gratitude journal: the table of contents edition

TOC for Aimee Nezhukumatathil's Lucky Fish

We interrupt our NaPoRevMo programming to bring you Thankful Thursday. Today, amongst about one bazillion other things, I am thankful for tables of contents.

Reader, I adore TOCs. They are like a map to a book, a secret code, a meeting of eyes that lasts just a bit longer than it should. They are a trail of breadcrumbs, a sketch in pencil, a finger beckoning, Come in, come in. When I have three more minutes at my desk until Kinder pick-up, when there’s not time to actually read poems, I sometimes reach for a book and read its table of contents. When a book is sitting in my stack of books to read, when it’s down on the list by a few, I read the table of contents to tide myself over. When I pick up a new (or new-to-me) book, I read the acknowledgement first, then take my time savoring the table of contents, its mild meander down the page.

The word table comes from old words (Latin, possibly via Umbrian) for board, slab, plank. Contents comes from the Latin for to hold together, enclose. I love the way a table of contents can hold together a collection of poems on its pages.

Have you ever read a TOC out loud? If not, you should try it. The music, the rhythm! The best TOCs read like a poem in and of themselves. The best TOCs also entice, remain mysterious and elusive enough so that we want to read the poems.

Wouldn’t you want to read a book with these titles in its TOC?:

The Globe is Just an Asterisk and Every Home Should Have an Asterisk
If You Find Yourself on a Houseboat
The Mascot of Beavercreek High Breaks Her Silence
FOOSH
Notes for the Heartbeat at my Feet

So, today I say Thank you, Universe for tables of contents, their spare beauty, their promise of the future, their inborn mystery.

And now, I have about 3 minutes until the kids are released for “Minimum Day” so I think I’ll grab a table of contents and do a little reading… .

friday roundup: an app for that, nothing to say, and all those who go unnamed

Barred owl

public domain from wikimedia

Here it is, Friday again. Friday, how do you do it? You’re here, and then you’re gone, and then you’re here again, lickety-split. And thus, the roundup:

an app for that This week’s word of the week at my desk is unwieldy. That is, “not easily managed, handled, or used (as because of bulk, weight, complexity, or awkwardness).” Unwieldy describes my submissions spreadsheet and my electronic filing system for all bazillion of my writing files. The other night, I said to Husband, “Husband, can you build me a software program that’ll track my submissions for me?” Reader, he said yes (happy sigh. I’m in love.)! Then I got to thinking, there should already be an application for that, no? And it appears that there are some apps for that — desktop, not iPhone/Pad — but that none of them run on a Mac(!). I’ve also been looking for software that will help organize all my writing files: the many drafts and revisions, the research and notes for each poem, critiques from po-friends, etc. I’ve downloaded a free trial copy of Scrivener, which looks like it could be the answer to my prayers, although I’m still learning how it works. It seems to have been built with prose writing in mind, and yet, I can see it working for poetry, too. Meanwhile, I wonder, fellow writers: is your spreadsheet and/or filing system unwieldy too? What tools and strategies have you used to make things easier to manage? I would love to know.

nothing to say  I sat down at my desk this morning thinking of this Todd Boss poem: “Today It Seemed I had Nothing to Say // that hadn’t been said already — / my head full of moldy / hay and feelings / of futility –”  I love that the barred owl makes an appearance (or, technically, fails to appear) in this poem. Did you know the barred owl’s call goes like this: “Who? Who? Who cooks for you?” (listen here). I think it’s pretty fascinating that we human beings put our words into birds’ mouths. My other favorite is the call for the indigo bunting: “Fire! Fire! Where? Where? Here! Here! See it? See it?”

all those who go unnamed This week, I finished up Sandra Beasley’s fantastic book, I Was the Jukebox (more on this here), and turned to Smith Blue by Camille T. Dungy. As a reader, I have a thing for the acknowledgements page(s). I always read that first. Look at what Camille Dungy wrote at the end of her acknowledgements page:

And to all those who go unnamed, the spinners of linen, the keepers of trees, the pressers of paper, the tenders of my body, the bearers of my food, ashe, selah, thank you.

This might be the nicest thing I’ve ever seen on an acknowledgements page. Such gratitude! Such awareness. I’m looking forward to digging into the poems.

That’s it for the roundup today. I know last week I said I was going to try a shoebox poem. I filled the shoebox, but didn’t draft the poem (yet). I’ll let you know how it goes when I do. Until then, happy weekend everyone!

friday roundup: real mail, more mud and glass, and your brain on metaphors

public domain from wikimedia commons: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:USMailbox1909.jpg

Happy Friday, reader. Time for another roundup.

real mail Earlier this week, my fellow poet-blogger Drew posted about A Month of Letters. There is a movement circulating the internet that invites people to write one letter a day for each mail day of February (Sundays don’t count because there’s no mail that day). I, for one, love real mail. Coincidentally, I have mailed a real letter every day this month so far. However, I’m not going to join the challenge — anything beyond committing to brushing my teeth, drinking coffee, and feeding my young is too much for me right now — but I thought I’d post the link here for those of you who might want to join up. Visit Mary Robinette Kowal’s website, A Month of Letters, to find out more.

And if you’re not the letter-writing type but you want to receive some real mail in your mailbox, have I got a deal for you! Some of you know that I put together an occasional handout full of poems I love, or that make me think, or that make me want to write another poem (you can read more about The Handout at this post on my old blog). I’m working on the next installment of The Handout and it should go in the mail next week. If you’d like to have some poems show up in your mailbox, send your name and address to me at mollycspencer (at) gmail (dot) com. This is my way of spreading poetry — I love to do it and the stamp’s on me. As the post card above says: for you my darling.

more mud and glass  We had a great discussion earlier this week about clarity in poetry — too much, too little, or just right. Thank you to everyone who joined the discussion in the comments and via e-mail. I was especially thrilled to hear from my friend, Ms. W-K’s, high-school creative writing class! If you haven’t already, check back in the comments to read their thoughtful responses to the issue of clarity in poetry. And, for Ms. W-K’s class (and everyone else), here’s an example of a poem that I think strikes a lovely balance between mystery and clarity. It’s called The Good Wife by Alison Elrod. Go on ahead and read it; I’ll wait.

Okay? So, here’s what I love about this poem: We know enough to grab onto: there’s a wife; she might be trying to be a “good” wife; she’s in a domestic setting that she finds pleasing (“she walked through her quiet house / admiring its lovely bones. / She loved the light / that filled the place, / the view from every window.”  ) and yet, perhaps overwhelming or at least repetitive (“…she  made herself / small — watched the paper dragon / hanging by a thread above her, watched / it turn and turn in endless circles.”); she has made a decision, an important decision; there seems to be both resignation and comfort in its aftermath (“Later, / she folded shirts / and started dinner.”).

And here’s what we don’t know: We don’t know what decision she made. To file for divorce? To stay married? To end a pregnancy? To keep the baby? To confront her husband about cheating? We don’t know, and that gives us some room to imagine, and to remember those big decisions from our own lives, how breathtaking they can be. We don’t know what the house feels like when the rest of the family is present. We don’t know if it’s a decision to be shared with them or not (kind of feels like not to me, though). We don’t know what this decision will cost her or gain for her; we just know she made it. So, for me, all that we don’t know gives me room to get inside the poem and consider a wide range of possibilities, and to see the poem through the lens of 100 lives instead of just one.

Ms. W-K’s class, let us know: does the balance of clarity and mystery in this poem please you or confound you? What’s your poem for the day you knew for sure?

And by the way, “The Good Wife” appeared in Cave Wall Winter/Spring 2011, Number 9. You can learn more about the poet Alison Elrod here.

your brain on metaphors  Did you know that when you hear a metaphor your brain lights up? I didn’t either until I read this article which explains recent research on how the brain processes metaphor. In part, the article says: “investigators discovered a region of the brain important for sensing texture through touch, the parietal operculum, is activated when someone listens to a sentence with a textural metaphor. The same region is not activated when a similar sentence expressing the meaning of the metaphor is heard.” Poets take heed: The scientists involved in the study found that “On average, response to a sentence containing a metaphor took slightly longer (0.84 vs 0.63 seconds).” Still, pretty cool that language can trigger not just the auditory but the sensory for us. I was also interested to read that “complex processes involving symbols, such as appreciating a painting or understanding a metaphor, do not depend just on evolutionarily new parts of the brain, but also on adaptations of older parts of the brain.” We humans have been poets and artists for eons, I guess.

Ok, Reader, this is the longest post ever! Forgive me, I didn’t mean to take up so much of your time. Happy Friday, happy weekend, happy reading, writing, and whatever else you love to do.