Friday, March 17, 2006

Sun Comes Out for Birthday Celebrations

Our fickle West Coast weather has done another stunning turn, from snow and hail and lots of rain into sun and Bay Area warmth. Who knows what the next few days will bring, but at least we're getting the cosmic nod for now! A lot of thin people rushing around ... everyone quietly sparkling.

I'm still hunting for poems about kindness, generosity and self-sacrifice. Anyone know of such? I did find Naomi Shihab Nye's stunning poem Kindness, but I continue to search. All ideas appreciated!

This winter I've discovered Harryette Mullen (a recommendation of Naomi's). It's intoxicating, recursive and word-wild stuff. Reading Mullen alongside Alice Fulton's intense verbal pyrotechnics is enough to make me believe Wallace Stevens is alive and being channeled through these poets. I can imagine either Mullen or Fulton having written these Stevens lines:

After the final no there comes a yes
And on that yes the future world depends.
No was the night. Yes is this present sun.

Though I think no one writing right now reminds me of one of my favorite Stevens poems, "Sea Surface Full of Clouds" -- no poet I know matches the sheer visual spectacle and verbal and philosophical reach of lines like these, from Part 1:

Paradisal green
Gave suavity to the perplexed machine

Of ocean, which like limpid water lay.
Who, then, in that ambrosial latitude
Out of the light evolved the morning blooms,

Who, then, evolved the sea-blooms from the clouds
Diffusing balm in that Pacific calm?
C’était mon enfant, mon bijou, mon âme.

And these lines, from Part 2 of "Sea Surface":


And a sham-like green
Capped summer-seeming on the tense machine

Of ocean, which in sinister flatness lay.
Who, then, beheld the rising of the clouds
That strode submerged in that malevolent sheen,

Who saw the mortal massives of the blooms
Of water moving on the water-floor?
C’était mon frère du ciel, ma vie, mon or.



Wednesday, March 15, 2006

East Comes West

I expect to see a number of my East Coast friends shortly. Lots of poetry, music and drama in the week ahead! Now if we can just get the weather to cooperate. It's been behaving like East Coast weather, with snow on the mountain and fifteen-degrees-below-normal daily highs ("Chill out" -- not so nice an expression this week).

I've been reading Alison Lurie's nonfiction book Boys and Girls Forever. It sent me back to some of my childhood's most delightful moments. Lurie writes about the forces that may have compelled authors to write children's books, from Louisa May Alcott to J.K. Rowling to Salman Rushdie (yes, that guy. He wrote a kid's book). It interested me that Lurie ascribes disruptions in childhood happiness to the drive to write children's stories. She says in her foreword:

"It often seems that the most gifted authors of books for children are not like other writers: instead, in some essential way, they are children themselves. There may be outward signs of this condition: these people may prefer the company of girls and boys to that of adults; they read children's books and play children's games and like to dress up and pretend to be someone else. They are impulsive, dreamy, imaginative, unpredictable."

But doesn't that describe every writer? And don't about 98.999% of writers have unhappy childhoods? I'd like to see a book about writers with happy childhoods. Now there would be a surprising thesis: that childhood happiness drives art. Could happen!

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Great reviews of Femme

I'm very excited to have had three great reviews of my book, Femme au chapeau. The first one, by Terry Brown-Davidson, was published at The Pedestal. She called it "thrilling, one-of-a-kind poetry" and compared it to Wallace Stevens. I guess I thought it was a fluke of the kind the cosmos visits on you right before you take a giant pratfall. Such has been my Chicken-Little upbringing. Then Barbara Crooker wrote a glowing and detailed review for Smartish Pace -- and also praised its combination of formal elements and free verse. Okay, one is flukish, two is ... And then Sherry Chandler wrote another great review on her blog.

Now, I'm thinking, all right! I can keep on writing this way and a few readers are going to like it. Even if it's only the four of us, that makes my ... not even day or week, it makes my year.

Barbara's review stated my poetic interests well. She said, " One of the things I've been observing recently is that poets no longer seem to be constrained by either strict adherence to form or pigeon-holing ('formalist'); instead, many new collections are emerging that I'd call 'semi-formal,' shuffling an equal measure of formal poetry and free verse, keeping the reader on her toes, as she moves along, engaged in either the narrative or the lyric imagery, and then finds herself caught up short, realizing, 'Hey, that's really a sonnet (or a pantoum, etc.), and has to go back and read the poems one more time, paying more attention to form and how the poet worked in the formal elements."

Bless you, Barbara, for saying what's been on my mind for quite a few years.

I could mention a few others doing similar semi-formal things, who have inspired me: Kay Ryan, Kate Light, and the amazing English poet Alice Oswald. Those are poets of tremendous invention and grace, and I'd be lucky to write a poem that begins to do the kinds of things I've read from their pens.

Then of course, there is Elizabeth Bishop, who defied so many rules and creates so many unique formal elements it's impossible to classify her.

These are my standards -- impossibly high, and that's the idea. But thanks to my generous reviewers, I have been encouraged to keep reaching. And reaching is what makes me a happy girl.