letter to the semi-secret super library nerd lending program

Hester Prynne, labeled.

Hester Prynne, labeled.

Dear Semi-Secret Super Library Nerd Lending Program,

I know I’ve been pestering you a lot lately, and I hope you don’t mind me contacting you directly, but there’s something I feel I need to say.

Let me explain.

Yesterday, I was, yes, requesting yet another somewhat obscure book from you when I visited my borrower profile page. I just wanted to see what the status was of my pending requests, but here is what I saw instead:

“Borrower Type: Individual (fines)”

(insert arrow to my heart here)

I just want to say that I am so sorry, and I know what this is about. This is about Madeleine and the Eiffel Tower, isn’t it? I don’t know what to say besides I have looked everywhere for that DVD, EVERYWHERE. And also there was a two-year-old in my house that day, and well, I don’t know if you have any experience with two-year-olds, but… . Well, never mind.

I also just want to say that I tried to pay for it already — which would’ve cleared my fines — but they wouldn’t let me. No, they said I had to wait for the bill. And while for most bills, I don’t mind the wait when it comes to clearing my name with the library I am always eager to do so. So I am now in the waiting period. And meanwhile: fines.

And one last thing: I know you didn’t know me until after I had kids, but I want you to know that until my oldest child was two I had an absolutely pristine record at the library. Pristine! I don’t know if you have kids, but sometimes they seem to have magic powers in the area of causing certain objects to disappear. Forever. If you come across my favorite wooden spoon or the blue star that goes on the bottom of the stacking toy or especially the missing diamond earring from the pair that my dad gave me on my wedding day, would you kindly let me know? Thanks.

So, I hope you can give me another chance. I mean, I would never, NEVER lose one of your items. In fact, your items have a special section of bookshelf near my desk. And I hope once I get the bill and clear my name, you too will clear my name in your records so that I can once again be a worthy borrower of your incredibly important program.

Hanging my head down in shame,


friday roundup: if I can muster it edition

the ghostly boats of Abydos, wikipedia

the ghostly boats of Abydos, wikipedia

Reader? Hi.

I sat down just now wondering what I’d done this week — what had I read, remembered, pondered, written? Scramble-brain set in. Which is why it’s good to have a record of things: that stack of books next to my desk, the journals stashed in my purse for impromptu poetry moments, my trusty notebook. I looked back and decided I actually can muster a roundup this morning (afternoon for some of you). Here we go:

tools for reparation  In this post I mentioned that I’d checked out a book called The Paper Garden: An Artist Begins Her Life’s Work at 72. I’m always drawn by stories of later-in-life undertakings, but was especially drawn to this book because it’s written by a poet, Molly Peacock. I was hoping I’d learn something — come to new insights, or find ways of articulating a previously muddled thought — about poetry. I have not been disappointed. I want to share with you some excerpts about perfectionism, passion, and craft, which I think can be applied to any art:

“Great technique m eans that you have to abandon perfectionism. Perfectionism either stops you cold or slows you down too much. Yet, paradoxically, it’s proficiency that allows a person to make any art at all; you must have technical skill to accomplish anything, but you also must have passion, which, in an odd way, is technique forgotten.”

“The joy of technique is the buldging bag of tricks it gives you to solve your dilemmas. Craft gives you the tools for reparation.”

“Sometimes a blunder shifts the observer into a greater tenderness of observation.”

“When invention fails and you are overcome by what you may have ruined, knowing how to reconstruct releases the energy to fix the flaws and go on. Craft dries your tears.”

I love that last sentence best: “Craft dries your tears.” Amen.

more than style  Here’s an article by David Biespiel that someone linked to on Facebook this week (thank you, whoever you are… I can no longer remember). He talks about a movement in poetry toward “subjectlessness” in which style itself becomes the raison d’être of the poem, and argues for more substance in poetry — in a world where all sorts of actual disjuncture, distress, and ellipses (e.g., war, injustice, people disappearing from the face of the earth) unfold every day. He says, “Deftness has become a substitute for compassion.” (I have oversimplified here a bit in the interest of brevity).

I’m on the fence about what to think about this. My personal preference as a reader is to have something at stake in a poem — that it go beyond a mere exercise of language. For me, poems become more powerful when they can illuminate our experiences in some meaningful way, when they can tell me something about being human that I didn’t know, or couldn’t articulate, before. On the other hand, I don’t necessarily think what’s at stake needs to be something political. And I tend to think there’s room for all kinds of poetry, and all kinds of preferences on the part of readers. And even room for some subjectlessness at times — because, doesn’t even that sometimes reflect our experience?

What do you think about what Biespiel has to say? Share in comments if you like.

an intended tide  This week I’ve been reading the most recent issue of 32 Poems. Which I love. A lot. I’d like to share with you Sandra Beasley’s poem from this issue (which I’m unable to find online):


The Traveler’s Vade Mecum, Line #1015: “Please Come In The Boat Of To-Day”
by Sandra Beasley

Beneath whitewash, beneath brick, beneath mud,
fourteen boats of Abydos row toward eternity.
No bodies here — only the ghost-shit of ants,
who consume the hulls but leave the shape behind.
Each timber tongues its neighbor, tenon to mortise,
with nothing but rope to hold them together.
No pegs, no joists.
Who builds boats like that?

Only those expecting to unbuild boats like that,
to stack the tamarix planks on their heads,
to walk seventy miles to the Red Sea in search of
trade. Fair is a human conceit. Priests know this.
Carpenters know this. They bundle the reeds
anyway, packing seams tight for an intended tide.
They cut planks from a cedar with a deep taproot
that salts the earth around itself, and will not burn


A vade mecum is “a book for ready reference” or “something regularly carried about by a person” (fans of A Room with a View will remember the Baedeker?). I love the idea of appropriating old texts for new insights. I love how the image of these ghost-boats speaks to both endurance and ephemerality. I love the question that acts as a pivot point in the poem, “Who builds boats like that?” And then, the poet has the courage to answer, and somehow we see ourselves in “those expecting to unbuild boats like that… .” There is so much here that I feel I can mine as person and poet.

And now, it’s time for me to lift anchor for the library where I have found an even sunnier, even quieter corner, and — bonus! — there is a man who sits there most days who is not afraid to tell people, “You’re not supposed to talk in this room.” I’m grateful for him, since the best I’m able to muster is an annoyed look and a raised eyebrow.

Happy friday, happy poeming (or whatever you love to do) and happy weekend. Thanks for reading.

winter contagion with Human Dark with Sugar with old and new library cards


Hello Reader. I tempted the malevolent forces of the Universe with my almost-giddy post about finally getting back to my writing desk. Which I was certain would happen yesterday.

It did not.

A most miserable form of winter contagion has befallen three out of five of the inhabitants of the Wee, Small House. I will spare you the gory details, but suffice it to say there has been a lot of laundry, a lot of care-taking, and a lot of cleaning up after the stricken.

I’m back and forth between dumfoundedness and maniacal laughter, sprinkled (in my better moments) with the zen-like mantra: “Relax. Nothing is under control.” Strangely enough, this mantra has helped me relax.

Today, between loads of wash, I staked a claim for poetry by sneaking off to the library to pick up an item I’d requested through the Super Library-Nerd Lending Program. If nothing else, I will have committed that act in the name of poetry today — this must mean something.

While there, the librarian said to me, “I’m sorry but your library card is no longer usable. I’ll have to give you a new one with a new number.” (Note the condition of my library card in photo above — it’s a little, ah, beat up). This poor man had no idea how close I came to bursting into tears and weeping on his desk. I become attached to my library cards. I save them all. My library card is my ticket to the world, and a record of where I’ve lived. My card number is etched on my heart. I was *so* looking forward 20 years hence to bragging, “I”ve had my library card so long it starts with 2000!”

I faked a smile. “Okay!” I said, too-perkily, “but can I please keep the old one?”

(Insert librarian’s am-I-speaking-to-an-allien look here).

“Sentimental reasons,” I said.

“Ummmm. Sure,” he replied.

I am now back at the Wee, Small House. I have Human Dark with Sugar by Brenda Shaughnessy to look forward to. Maybe tomorrow. For now, it’s back to the laundry.

And I’ve learned my lesson. I’m never, ever going to say, “Tomorrow, I’m going to spend all day at my desk” out loud again.

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.