Friday, July 31, 2009

Life Support: August Literary Events in Sacramento and Beyond


Used Book Sale
Country Club Plaza Mall
2310 Watt Avenue
Sacramento, CA

Browse through more than 5000 used books, including mystery, thriller, romance, cookbooks, and children's literature. This recession-friendly fundraiser offers paperbacks for 50 cents, trade paperbacks for $1, and hardcovers for $2. On Sunday, fill a bag for $5.


The Book Collector
1008 24th Street
Sacramento, CA

Joyce Odam has served as editor for various publications and has had her work featured in journals such as Bellingham Review, Seattle Review, and Rattle. She is the author of the chapbooks A Sense of Melancholy, and Caught Against the Years, as well as two new books to be released by Rattlesnake Press.


Joyce Odam and Ann Menebroker
Time Tested Books
1114 21st Street
Sacramento, CA

Joyce Odam has served as editor for various publications and has had her work featured in journals such as Bellingham Review, Seattle Review, and Rattle. She is the author of the chapbooks A Sense of Melancholy, and Caught Against the Years, as well as two new books to be released by Rattlesnake Press.

Ann Menebroker is a well-known member of the Sacramento poetry scene. Her work has been published by many journals, and she was featured in the 2006 documentary, I Begin to Speak. Her most recent book, Tiny Teeth, The Wormwood Poems, is published by R.L. Crow Publications.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Space Odyssey 2009

The office is a mess. Papers stacked with magazines, old mail, checkbooks. Books everywhere: John Updike, John Steinbeck, John Kennedy Toole. Wine for Dummies. Flip flops. Jewelry I was wearing one day which didn't make it back to the jewelry box. Bags of Goodwill donations. A shotgun. A model airplane. Wait...make that two airplanes. Cacti. Argentine money. A juggling set. Dare I go on?

Thinking about cleaning the office has always been a weight on my shoulders because that's all I do: think about it. It's a daunting task not to be undertaken lightly. But this strange conglomeration of items is what you get when you combine two offices in one, as the man of the house and I have done recently. And, lately, I am not feeling as bad about the devestation.

My change of heart could have something to do with Where I Write, a photographic project by Kyle Cassidy. Where I Write is a wonderfully cluttered and fascinating view into the writing spaces of science fiction authors such as Ben Bova, Piers Anthony, and Peter Straub. While some rooms are clean and austere, such as that of Harry Harrison, most are boldly painted, bedecked with books, and chock full of cats, stacks of papers, overstuffed chairs, even model space shuttles.

Besides alleviating my guilt about the mess, this photographic series makes me wonder what the creative spaces of others look like. Are they as cluttered as Michael Swanwick's, as my own? Are they clean and free of distractions? Is there a correlation between the space and what is written in it? Does one have to be messy, or does messiness just go hand-in-hand with creativity?

Perhaps it's as simple as this: someone so wrapped up in another world has little time to dedicate to this one. And so the papers stack up up, the toy banks and mugs and hollow cola cans find their niches in the forgotten corners of the study, and the dust collects; meanwhile, miraculous things are culled from the air, and words are put in their right places.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Weekly Workshop: Dead Letters

This workshop is courtesy of Swink Magazine, an online literary journal featuring poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and special sections, including the Dead Letter Office. These are letters written but never sent, lost in that pile of papers on your desk, perhaps, or blown away by the wind on your way to the post office. These are the letters you've always wanted to write, composed each word and sentence in your head until it was perfect, but never put to paper. Or letters that should have been written, but in this day and age became a text or an email.

What would you say if you knew no one was going to read it? Here's your chance to be utterly truthful and blunt, if you like. Or tell an old secret. Tell someone off. Revisit a past shame. Whatever needs to be said, but never did. Peruse the archives, read examples, and then write your own. Submit if you like.

from Open Letter to the Stray Cat I Abandoned in the Southwest

You came to my door, unabashed, and bathed yourself in rhythm to the swamp cooler’s hum. You proved to me you were clean. My neighbor and I watched you and Hugo in the eucalyptus brush. You reunited him with his inner hunter, and he brought you inside, stood watch while he shared with you his organic, low-ph food, the likes of which you had never tasted. It did not compare, I suppose, to fresh pigeon.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Luck 'o the Midwest

I've got another free contest for those of you still eeking by during the "Great Recession." The Donn Goodwin Prize, sponsored by the Milwaukee Irish Fest, is open to entries with "a cultural/literary relation to either Ireland or Irish-America." Poets are allowed to submit only one poem, so make sure it's a bonny one. The winner recieves $100...a pretty good return for the price of a stamp.

Any readers who are residents of Wisconsin? Then you are eligible for the Joseph Gahagan Prize, also sponsored by the Irish Fest, and also awarding a cool $100. Guidelines for both can be found here. But be quick about it...the deadline is August 1st.

May the luck of the Irish be with you!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Movie Monday: I've Been Watching...

Viewing Partner: Grandma Dixie
Stars: **
Notes: When Grandma can't follow the plot line, you have issues. Movies like this are the reason I'm not married.

Viewing Partner: Isaac and a bunch of cell-phone-less adolescents
Stars: ***1/2
Notes: The black boxes needed to be bigger. Loved seeing Paula Abdul perched on the back of an immigrant worker.

Viewing Partner: Isaac
Stars: *
Notes: Hyperbole is not automatically funny. We couldn't even finish it.

Viewing Partner: Isaac
Stars: ****
Notes: A lot of looking out windows and doors, but obvious metaphors aside, a good show. Why didn't Richard Jenkins win the Oscar?

Viewing Partner: Al & George
Stars: **
Notes: Ben Affleck directed this. 'Nuff said. Michelle Monaghan is the bright spot in a hackneyed collage of cop drama cliches.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Friday, July 24, 2009

Footwear Friday

Many years ago, the enigmatic Chiles Wilson washed up on the muddy banks of the Delta, clutching a pair of coveted Olympic Series Air Jordans in his cute, baby hands. His destiny was born. But it wasn’t until 3rd period Geometry Class, during a lecture on the obtuseness of pie wedges, that he seized it. “It” was a shoe…his own shoe, upon which he wrought magical visions in sweet-smelling Sharpie.

People liked what they saw. They liked his shoes, too. He began making shoes for others. The frenzy grew. To date, Chiles has created more than 150 customized pairs of shoes. He says, “I’m just a kid in a garage who likes drawing on stuff.” Don’t listen to him. He has honed his craft like a ninja, and he can see into your soul.

Shoes are meant to be worn. Chiles Shoes are meant to be worn by you.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Worms, Cows, and a Poem by Hayden Carruth

I wrote recently about the volunteer crop of wheat that surprised us this spring. The farmer who manages the fields around our house decided to harvest and add the green wheat to his already fat silage worms. Well, they're not really worms, they're actually huge plastic tubes of crushed and fermented plant stuff, taller than a person and stinking like garbage. But they look like worms, so that's what we call them.

After the plant stuff has gotten good and stinky, it is fed to cows. Trucks come and empty out the worms little by little for the hungry bovines. It might just be me, but dairy farming seems to be a messy, smelly business. Of course, I could be wrong. Maybe they're bucolic, peaceful buddhas in disguise. Hayden Carruth, a Vermont poet, thinks so:

The Cows at Night

The moon was like a full cup tonight, 
too heavy, and sank in the mist
 soon after dark, leaving for light 

faint stars and the silver leaves 
of milkweed beside the road, 
gleaming before my car.  

Yet I like driving at night 
in summer and in Vermont: 
the brown road through the mist  

of mountain-dark, among farms 
so quiet, and the roadside willows 
opening out where I saw  

the cows. Always a shock 
to remember them there, those
great breathings close in the dark.  

I stopped, and took my flashlight 
to the pasture fence. They turned 
to me where they lay, sad  

and beautiful faces in the dark, 
and I counted them–forty 
near and far in the pasture,  

turning to me, sad and beautiful 
like girls very long ago 
who were innocent, and sad  

because they were innocent,
 and beautiful because they were
 sad. I switched off my light.  

But I did not want to go, 
not yet, nor knew what to do 
if I should stay, for how  

in that great darkness could I explain
 anything, anything at all.
 I stood by the fence. And then  

very gently it began to rain.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Weekly Workshop: Smell-O-Vision

I've been thinking about smell a lot lately. It could have something to do with the fact that driving the windy, green roads of Vermont can be an adventure in smell: that leafy, green scent of grass and maple leaves, the burnt sugar odor of roadside sweets stands, and the ever-present "eau de cow" hanging over everything. Sometimes, it was so thick, I could taste it.

Smell is the sense linked most intimately to memory. Catching a whiff of an aquaintance's Dr. Pepper chapstick or Cucumber Melon body spray can trasport me right back to Junior High. Even more generic scents, like campfire or sunscreen, can call up a memory as achingly present as if it were happening all over again.

Perfumers are even returning to these common, yet potent smells. Demeter Fragrance makes perfumes such as Dust, Crayon, and Clean Windows. CB I Hate Perfume has selections that smell like an old library, burning leaves, and snow. What else would you like to distill into a perfume, a little vial of memories to carry with you always? Tomato leaves? Chlorine? Magic Marker?

I invite you to focus on smell this week along with me, to choose a scent powerful to you, to focus in on it, try to smell it, then write.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A Not-Really-Review: Twilight

He pressed a fingertip to her shoulder. She couldn't breathe. His eyes dazzled. She was mesmerized by his crooked smile. He put a finger on her elbow. Her eyelids fluttered. His skin was cold. She touched his hand. He wanted to bite her. His skin sparkled. She wanted to be bit. It didn't happen. Instead, they went to prom.

The Not-Really Book Club meets each month in Sacramento.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Movie Monday: Good Burton, Bad Burton

I just got back from Vermont, where the movie Beetlejuice was filmed. Thinking back to that brilliant film (who doesn't love Michael Keaton as a manic corpse?), I get quite nostalgic for the old know, the one who made movies like Edward Scissorhands and PeeWee's Big Adventure. His formula of hyper-reality splashed with oddity gave his pictures a fairy tale patina, and launched the careers of the quirky Winona Ryder and Johnny Depp.

Then came Cabin Boy. Then Planet of the Apes. Then Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Dismal remakes and films that relied more on style than substance. Where were the sweetly strange moments of romance, the bizarre yet laugh-out-loud humor, the truly unique gothic touches? Even though he continues to forge full speed ahead, with three new projects in the works including a re-imagining of Alice in Wonderland, Burton seems to have run out of imagination. He has even started stealing from himself:

Look familiar? In ENG 101, we call that plaigarism. In the entertainment world, it's just boring.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Weekly Workshop: A Hero's Crown

Last week, investigators uncovered a long-term scam in which cemetery workers sold already occupied plots. They would bury people on top of each other, or remove the pre-existing body, dismember it, and transfer it to a mass grave. Gruesome stuff, I know. What caught my eye was that the cemetery was the final resting place for, among others, the Civil Rights martyr Emmett Till.

The youth, whose death by lynching became a powerful touchstone for the Civil Rights movement, has been the inspiration for many works of art, including Marilyn Nelson's heroic crown of sonnets, A Wreath for Emmett Till. A difficult form to say the least, it usually concerns a single person or subject that is itself difficult to address. Such as, say, a young boy being brutally murdered.

So, in honor of Emmett Till and other lost heroes, I challenge you to try your hand at a heroic crown of sonnets. Here are the rules:

1. A Heroic Crown consists of fifteen sonnets.
2. The last line of the first sonnet becomes the first line of the next sonnet.
3. The fifteenth sonnet is comprised of the first lines of the first fourteen sonnets, in order.
4. All other rules of the sonnet are in play as well: A sonnet consists of fourteen lines of iambic pentameter. As far as I can tell, the rhyme scheme can be either Petrarchan or Shakespearean.

If this is a little too daunting, consider writing a plain ol' crown, which is only seven linked sonnets. Or, heck, just getting out one sonnet is sometimes hard enough. But whatever you try this week, I wish you luck.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Love Is Not Cruel, Love Is Not Cliche

This week, I am traveling to Middlebury, Vermont for the wedding of one of my closest friends. Weddings have understandably been on my mind this year, as well as a little endeavor I began at the request of a cousin in 2002. You see, I come from a big family. As in huge. And I have watched many of my older cousins, aunts, uncles, second cousins, and friends get married over the years. I like to think I've become a bit of a wedding connoissuer. And one thing that can kind of bring down the big day is the same old, tired reading. I think my cousin felt the same way, which is why he asked me to write a poem for their ceremony.

This trust we have, she says,
is like sunlight on my shoulders,

clean and warm.
He says, soft, soft, soft.

This poem led to others, and as more of my nearest and dearest get hitched, I find myself with ever-mounting requests. These poems are, of course, different from my other work. They incorporate memories, imagery, and even words that are unfamiliar to me.

you, my luff, my burrito, my sweet,

sweet dessert, my lovely lovey-dovey one.

I find that I really enjoy the challenge, it's a refreshing chance to step outside of myself...and I can get pretty sick of myself. These projects also refresh my own work, in much the same way that a filmmaker is rejuvenated by a great movie, or a painter by a new work of art. But the best part is finding out more about my loved ones and the ones they love enough to marry.

we’re little coals, red hot and smoldering—

we’re cooking something good, a bubbling stew

of habaƱero pepper, garlic, me

and you.

Relationships are like secret little worlds. Two people in love create a whole new mythology and set of symbols that are unique and special only to them. As a writer, and therefore, something of an archaeologist, I am fascinated by these things, and revel in their discovery. By learning about a new word or a special moment, I am learning about what makes these two work, and by extension, how love works.

Dear feet on dash

Dear strong-armed driver

Dear road to anywhere,

new like day

Monday, July 13, 2009

Bad Movie of the Month: Part 2 of 3

Drop your cell phone and step away from the computer, because technology has turned deadly in a sequel which has nothing to do with the original. Ghosts have used wireless internet and digital frequencies to destroy the modern world, and human survivors do their best to stay away from anything technological. But in order to find their lost daughter, Stephen (Jaime Bamber) and Michelle (Georgia Rylance) must travel through a city full of haunted CPU's and vengeful Blackberries.

some material courtesy of Gracenote, Inc.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Friday, July 10, 2009

Magic Busses

Bus riders. They're a captive audience, and for some reason, they don't want to look at each other. So they look around: out the window, at a book or newspaper, up at the ads above their heads. And while some may be content reading about injury lawyers and the latest wonder drug, I'd much rather read poetry.

Therefore, I applaud the Charlottesville Transit Service, which has filled its busses with traveling poetry from local elementary students. Their poetic lines launched this week with phrases like, "Crowds pour in, filling empty space,/like platelets in the bloodstream/of a dirty concrete giant."

But poetry on busses is not a new thing. Busses in Madison, Seattle, and Ottowa have similar projects. ASU, my alma mater, has even put poetry on their golf carts which zip around campus. I was lucky enough to be part of this project, which eventually was expanded to include the free bus lines operating on the outskirts of campus. My students loved it, even the huge head shots, which I thought a little excessive.

Are there poetry bus lines in your city or town? Let me know about it. If not, perhaps, working with the local transit service or planning commission, you can start a similar project. We all want the magic bus, right?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Indie Bookstore Number 2

What: Changing Hands Bookstore

Where: 6328 South McClintock Drive, Tempe, AZ

What I have found:
1. A first-edition copy of Edward Abbey's Hayduke Lives!
2. A copy of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, signed by John Berendt...for two dollars
3. Almost every book for every literature class I took at ASU, at about half of the campus bookstore's price.

Why you should go: This is the place for readings in Phoenix. They support local authors and artists. If you forgot a birthday present for anyone--from Grandma to your best friend's kid--you'll find it here. Their new location is connected to a Wildflower Bakery, and who can resist that peach and lavender smoothie?

Want more? Check out the Changing Hands website for current news and events.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Weekly Workshop: Revise, Baby, Revise

As I am working on my next manuscript, I am also reading Twilight, and it's been surprisingly helpful. I'll try to explain why. I just finished a passage where the two main characters, Bella, a human, and Edward, a vampire, are sitting in a meadow and touching each other. Nothing passionate, just...touching. A hand to a cheek or a finger on a wrist kind of touching. This passage was over ten pages long.

As I read I find myself thinking two things: first, who edited this and why, oh why didn't they think to cut more? Do we really need to read over three hundred pages of these two staring at each other and forgetting how to breathe? Really? And second, maybe I should revise my poems one more time.

Contrary to the Beat Generation's myth-making claim that the first draft is always the best (i.e. the most honest and energetic), revision is extremely important to any writer...often more important than the original moment of composition or creation. When we first create, we really don't know what we're saying. It is only when we return to a piece that we can refine our themes, add depth, fix mistakes, consider aspects such as sound and form, and, yes, get rid of the deadwood.

So, my assignment for you this week is exactly what I will be doing as I slog through the second half of Stephanie Meyer's doorstop. Return to an old piece, one you consider done and perfect, and look at it through new eyes. Then revise and many times as it takes.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Holden Redux

I admit it: I didn't like Catcher in the Rye. Or, more precisely, I didn't like that our high school literature teacher had us focus so intently on the "symbolism" of red hats and brass rings that we missed the story. Really. I can't remember much beyond the aforementioned, except something about ducks in a frozen pond.

The same thing happened to The Great Gatsby. On my first reading, I was so wrapped up in yellow cars and green lights that I couldn't hear the sultry energy of the prose or see it's cinematic sweep until a second and third read. I'm sure that Salinger would be better, or at least more memorable, a second time around as well.

This train of thought was prompted by the fact that Salinger has been in the news lately. It seems like our great literature is suffering the threat of the sequel (from a guy who goes by the name John David California, no less) in much the same way that our great films are. Maybe, instead of fretting over the possibility of a literary version of Grease II, we should revisit and reread the originals. They must be great for a reason, right?

Monday, July 6, 2009

Movie Monday

Remember how happy you felt when you saw the teacher wheeling that T.V. cart into the classroom. Well, the teacher felt the same way.

Bad Movie of the Month will return next week. In the meantime, enjoy this almost-perfect compendium of the most iconic movie lines in the last fifty years or so.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Friday, July 3, 2009

Got Poem?

I think the California Milk Processor Board shares an ad man with Apple. Their Got Milk? ad campaign is so successful, it's still going after more than ten years. That's like a baseball player signed to a multi-million dollar contract the day of his fortieth birthday, or a model continuing to get work well into her thirties.

Now they are using the art of YouTube to spread their word in Spanish. Purposefully cheesy (pun intended) poems are combined with stock nature footage and syrupy music in order to get biliingual youth to drink milk. But the true art is in the words.

Like Shakespeare's Sonnet 130 (aka "My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun"), these poems purposefully subvert traditional romantic language in favor of phrases like "The moon witnessed the sleeplessness caused by your missing tooth." They're fun, fabulous, and delightfully gross. I don't know if they'll make anyone crave a tall, frosty glass of milk, but if they get someone to read a little poetry, I'm all for it.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Campbell High School Students Rule

Here's yet another story about banned stories; this time, a school is involved and Stephen King, David Sedaris, Laura Lippman, and Ernest Hemingway are on the chopping block. I must say I am not too surprised that these stories have been attacked in the small New Hampsire town of Litchfield...conservatives are probably panicked over the recent decision making their state the sixth to allow gay marriage, and are lashing out at any form of "depravity."

What is most remarkable about this story, however, is not that the literature has been challenged, or that it has been removed from the curriculum, but that the students of Campbell High School (and some open-minded parents) have been fighting for the right to read these pieces. The student-written comments below the news story are thoughtful, logical, and determined. Campbell's berated teachers are doing something right if their students can respond in such a convincing and level-headed way. I applaud the students and the administration of Campbell. Keep fighting.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Weekly Workshop: The Sound of Freedom

Whenever the Fourth of July approaches, I begin to hear classic rock in my head. I don't know why. Perhaps it is connected with Peter Fonda's patriotic get-up in Easy Rider, or maybe it's just because so many classic rockers sing about freedom: "Born to be Wild," "Free Bird," "Ramblin' Man," "Go Your Own Way," the list goes on.

American patriotism used to be intimately intwined with Rock n' Roll; each promised freedom of expression and the chance to celebrate your individualism. Unfortunately, in the past ten years, patriotism has become less about independence and more about domination. But now might just be the perfect time to rediscover the lost ideal of true freedom...with a really bitchin' soundtrack, of course.

What songs would be part of your Independence Day soundtrack? How do you celebrate your individuality? Use a song or list of songs as inspiration this week, and enjoy the holiday.