Saturday, December 05, 2009

Ellen Bryant Voigt

Reading Messenger and appreciating the elegance of her lyric, her elegy, and her imagination. I have a poet friend who also grew up on a farm. I think it gives a deep, almost mystical connection to the earth and the truth of the flesh. I think I will get her book on craft, The Flexible Lyric. Interesting interview with her in The Atlantic Unbound.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Google yourself

... and be surprised. Once I discovered that my spoken word album, A God You Can Dance, was a favorite on river cruises. This time I discovered you can download ringtones from my album now, from this charming website, The Inventures.

Writing on a schedule

I had several conversations today about how to fit a creative live (non-paying, of course) into the necessary life (maintaining the material aspects - body, dwelling, dependents, etc.). One of the most interesting questions I was asked was "What is important to you about reading books?" I surprised myself by answering without hesitation, "Learning about myself." Of course we want to learn about each other and about the world around and beyond us, but what feeds this curiosity is the impact the knowledge has on self-knowledge. I don't often read a book just to put myself to sleep or forget an hour, though I know plenty of people who do. I read a novel -- I should say I finish a novel, because I start plenty of them and don't finish -- because it has taken me on a journey of self-discovery.

That led to the discussion of how writing books seldom pays the rent, except for maybe six or seven best-selling writers. What they used to call "mid-list" books (now probably referred to as "instant remainders") seldom make money much for anyone, not the author, nor the publisher. They were published as statistical experiments, to see if among them might be the nugget of a surprise bestseller. Usually those are the books I buy, the ones on the remainder table, discounted and worn without having been adopted. For some reason, my favorite reading often comes from these piles. That gives me hope as a writer. Someone spent all that time and got very little money in order to reach and affect someone like me. There's something amazing in that.

All of which brings me to confess that ridiculous: I'm working on a novel I started four years ago, and have no time to engage in such an unremunerative activity. I have plenty on my literary plate already, but talking to another writer and editor convinced me that I should undertake this quixotic journey hopefully, by setting myself a schedule. Say, one page per day. Or four pages a week. Or an hour a day. Find some piece of time and give it to tht activity with discipline.

After studying ballet for most of my life, I can appreciate the importance of discipline in art. Here's my villanelle on the subject. Some find it dismal, I find it hopeful, because if you love practicing your art, you wouldn't want to stop until the end.

Ballet Teacher’s Catechism
– for Rosalie

You’ll practice every day until you die.
When years of sweat have dried, call it Art.
Eight en croix, thirty-two on each side.
You kids only like the easy part.

When years of sweat have dried, call it Art,
glittering threads whose weft you never see.
You kids only like the easy part.
You don’t understand the work of simplicity.

Glittering threads, the weft you never see—
beauty is woven on a loom of pain.
You don’t understand the work. Behind simplicity
is a dancer with a one-pointed brain.

Beauty is woven on a loom of pain.
Only repetition can make a movement pleasing.
The dancer with a one-pointed brain
trains sinew and bone past habit and reason.

Only repetition can make a movement pleasing.
Eight en croix, thirty-two on each side.
To train sinew and bone past habit and reason
you’ll practice every day until you die.

-- from Femme au chapeau

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Of Paper and Paypal

Over at Mindbook, T.R. Hummer is being witty about Ascent magazine going digital -- "killing paper." WHAT IS THE DEAL WITH PAPER? Did they blog on vellum -- a laborious process, but you know there had to be some bored monks who availed themselves of the odd piece of sheepskin to vent -- about how terrible was this new thing, the printing press? How it spelled the END OF CIVILIZATION? (Sorry for all the shouting.)

I mean, really, we all have printers. Have you never printed out an online poem you like to carry around and reread? Paper will never die, but if perfectbound magazines sitting dusty on a few library and bookstore shelves give way to lots of people clicking a paypal to pay a dime for a downloadable chapbook or zine, would that be such a kick in the pants to poetry? I think we're seeing a proliferation of poetry, thanks to the Internet. Look how iTunes is ruining the music business. Hello? Is anyone taking notes? More people are listening to music than ever. Let the payment mechanisms sort themselves out.

Oh, and blogging is ruining journalism. The Kindle will ruin books. Please just embed my digital media under my fingernails now and give me the virtual visor. I'm ready for the new-new technology and would carry my entire library on a flash drive if I possibly could.

On Peony Moon, Michelle McGrane is running a terrific series on books published in 2009, asking poets to list their three favorites. A great composite reading list, available for browsing, just in time for gift-giving season. Nice. Very nice.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Vintage Fringed

I hope you had a good Thanksgiving weekend. I ended mine with the news that six of my poems that had previously been featured in Fringe Magazine would be featured this week in a Vintage Fringe issue, one of a series of features from past issues. The issue is now up, and I'm very happy to have this feature re-emerge, thanks to the interest of the editors at Fringe. (By the way, if you're on Facebook, have you become a fan of Fringe?)

Along with the Vintage feature is an interview with me about the poems on the Fringe blog (accessible from the magazine's first page). The interview was conducted by Poetry Editor Anna Lena Phillips.

Fringe is a fascinating read. Here's one reason why, from their Manifesto:

"We worry about the state of modern literature. We worry that it’s too realist, monolithic, corporate, print-bound and locked in its own bubble.

"That’s why we founded Fringe. Fringe is the noun that verbs your world. We publish work that is political or experimental in form or content and define both “political” and “experimental” broadly. “Political” can mean work that incorporates or comments on current events or it can mean literature and art that further personal dignity and advocate human rights. We regard “experimental” work as work that breaks with the canon, takes formal risks, or explores a strange or impossible point of view."

While some journals claim the experimental as territory, it too often seems to equate with the unintelligible. Not the work in this zine, which is consistently thought-provoking -- though the thoughts may not always be pleasant -- and surprising in ways that make you want to write something in response. At least that's how it works for me.

Pick something of your own that surprises you, and send it to them.