Thursday, September 16, 2010

Random Thoughts between Exams

Updating has not been a priority. Family, school, and trying to find some time to be creative (which has been sorely lacking) have all taken precedence, as they should. But even writing a blog post I can justify as working on what I'm supposed to be doing in graduate school, so here it goes:

One comp exam is done. I've been preparing for the poetry genre test since my first English course at Allegheny, so I shouldn't have been that worried about it. Yes, it took up a big chunk of my weekend writing it, but the questions helped my clarify a lot about what I want poems to do, mine or someone else's. I'll never break down a poem's argument very clearly, or at least use the terminology that's expected of someone who's studying for a Ph.D. Between this exam and the final I took for my last class last spring, I can't tell how many times I used the word "connection." That's what I want, what I need from poems: to get me in the gut, the core, more than in my head. Yes, I can break down the poet's tricks, but I want to avoid that for as long as possible. Is that anti-intellectual to not want to force rhetoric into the discussion? Maybe I talk about these issues in a different lanaguage that works just as well. Most times I feel like I'm faking my way through this degree, that I'm not here for the same reasons others are, for the "right" reasons. Does that go away, ever?

I have a week until my second exam, which is going to be the hardest of the three exams I need to pass this year. I've read plenty of the novels and plays, but the contemporary theory... not so much. That'll be much more difficult to fake, I'm sorry to say. We'll see how it goes next week.


Atticus is bigger every day. He laughs deeper and in ways that make it clear he knows what's going on. He headbutts ferociously. He eats clementines and grapes with abandon. Same with turkey of all forms and slushes, which makes me know he's mine and wasn't mixed up at the hospital. He fights his naps like he's one big coil ready to release all that energy into action. When I ask him for a kiss, he purses his lips or opens his mouth and tries to swallow my nose until I redirect and instead get a sloppy kiss. He obliges again and again. I don't know how long that will last, but maybe a while longer. Maybe. He is a sweet boy. He's my boy.


Great to see two poems in the latest Crab Orchard Review. I've always wanted to be in there, and I was ecstatic when I found out I would be. Such a well put together journal. I got proofs from Harpur Palate for a poem from my second project, which should be out soon. Can't wait for that. I also saw proofs from Third Coast's Midwest symposium. I was asked to write an essay about what it means to be a Midwestern writer, and I'm happy with the results. It's not just that I used to work there, but it's such a beautiful, professional journal.

I need to get the ms. out more. I was a semifinalist in a recent contest, and I hope this lights a fire under me to actually get it out in the world. Molly and I have an agreement that I can send out to one contest a month, and I hope that's enough to at least start getting some more semi- and even finalist nods. The ms. doesn't feel as put together as it could be, but it's pretty solid, I think. Maybe needs a new title. I don't know. I'm stuck on that one. Hmm.


I'm listening to my music, not the little man's, for the first time in a long time. Boy, does this feel right? Music always seems to get me back on track with feeling like a writer.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Catching Up

Coursework: finished.

Reading for comps: barely started.

I'm not sure how I'm going to adequately prepare for my exams in September; I've a lot of reading to do for my Contemporary test, in particular. It's funny. You think you've been responsible in your reading habits, and then you're confronted by a list of 120 books/names that proves you've wasted a lot of time on what you want to get out of books, not what you're supposed to know to get a graduate degree. I've finished four books since getting back to town from the extended trip north, though. I need to keep this pace, but with summer teaching beginning on Thursday, I don't know how I will. Let's hope.


I neglected to thank the editors at The Pinch and Nimrod for taking poems of mine. They've done great work putting the issues together. I had to wait a while for the latter, but it was well worth it. Congrats to my friend Keith for also having a poem in Nimrod. I hope it's the start of a trend to see our work in the same journals.


I've been thinking a lot about poems that I want to find good homes. Right before M., A., and I left to visit family, I put together several dozen submissions. Reading Sexing the Cherry, I was struck by this passage, which perfectly defines the anxiety we feel as we wait for poems, stories, essays to get picked up:

"After that our task was much easier. Indeed I was sorry to see the love-sighs of young girls swept away. My companion, though she told me it was strictly forbidden, caught a sonnet in a wooden box and gave it to me as a memento. If I open the box by the tiniest amount I may hear it, repeating itself endlessly as it is destined to do until someone sets it free."

- Jeanette Winterson

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Missed Opportunities

While I haven't heard back from all the journals, I've gotten enough responses to know I need to start submitting again. I had one picked up from the latest round of submissions and received five or six "we debated poem X a lot, but we wound up deciding against it" notices, all from journals I would love to be in. Not a clunker in the lot. Hopefully it's a sign that a steady stream of acceptances is near, but I should know better than that. Keep writing, keep (e)mailing, and keep writing more. When news comes, it'll come.

Because of an unfortunate scheduling conflict, I'm missing out on giving a reading, too. If it wasn't for the distance to the site and the foreign language translation exam I have to take that day, I'd be there in a heartbeat. It's going to be a lot of fun, I'm guessing. Hmph.


I need to be reading more poetry, but I just can't seem to get beyond the teaching grind to get the energy to do so. That, and I don't know what I should be reading right now. I want something that'll blow me away. Desperately.

I'm behind on new music, too. We're not in the position to spend much of late, but even so, I'm not hearing much on my favorite XM channels that's exciting. I hate being in poetry and music ruts. There's a lot out there, but I can't seem to find the right avenue to find them. I'm open to suggestions if you have any.


Though I'm not a fan of most of what I've been reading for my lit course, it has given me the chance to read Frank O'Hara again. I forgot how much I like his work. Here's one conclusion that stood out to me in prepping for class:

the beauty of America, neither cool jazz nor devoured Egyption heroes, lies in
lives in the darkness I inhabit in the midst of sterile millions

the only truth is face to face, the poem whose words become your mouth
and dying in black and white we fight for what we love, not are

Frank O'Hara, from "Ode: Salute to the French Negro Poets"

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Road

I have been derelict in many things, but what's been at me most is how to respond to The Road, both book and movie. The praises for the novel-in-prose-poems don't need to be rehashed. The prose is sparse and stunning, grand and intimate. But what's more telling, at least for me, is how I read the book.

For much of it, A. slept on top of me. He'd stir some as I turned the pages or propped the book lightly on his back when I had too hard a time holding it above his sleeping body, yes, but he remained asleep long enough for the man to cook his son breakfast, to salvage supplies from the boat, to keep coughing through the misery in hope of what could be.

My survival skills are next to nothing, and on too many days, my capacity to get from morning to sleep with a hopeful outlook is even less. I don't require an apocalypse to happen so that I can know for sure whether I have it in me to do for mine what the Man does for his. He gives each day like it's a gift, which is a terrible example for a father, post- or pre-apocalyptic, to have to live up to, especially one who has the faults mentioned previously.

Literature is full of fathers and sons, and it's a trope I could always look at with the short-sightedness of a son who has no idea what it was to be a man, a father. Now, there is so much more to be taught and given, even if I don't always have the desire or patience to spend the effort doing so. He's a sponge. He's a person all his own. He's my son, and I have the responsibility to be as selfless as I can. I don't always know what that means for me. I don't know if gradually my needs and goals will fall farther away because it's damn hard to consistently find a balance every day.

I love him, and he loves me, but wondering whether I've done all I was meant to by having a child, whether my goal is not to be great myself but to teach someone else how he can change the world, keeps me awake some nights. Being a writer, I've made peace with the second part some. Poems and essays, stories and novels, may not be able to change the world, but they can shape the minds of those who can alter what we do to each other. And biologically speaking, I know the answer, but there must be something else I'm supposed to accomplish, some other way to keep my family and me feeling fulfilled. I trust something will help show me what needs to be done, how I can make certain I set a good example.

I love him and don't want to fail him, though of course I will sometimes because no one is perfect, which is not something someone who fears failure wants to type. Please be proud of me, A., even though I may not always earn it.


"They slept huddled together in the rank quilts in the dark and the cold. He held the boy close to him. So thin. My heart, he said. My heart. But he knew that if he were a good father still it might well be as she had said. That the boy was all that stood between him and death."

- Cormac McCarthy

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Rejection, The Illiterate

Rejections for the marathon submission session I put together at the beginning of the month are already coming in. I appreciate the speed, but these six journals could have strung me along a little longer, let me get my hopes up a little more. Though to be fair, several of the no's were warranted, considering my writing doesn't match the journals' aesthetics. I'm terrible at picking the places I should send to; I'm much better at finding beautiful journals who don't publish anything like what I write and believing I can change all that. A waste of postage, yes, but my naivete is a little bit charming, too. At least I like to think so.

We'll see how the other 26 poetry and 2 nonfiction submissions turn out soon enough. I hope this is the breakthrough time I've been waiting for.


I'm not typically comfortable in classes, which limits my motivation to speak, but tonight's class was easier than a lot of others have been of late. I was familiar with a number of the poems we talked about, but I had new takes on several of them and was at ease enough to mention as much.

One poet and poem that struck me (again, though I can't remember where I first read it, but I must have since the book has been in my Amazon Wish List for two years) tonight was William Meredith's "The Illiterate." An amazingly simple (word choice-wise, but by no means technically so) and profound sonnet. So much to say about poetry and poets and what writing can give and take away from us.

"The Illiterate"

Touching your goodness, I am like a man
Who turns a letter over in his hand
And you might think this was because the hand
Was unfamiliar but, truth is, the man
Has never had a letter from anyone;
And now he is both afraid of what it means
And ashamed because he has no other means
To find out what it says than to ask someone.

His uncle could have left the farm to him,
Or his parents died before he sent them word,
Or the dark girl changed and want him for beloved.
Afraid and letter-proud, he keeps it with him.
What would you call his feeling for the words
That keep him rich and orphaned and beloved?

- William Meredith, from Effort at Speech: New and Selected Poems

Friday, September 4, 2009

Wright, Births, Ohio, Dithyrambs

I had read this poem a long while ago, but it didn't hit me nearly as much as it did when it came up in class last night as we discussed dithyrambs, getting out of ourselves and receving a moment of perspective.

Well, What Are You Going to Do?

I took a nap one afternoon in Ohio
At the end of a pasture,
Just at the good moment when Pet our poor lovely
Lay moaning and gave birth to Marian my calf.

What was I going to do? All I could do
Was wake and stand there.
I don't know anything about the problem
Of beautiful women.
I was afraid to run two hundred yards
To call my mother
And ask her what to do
With a beautiful woman.
Besides, she wouldn't know either.

Two hours,
Two whole hours.
While Pet lay mumbling among the Grimes Golden apples
That fell from time to time.
I ate two or three, maybe.
What was I supposed to do there
But eat the apples while Marian's face
Peeked out slowly?

I ate the apples,
And when Marian was born
I helped her come out.
I had been in love with a lot of girls, but that was my first time
To clasp the woman beneath her chin
And whisper, Come out to me,
Come on, come on, and you can be Marian.

I led Marian out of her mother's belly
Down in the cold
Autumn thorns,
And there was a pile of horse manure
I couldn't evade, and so by God
I did not even try.
All I could do was fall
From time to time.
Marian's face was all right, speckled with rust
And more white than snow.
The one I was the more in love with
Was Pet, the exhausted.

I lay down besides her, she snuffled, she smelled like a Grimes
Golden apple.
Then I carried Marian two hundred yards down the pasture.
She delicately sprayed the insides of her beginning body
All over my work shirt.

I don't know that I belonged
In that beautiful place. But
What are you going to do? Be kind? Kill?

- James Wright, from Above the River

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Two Books Down, One that Had Its Moments

Having finished another book for my Southern Lit class (it was no Faulkner, that's for sure), I was able to also read Tryfon Tolides's An Almost Pure Empty Walking. I was not blown away by it, but there were several poems I liked a great deal. When he's on, he has that mysterious, knowing European style that stays with me, like a Zagajewski or Milosz or Cavafy (to take the Greek thing too far). When he's off, there's a too-Jack-Gilbert-for-my-liking quality. Not that the poems are bad, but they just don't speak to me as much as I would like. I'll need to read it again to verify my first impressions, but those five, six, or seven poems that grabbed me are still hanging around. (As Bill said during my thesis meetings and other times: "A good first book needs five or six very good poems to be successful." I'm not entirely sure about that math, not these days with the glut of manuscripts coming from all these MFAs and PhDs, but so it goes.) And here's one poem I've come back to several times the past couple days.
Not for a Reason
Tonight at the train station
with the red metal seats
in Syracuse. We walked up the ramp,
then beyond the few people
on the platform. I wasn't looking
at her legs, though I've taken the shape
of her knees into my palms before,
followed from heel to calf, up and up,
she being my future wife, maybe,
though we keep saying yes,
and I should say yes here, not maybe,
because she and I both believe
strongly, but people have believed before
and still it has stopped being.
The train came, left.
I walked from beyond the few
people on the platform (who had gone
by then) where we had been,
holding. Legs can't look off into a distance
somewhere, as eyes can,
filled with thinking something unthought.
Legs can do that, too, walking
in cemeteries, back to the car, through fog,
even when there is no distance.
- Tryfon Tolides, An Almost Pure Empty Walking