Thursday, June 23, 2011

Good News!

Another one of my poems will be featured in the summer 2011 issue of Breakwater Review.

Hooray! Hooray!

This particular poem, "The Cornfields," has gone through so many revisions... so I'm excited to see the final version in print. It was originally a poem written about one of my students as a teaching in Santa Rosa, but its morphed into... something else...

Of course, link will promptly be posted here on mi blogita once its published.

Alongside "The Cornfields" will be "What They Told the Girl with Bite Marks on Her Lips," another poem that began as me writing about a student and morphed into... something else... slightly more sinister.

What's my problem? LOL. I think I need to go back into teaching public school. I got some good material there, and then grad school morphed my brain into an organ that thinks rather strangely.

On a lighter note:

I gave a presentation yesterday on Caballero. But I got so caught up in the romance and drama of the book, I think I forgot to mention more important things (like my post colonial reading of it, and a Marxist POV). I love the sensational. I read with my uterus first. Got a problem?

LOL. Like I said, grad school gave me some strange thoughts. And then I'm kind enough to share them with YOU :-D

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Caballero and Feeding the Birds

Yesterday I finished reading Jovita Gonzalez's Caballero.

Wahhh

It was a great book, great great great indeed I would have been sad to finish it, were it not assigned reading.

Over the past few years, I've read a lot of books (ok, so not ENOUGH but still I'm always reading...something). I'm noticing a trend...

My favorite books are either

A. Historical Fiction or

B. Romantic

No, not romance, romantic, BIG difference (as I discussed with my younger brother recently).

And some are both. And that was Caballero.

Wahhh....

I think I cried twice while reading the book, it was just so good...

Which brings me to my next point - good books make me cry. They do, I know its stereotypically sentimental woman of me but whatever. That's who I am and I'm ok with it.

Anyway, there's much more to Caballero than just romance, though. It's about colonializm, class, feminism, machismo... there's war and there's death and there's life and birth, its vivid and colorful and I just love the way Gonzalez describes everything. The characters are dynamic and you can't help but fall in love with them.

So, read the book, ok? Especially if you're like me and live in the Rio Grande Valley. I'm estimating Rancho de Palma (where the story takes place) was like, right where my house is. Ok, its fiction so it didn't really exist, but still.

Anyway, I'll leave you with this thought. In the eyes of this highly educated feminist, I still love romantic books that make me cry. Ok, there, I said it. I'm a sentimental sap. And there's nothing nothing nothing wrong with that.

Go read the book. Now.

Or, read this poem, which gets me to thinking about my grandma, who recently passed away.



Letters from a Father


by Mona Van Duyn





I



Ulcerated tooth keeps me awake, there is

such pain, would have to go to the hospital to have

it pulled or would bleed to death from the blood thinners,

but can't leave Mother, she falls and forgets her salve

and her tranquilizers, her ankles swell so and her bowels

are so bad, she almost had a stoppage and sometimes

what she passes is green as grass. There are big holes

in my thigh where my leg brace buckles the size of dimes.

My head pounds from the high pressure. It is awful

not to be able to get out, and I fell in the bathroom

and the girl could hardly get me up at all.

Sure thought my back was broken, it will be next time.

Prostate is bad and heart has given out,

feel bloated after supper. Have made my peace

because am just plain done for and have no doubt

that the Lord will come any day with my release.

You say you enjoy your feeder, I don't see why

you want to spend good money on grain for birds

and you say you have a hundred sparrows, I'd buy

poison and get rid of their diseases and turds.





II



We enjoyed your visit, it was nice of you to bring

the feeder but a terrible waste of your money

for that big bag of feed since we won't be living

more than a few weeks long. We can see

them good from where we sit, big ones and little ones

but you know when I farmed I used to like to hunt

and we had many a good meal from pigeons

and quail and pheasant but these birds won't

be good for nothing and are dirty to have so near

the house. Mother likes the redbirds though.

My bad knee is so sore and I can't hardly hear

and Mother says she is hoarse from yelling but I know

it's too late for a hearing aid. I belch up all the time

and have a sour mouth and of course with my heart

it's no use to go to a doctor. Mother is the same.

Has a scab she thinks is going to turn to a wart.





III



The birds are eating and fighting, Ha! Ha! All shapes

and colors and sizes coming out of our woods

but we don't know what they are. Your Mother hopes

you can send us a kind of book that tells about birds.

There is one the folks called snowbirds, they eat on the ground,

we had the girl sprinkle extra there, but say,

they eat something awful. I sent the girl to town

to buy some more feed, she had to go anyway.







IV



Almost called you on the telephone

but it costs so much to call thought better write.

Say, the funniest thing is happening, one

day we had so many birds and they fight

and get excited at their feed you know

and it's really something to watch and two or three

flew right at us and crashed into our window

and bang, poor little things knocked themselves silly.

They come to after while on the ground and flew away.

And they been doing that. We felt awful

and didn't know what to do but the other day

a lady from our Church drove out to call

and a little bird knocked itself out while she sat

and she bought it in her hands right into the house,

it looked like dead. It had a kind of hat

of feathers sticking up on its head, kind of rose

or pinky color, don't know what it was,

and I petted it and it come to life right there

in her hands and she took it out and it flew. She says

they think the window is the sky on a fair

day, she feeds birds too but hasn't got

so many. She says to hang strips of aluminum foil

in the window so we'll do that. She raved about

our birds. P.S. The book just come in the mail.







V



Say, that book is sure good, I study

in it every day and enjoy our birds.

Some of them I can't identify

for sure, I guess they're females, the Latin words



I just skip over. Bet you'd never guess

the sparrow I've got here, House Sparrow you wrote,

but I have Fox Sparrows, Song Sparrows, Vesper Sparrows,

Pine Woods and Tree and Chipping and White Throat

and White Crowned Sparrows. I have six Cardinals,

three pairs, they come at early morning and night,

the males at the feeder and on the ground the females.

Juncos, maybe 25, they fight

for the ground, that's what they used to call snowbirds. I miss

the Bluebirds since the weather warmed. Their breast

is the color of a good ripe muskmelon. Tufted Titmouse

is sort of blue with a little tiny crest.

And I have Flicker and Red-Bellied and Red-

Headed Woodpeckers, you would die laughing

to see Red-Bellied, he hangs on with his head

flat on the board, his tail braced up under,

wing out. And Dickcissel and Ruby Crowned Kinglet

and Nuthatch stands on his head and Veery on top

the color of a bird dog and Hermit Thrush with spot

on breast, Blue Jay so funny, he will hop

right on the backs of the other birds to get the grain.

We bought some sunflower seeds just for him.

And Purple Finch I bet you never seen,

color of a watermelon, sits on the rim

of the feeder with his streaky wife, and the squirrels,

you know, they are cute too, they sit tall

and eat with their little hands, they eat bucketfuls.

I pulled my own tooth, it didn't bleed at all.







VI



It's sure a surprise how well Mother is doing,

she forgets her laxative but bowels move fine.

Now that windows are open she says our birds sing

all day. The girl took a Book of Knowledge on loan

from the library and I am reading up

on the habits of birds, did you know some males have three

wives, some migrate some don't. I am going to keep

feeding all spring, maybe summer, you can see

they expect it. Will need thistle seed for Goldfinch and Pine

Siskin next winter. Some folks are going to come see us

from Church, some bird watchers, pretty soon.

They have birds in town but nothing to equal this.





So the world woos its children back for an evening kiss.


Geez that ending is fantastic. How come I can't close em like that?

Anyway, the little things in life, like feeding the birds, make it worthwhile. Bruno recently bought a bird feeder, and he religously feeds them. When he was grieving about a year back, he really took comfort in gardening and tending to the yard. It's beautiful, because of his grief. Eh. That's another poem, for another day.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Prayer to Tear the Sperm-Dam Down

By Charles Webb.

I always, always, love reading this poem:

Because we need to remember / that memory will end, let the womb remain / untouched.


—from “Prayer to Seal Up the Wombdoor” by Suzanne Paola



Because we know our lives will end,

Let the vagina host a huge party, and let the penis come.



Let it come nude, without a raincoat.

Let it come rich, and leave with coffers drained.



Throw the prostate’s floodgates open.

Let sperm crowd the womb full as a World Cup stadium.



Let them flip and wriggle like a mackerel shoal.

Let babies leap into being like atoms after the Big Bang.



Let’s celebrate fullness, roundness, gravidity.

Let’s worship generation—this one,



And the next, and next, forever.

Let’s adore the progression: protozoan to guppy



To salamander to slow loris to Shakespeare.

Forget Caligula. Forget Hitler. Mistakes



Were made. Let’s celebrate our own faces

Grinning back at us across ten thousand years.



Let’s get this straight: Earth doesn’t care if it’s overrun—

If it’s green or brown or black, rain forest, desert, or ice pack.



A paper mill is sweet as lavender to Earth,

Which has no sense of smell, and doesn’t care



If roads gouge it, or industries fume into its air.

Beetles don’t care. Or crows.



Or whales, despite their singing and big brains.

Sure, rabbits feel. Spicebush swallowtails



Feel their proboscides slide into flowers’

Honeypots, which may feel too,



But lack the brains to care. Even if beagles

Are as mournful as they look—



Even if great apes grieve, wage war, catch termites

With twigs, and say in sign language,



“Ca-ca on your head,” they still don’t care.

Or if the do—well, join the club.



We humans care so much, some of us dub life

A vale of tears, and see heaven as oblivion.



Some pray, for Earth’s sake, not to be reborn.

Wake up! Earth will be charred by the exploding sun,



Blasted to dust, reduced to quarks, and still not care.

If some people enjoy their lives too much



To share, let them not share. If some despise themselves

Too much to reproduce, let them disappear.



If some perceive themselves as a disease, let them

Take the cure, and go extinct. It’s immaterial to Earth.



Let people realize this, or not. Earth doesn’t care.

I do, and celebrate my own fecundity.



I celebrate my wife’s ovaries, her fallopian tubes

Down which, like monthly paychecks,



Golden eggs roll. I celebrate the body’s changing.

(Might as well: it changes anyway.)



I celebrate gestation, water breaking,

The dash to the hospital, the staff descending,



Malpractice polices in hand. I celebrate

Dilation of the cervix, doctors in green scrubs,



And even (since I won’t get one) the episiotomy.

I’ll celebrate my bloody, dripping son, head deformed



By trusting against the world’s door.

Let it open wide for him. Let others make room for him.



Let his imagination shine like God’s.

Let his caring change the face of everything.



via Best New American Poetry 2006 (editor, Billy Collins)

Thursday, June 16, 2011

West Chester Day IV

So this will be my last blogpost about West Chester, and then I can go on to blogging about... other things, lol.

Day IV sure was a great 'grand finale' for me! I headed over to breakfast a little late, but not too late. I ended up chatting with a really facinating gentleman, Johnathan Greenfield, over numerous cups of coffee. Again, one of the things I really like about West Chester is the friendly atmosphere. Johnathan and I swapped rejection letter woe stories, and success stories, too. He's actually a really talented jewelary designer, and later I find out he's also a... M.D. Talk about multi-talented. Anyway, we had a good talk and when I finally noticed the time, the first panel had already passed and it was almost time for my appointment with Dana Gioia! :-D

So I rush over to the union. Dana said to meet him on the second floor. I'm fiddling with my fingers, nervous and excited and all sorts of other emotions. I'm worrying to myself, will Dana like my work? What will he have to say to me? I don't write in strict meter. I should write in strict meter. What am I doing here? Did Dana invite me into his workshop by mistake? I'm a terrible poet. I'm a talented poet. Oh, there's Dana!

LoL. Yeah, my self doubt can sometimes get the best of me.

So I wave him down, and we head into an empty classroom. The first thing I ask him is, did you bring me into your workshop by some tragic mistake? Because... I'm not really a metrical poet....

and he laughs. "No no, my dear," he answers "if you've learned anything from the workshop, you'll see that I don't believe one has to write in meter to write good poetry."

PHEW! Yeah, ok, so he HAD been saying that all week... but still...

Anyway, that aside I feel ready to talk about the actual poems. I only brought unpublished poems that I actually needed help with, I tell him, so I can make good use of the guidence and workshop. He gives me a lot of really really really super helpful feedback, specific suggestions. He's so encouraging, too. Two of the poems in particular he really likes, and he even gives me suggestions as to where I should publish them. "You'll have no problem publishing," he tells me. "You've got real promise kid" I then got all warm and fuzzy inside.

So my appointment with Dana was 40 minutes, but in reality it feels more like 4 minutes. Before I realize it, its time to go :-( But no worries, he tells me, he'd like me to meet with another friend of his for more advice. Yay!

After my workshop, I'm just super excited and happy about the way things went. I head outside to just sit in the sun for a bit, let everything sink in. As I'm sitting outside, staring at the sky, I notice this huge butterfly sailing through the wind. It didn't even look real, a pastel green shade with a lilac colored spot, and a long, elegant swallowtail. It's about the size of two outstetched palms. Que pretty!

I'm watching it, trying to figure out if this thing is real, or some sort of toy. I'm following it with my eyes as it heads towards a tree, wishing I could touch its wings to see if its real. Like in a dream, you know? If you touch it, that means its real. Anyway, then it disappears!

Huh? Where'd it go? I hear a crunching sound, a bird! Tearing those wings to pieces and tossing them to the ground. A wing fragment floats to my feet, and I pick it up, soft and covered in butterfly dust. Amazing, and sad.

Anyway, that was my emo moment of the morning. I head back inside for some coffee, and take a seat in the sitting room. I'm about to pull out my phone when Alex Pepple takes a seat next to me! Yes, Alex Pepple, editor publisher of Able Muse. He asks me about my workshop with Dana, and we talk about Able Muse, Eratosphere, and other things. I ask him about his panel (which will be later that afternoon) if he's ready/nervous and he laughs. "Are you coming?" He asks. I shake my head, no.

"I have an appointment with a friend of Dana's, to go over some more of my poems."

"That Dana," Alex replies, "he's a good friend to have. He's got connections!"

And ain't that the truth! Alex invites me to submit my workshopped poems to Able Muse, and I tell him yes, yes of course they'll be coming his way.

Lunch is up next, so I head over to the cafeteria. But... what? I'm one of the first people there? LOL, yeah ok so I was a little hungry. I end up sitting with a group of Mezzo Cammin ladies who talk about revisionist mythmaking! Wow! One of them knows Alicia Ostriker, who, I like, practically wrote my thesis on. I ask all sorts of questions between mouthfuls of food. LOL.

After lunch I have my final workshop with Dana, and he again gives some really great advice. We read through some great poems (filled of course with great lines) and he gives some abstract but strikingly true advice about language and beauty. He suggests we start memorizing poems, having a repiorire of poems we can recite aloud at any given moment, to really take poetry into our being and appreciate it. Where else have I heard that advice? Why, from Kim Addonizio's Ordinary Genius!

Anyway, after the workshop I meet Dana's friend Len Krisak who is another really talented poet and all around just intelligent man. Len walks me through a poem and does an incredibly close reading of my sonnet. Wow. He points out all sorts of things in the poem, catches every subtle nuance. He gave me so much specific feedback and suggestions for revision... now Len's a bit more of a traditionalist than Dana, I learn. He's all for strict meter and exact rhymes. I had to remember, that's his aesthetic, and, well is not really mine. But his advice could be applied regardless, and was extremely helpful. Len also gives me some practical advice on publishing, which is of course invaluable. Gosh, all these experienced poets taking the time to help me out... how lucky am I? :-)

After my meeting with Len, I try to catch at least some of Alex's panel on Able Muse. I sneak in at the end, and Alex is talking about his future plans for the press, which include Kindle and Ipad versions. Wow! I'm impressed. The publications look so professional, and yet Able Muse is able to produce an anthlogy, journals, and poetry manuscripts. Its just amazing the amount of work and attention that goes into these publications. Anyway, after the panel I head to the bookstore. On my schedule, I notice a book signing is coming up! I had promised to bring back a book for my buddy, Linda, and I wanted to get a copy of Molly Peacock's The Second Blush and Dana Gioia's Can Poetry Matter. So I do my shopping! :-)

After that, I sneak back into the theater to catch the tail end of another panel, which is actually a reading with Marilyn Nelson. How many opportunities am I going to have in life to hear all of these fantastically talented poets read? Not many. She reads this amazing poem about conjoined twins. It was hauntingly beautiful.

After the reading comes the book signing. I'm just a little giddy. First, I head over to Dana's table before the crowd comes. Dana signs my book, and tells me we have to keep in touch. He gives me his personal email address and asks me to send over my revised poems to him in a few weeks, and also to let him know when I get published again. I vow to do so! Of course. What a great opportunity. Dana remarks that he loves West Chester because it attracts the best young poets. Awww...

Ok so after my conversation with Dana, I head over to Molly Peacock's table to get her to sign her book. Molly, also super nice, gives me her contact info. Send me your thesis, she tells me. What? Really? You want to read that hulking document? Absolutely. Send it right away. I'm embarressed a little and now I have to go back and revise one more time before she reads it :-D

And last but not least, I have the nerve to chat up Kim Addonizio, who was my first poetry hero back when I started writing poetry. I tell her such, that I have all her poetry guides and return to them time and time again. She smiles, I think a bit overwhelmed. I had her a pile of books to sign (since, well, I've been collecting for years!) and she laughs. I know, I tell her, they look old, but its just because they're so well loved. And that's the truth.

Next up is social hour and picnic, but since the weather is a bit ominious it will be an indoor picnic. Cool cool... I find Tara and we head to the cafeteria together, and I meet another youngin' Hannah. Phew! I learn I'm not the youngest West Chesterian! And we kind of stick together, talking about workshops and... well... what girls of our age tend to talk about together... MEN! ;-) At dinner, we sit together, and at our table comes none other than David Mason! Gerry Cambridge (whom I met earlier, the editor of Dark Horse) also joins us, and several other poets. The dinner conversation starts high, we talk about opera and poetry, formalist techniques, but as we down the wine we start talking about other slightly less dignified things.
As we're finishing dinner, I feel a hand on my shoulder. Who is this? I look behind me, and KIM! Kim Addonizio! She has one arm around my shoulders, and the other around Tara's. "You always know where the cool table is when you find the young blonds," she remarks with a sly smile. I nod, sure! Gerry plus out a bag from beneath the table.

"Fancy a wee tootle, Kim?" he asks.

She looks at me, confused. I shrug my shoulders, I don't speak Scottish! LOL.

He pulls out a bag from underneath the table, and opens it for us to see. Ah, harmonicas! That's right, it's all making sense to me now :) Kim plays harmonica, it says so in her books! Kim laughs, "yeah, let's play! But not here, it's too noisy. How about back at the hotel bar. Would you ladies like to join us?"

Would I ever! But... wait... where's the hotel and how am I going to get back and whose driving and have they been drinking.... my shuttle to the airport leaves at 5am and.... I just tell her I'll meet her there if I can find a way over. And I never did get over there... but in reality the rest of the evening was just as eventful.

So after dinner, we walk over to the theater where there's going to be a Mo-town opera concert. COOL! And it was cool, imagine an opera version of "sugar pie honey cup," yeah, that's how it was. After the opera, I'm about to head back to the dorm when someone stops me. It's Alex! "Going back so soon?" he asks. I explain about my early flight, and he offers to take Tara and I to the dance party in his car and promises to bring us back early. I look over at Tara and shrug. She nods. Let's go!

We're a little lost, the GPS leading us into a seemingly residental area. The three of us get out of the car, hearing music and merriment in a backyard. Is this the West Chester Dance Party? No, no it was not. Oops. They did look slightly afraid of us... but gave us directions to the art museum where the festivities were set to take place. So we crossed the street, laughing all the way. I had a great time at the party, chatting with many people over a few glasses of wine. There was plenty of dancing, and a whole lot of fun. It was nice to see all the poets I admire really cutting loose and having a great time. I really was worried about getting back at a decent time, since my shuttle was leaving at 5am, so I did leave a little early.

The moment I got back to my dorm room, I call up the BruBru to let him know I've arrived safely, and then proceed to crash. What an experience!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

West Chester Day III

The next morning, I wake up and head off to breakfast. This time, I've learned to go early to get the good food, and catch the poetry conversation. As I'm heading down the elevator, a poet strikes up a conversation with me and we start chatting. That's what I love about West Chester!
 
Anyway, I find out that this man is actually an M.D, and we start talking about all things poetry. We sit down for breakfast with another couple of poets, one of whom I recognize from the workshop, Timothy (well, he kind of stands out since he has a very impressive beard.) It turns out we're all West Chester first timers, so we actually all have quite a bit in common, even though - well, to the naked eye, we don't. And that's another thing I love about West Chester, it brings together people who normally wouldn't be. I mean, I never thought I would have so much in common with a medical doctor from New York City, or an older gentleman who hails from Maine. Me, a twenty-something girl from the Tex/Mex border.
 
Anyway, all this aside, after breakfast we head over to the morning panel. I was determined not to miss this morning's panel because, well, it looked interesting on the program! LOL. It was a reading by the Mezzo Cammin poets! And boy was I blown away, these ladies have talent. Anyway, you can check it out for yourself, because they're on YouTube!





That's Dr. Julie Kanes, and no she won't introduce herself as such. I didn't know she was a PhD until I googled her. She's so humble and nice and talented and funny... and she has beautiful red hair :-D Being a blond in El Valle, I can kind of relate to her, standing out from the crowd. Anyway, if you don't want to check out her entire reading, skip to 7 minutes in. Her last poem was absolutely hilarious, plus it pushes feminist boundaries which, I'm all about.
 
Anyway, I also really enjoyed Marly Youmans' poems. Afterwards, I actually had the courage to go up and talk to her, and she was unbelievably nice. Her blog has some great West Chester reflections, too.
 
After the fantastic panel (I think the best panel in West Chester, really), the next up was a prosody panel by Dana Gioia. I like the sound of his voice, lol! So I thought I'd check it out. Boy, this whole prosody thing is kind of over my head... but it was informative none the less.
 
Antes the panel we headed over to lunch. I actually had lunch with Rhina Espaillat! OMG! She is WONDERFUL! Her Spanish poetry is really really great, and she's a well known translator as well. Plus, she's funny! We were chatting over lunch, and she recommended several places for me to submit my manuscript to.
 
And then, of course, was the workshop. Dana read a lot of poems, talked about different line techniques, principles for organizing the poetic line, and lots of cool technical stuff, some of which again went a bit over my head. Huh? The he busted out his Italian, which just sounded pretty to me, and  then German, which... ok I can follow along with that!
 
After the workshop, I headed off to a panel and saw my new buddy Bill (remember, we met at the airport, and we chatted everyday since). We sat together and chatted a bit about Hunke, and its contradicting nature. William S. Burroughs, in blank verse... ok to that's just hilarious. I had to excuse myself once the reading started (state poet laureates) because I felt a bit of a headache coming on. I think it was my head, being full of prosody and trying to absorb everything. It was full, and needed a moment's rest.
 
So I headed up to my room, and got ready for Richard Wilbur's 90th birthday party! How cool is that? It was awesome. I sat next to the birthday boy himself! And from then on, at West Chester, I was referred to as Richard Wilbur's buddy. LOL. I guess a lot of people saw us talking for quite some time. Richard Wilbur writes a lot about his experiences in WWII, and he just reminded me a lot of my late father-in-law. So we mostly just talked about that. Anyway, after having numerous glasses of wine with him and a host of other poets, I decided again to head back to my room. We were out on the lawn, and it was really hot and humid....
 
By the time I was 'ready' to head back out into the crowd, dinner was nearly over. That's ok, I thought, I'll just go down for a cup of coffee. I found Timothy hitting up the dessert table, and he wanted me to introduce him to Richard Wilbur, LOL! As if we were now friends. Anyway, I get a cup of coffee, and join Timothy's table. There I meet Alexander He, who turns out to be a very nice young poet from California. They tell me about their readings at the conference, and I'm actually a little bit jealous because I wish I had had the guts to read some of my work. Next year, I resolved.
 
Anyway, after my 'dinner,' we head out to the faculty reading. I walked with Timothy, which was nice because I really don't know my way around and apparently he does. The reading, again, was spectacular. Of course, Dana Gioia did a fantastic job, but I also really enjoyed A.E Stalling's work (I actually LOVE her performance style, she channels her nervousness into some sort of positive energy, I can't quite explain it) and Terri Witek, and of course Rhina!
 
At the end of evening, I run into none other than the legendary Marilyn Nelson!!! She invites Timothy and I to the pool party, and Timothy decides to go while I politely decline. Ok, Timothy's quite a bit older than me but how does he have so much more energy than I do??? LOL. I think it was the wine with Wilbur earlier that afternoon.... Anyway, I decide to be a party pooper. I see Becky heading to the dorms, and we stroll back together, so closes another day at West Chester. I'm so excited for the next day, day IV, because I have my one-to-one meeting with Dana :-) :-) :-)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

West Chester, Day II

My second day at West Chester!

The next morning, I wake up - late. Doh!

I took a quick shower, and headed over to breakfast (late) and... well... ate in a hurry so I wouldn't miss the panels. Well, I missed part of a panel on poetry and place. Just heard the tail end of it, but it sounded so interesting! Especially because a lot of my poems are influenced greatly on the landscape of the valley...

After that, I saw Bill, from the airport. The previous night at dinner we started talking about William S. Burroughs. I actually know quite a bit about him, so I thought it was my one opportunity to say smart things to someone with a PhD. :-P Anyway, he brought a book for me to read about Burroughs written in blank verse. Go figure! I was Rick Mullin's book Hunke (heh heh, a play on Burrough's Junkie...) anyway I got about halfway through it by the end of the conference.

Anyway, the next panel was a Robert Pinksy interview by Dana Gioia, which was actually really really interesting. I'll never forget one of the things Pinksy said - he told a story about his daughter in veterinary school. She was watching a lecture, and was studying a disected dog's head. Gross! But she was fascinated by it, studying the ways the nerves work, which muscles move the eyes and how...

It was only because she'd had great experiences with dogs before, fed, walked, bathed, that she was able to appreciate the beauty of taking one apart. And poetry's like that too. If you're first introduced to poetry by taking it apart, you're going to think its gross and disgusting. But if you're introduced to the beauty of poetry first, you'll eventually want to take it apart and learn about how it works.

Yeah, I thought to myself. That's right. I have to remember that for my students :-)

Anyway, Pinsky left us with that thought. Afterwards, I headed back to my room for a little. I don't know why, but I was starting to feel homesick and needed to talk to BruBru. I needed to decompress and be alone for a bit before lunch. I just kept thinking, all these people around me, everyone so friendly and nice, but I feel alone without anyone to REALLY talk to. So I excused myself and headed off to the dorms.

Anyway, after my brief emo moment, it was lunch time. On my way to the elevator, I saw a woman and introduced myself. It turns out she was April Lindner! Who actually knew who I was thanks to one of my professors. She invited me to lunch, and, how could I not accept! She was so sweet, introduced me to all of her friends, on in particular, Gerry Cambridge, editor and publisher of Dark Horse!

After lunch was day I of my workshop with Dana Gioia. I was nervous and excited to participate. I was the last one to arrive, but I was on time I promise! LOL. Anyway, Dana gave some really great advice in the workshop. He talks about how poetic lines should be stories themselves, able to stand alone and sound beautiful. Great poems are filled with great lines, lines you can quote and remember and take into yourself. Really some good advice. It reminded me of what my professor Emmy would say, that lines should be like the stations on the cross - each should make your reader stop for a moment and contemplate. Anyway, the most refreshing thing about Dana's workshop is that he didn't completely dismiss free verse. I was so worried that somehow he'd made a mistake and allowed me into his juried workshop, because, well, I mostly write free verse! But no, that was one of the first things he said, that we're all here by our merits and that he respects all styles of poetry. What a guy...

Anyway, after the workshop, Dana stops me and says he wants to know more about me. Huh? Me? Little old me? We go downstairs and have a cup of coffee, he asks me about my education, what I do for a living, my future plans... it was cool! I tell him that I want to go on to get my PhD, and he gives me some great advice about which track to go etc. He then introduces me to a group of his friends, one of whom is Alex Pepple, publisher of Able Muse Press. and Dick Davis, poet and translator.

After chatting with the group, I head back to my dorm room, head full of information, to get ready for the evening. I take a little nap, talk with BruBru on the phone, and kick up my feet before heading over to the dining hall.

The sky was beginning to turn gray, and the wind was blowing. In heels, I'm not a very good runner... I'm staring down at my feet trying not to trip, trying to beat the storm when...

"Need a lift?" a voice asks.

I look up, and standing there, holding open the door for me, is none other than Molly Peacock! I nod, "are you heading to the reading?" I ask, not knowing what else to say.

"Yes," she answers, "I'm driving, and you're welcome to join me"

I smile and nod. I'm thinking giddy thoughts to myself, and follow her out to the parking lot, both of us trying to run but still look a bit dignified. "You're Molly Peacock, aren't you?" I ask, following behind her.

"Why yes I am," she answers. I introduce myself, tell her I'm a huge enormous fan.

As we get into her car, I tell her about my thesis, how I talk about her, and how she's really influenced my work. She gets all tickled pink! And she tells me that tonight, she'll be reading from her latest book - The Paper Garden. I also learn that Molly used to be an academic advisor, just like me :)

When we get to the theater, I tell her good luck and we part ways. As much as I wanted to follow her everywhere, she seemed a bit nervous and overwhelmed for her reading. I find a familiar face in the crowd, my dorm neighbor Roberta, and we sit together and chat about all things poetry. When the reading begins, I'm in heaven! LOL. On the lineup was Kim Addonizio, Dick Davis, Allison Joseph, David Mason, Molly Peacock, and Timothy Steele. I particularly loved Kim Addonizio's reading, as I knew I would! :D

Afterwards, I head back to the dorm with Roberta. Again, there's an after party going on but again, I'm pretty much exhausted and not in the mood. On the walk home, I talk with several other poets, like Becky and Tara from the previous day. Once I get up to my dorm room, I'm pooped, exhausted, and ready for Day III!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Back from West Chester, Volume 1

I wanna put on, my my my my my flat shoes!

LoL, my feet are sore, my body's exhausted, my mind is absolutely full...

Time to step back and digest all of this, decompress... something like that.

Shall I start from the beginning: My First West Chester Experience.

In case by now you haven't figured, I went to West Chester Poetry conference for the first time this year. I returned just yesterday. I received a scholarship to go, and was invited to participate in Dana Gioia's juried poetry workshop on the Poetic Line. How could I turn this opportunity down? So, I didn't. All by my lonesome self, I put on my big girl panties and went. I arrived knowing no one, and left with many many wonderful friends!

Day 1.

I woke at 2am. Why did I even go to bed? Yeah, er, that's a good question! My plane was scheduled to leave at 5:30am out of Brownsville. My dad was coming for me at 3:30 since, it's a bit of a drive out to Btown. Anyway, that eve I was way too giddy to sleep. Ok more nervous than anything else, since, well, this was a big deal for me.

After saying goodbyes to my dad, I went through security at the dinky Brownsville airport and sat, fiddling with my fingers, waiting to board the plane. Jovita Gonzalez's Dew on the Thorn kept me grounded, distracted, and feeling stereotypically 'El Valle' throughout the whole trip :)

I went from Brownsville, to Houston (got a little lost at the airport, but was helped out by a very nice old lady), and ran ran ran to catch my plane to Philadelphia. I was like, the last one on the plane. It was so embarressing. And then, me, being cheap, didn't check any baggage. So I'm lugging everything as a 'carry on'. My overstuffed suitcase wouldn't fit in the overhead bins :'(. So embarressing... I had to unpack my shoe collection and stuff various shoes in my purse, book bag, ect. before it finally fit. OMG. But I managed, and we took off. Phew! My neighbor was not happy to be seated next to me, I'm pretty sure. Anyway, again, I disappeared into the world of Jovita Gonzalez, feeling more homesick than ever.

When I arrived in Philly, I realized I'd have a few hours before my shuttle to West Chester would arrive. So I had lunch, surfed the web (reread Dana Gioia's essay Can Poetry Matter so I wouldn't sound like a ding dong), before heading down to the baggage claim area where the driver was to meet me.

And that's where it began... as I walked down those steps, my eyes scanning the area for a "West Chester" sign, I heard a someome ask, "are you a poet"? Huh? I looked around. Two ladies, sitting on a bench together, waved me down. One has short, dyed red hair, the other long white/blonde hair tied up in a pony. They both looked very poet-like, a little older.

I nodded, surprised. I wasn't wearing an I'm a poet t-shirt... "West Chester," the short haired one asked and again I nodded.

"How did you know?" I was just a tad afraid.

"It's the look on your face!" She answered with a smile and a laugh. "Poets have this, glazed over look of fear and excitement. Can spot them from a mile away. I'm Barbara, and this is Tina." We shake hands.

"Katie," I answer, sitting down next to Barbara.

"Katie, from Eratosphere?"

I laugh. "Yeah! That's me!" Ok, now I'm starting to feel a little bit better. It turns out this woman and I had chatted a few times on Eratosphere, the online poetry workshop. She introduced me to her friend, Tina, who - like me, is a WC first timer, and primiarly a 'free verser'. So phew, I wasn't the only one. We proceed to talk about all things poetry - publishing, writing, form vs. free verse, reading... before I knew it, we had a little crowd of poets gathering around us, and the West Chester experience began. At the airport, I met another young girl, Tara (who, is blonde, 24, and from Texas... just like me...) and Bill, an attorney from Minneapolis.

Eventually the shuttle came and totted us to the West Chester campus. The ride was about 30 minutes long, so while on the way I learn that I know Bill, too, from Eratosphere! I'm really glad I started posting on that site :)

When we get to the dorms, we all check in - and I need a moment of peace. I sit up in my dorm, call my BruBru and let him know I'm doing well, and freshen up to get ready for the evening reception/dinner. I head over to the union - and when I open the door I was filled with this overwhelming nervousness. It was like going to a party, and knowing no one. Everywhere I looked, groups were talking, people were laughing and sipping their wine. Great... just great... not a familiar face in sight.

Until, about a minute passes! :D Tara, from the airport, sees me from the crowd and comes up to me. "Let's get some wine," she suggests, and we preceed to talk about how we're both a bit overwhelmed, nervous, out of place, but now at least we're feeling this together ;)

And it didn't last long. In moments, former poet laureate Dan Hoffman strikes up a conversation with us two blondes, and we end up talking to A.E Stallings, and some Eratospherians seem to recognize me, too - and then we see Barbara and Tina from the aiport, Tara introduces me to her professor, and finally - I meet the poet Becky Foust before we head off to dinner a few glasses of wine later. Phew! Yes, I know that's a run on sentence and no I don't care.

Dinner is delicious, I meet some other fantastic poets and we chat about life, work, and writing. After dinner we all walk over to the theater for a reading - Robert Pinsky! He has a little book signing afterwards, and I regret not getting one for my dad... Oh well.


So that was my first day. After the reading, there's a party but I decide not to go. I was very much exhausted after being up for almost 24 hours! So I crash in my dorm room - though I can't very well sleep since I'm excited for day II.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

3am!

LOL!

At 3am tomorrow morn', I'll be heading to Brownsville to catch a plane to Philly!

Goodness, I can't believe my trip's already here. I'm slightly more nervous than excited. Of course, I promise to blog all abouts it when I get back. And yes, I'll take pictures.

:-D :-D :-D :-D

When I get back, I also promise to myself to get back into the swing of writing.

On a slightly unrelated note - I've started my South Texas Literature course and I'm actually liking the reading quite a bit. I'm just about finished reading George Washington Gomez by Americo Paredes, and next up on my list is Dew on the Thorn by Jovita Gonzalez. I'm actually quite a fan of historical fic, and so far I've really been having a hard time putting my books down! I like learning more about the history of this region... its rich and well, I didn't even realize just how rich.

Ok I'm off to class. Probably no blog posts till I return Sunday

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Writers Block :'(

Oh man...

I've got the bug, people! Bad bad bad!

I can't write any poems - ziltch nada nothin'. I'm thinking maybe its because I'm too excited about West Chester next week... but man that's NOT a good excuse to be poetically barren. I gotta cut this out, and fast.

I did write a poem last week, which I'm actually quite happy with. But... it's been a week and I haven't even had a productive freewrite episode. Not cool. Not cool. NOT COOL! :'( And then the more upset I get about NOT writing, the more I focus on how much I need to write, and the less I'm able to produce.

No upcoming readings, either. Well, actually... maybe I need to light a bit of fire under my behind and that might spark something :)

Here's to hoping the conference will get me goin' again. I'm sure it will!