Friday, January 29, 2010

No Words

Writer and hermit J.D. Salinger died this Wednesday at his New Hampshire home. He leaves behind a few collections of stories, one novel, and who knows how much unpublished work. His last published piece was in the New Yorker in 1968. After that, he shunned the limelight, only reappearing in the news to turn down another movie deal or accuse another author of abusing his copyright on Catcher in the Rye.

I understand this inclination to hide. After all, Salinger's great novel was implicated in both the assassination plot on Ronald Reagan and the death of John Lennon. And the great acclaim with which he was treated must have been grating for someone who, possibly, felt as Caulfield did that the world was full of phonies. I'm sure Paris Hilton and the crowd from The Hills only served to cement that belief.

But I wonder at the refusal to continue publishing. According to reports, Salinger continued to write prolifically well into his later years. I wonder what he was afraid of. After all, a work of literature is created to be read, right? We can only hope that, now, his work will be released posthumously. Maybe this way Salinger will be able to interact with the world from a safer distance. And his admirers will have him in their lives again.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

It Was a Dark and Rainy Night...

when I read this Monday at the Sacramento Poetry Center. And what a wonderful experience it was...despite the weather. I enjoyed listening to my co-reader, Pamela Richmond, an instructor at Sacramento City College and a fellow gardener, as well as the brave souls who participated in the open mike afterwards. Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to talk to everyone as much as I had hoped, so please drop me a line if you were there and say hi. I look forward to more great events at the SPD. Thank you!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Workshop: Query? What Query?

Most poetry books these days...and an increasing number of literary fictions...find a publisher through book contests. These contests require only that you pay the contest fee, submit your full manuscript, and wait ever so patiently for months for the results.

Then, there are those (very, very few) poets who have agents. Someone who does the work for you, who shops your precious book around while you sit back in your recliner and watch reruns of The Office. Which is on all the time now.

Finally, there's the handful of lovely presses which require a query letter sent in lieu of the whole damn book. I have found this system to be the best. Plusses: saving on postage, no contest fee, and being able to tweak the book while it's being considered. And writing the query--a summary of the book, including its theme(s), trajectory, and/or form--is a brilliant way to really get to know your book.

Sure, most of us think we know what the book is about, but only when we sit down and actually try to put it in words do we figure it out. So here's my assignment for you today: write a query for your current project. Try to summarize it in, say, three or four paragraphs...no more than a page. Then re-read your manuscript.

The effect is amazing: out-of-place poems or scenes will stick out like sore thumbs. And you will suddenly know where they are actually supposed to go...or whether (gasp!) they should be cut. What's more, you won't feel bad anymore about cutting them. You will also be able to sense the holes and fill them. Even individual lines or stanzas will show themselves to be in need of revision, all of which will work to make your book more cohesive, more whole.

I don't recommend doing this to a book of poetry or short stories unless you are in the near-final stages of manuscript organization. But those novelists out there might find this useful at any stage of the work.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Join me...

Monday, January 25 | 7:30pm | Poetry reading
Pamela Richmond and Katie Cappello
Hosted by Tim Kahl
1719 25th Street, Sacramento, CA

Friday, January 15, 2010

Indie Bookstore Number 5


What: Time Tested Books

Where: 1114 21st Street, Sacramento, CA

What I found:
1. A huge section for first editions
2. A book club
3. Vinyl!

Why you should go: In addition to their already popular reading series, Time Tested Books has started a wonderful new lecture series called The Sacramento Living Library. Their store is large, airy, and bright, and their shelves are packed with tons of interesting finds. Even those who are not bookish enjoy themselves here.

Want more? Visit the Time Tested blog for event updates and author signings.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Oh, Back to School, Back to School

What is it with the controversy about teaching and poetry lately? It is because the spring semester is about to begin? Or, perhaps, because National Poetry Month is a mere three months away? Whatever the case may be, everyone's got their panties in a bunch about poetry...and poets...in schools.

According to this article in the Guardian, Former poet laureate Sir Andrew Motion (what a great name, right?) thinks that poetry is not being taught adequately in the schools. Too much emphasis on song lyrics and child-centric writers like Roald Dahl, and not enough substantive work. Gotta agree with you there, Motion. In fact, you've made a great argument for academic poets here...who else is going to push Sharon Olds and Galway Kinnell down the little ones' throats? During my brief stint in the wonderful world of middle school, I did my best to do just that, and they loved it...at least, I think they did. I had fun at any rate. And I can say with utmost certainty that they don't get nearly the amount of rigor now from their poetry units.

Meanwhile, Zyzzyva's editor Howard Junker had an interesting post on his blog last week in which he postulated what academia would be like for some very famous writers. Apparently, Dickinson and Kafka wouldn't make the cut. Again, I gotta agree with Howard on his implied point...my writing did suffer when I was immersed in teacher-student-school-land.

It seems to boil down to an either/or matter: provide experts to plant a serious love of poetry and literature in students, or keep the artists out of the classroom to save the art. But is it really that simple? What do readers, writers, teachers, students think? Where do you fall in this debate?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Movie Monday: Crossover

It's like the editors at Slope know me...

They are currently accepting submissions for their next issue on the subject of Film and Poetry. Check their website for particulars. Deadline is February 15th.

You may not believe it, but despite this blog's (sometimes) weekly dedication to my second love, I've got no poems about movies. So...in order to rectify my own lazy lack of filmic poems (poetic film), here's a Workshop for all:

Write a poem about a movie; or

Write a movie in poem form; or

Any other combination of poetry and film you can come up with;

aaaand....Action!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Metrophobia?

That's right...according to Kim Rosen, there's a word that means "fear of poetry," and apparently, only Americans have it. Or do we? In another anti-academia article, Rosen compares American attitudes towards poetry with those of Iranians, Welsh, Hungarians, and the like. Admittedly, we do seem to fall short. But Rosen thinks that's all past. With references to poetry seeded throughout movies like Invictus and television shows like Mad Men, the times they may be a-changin'.

Of course, we American poets still have a long way to go before we reach the superstar status of the performers on Saudi Arabia's Million's Poet. But we still have our coffeeshop readings and unread chapbooks, right? Speaking of, have you purchased your copy of A Classic Game of Murder yet?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

In Praise of Accountants

The end of 2009 was marked in the poetry community by the death of Ruth Lilly, heiress and well-known patron of the arts. In addition to generous gifts to the fields of science and education, Lilly gave an infamously large donation to the Poetry Foundation and its well-known publication, Poetry Magazine. Unfortunately, this large gift has become a bone of contention. Many people disagree with the Foundation's use of Lilly's funds, and with chief officer John Barr's disregard for academic poets.

I remember reading Mr. Barr's article in Poetry about academia, his belief that it fosters poets who write poems about students, and his admiration of poets (William Carlos Williams, for instance) who chose other professions, which served to enrich, rather than detract from, their writing. As a former Wall Street banker become poet himself, Barr obviously draws from his own personal experience.

I am, myself, a non-teaching poet, though for purely selfish reasons: I don't like to teach. Beyond that, I have little opinion on the subject beyond "Do what works for you and your writing." You may think that Barr doesn't know what he's talking about when it comes to academia, but he sure does know money better than any other poet in the room, including me. I have seen donations severely depleted and downright ruined by artistic mismanagement. Accountants, not poets, should manage funds. Ruth Lilly seemed like a savvy woman...I bet she'd agree with me.

Friday, January 1, 2010

It's Friday, I'm in Love

With...

new years

old books

snowshoes

satsumas

savory crepes

this pouf

this vase

stout beer

mad men

short work weeks

warm blankets