, not men, who bear witness to the triumphs and tragedies of young womanhood. Other women, not men, in whom we both find and lose ourselves.

-The New Yorker


I have a
new poem in the latest issue of Quarterly West. The whole issue is dynamic and well set. There are knock-out poems by Casey Thayer, C. Dale Young, Sally Wen Mao, and others. Big thanks to LFC and the gang over at U of U for seeing fit to include me in such righteous company. 


Thursday, July 5, 2012

Histrionic Exhaustion

After a weekend in the DC swelter, I'm back in the Pacific Northwest. Read Denis Johnson's Train Dreams on a layover. Read it again on the plane. Now I can't stop thinking about wolves and Idaho and wildfires. I wrote a new poem the other day (which contains all of the aforementioned obsessions). I'm thinking about moving back East. I'm thinking about the Blue Ridge. I'm glad the days are so long.


Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day. I once knew a woman who interned at a magazine where she wasn’t allowed to take lunch hours out, lest she be urgently needed for some reason. This was an entertainment magazine whose raison d’être was obviated when “menu” buttons appeared on remotes, so it’s hard to see this pretense of indispensability as anything other than a form of institutional self-delusion. More and more people in this country no longer make or do anything tangible; if your job wasn’t performed by a cat or a boa constrictor in a Richard Scarry book I’m not sure I believe it’s necessary. I can’t help but wonder whether all this histrionic exhaustion isn’t a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn’t matter.



Ray Bradbury was, by then, eighty-nine years old. He’d had a stroke in 1999, and it showed in the interview manuscript: he misremembered dates, names, years; he attributed books to the wrong authors; the quotes he offered from memory—I remember one in particular from Moby-Dick—were nine-tenths invention. It made for a lot of work. But what I found in the interview were things that had escaped me for much of my undergraduate and graduate years—years spent earning a supposedly literary education. He promotes friendship, love, self-discovery, the daily intake of poetry. He instructs us to read from every kind of literature we feel drawn to. (Speaking about his own influences, he calls himself a “conglomerate heap of trash.”) He talks about the “fiction of ideas,” a term he uses to describe the need for literature to engage with major developments in science, art, and contemporary culture at large. He warns against the dangers of intellectual snobbery (“If I’d found out that Norman Mailer liked me,” he says, “I’d have killed myself”). He asserts the primary importance of public libraries. In the early days of e-books and Kindles (“Those aren’t books,” he says. “A book has got to smell. You have to hold it in your hand and pray to it.”), he makes a case for the printed page.

-The Paris Review


Singers like Cold Specks make it easier to believe.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Something Akin to Beef Jerky

Write, write, write. Read, read, read.


We hear that rejection preys upon and depends upon the writer's ego; seemingly informed people tell us that successful writers appropriate rejection and use it as fuel, that they co-opt the editor's or agent's malice, stupidity, or worst of all, indifference, and they cure it until it becomes a kind of treat, something akin to beef jerky. And we hear that those who reject our work are not rejecting us, they're not rejecting our souls because if we could get our souls on the page, we wouldn't get rejected at all; instead we'd get flown first-class to Sweden to accept the Nobel Prize for Literature. They say this because most writers, especially beginning or unpublished writers, freak out over rejection. To the good men and women offering this consolation and advice, I say, okay, yes, sure, but you've obviously never ridden a skateboard.

-Bret Anthony Johnson's "On Rejection; or, Dear Author, After Careful Consideration," an essay that originally appeared in Shenandoah


-This essay by Jeffrey Levine got my cogs turning.


This is the story of a leash, a law and a city’s dueling definitions of compassion. It is a story of limits tested and stretched; of strife, threats and, possibly, compromise.

NY Times


-Fascinating interview over at the The Awl with Trappist monks (who have taken a vow of silence)


Monday, June 4, 2012

Dreaming of Fields

Snowstorms bring in more customers, earlier, to pass the time and watch the cars slosh past on Roosevelt. The bartender will make you a boilermaker, a martini, or an espresso, whatever you like, and even if it isn’t cheaper than any of the other dozen fine bars and cafes in the neighborhood, it feels cheaper. Most everyone tips well. I usually just get drip coffee from the afterthought coffeemaker beside the very nice espresso machine, a machine that probably used to be a Vespa. Some days there are several fleets of scooters out front, parked closely like sheep at a trough. Often there is a dog, a small one on the counter, a larger one somewhere in the building, curled up, asleep and dreaming of fields.

-via NPR, Ed Skoog reflects on Cafe Racer before the tragic shootings of last week.


For Kim, our sunshine, our ray of light on a cloudy day, our girl with a heart of gold: Go to your favorite neighborhood bar, flash the bartender your prettiest, brightest smile, and order a Kimosa (that's champagne with cranberry and/or pineapple juice). Tell them that it's delicious (you won't be lying), and then talk to EVERYONE around you and do your level best to make them feel special. Again it's okay to cry, but try to smile; Kim had the best smile in the world, and now we need to pick up the slack.

For Don, our neighbor and friend, the all-around best guy that everyone should be lucky enough to know—the nicest, smartest man on the block: Order an Americano from your favorite cafe and proceed to tell the truest tall tales you can. Mean every single word of them. Try to shake everyone's hand and look them in the eye while you're doing it. Then make sure that everyone on your block knows and loves you, and that you know and love them right back. Also, learn the saxophone.
-via The Stranger, An Open Letter from Cafe Racer

-via Letters of Note, a letter from Steinbeck to his son.


Sunday, May 13, 2012

Relentlessly Showcased

Headed to New York this week to visit old friends, and to read some poems at the Cornelia Street Cafe. Will be the first time in the city in over 10 years. Can't wait.
-via Slate

At some point I decide to do something with this love—I trust it. I wholeheartedly believe that poetry can teach me how to live my life. I see that godawful earnestness in me and am embarrassed. I want so desperately to mean. When I make that choice, I accept that I will pass from the permitted to the forbidden. I’m not sure love is a descent, but I hope it is a move towards something deeper, something unknown. It not only asks for change, but for a willingness to accept whatever lies on the other side of the threshold. What can a poem teach you? A poem is not a poet, who is flawed and weak and sometimes cruel. But I trust the idea of poetry—that there is a way of living that keeps you wholly awake to the world. There is a power I can learn from, a consciousness I can inhabit that teaches me to face my life bravely. I want to deserve the life I’ve been given.

-Traci Brimhall in the new issue of Waccamaw


-Steve Almond is writing beautiful and true things again at The Rumpus