A Productive Evening…

It is a good feeling to come home after a day at work with three key goals in mind: work out, make dinner, and grade essays. It’s an even better feeling when you accomplish not one or even two of these goals, but in fact you accomplish all three.
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My amaryllis has bloomed


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I read a really interesting article in The New Yorker this weekend entitled The Dime Store Floor by David Owen. It’s all about how smells can trigger memories.

The author and his sister embark on a childhood “smell tour” where they visit their old childhood haunts and see whether or not they still smell the same. I loved this article because I’m always trying to impress upon my students how important sensory detail is in writing, and this essay explores that concept in a very literal way.

This essay also made me think about smells from my own childhood and the memories they trigger. I think Old Spice must be the staple scent of all American fathers because it is a scent I associate strongly with my dad. Apparently my dad’s choice of deodorant resonated with not just the humans in the house, but also the animals. This became clear when he accidentally left the lid off of his Old Spice only to have our tiny tiger cat, Kit-Kat, knock it over and rub against it until she was slick with the scent.

Some of my other “smells” are also more common. For example, the smell of cinnamon, fresh cut grass, and lilacs. However, I also associate strong memories to the smell of Listerine. My grandfather always uses the mouthwash as part of his nightly routine. I also attribute the smell of onions to my grandmother and any sort of holiday. It’s a fun exercise to think about what smells trigger what memories.

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How to write a poem for Haiti…

I have yet to post about the recent earthquake in Haiti. The state of Haiti was already fragile at best and the recent disaster seems to have ripped the already wounded country wide open. It may seem frivolous to think about poetry during a time where people are crushed beneath broken buildings or sleeping on the street or starving or a half dozen other horrors that are occurring in Haiti right now. However, after the initial shock of the devastation, my first thought was, who will be the first poet to write about this event?

I had similar thoughts in the wake of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. My own personal need to write, to document was surprisingly strong. I wanted to write poems, badly, about all these events but they were slow to come. In fact, some of them are still coming. I finally wrote a poem about 9/11 more than five years after it happened. These events are thorny subjects for me when it comes to getting them down on paper in a form that even begins to do them justice. I know my biggest fear, and I suspect I share it with many other writers, is that I will not accurately portray the event. That the poem will offend instead of inspire or whatever else it was meant to do.

The New Yorker has published this poem by Aime Cesaire, “Earthquake” (translated by Paul Muldoon) and it is the first poem I’ve seen in direct response to Haiti:

Earthquake
such great stretches of dreamscape
such lines of all too familiar lines
staved in
caved in so the filthy wake resounds with the notion
of the pair of us? What of the pair of us?
Pretty much the tale of the family surviving disaster:
“In the ancient serpent stink of our blood we got clear
of the valley; the village loosed stone lions roaring at our heels.”
Sleep, troubled sleep, the troubled waking of the heart
yours on top of mine chipped dishes stacked in the pitching sink
of noontides.
What then of words? Grinding them together to summon up the void
as night insects grind their crazed wing cases?
Caught caught caught unequivocally caught
caught caught caught
head over heels into the abyss
for no good reason
except for the sudden faint steadfastness
of our own true names, our own amazing names
that had hitherto been consigned to a realm of forgetfulness
itself quite tumbledown.
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I’ve spent the afternoon reading The Metaphysician in the Dark by Charles Simic. Last night I taught three poems by Simic in my creative writing class. The poems were “Watermelons”, “Coal”, and “Fork,” and my students responded very well to all three. The essays I read this afternoon are a lot about art and its relation to poetry, which is something that’s always interested me. I teach ekphrastic poetry in my classes and I like reading about how different poets are influenced by painters, sculptors, and photographers. Simic speaks of this triptych by Bosch:

He also mentions the photographer Abelardo Morell. His website can be found here. A few of his photographs below :

Some of my favorite quotes from the essays I’ve read today:
“Much of lyric poetry is nothing more than a huge, centuries-old effort to remind our immortal souls of the existence of our genital organs.” “In the Praise of Folly”
“Empty space makes us discover our inwardness.” “The Power of Ambiguity”
“I, too, wish to make contact with some unknown person’s inner life. Out mutual hope is to bequeath a phrase or image to the dreamers so that we may live on in their reverie.” “The Power of Ambiguity”
“The alchemy of turning what is visible to us into what is visible to others is what all the arts are about.” “Verbal Image”

Starting of 2010

I started my week off waiting for the water company to come out and read the meter. This morning I had good intentions to go to school early but that was before our kitchen sink backed up. Now, I’m sitting in my living room listening to the plumber snake the kitchen sink and thinking about all the work I have to do for school. Oh well.

Note: I’m not encouraged by the fact that the plumber is on his third go at snaking the drain and I think I just heard him mutter “you’ve got to be shitting me.”
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I didn’t officially make any New Year’s resolutions this year because I feel like mine are always the same: take better care of myself, write more, read more, and manage my time better. I’m going to just keep chipping away at these goals right now. I think they’re solid.

I have a couple of poems bumping around in my head but I’m still thinking them through. I also need to start thinking about more submissions. 2009 was a pretty typical submission year. I sent out 65 plus submissions and got accepted to one journal.

I’m starting on Moby Dick tomorrow…

The Poetry Society of America is hosting this exhibit in New York City called “Portaits of Poets 1910-2010” I’ve been following the development of the exhibit through Facebook and Twitter. I’d love to go and see it but I think I’ll have to settle for the pictures provided by the New York Times:

Artists and poets have always kept close company, and the alliance becomes a celebratory bash in “Portraits of Poets, 1910-2010,” an exhibition presented by the Poetry Society of America at the National Arts Club beginning on Tuesday. The kickoff event of the society’s centennial year, the show brings together more than 150 portraits of 20th-century poets, many by well-known artists, and the guest list is formidable.

And the drain is fixed…

Wednesday Musings

How Doth the Little Crocodile

How doth the little crocodile
Improve his shining tail,
And pour the waters of the Nile
One every golden scale!

How cheerfully he seems to grin,
How neatly he spreads his claws,
And welcomes little fishes in
With gently smiling jaws!

Lewis Carroll
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I’ve thought of another poem sparked from an article I read in The New Yorker called At the Train Bridge by Calvin Trillin. The part that stayed with me was the quote that ended the piece, “The beauty of that place has been cursed by my actions. My memorial is made out of iron and concrete.”

Thursday (Tyger, Tyger burning bright…) Musings

I’ve fallen behind in my New Yorkers. Again. There are days when I think I should just cancel my subscription but then I read a piece of fiction like The Tiger’s Wife, and I change my mind.

Occasionally I get down on myself for not reading enough. More often than not I get down on my self for not reading enough prose. I love to read but I find that if I take a break from it for a few weeks, I love it even more when I return to it. As you can probably guess, with the summer semester coming quickly to an end, I’ve begun to delve into back issues of magazines, poetry journals, and books that have been piling up in a steady stack since the beginning of June. Today, while my afternoon class works on journals and essay revisions, I work on reading.

The Tiger’s Wife, by Tea Obreht appeared in the Summer Fiction issue of The New Yorker and it is one gorgeous piece of writing from start to finish. It’s a story that builds itself around folklore and while it is gruesomely beautiful throughout, I think what is most impressive about the story is how much movement Obreht maintains over a short story. We travel with the tiger and as we travel, a complex narrative begins to unravel. I like the mysteriousness of this piece and the supernatural element. It reminds me of The Decemberists album The Crane Wife. This album incidentally is also built around folklore.

The way that The Tiger’s Wife weaves a folk story into the larger conflict of war is also very impressive. For instance, in the opening of the piece when the tiger is still trapped in the citadel, the description is starkly genuine “The tiger did not know that they were bombs. He did not know anything beyond the hiss and screech of fighter plans passing overhead and the missiles falling, the bears bellowing in another part of the fortress , and the sudden silence of the birds.” Then later, ” When a stray bomb hit the south wall of the citadel, sending up clouds of smoke and ash, and shattering bits of rubble into his skin, his heart should have stopped. The toxic iridescent air; the feeling of his fur folding back like paper in the heat…”

The transformation of the tiger into something mythic is slow in this story but vital, because in the end he vanishes and we accept that with no questions asked. Because of this war, he has morphed into legend. Into something beautiful.

The Tyger

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright,
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire in thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder, and what art?
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand, and what dread feet?

What the hammer? What the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? What dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And watered heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb, make thee?

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright,
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

William Blake

Sunday (sprouts, potatoes, broccoli oh my!) Musings

The title of the post indicates what we bought at the farmer’s market this morning. Because our brussel sprout experiment was such a success, we went back for more. It’s fun picking out your own produce. I’ve also decided to start buying cage free/organic eggs with at the farmer’s market or the store.
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In my continuing love affair with Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I was amused to discover that Barbra Kingsolver is listed as the 74th most dangerous person in America. As my sister would say, wtf? Obviously, it is highly to dangerous to promote public awareness when it comes to our own food consumption. Kingsolver addresses her dangerousness in her book, which is how I found out about it. Intrigued I did what every good investigator does, I googled it.

Apparently the book was written by Bernard Goldberg, who seems to be a well respected journalist at CBS. His book, Bias, won some critical support but the customer reviews on Amazon for 110 People Who Are Screwing Up America, seem lackluster at most. It appears to me that Goldberg is criticizing trends that are screwing up America, which is all well and good but Kingsolver isn’t responsible for people misinterpreting her message or making the information a trend. To be frank, it seems like a throw away book to make money. Speaking of trends, books like this are very trendy. Maybe Bernie should look in the mirror.

I continue to love her book and while I agree that we’re not all going to live our lives the way she has chosen to live hers, there is nothing wrong with thinking about what food we put in our mouths and knowing where that food comes from.
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I’m still chipping away at last weeks New Yorker. There was segment in the Talk of the Town section entitled “Family Jewels” and it was about Bernie Madoff’s victims and how they’re all selling valuable family jewelry to CIRCA. CIRCA is a jewelry buying firm located in New York. The little snippet goes on to introduce Tracy Sherman, the company’s Palm Beach director, who had been going around to homes scoping out the jewels for sale. One of her quotes really got me. In regards to the people who are selling these jewels, Sherman advises “Be glad you had these things, and be glad you had great taste, so now you can sell it in order to continue.”

Whoa. Back up a second.

First of all, these are not mere trinkets. We’re talking about family heirloom pieces that can be worth upwards of $50,000. Second, the past tense disturbs me. Be glad you had great taste, because even if you sell this diamond pin from Cartier, you’re not ever going to be able to afford jewels like this again. Also, what does this word “continue” imply? But by far the more disturbing aspect of this little snippet is, what about the people who don’t have Cartier to sell?
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Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to gather at the Lincoln Memorial today for the “We Are One: Opening Inaugural Celebration.” Times reporters are at the event and will regularly update this post throughout the day.

I won’t lie. Bono gets on my nerves. I know this is shameful considering I am a child of the U2 generation. I like some of the music (older is better) and I embrace Bono fully as a musical icon. However, I can’t quite swallow Bono the diplomat/government activist. I have similar problems with Angelina Jolie going to Africa. What frustrates me about celebrities and political and cultural issues is that they make it trendy to care about the world, and that irritates me to no end. I was not impressed with Live Aid, mostly because Africa has been a place of concern for decades. It will continue to be a place of concern long after all the teenagers have abandoned their Live Aid t-shirts for Greenpeace or Habitat for Humanity or whatever Miley Cyrus happens to think is cool at the time.

I know people who are less jaded and judgmental will say that these celebs are just “wetting the interest” and then evenutally, these teens will become interested in these issues and want to help regardless if it’s Hilary Duff or Hilary Clinton speaking. While this could be the case with young adults (17-20), I’m skeptical about 16 and below. Their whole being is wrapped up in being fickle.
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I really liked this play when I read it in college, and I’d forgotten what a disturbed woman Hedda Gabler is.

Imagine a White House where the Oval Office faces an interactive media wall filled with live commentary from citizens and visitors. Or a White House that is raised and lowered according to poll results, with an unpopular president brought down to the level of disgruntled constituents. How about one that changes colors according to the Homeland Security Advisory System? Or that has been emptied of human content and made into a central server for United States democracy?

Monday (Freezing Rain) Musings

Your poem for the week (courtesy of The New Yorker. Yes, I’m still catching up):

Terza Rima

In this great form, as Dante proved in Hell,
There is no dreadful thing that can’t be said
In passing. Here, for instance, one could tell

How our jeep skidded sideways toward the dead
Enemy soldier with the staring eyes,
Bumping a little as it struck his head,

And then flew on, as if toward Paradise.

Richard Wilbur

Note about the form:

Terza rima is a rhyming verse stanza form that consists of an interlocking three line rhyme scheme. It was first used by the Italian poet Dante Alighieri. Terza rima is a three-line stanza using chain rhyme in the pattern a-b-a, b-c-b, c-d-c, d-e-d. There is no limit to the number of lines, but poems or sections of poems written in terza rima end with either a single line or couplet repeating the rhyme of the middle line of the final tercet. The two possible endings for the example above are d-e-d, e or d-e-d, e-e. There is no set rhythm for terza rima, but in English, iambic pentameters are generally preferred.
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This is too perfect considering R has been a part of both an ugly sweater party and a mustache party…

“Hey man, nice sweater. It’s so ugly.”
“Yeah, when my family first got to this country we had to shop at Goodwill, this is the first one my father bought to get him through his first winter here. Good thing they didn’t have these parties back then, right? He would have died.”
“Geez, man, I’m sorry, you can cut in line for egg nog.”

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Lying about something you’ve read to impress someone you’re taken with comes second after telling untruths about sexual conquests, but ahead of lying about your age or job.

Sunday Musings

I am woefully behind in my New Yorkers. Three issues behind to be exact, which in New Yorker speak might as well be 3000 pages. While I love the magazine, I find if I don’t stay on top of each issue, it beats me. Badly. I’m trying to plow my way through the food issue (one of my favorite special issues that they do) but I was stopped short by this quote from Prince in the Talk of the Town section:

When asked about his perspective on social issues–gay marriage, abortion–Prince tapped his Bible and said, ‘God came to earth and saw people sticking it wherever and whatever, and he just cleared it all out. He was, like, Enough.’

I find this interesting coming from the man who wrote a song called Pussy Control. Sigh. He was much more fun before he became a Jehovah’s Witness.
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Wednesday Musings

I saw this recent Sarah Palin nightmare on GMA this morning. Yikes! I mean really, this just tops it all off. Not only does she think the world is 6,000 yrs old, but she also thinks banning books and firing librarians is good idea.
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I discussed Alice Walker’s Beauty: When the Other Dancer is Self today and there response was lackluster at best. Some of this I blame on the fact that it is early in the morning (I teach the two classes back to back from 8-11) but a lot of it is just the classroom dynamic. When I read their journals, they get the material they just refuse to talk in class. I usually give them a week or two to warm up but now I know I will just have to call on them. Sigh. It’s like pulling teeth sometimes.
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A few other New Yorker covers I enjoy (sparked by yesterdays post):

Tuesday Musings

Over the weekend I got my hair cut. I now have bangs for the first time in about 5 years and I love them. Change is good!
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I was reading the Elegant Variation earlier today and came across one of Joshua Henkin’s 24 posts that he did for M. Sarvas while Sarvas was off traveling the world. The man is a posting machine, but he mentioned a writing exercise that I am now determined to do with me creative writing class (that begins in about two weeks). He suggested cutting off the end of a short story and allowing the student to write their own version. In a way, I’m surprised this exercise didn’t occurr to me earlier, because I love things like this that stretch the mind, but I’m definitely going to try it now.

I checked Sarvas’s novel “Harry, Revised” out of the library but have yet to dive into it. Too many books, too little time.
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I’m very tired today. I only get up really early (5 AM) to go to the gym once a week, but that once a week is brutal. Early to bed this evening…

Somewhere, somehow, fall arrived. I was conscious of it on my calendar and through my poetry (hence your regular fall poetry posting, which will be continuing through October) but I had not noticed any drastic changes in the landscape until yesterday while Iwas walking Kwe. Leaves are changing and in some instances, already falling. The air is crisper and I think I saw a pumpkin on a stand the other day…
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The cover of this weeks NewYorker makes me chuckle