friday roundup: “and so I sing,” another room of one’s own, and a poem

...of the burying ground... photo from wikimedia

…of the burying ground… photo from wikimedia

Hello, Reader, and happy Friday. It’s Friday! The fevered little bodies are cooled and back at school! Break out the hot tea with honey, and clear a path to the desk! I am so happy to be here! I will waste no time getting to the roundup and the things I’ve been thinking about and reading this week! I promise to stop using exclamation points now! 🙂

“and so I sing”  A week ago tonight, I went to a reading sponsored by the Peninsula Literary Series. I love this series and the writers and artists they bring together in the very cool space at Gallery House. At any rate, after the reading, several of us went out for beverages and writerly conversation and the question came up: “Why do you write?” Always an interesting question and the answer that leaps to my mouth unbidden is: “Because I can’t not write.” Sigh.

There are a some famous answers to the question “Why do you write?” George Orwell answers the question like this:

“My starting point is always a feeling of partisanship, a sense of injustice. When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to m yself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art.’ I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing.”  (from this essay)

Joan Didion has said:

“Had I been blessed with even limited access to my own mind there would have been no reason to write. I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear. Why did the oil refineries around Carquinez Straits seem sinister to me in the summer of 1956? Why have the night lights in the bevatron burned in my mind for twenty years? What is going on in these pictures in my mind? (from this essay)

But the winner is, in my humble opinion — and I might be biased — but the winner is: Emily Dickinson in her April 26, 1862 letter to Thomas Wentworth Higginson:

“I made no verse, but one or two, until this winter, sir. I had a terror since September, I could tell to none; and so I sing, as the boy does of the burying ground, because I am afraid.” (from Women’s Letters: America from the Revolutionary War to the Present)

(BTW, she wins not for the content of her reasons itself, but because of the way she wrote it. She wins!)

As for me, despite the truth in my knee-jerk response, I think I write mainly to figure things out — to understand things that mystify or puzzle me. And also to spread the word. There are some things the world needs to know and apparently I am compelled to tell them.

What about you — if you are the writing type — why do you write? Share in comments if you like.

another room of one’s own  I came across a cool project on Facebook this week, and I wanted to spread the word (speaking of spreading the word). The wonderful folks at Sundress Publications have founded an artist’s residency program and space called Firefly Farms. Here is more info directly from the horses’ mouths:

The Sundress Academy for the Arts (SAFTA) was founded in February 2013 at Firefly Farms in Karns, Tennessee. Nestled in an old-fashioned “holler” just twenty minutes from downtown Knoxville, this picturesque 29-acre farm is the perfect artists’ getaway; visitors can hone their creative crafts as they escape the routine of modern life. Whether hiking, camping, foraging, or hunting, SAFTA guests will reconnect with nature and be inspired by a part of the Appalachia landscape that is often forgotten. Attendees can also expect to learn a host of new skills from the staff to enrich their work.

Because I know how important having the time and space to create is, I wanted to spread the word about this worthy endeavor. If you’re moved to make a donation toward the completion of this project, the link is here.

and a poem  Sandra Beasley wrote a post this week about the books we don’t write. Or the books we write that never become books. Here’s an excerpt:

One of the brutalities of publishing is that a collection of worthy pieces does not make a worthy whole. Just because you’ve placed every poem with a literary journal does not mean the manuscript has the heft and clarity of vision that’s going to win a book prize. Just because you’ve placed three of your chapters as personal essays does not mean your memoir proposal is going to sell. For publishers to make the forward investment of an advance, production, distribution and publicity, the work has to be not only solid, it has to glimmer. It’s not enough that the editor likes the book; the editor has to fall asleep dreaming about the book. That seems like a hopelessly high expectation–“Just bottle the lightning, please”–but it’s the way it is. 

And she is right about this, no doubt. But I also think there are books that never become books, or that take a really long time to become books, just because of bad luck, or editorial preferences, or po-world trends, or the malevolent forces in the universe, or, I dunno, maybe because of Maleficent herself. I’m reading a book like this now.

Although I don’t know the story of this book’s journey into bookdom, what I do know is that it was written by a Stegner Fellow — whose books frequently snatch up prestigious prizes shortly after their authors’ tenure as Fellows. I do know that I’m reading this book and the work is of high caliber — really excellent work — and that the book holds together as a book — it is not just a bunch of poems shoved together between two covers.

I’m not an editor, but I’ve been falling asleep dreaming about this book, which, if I’m reading the poet’s website correctly, has been the labor of over 16 years, and was just recently published by Jackleg Press. This book is Trapline by Caroline Goodwin, and today’s poem is the second poem of the collection. I was sure that HTML was not going to cooperate with the form of this poem, and I couldn’t find it online, so here is a photo:

–by Caroline Goodwin

That last line just about split me. You can buy Trapline here.

Have a wonderful weekend and thanks for reading.

LitCrawl: a brief debriefing


Reader, I’m three-fifths of the way through my scary calendar week. Today will be the day that makes it or breaks it. Let me quickly tell you about LitCrawl in case of imminent breakage.

good omens  I knew everything was going to be okay when I saw that the Bookmobile was parked outside of our venue.

location, location, location  I so love the Mission! I think everyone should do an immersion year in the Mission. Also, our venue, Elbo Room, was completely and utterly wonderful. A dark, barely-lit bar with a warm red glow. A tiny nook/stage type thing in the corner where the poets read. Someone who actually knew how to operate and calibrate the audio throughout the reading. AND a full house of bar-goers/audience members.

insider tip  I also knew everything was going to be all right when one of my fellow readers sat down next to me and said, Here share my shot of whiskey. It’ll make your voice honeyed. I knew this woman’s work, and on this basis I trusted her implicitly. I did not hesitate to share her shot of whiskey. Bottoms up.

new rule  Do not, I repeat, do not, sit on the tiny nook/stage type thing snapping selfies while your fellow reader is reading her poems. Just sayin.

poetry is an oral art form  After the reading someone came up to me and said, Wow, it’s so different to hear poems read out loud versus just reading them. Um, yes.

what I wore  jeans, avocado-green silk shell, black velvet mandarin collar double-breasted jacket that I’d picked up last winter at end-of-season clearance and forgotten about. Danskos. (sigh)

I had so much fun  that I can hardly remember being that middle-aged suburban formerly-midwestern poet who sat at this very same desk last week. For those who haven’t seen any, here are some photos from LitCrawl snapped by Ted Weinstein Photography. I’m the gal in the room with a warm, red glow.

And one more plug for the Tupelo Press anthology we read from: Myrhh, Mothwing, Smoke: Erotic Poems.

And now, it’s time for my scary day to begin (or, more accurately, to resume). As long as I don’t break today, I’ll be back here tomorrow for a very mini roundup. Thanks for reading!

friday roundup: why we need libraries, taking notes, and “she who divides herself”

An artist's rendering of the Library of Alexandria wikimedia

An artist’s rendering of the Library of Alexandria wikimedia

Happy Friday, Reader! Here we are again. Yesterday afternoon while Sister was at ballet class I sat in the waiting room and looked at my calendar for the next 10 days. And I am afraid. Very afraid. I’m so afraid that I’m afraid I’ll have to take next week off from blogging. Maybe I’ll be able to post some fragments here and there — since blogging is part of what keeps me sane.

Meanwhile, starting around 3:00 today we’re have a big, weekend-long cousin festival at our house. There will be cousins and sleeping bags, pancakes and pizza, lego marathons and the cutest two year old in the history of two year olds. Also meanwhile, my mom just told me that the BART isn’t running due to a strike (how did she know this before I did?). Sigh. There goes my plan for taking transit for my reading. And now, on to the roundup:

why we need libraries  This speech by Neil Gaiman has been making the rounds on Facebook, and my response to it is yes, yes, yes! There is a segment of thinkers (something tells me many of them live in my zip code or in nearby zip codes) who believe that books are so, like, 1986. And that the library is dead, because we now have the interwebs. I have many, many gut-level, sentimental reasons why I think libraries are more necessary then ever. Neil Gaiman has his reasons a bit more thought out, so I’ll share a couple of them with you:

“But libraries are about freedom. Freedom to read, freedom of ideas, freedom of communication. They are about education (which is not a process that finishes the day we leave school or university), about entertainment, about making safe spaces, and about access to information.”


“Books are the way we communicate with the dead. The way that we learn lessons from those who are no longer with us, that humanity has built on itself, progressed, made knowledge incremental rather than something that has to be relearned, over and over. There are tales that are older than most countries, tales that have long outlasted the cultures and the buildings in which they were first told.”

Because I’m a complete library nerd, I’ve also been reading The Oxford Guide to Library Research by Thomas Mann. Mann points out that (1) there are many resources that exist only in physical form and are not available on the Internet (e.g., rare books, maps, subject encyclopedias, site-licensed subscription databases, archives), and (2) that the best, most comprehensive research can’t be conducted on a platform that returns results based on frequency of searches, keyword ranking, and/or advertising. He also points out that:

“…there is an inherent bias in screen-display formats toward the pictorial, the audio, the colorful, the animated, the instantaneous connection, the quickly updated, and the short verbal text… .”

This is probably fine for some things, but is not fine for actual scholarship. So, yeah, based on that research we’ve all heard about that people read very differently on the web than they do in a book, this post is already WAY TOO LONG. But, in conclusion: The library is dead, long live the library. Amen.

taking notes  Do you read brainpickings? It is an amazing website chock full of information on creativity (so,yes! we need the interwebs, too). Yesterday a quote from Aaron Koblin (who works for The Google’s creative lab) about taking notes caught my eye:

“They say an elephant never forgets. Well, you are not an elephant. Take notes, constantly. Save interesting thoughts, quotations, films, technologies…the medium doesn’t matter, so long as it inspires you. When you’re stumped, go to your notes like a wizard to his spellbook. Mash those thoughts together. Extend them in every direction until they meet.”

I think it captured my attention because it’s so true for my writing process. Whenever something tugs at my mind, nags at me, makes my heart skip a beat, etc., I put it in a note — either in my physical notebook or in Evernote. Then I draw on those notes for poem-making. I find it fascinating that the same thing works across such a wide ranging creative spectrum that includes poetry *and* software programming. Do you have your notebook handy?

“she who divides herself” If They (whoever They are) say libraries are dead, what about independent bookstores? What about print journals? I’m happy to report that from the looks of things, they’re still kicking. Last summer when we were in the Old Country, Husband and I walked into an indie bookstore and I was thrilled to find actual copies of print journals, including a few issues of Third Coast. I bought them, of course, because money talks. This week, I’ve been reading through the Fall 2012 issue, and came across a stunning poem by Christina Cook (whose poem “Summer Requiem” was featured in this roundup). Reader, for your Friday, here is…


Postmortem by Christina Cook

When the boundaries are erased, once again the wonder: that I exist.”
— Dag Hammarskjold

Not I, but the mangy cackle of gulls
and the reeds they beat flat when they land;

the garden whose gray-blue slate gave way to weeds
and ribboned bodies of voles deranged by death.

When my face is most in shadow, I find the moon
to be the dark epitome of itself:

soon to start over from zero,
becoming the answer, which I am

to the question, which I also am.
Spectacularly self-destructive and, evidently, fertile,

I am the old fairy tale: she who divides herself by two
is always one, in the end.

Wind whines through the hollow pipe
of night, softly, it is said

that she who halves her life by death will find herself
the twin of many such things.

first published in Third Coast


I can think of about seven different poems I could write using lines or phrases from this poem as starters. Starting with a poem whose title is “I am the Old Fairy Tale.”

And now, this she-who-divides-herself actually has to go to Safeway so that there is something for the cousins to eat for dinner. However you divide yourself, I hope you are always one in the end. Thanks for reading.

how to terrify a middle-aged, suburban, formerly-midwestern poet

Dear MUNI, please don't make me wait forever. wikimedia

Dear Muni, please don’t make me wait forever. wikimedia

First tell her she gets to read at LitCrawl. This will be terrifying enough because, amongst other things, she will not know what to wear.

Then tell her she’ll be reading from an anthology of erotic poetry, which, true, she does have a poem in — but technically it could be interpreted as erotic or not erotic, and when she wrote it she didn’t even realize it could be interpreted as erotic (but, truth: once she realized it could, she revised as such).

Next tell her she’ll be reading with people she’s never met before, and while she’s sure they’re very nice poets, she’s shy. And she’s pretty sure they’re younger than her, although she has no data to support this certainty.

She is also pretty sure they’ll know what to wear.

After that, send her some pre-reading information and include things like this:

“the audience can be loud at times, the scene rowdy, and venues packed beyond belief”

(The middle-aged suburban formerly-midwestern poet’s eyes grow large. She would like to know exactly what is meant by “rowdy.” Could it possibly involve rotting vegetables being thrown at the stage? Or getting the hook?)

“bring your flexibility and your sense of humor”

(The middle-aged suburban formerly-midwestern poet wishes she were super-flexible with a generous sense of humor, but she knows she’s really more like Bert than Ernie, more like Rabbit than Tigger. And she is already nervous about this reading, and unsure of what to wear).

“parking will be very challenging”

(The middle-aged suburban formerly-midwestern poet remembers life back in the midwest when “challenging” parking meant you would have to walk from the far edge of the parking lot to the venue. Those were the days. She knows that “challenging” parking in the city means: NO parking. She knows this means she should take transit, and while she’s good with that in principle — she’s a regular on the 22 bus, on the CalTrain — she can’t but help going back to the memory of waiting for a Muni that never came. Never. In fact, she’s not sure, but she might still be on that platform in the city waiting for that Muni.)

“there’s an after-party”

(The middle-aged suburban formerly-midwestern poet remembers the last after-party she went to. It was in 1989. Yes, it was in the Eighties, people. It was after her high school’s production of Oklahoma! She knew what to wear, and she knew her best friend would be there. She knows all the cool kids will be at the after-party, but she has never been a cool kid. Also, she probably can’t afford the extra babysitting time the after-party would require, so,… [here the middle-aged suburban formerly-midwestern poet wanders away mumbling incoherently and looking dazed]).

So, um, yes. She’s a little nervous about my reading on Saturday. And she’s adding up the psychic and actual cost of this little reading (seriously, we need grants for writers so they can attend their own readings!). And she’s telling herself, You don’t have to be one of the cool kids. And, You can wear one of your Haystacks! And your boots (thanks Mom and Dad)!

But she probably won’t stop wondering exactly what “rowdy” means until after it’s all over. And she would love for you to come if you’re in the Bay Area and if you can swing it; info here. And she wants you to know, if you never hear from her again, she’s probably somewhere up in the city, on a fog-cloaked platform, waiting for a Muni.

mini-roundup: two readings, one poem, and a friendly reminder


postcard, wikimedia

Happy Friday, Reader. Since the last roundup there has been one broken pinky (not mine), one trip to see the Impressionists on Water (and, wow, those people knew their water), one sick child, one canceled meeting due to sick child, two application essays finished, one as-yet-incomplete computer transition, and, from the looks of things, not nearly enough loads of laundry. Today’s roundup is mini and a little heavy on self-promotion. Forgive me, but I’m part of a couple of readings and all of us readers would like the chairs to be filled rather than empty if at all possible. 🙂

two readings  I’ll be a part of two upcoming Bay Area readings:

Friday October 11 7:00 p.m. at Gallery House in Palo Alto as part of the Peninsula Literary Series, along with several other writers. The featured poet is Peter Kline, who is known for his work in formal poetry. More information here.

Saturday October 19 6:00 p.m. at the Elbo Room in San Francisco as part of LitQuake. I’ll be reading with fellow contributors from the Tupelo Press anthology Myrhh, Mothwing, Smoke: Erotic Poems. More information about the reading here.

All you Bay Area poetry peeps, come join us if you can.

one poem  I’m going to say it again because it’s still true: I’ve been reading Malinda Markham’s Ninety-five Nights of Listening. Yes, I’ve been reading it since at least June and maybe May, because these poems ask to be read again and again, and because I’m studying very closely what this poet does with language and image (and virtually no narrative). So, yes, another poem from Ninety-five Nights, and it might be my favorite in the book. For your Friday, here’s…


Postcard – a memory carried in the body by Malinda Markham

The place between the ribs you thought was silent,
Was yours. How many maps I could show you,

Chronicles of the way systems work:
Silvered veins, the blind crawl of muscles in sleep.

For the terrains you’ve seen, I give you mine.
Once I welcomed skirts spread like bright

Water, and any permanent mark. Words break in the air:
Husks of small worlds,

With nothing inside Tell me again
What you thought you preferred.

Eclipses the sun, her swift delineations.
Each winter, light the furnace

And be equally stunned by lit dust,
The musk of pages on the floor.

This is the myth of repair, the skyline,
Still, a barrier of trees. Tonight the snow

Is not enough to hold us, nor we
Warm enough for it to remember our shapes.


a friendly reminder  Don’t forget to throw your hat in the ring for a chance at a free, signed copy of Blow-drying a Chicken by Molly Fisk, by commenting on this post from earlier this week.

Happy Friday, happy weekend, and thanks, as always, for reading.