Saturday, August 18, 2007

written in the morning, honeymoon in alaska

A first draft I wrote in the foggy early-morning of our honeymoon in Alaska:

There is nothing left between us but
battered pillows and fallen punctuation.
We can find our way down the hallway,
made new, see where the poem
will take us. The truth is, we haven't
fought, but our pillows are wasted
and the punctuation I speak of
is the comma of your shoulder, the
pause before you murmur in the dark
of the cabin, "Two black bears," and
behind the orange curtain is Alaska,
glaciers so compact the only color left
is blue, and inside the curtain
is the honeymoon, hungry and awake.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Dear Anne Carson,

Dear Anne Carson,

I am writing you this letter because I believe it's always nice to hear what readers have to say about your work, even if your reader is nothing more than a humbled high school English teacher who sometimes has trouble with tricky word pairs (who & whom, lay & lie being the ones fighting me the most) and often has typos in her blog and can't spell her way out of a paper bag. My teacher Michael Dennis Browne (who is a poet himself) always urged us to write letters to those poets we are reading; I suspect this is because he liked the letters himself. I always tell my students to do things (tell those teachers you love that you love them) that I wouldn't mind receiving myself.

Of course, this is a blog entry and not a letter, but that is OK. It's as close as I can get, for now. Please forgive the spelling and typos, though.

But these are my inadequacies, and this is about you, though not about inadequacies, but rather, magicalities, the things that have sprung up in your work and inspired me.

I write this sitting in what we call our "second bedroom," but I'm slowly accepting that I could start to call it "a studio." After all, poetry lines the walls, my desk is newly cleared, and the futon is upright, ready for a lounging read. I've begun to turn to this place as somewhere of safety, escape. Do you have a place like this in your home? I know I'll have to give it up one day once we start having children, but for now, I will relish in my space. Virginia Woolf would be proud.

I've only read two of your books: The Autobiography of Red (read, in one sitting, as one poet has recently recommended, yesterday afternoon, while my fiance cleaned the downstairs, annoyed I was not helping, especially after I stomped around, hating how messy our house is) and Plainwater (this, "assigned" by another poet in a poetry group that fell apart this summer, but I still have my reading list, and I will still happily work my way through these books).

I must admit, starting with Plainwater was perhaps inadvisable as I found myself often confused. This was not a book to read in one sitting; instead, I caught little bits of it as my students read or planned theatre, as I should have been reading the plays a second time along with them, but instead, read your book, jotting down words and phrases that tasted like a peach on my tongue:

- sharp ribcage
- blue lips of ocean
- nerves pouring around
- Freud says a dream is either a wish or a counter wish
- Are you going to put that chair back where it belongs or just leave it there looking like a uterus?
- Water is something you cannot hold. Like men.
- I feel summer sinking into the earth.
- I am wondering about the color green. Why it hurts like sound hurts inside a jar.
- ... he remembers she used to get little bruises on her hips from lovemaking.
- arms rubbery with joy
- on trial for ... betrayal of pleasure
- his voice is standing above me
- sky so blue it comes off in your eyes
- (brush strokes) leaving areas of white exposed to view like sudden bones
- root silver, cream black

I also read, at the urging of Eireann, then of Carolyn, (aforementioned two poets) Autobiography of Red. It's interesting, but I read this book just after a poetry workshop in which I read a poet who reminded me a lot of you, who startled me in such a concise way, who mixed in essay with sparse poetry, who gave me images to roll around on my tongue like hard candy, so beautiful. He said you were one of his favorites, and I understand where that influence comes from now; you are lucky to have such a talented poet looking up to you. You are lucky to have so much talent yourself.

Here are some small phrases from this book that lingered with me:

- rummaging in his face with her eyes
- they recognized each other like italics
- why are you alone in this huge blank garden like a piece of electricity?
- photography is a way of playing with perceptual relationships

This poem, which is a novel, which is a poem, was something I could enter and travel through... And feel the shifting emotional landscape of the characters and love the way wings were natural and the shifting of mythology, the genre-bending and the pace. I love the smoothness of this book, the little bookends, the interviews in conversational form, the if-then consequences. The way I felt the love and yearning, the way the family was enough and not enough, the way it was all so important at such an early age.

And I will read more. I have a long way to go as a student and a poet, but I think I'm on the right track now.

Gros bisous,

Saturday, August 4, 2007

poetry of witness

I have been thinking so much about this small gap in time we are moving through and the big changes in my own life (without, even, a true change in geography): meeting Carolyn Forche & becoming connected to the poetry community in a very deep and wonderful way, becoming someone's wife exactly one week from today, my travels to see two oceans this summer, the collapse of the 35W bridge, and beginning a new job (and dealing with what it means to have been budget cut from a job).

I approached this week's workshop with a manuscript that I both loathed and depended upon. This was, though rough, my twenty "best" poems, and one I added that I wrote on Tuesday. We dove into workshop, reading thick manuscript after manuscript, two working on their second book of poems, others with so many phrases that gave me chance to pause, to catch my breath, to revel in the beauty of words. I felt humbled in this room.

And in the middle of this week, the tragedy we are all so familiar with, though some of us are still lingering, still following the news incredibly closely, as the rest of the world has already moved on, thinking of home rooms and bombs in Baghdad. Our community is still so rocked by this, so precariously teetering on the realization of what has truly happened, how what we have lost is so grounded in the locality of our state, how we will always remember where we were when we found out, just as we might remember where we were on 9/11 (it was always The Fiance delivering such news, and I'd always thought it was less than it truly was--really? planes? but the Oklahoma City bombing had immediate causalities and--really? the bridge collapsed? no one will be hurt, right?). (Someone wouldn't let that happen, right? It couldn't happen, not to us; that always happens so far away.)

And the wedding! Of course, I cannot forget the wedding, with my dress hanging in the window, with the Adidas shoeboxes stacked in the dining room, with the RSVPs sorted, and my hairstyle debated. And the rain! It rained here today, and The Fiance told me there is a 30% chance of rain on our wedding day, which is supposed to give us luck, but we aren't affiliated with any church (or religion), so it will be awfully difficult to wander through the muck of a marina and woodsy park if there is rain about. I hate to wish for no rain; Minnesota is suffering from a fairly dramatic drought this summer. You can see it in the cornfields--the places where the green should be green but is just as yellowing as wheat, as the corn silk itself.

This summer has been so fast paced, and yet, working at This High School seems a thousand years ago. Here's the thing that is probably so human about my moving: I'm ready for it, the moving on, but I don't want my school to be ready. I want them to have some small ache, or suffering, for my absence. (At least, I know, Emily will miss me!) And everything about this summer: the theatre course, the trip to Charlotte, the writing workshop--it's all been so wonderful and so gratifying and so good for me (and I wish I could just have a life that is full of this--travel and experience and small moments of part time work and poetry, all the time, poetry)--but so much of this summer has felt like one preparation leading into another with so little time in between. I find myself wanting to reside in the moment, to mull it over, again and again--how I want to think about my work beyond this past week, how I want to think about redemption in what I am doing--but really, what is the very most important, and I cannot deny this: I am marrying my favorite person in the whole world in exactly seven days.

Other pieces of news I follow:

NY Times Article: Charles Simic Becomes Poet Laureate

Friday, August 3, 2007


After twelve hours on campus, so much to do with poetry, with looking out on the Mississippi, with dinner and wine, after driving to and from and watching the way the city glows at night, I will leave you with this:

Workshop went well today. My manuscript was on the block, and there was helpful feedback, and much encouragement, which, I think, was one of the most valuable things for me right now, especially in this time of self doubt as a writer. Carolyn (who I can call Carolyn, but it's so strange because, really, I'm silly enough to still put poets, especially of her caliber up on this pedestal, which isn't very fair, but I'd rather poets raised up than some of the others I've seen listed in the "role model" category) gave me many great tips, but the one I think I needed to hear the most, right now, is that I don't need to worry myself too much over revision. Worry about generating and riding this tidal wave that is my current writing life. I have time now to write, and I haven't been able to stop, not really, so I will do this.

And, this is the best news of all, I will continue to work with Carolyn, who has promised to help me work on a manuscript to apply for graduate school and to write me a letter of recommendation. (Lucky life.)

And as we departed, the promises to have a reunion next summer, in Maine or Oregon, perhaps, the gorgeous coastal places to inspire this mighty band of poets, and Carolyn saying to us all, "Really? Will we really get together?" in that voice that is hopeful, like a child before Christmas. She doesn't really realize what a gift she has been for all of us.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

the shift of my landscape

The route to school today was not as difficult, sardined, or frustrated as I had anticipated.

Crossing the Mississippi is an accepted movement in the Twin Cities; it slices through Minneapolis and major roads bridge between banks.

I used to think how amazing it was to cross the Mississippi on the Washington Avenue bridge, moving from the east bank of campus to the west.

Class was still good today. All members accounted for, two staying home. One had wanted to stay with her children, which made sense. We continued with critique, the bridge coming up in conversation, and if we looked out the conference room window, we could see the line of media vans, their antenna spiraling up from this safe place, my college.

I thought of how Carolyn Forche is a poet of witness, one who has recorded the newsworthy. I think of how, in the days after 9/11 we spoke of the comfort of poetry, and every September 11th, in my classroom, we read "Keeping Quiet" by Pablo Neruda out loud.

And I think of how writing about these things is so difficult, when you see the scope and range of your own geography shift like this. Yes, I am writing now, and I've written words about yesterday, and I wonder about those 9/11 poems, the ones with true reference in the afterward, and if those poems will ever work, when we have our own freight for that day. How these become history, and sometimes it is distance we need the most to write well.

I will leave you with another poem I scribbled in my notebook. I need to note: Sharon Olds is considered a poet whose personal life is opened up for the reader. She claims the things in her poems did not actually happen but instead, she twisted the truth. Carolyn Forche, in workshop, has told us that we sometimes go where the poem takes us, sometimes it isn't rooted in truth, but something based on truth. I won't tell you how much of this poem is true--how much is created. I say this, not only because I know my mother will read it, but also because I recognize it as important to change things, to alter, in order to create a better story. I am the kind of person who forgives James Frey his lies in A Million Little Pieces because I want the story to be good. I am OK with being betrayed with the truth. Of course, the whole poem could be truth. You'd never know. (It feels incredibly rough, but I thought I'd share anyway, since generating and revision are parts of the importance of workshop.)


I always believed my parents met
on a blind date, the one in which
my mother was the replacement for
the girl who was sick. I imagined
them in the back of a tan Duster,
a white corsage clipped to my mother's wrist,
knocking against each other
on the slippery upholstery at each bend
in the road. They were never driving.

But this isn't how it happened,
and I'm learning so much about
my parents isn't true. I haven't slept
right since the night my father slept
on the pulled out mattress and I knew
about the divorce before she did.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007


This is my writing notebook. It is one of the most visually appealing and well traveled little books I've had in a while: it has journeyed with me to Green Bay, to Charlotte and Charleston, to the Twin Cities, and will go to Alaska (besides its regular residence here in town). It's square, a little beat on the edges, but in those pages, I have begun to feel like a poet again--that blissful, etching, scribbling, wonderful feeling I had when I was taking MFA classes as an undergraduate.

And Carolyn Forche continues to be brilliant, lovely, and has had us all laughing with her stories. Here are the little nuggets from today's workshop:

- when we write about [the Holocaust] [or anything big, like 9/11 or Civil Rights], we are writing not just about the event but in the aftermath of the event
- write about something by narrowing the focus instead of trying to take in something so huge (she then spoke of how CD Wright used to make them write five hundred words about one word, like an onion or a brick)
- Length of lines: How much weight does each line bear? What is truncated, left out?
- Compact poems as "hand grenades"
- keep a folder for each poem and its drafts, keep a folder for all the most recent poems in a manuscript
- David Abrams - The Spell of the Sensuous
- trust that what you've already said has done its job (don't overdo it)
- boning the chicken, lift the comb skeleton from the flesh of the fish
- Joseph Brodsky taught that there is a word for which the sake of the poem was written (to which she told an entertaining story, complete with accent, of how Brodsky would machine gun fire questions at his students after memorizing poems, complete with punctuation and line breaks)
- gesture of a poem: how it opens up or closes down at the end, how it yearns or meditates, how poems can be juxtaposed, argue with one another, how they move toward preservation and memory
- Larry Levis - Sensationalism

- Nothing to do with writing, but this is something that has been on my mind, especially after visiting my Midwestern transplanted friend in Charlotte and having a conversation about racism in the South and in the Midwest: the North is more covert about its racism, though isn't any less so racist

I will leave you with this: not a poem, but a little note about a venture my friend Eireann and her lovely friends Zach and Brian (who is making our programs and made our beautiful invitations for the wedding) are beginning: Yes Press has just released its first broadside postcard, and you can purchase them individually or by subscription (which is what I did--so you should do it too--since it's what all the cool kids are doing!).