Top 10 Novels

1. Lolita (Vladimir Nabokov)

The Great American Novel was written by a Russian aristocratic expat, and one of its two main characters is a similar European expat– but then, most of us came here from elsewhere, and until recently, English wasn’t the first language for most Americans. There’s a lot to say about Lolita, but one of the things I want to say is that if you haven’t read it rigorously, you haven’t read it. Many dirty old men taut this book as a celebration of pedophilia and child pornography, but it’s a scathing psychological investigation of a rapist and murderer (I have to constantly remind my students, when they read it, that he’s been institutionalized multiple times and is in jail for murdering another wealthy white man, not for raping an orphaned child). The book covers rarely do the book justice either, as they try to sell it as a “love story” — saying Lolita is a love story is like saying Twin Peaks is a love story. It’s social commentary, it’s a crime novel, it’s a murder mystery… and if it’s a love story, it’s a story of Lolita‘s courageous love for herself (cf. Vera’s diaristic notes, quoted in this review of Chasing Lolita). Runner up: Ada or Ardor.

2. Mrs. Dalloway (Virginia Woolf)

I know Ulysses and The Sound and the Fury are often on these lists, and I love them too, but Mrs. Dalloway is, for me, everything I would have wanted in those other two books. Septimus is what I want from Stephen and Quentin. Mrs. Dalloway is shorter than Ulysses and less fragmented, and I have a short attention span.  I loved reading Ulysses multiple times in undergrad and grad school, but I don’t really want to read it every year. I like that I don’t need a slew of other books to decode Mrs. Dalloway.  Runner up: To the Lighthouse. Although I love re-reading Mrs. Dalloway, I wish I could read To The Lighthouse again for the first time.

3. Wuthering Heights (Emily Brontë)

Creepy. Sadistic. Scorpionic. Class, race, gender politics. It’s all there, evil and delicious.

4. Washington Square (Henry James)

Henry James is such a master: I love What Maisie Knew, The Portrait of a Lady, “Daisy Miller”… really everything, which I read in 2005 in Stockholm, Charlottesville, and Ithaca. If I were to pick one Henry James novel, it would be Washington Square because I think it’s does the most “Henry James stuff” in the least space. (Except maybe “Daisy”, but is that a novel?) … Also what’s with the non-feminist appropriation of James? I see him in this feminist novelist line somewhere between Jane Austen and Joyce Carol Oates.  Move over, old white male academics — this one is ours.

5. The Metamorphosis (Franz Kafka)

I can’t believe I’m putting this at 5. This used to be my automatic answer for “What’s your favorite book?” Everyone should read this. It has something for everyone. It’s very easy to teach. And it’s short.

6. Swann’s Way (Marcel Proust)

I can’t argue with the mastery of In Search of Lost Time, but I can say that I have no desire to read it again, except for Swann’s Way. After Swann’s Way, when reading Proust becomes like a reactivation of his life inside your head, like he’s a parasite who came to eat your brain and reanimate himself in the world, it’s all very interesting, but argh, I have my own life! If you, too, have your own life, and don’t have time to read 7 volumes of someone else’s life, just read Swann’s Way.

7. The Master and Margarita (Mikhail Bulgakov)

Maureen Thorson told me to read this, and when I saw this cover I was convinced because I like cats. This is a delightful, funny, magical book that I wish I could read again for the first time because it gives one the constant joy of new discoveries (plot twists, jokes, magical realism). What can I say about it that won’t spoil it?

8. Hunger (Knut Hamsun)

I read this after it was suggested to me by multiple friends (Michalle Gould and Matt Henriksen), and it’s such a great novel for starving writers. I’d thought Auster and Hustvedt were the ultimate writers of the pomo American starving artist type, but I was wrong, it was the Norwegian writing 120 years ago who really puts the experience of being an egotistical, slightly crazy, starving artist to paper.

9. Their Eyes Were Watching God (Zora Neale Hurston)

I read this in high school, and I read it again in preparation for one of my oral exams at UVA, which was soon after Hurricane Katrina. I’d entirely forgotten that there’s a hurricane in TEWWG. What’s not to like here? — Strong women with sex drives, crazy lousy men you love anyway who drive you to destruction and redemption, hauntingly beautiful descriptions laced with mourning and loss….

10. The Ravishing of Lol Stein (and the other India Cycle books) (Marguerite Duras)

Duras is one of my favorite authors– I love The War, the India Cycle books (and the film India Song), the beaches and heat and jungles (reminds me of growing up in Alabama?) and her treatment of trauma. Although most people who read Duras start with The Lover, and I did too and loved it, there’s a lot of great Duras beyond that. (I like The Lover, but I think it’s problematic, and I don’t think it unveils its problems like Lolita does.)

11. Elective Affinities (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)

12. Sons and Lovers (D.H. Lawrence)

13. Ulysses (James Joyce)

14. Sense and Sensibility (Jane Austen)

15. The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald)

How do you write a Top 10 list? Are these my favorite 10 books or what I would consider the “best” 10? This list started when Michelle Buchanen said it would be interesting to hear my top 10 books, after I’d mentioned wanting the experiencing of reading The Master and Margarita again for the first time.  So this is a combination of: what books do I think everyone should read? What books would I teach? What books were my personal favorites? What books are the “best” (best-written)? And what books do I wish I could read again for the first time?

These favorites stem from the usual kind of education– my k-12 education and self-education reading through “classics,” my college/grad school education of reading just slightly beyond the “canon.” I didn’t include any contemporary fiction, which would be another list. I think there’s a lot of great literature being written these days.

Links are to free .pdfs (if you have a link to a free .pdf or other ebook format for one of the books without a .pdf, or to an alternative translation, lemme know).

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NaPoWriMo Days 10, 13-15: Layers

Robert Rauschenberg – Overcast III (1963)

This weekend, we went to Atlanta for Nick’s 30th birthday; his gift was tickets to both They Might Be Giants shows at Variety Playhouse. Before we left, we went to the Birmingham Museum of Art to see the hippos. In Atlanta, we went to the Frida & Diego exhibit at the High and the Saarinen exhibit at MODA (Nick and I met while working at the Buffalo Philharmonic, which is housed in Kleinhans Music Hall).

We saw a lot of art this weekend, and it helped me write some ekphrastic poems. I wanted to write about Frida Kahlo’s work, which I really admire, but I couldn’t get into writing about it; instead, I found the Saarinen exhibit to be inspiring. I wrote the first layers/drafts of poems about some of his work (.pdf here)

Although I wrote about Saarinen’s architecture, the piece I found most useful for talking about my work was Robert Rauschenberg’s Overcast III (1963) (another photo). Overcast III is a series of overlapping glass panels. Each glass panel is also a series of superimposed media (screenprint, abstract painting, etc.). This is similar to my work, which is usually a series of overlapping ideas, images, or stories. I try to separate out the various elements enough so that the reader can tell what’s going on, but the layers overlap because memory/life/perception works that way. The straight narrative or melodic line is unrealistic to me, as are the hyper-paratactic and visually illegible, although I am clearly playing with all of these elements (I feel that no form, style or subject is off-limits when I write). Different parts of the work may be emphasized by being clearer/easier/linear while others remain hazy/extremely abstract.  Overcast III also reminded me of my poems because of its scale– not that my poems are physically large, but that they use a handful of layers and a handful of images/elements– enough to complicate, but few enough that the reader could still parse them. These first elements of the Saarinen poems will be complicated by further layering and reduced by further editing as they develop.

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Pigeon interlude



elsewhere copypigeons

Ash Smith, Sarah Campbell, Pattie McCarthy and I have been responding on Facebook to a post from Ash about pigeons. I wanted to share two recent (non-NaPoWriMo) poems on the subject.

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NaPoWriMo Day 12: Politics

NaPoWriMo Day 12: Politics

This poems follows the “x is a y” extended metaphor model that I grew up with in k-12 creative writing lessons. Here I want to think about violence and choice. I took a phrase from this Salon article about North Korea. Not all violent deaths are morally objectionable. Violent death is a part of life. But there are junctures where one may choose against violence and death; this poem presupposes both the necessity of violence and the potential joy of peace. I threw some Mao and Kant in there too. I think the Kant is particularly awesome for delineating the difference between being a hawk tearing apart a fresh kill and being a human with the ability to choose against murder (possession/ownership/survival). And the Mao is nice for setting the table, er, stage (theater?).

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NaPoWriMo Day 11: Magic


This poem isn’t what I expected it to be when I started a pleasant little pastoral poem about hens. Turns out, chickens are both magical and anarchical. Breeder beware.

I’m a day behind– didn’t write anything yesterday. I’ll catch up.

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NaPoWriMo Day 9: Nature

NaPoWriMo Day 9: Nature

Been reading Christina Rossetti, feeling “listy” (in contrast to “listless”?)

Read NaPoWriMO poems by other poets here.

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NaPoWriMo Day 8: Myth

Untitled copyThis is not the poem I want to write about this.  It’s too fragmentary– I’m not sure it’s ultimately clear enough what it’s about (when writing fragmentary, multi-linear poetry, there must be a perfect balance between ambiguity and clarity– just as with any other poem). It might be multiple poems that need to be separated out.  The one thing I like about it is that you can read it cyclically (like Finnegans Wake) — the last “line” joins the first. Otherwise I think I’m mixing the myths of Orpheus and Persephone too much (inspired by the High Priestess card and the idea of actively seeking out death to prompt rebirth).


Posted in My Poetry, NaPoWriMo

NaPoWriMo Day 7: Collaboration

lorarine2 copy

Yesterday a magical thing happened: I learned that my old friends K. Lorraine Graham and Mark Wallace were reading poetry at the Fusebox series in Chattanooga, about 2 hours northeast of my home in Birmingham.

I went into my son’s bedroom and said to my husband, “We need to talk.” I said, “WE HAVE TO TO GO CHATTANOOGA TONIGHT Can we go can we go can we go” and we did. And he even drove, because my ankle is sprained and it hurts to drive. He gets gold stars, as do my parents for babysitting my son at the last minute.

After Lorraine’s reading, I said: “I’m going to steal some of these lines for a poem. Forced collaboration.” She said go for it.

This quick NaPoWriMo poem is probably a one-off because I don’t think it really fits with mnemotechnics or EKFUCKINGPHRASIS. I wanted it to be more about jazz and Lorraine’s pet bird, but it didn’t turn out that way.

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NaPoWriMo Day 6: Storytelling

elsewhere copySometimes you just want to tell a story, y’know? Here are two: one is a brief retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s story “The Wild Swans” (as a child I was enchanted by this magical, dream-like fairy tale) and one is a story about a swan who loses his mate. It took me awhile to move stuff around so that the stories were visually separate. Initially they were all mixed up, but I decided it was too ambiguous and I wanted the reader to be able to differentiate them. Besides my own “inspired” language choices, some of the materials I used were: “The Wild Swans” and summaries thereof; descriptions of swans, swan behavior, and swan anatomy; and descriptions of how nettle fabric is made. With both stories, I wanted to think about mortality and rebirth.

P.S. Happy birthdays to two of my favorite “Week of the Star” Aries, Katy and Nick.

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NaPoWriMo Day 5: Collage

NaPoWriMo Day 5: Collage

This poem is “about” mourning/doves and comprises personal memories; descriptions of mourning doves both created and stolen; some Deleuze and some other stuff.

Since I was a teenager, I’ve enjoyed hanging out in art museums. I think Frank Stella‘s 3-D collages were an early influence on my work and my interest in how poetry can be a plastic art. I remember seeing one of his small 3-D collages on the wall as a teen and reading that it was made of recycled art materials he had in his garage. For a moment, I was shocked– I took art lessons and knew something about “traditional painting” but not so much about contemporary people like Frank Stella. He got this stuff out of his garage? Then, I was liberated– you can do that? You can recycle stuff and make new art out of it? You don’t have to like, engender the paint yourself? Of course, there’s a lot of recycling in art. “Traditional painting” recycles themes and materials too. (Hear also Stella on On Point.)

Sometimes people ask, “how do you read this?” I’ll try to post a recording of me reading some of these poems later this month. But for now, if you’re reading, just let go. Let your eyes skim the page, dancing from one image to another, and try to make a composite image in your mind of what the poem is “about.” It’s not necessary to know or define the references (like Deleuze) to experience the poem, and the physical process of reading the poem is an important part of the experience. These poems aren’t going to knock you out with  immediate narrative gratification; the experience may be more impressionistic and physical.

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NaPoWriMo Day 4: Chance

I didn’t “write any poems” yesterday, so I used chance to generate one. Some people write entire poems with chance operations, but I use them to generate material for collage/sculptural poems.

So I was trying to remember a quote that I had only part of in my head. I remembered that it said, “with all its… intact.” Turns out, I was thinking about Juliana Spahr’s kind blurb from Organic Furniture Cellar.

Smith’s ORGANIC FURNITURE CELLAR takes on big issues, such as how to write about the place where you live with all its distractions, beauties, and limitations intact.

Ok, so, I finally brought that up out of the haze of my memory. But in the meantime I got some pretty awesome stuff out of the Google search for “with all its” + intact. The first results I got weren’t usable; I had to revise the search string to “with all its” intact -FISA -problems. The results generated by that search struck a chord with me, as they relate to many of the things I’m interested in (rebirth, biological life and its limitations/diversity, damage and loss). Each of the resulting phrases is haunted by loss: by what could have been if the endangered subject had not been preserved intact, and the hint that what survived intact is only a part of what did not survive.

With all its goodness intact
With all its genetic potential intact
With all its wacky charm intact
With all its flaws intact
With all its treasures intact
With all its attendant horrors and monstrosities intact
With all its photons intact
With all its glass intact
With all its interlocking, working parts intact
With all its kidneys intact
With all its contents intact
With all its fittings intact
With all its traditions, orthodoxy and culture intact
With all its species and their habitats intact
With all its difficulties of thought intact
With all its strength intact
With all its grace and discipline intact
With all its epicardial fat intact
With all its standards and artillery pieces intact
With all its vibrational energy intact
With all its layers still intact
With all its contents intact
With all its burial artefacts miraculously intact
With all its ventral organs intact
With all its native birdlife intact
With all its original members intact
With all its accessories intact
With all its flesh and skin and hair intact
With all its territory intact
With all its dimensions intact
With all its variants intact
With all its monounsaturated fats intact
With all its rods, chains and locks intact
With all its nutrients intact
With all its industrial base (light and heavy industry and repair shipyard) intact
With all its original contents intact
With all its interlocking components fully formed and intact
With all its wrinkles still intact
With all its interiors and finishes intact
With all its connections intact
With all its intimate emotions intact
With all its graphic sex intact
With all its aspects intact
With all its teeth intact
With all its blemishes and beauty intact
With all its delicate flavor intact
With all its incredible health benefits intact
With all its items intact
With all its facilities intact
With all its powers intact
With all its grandeur intact
With all its vibration energy intact
With all its characteristic entire dynamic range intact
With all its child-like exuberance intact
With all its roots intact
With all its celestial sweetness intact
With all its buildings intact
With all its inherent power intact
With all its original divinity intact
With all its articular cartilage intact
With all its reputation intact
With all its bloodshed intact
With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams intact
With all its attendant dignity intact
With all its furnishings intact
With all its geometrical features intact
With all its organoleptic characteristics intact
With all its idols, embellishments and sculptures intact
With all its functionality and performance intact
With all its charm intact
With all its natural beauty intact
With all its fleshy parts intact
With all its hilarity intact
With all its finger bones intact
With all its cuticle intact
With all its files and subfolders intact
With all its information intact
With all its original markings intact
With all its parts intact and unassailed

As you can tell if you do your own Google search for this string, I skipped, revised, or moved some of the entries to make the poem sound better or make more sense. I skipped search results that were too far afield, too long, or that sounded grating to my ear.  I also decided not to repeat entries. The hardest part was deciding when to stop because there were so many interesting results.

What makes a chance-operational poem a “poem”? I think of poetry as an artistic arrangement of words that brings about an optimal ambiguity of language, which then makes us think about the world around us in a new way. A poet is the one who creates this arrangement, and poetry is a “craft.” So “generating” content “randomly” through a search engine seems kind of like cheating, especially when compared to the stereotype of the “solitary genius” who is inspired (by a deity, alien, etc.) to write a poem. However, the generation of poetry by chance operation relies on a lot of “craftiness” from the poet, who determines the mode of chance operation (for instance, the composer John Cage used the I-Ching), filters and revises the results, and is ultimately in control of how the chance-generated materials are both generated and used.  If you want to read a really great book of poetry that uses similar methods, check out Christian Bök’s Eunoia.

Posted in Contemporary Poetry, NaPoWriMo

What the Heck is NaPoWriMo

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NaPoWriMo Day 3: Ekphrasis

Untitled3 copyI wrote four partial poems today. Here’s one. It’s from a new “project” (I think of poems in terms of groups of them, usually chapbook-sized groups, rather than individual poems) of ekphrastic poems.

When I was first thinking about Plasticity in poetry and tried to explain it to people, I frequently heard, “oh, you mean ekphrasis!” And I wanted to say, “It’s not ekfuckingphrasis!” Then I was talking to Elisa Gabbert about ekphrasis last year and then Molly Brodak came to the Indian Springs School Visiting Writers Series and read some awesome ekphrastic poems and I was like, “hm, maybe I should just write some ekphrastic poems, and then the plastic poetry will also be ekphrastic.” Sculpture all the way down, right? Anyway, the project is called EKFUCKINGPHRASIS.

This poem is from a small series (currently 7 poems) about Nazca art, because Meghan Tierney came to the Birmingham Museum of Art and gave a killer talk about “avian imagery in Nazca effigy vessels.” This poem is about ancient Peruvian instruments.

Also, the title is at the bottom because of Ken Price.

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NaPoWriMo Day 2: Collages

NaPoWriMo: Collages

Here’s an example of a poem that still needs to be built. So far we have some birds, some Wordsworth, and a Mayan myth about where hummingbirds got their color. I should probably add more information about migration, because I started writing this poem because I saw some birds I don’t usually see.

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NaPoWriMo Day 1: Drafting

NaPoWriMo: Drafting

I’m still revising/adding to a manuscript that, long story short, I wrote half of in 2001, and half in the past year. It was a finalist for the Nightboat Book Prize a few months ago; before that, back in 2001-03 in its first life, parts of it were published in various magazines and as a chapbook (bird-book).

ANYWAY, it might be called mnemotechnics and it’s about birds, or it’s “about” how life-lists (the list that a bird watcher keeps to remember what birds she’s seen and in what context) become mnemonic devices for one’s own personal memories.

So here’s the poem I wrote Monday about goldfinches. It’s not “done”– I feel like it’s too dense on the page.

Typically, when I start writing I will do one of two things: 1. Put a few scant images on the page and research to fill out the image with myth and science and other materials. [Note: everything qualifies as material.] 2. Put everything on the page and whittle down, sometimes moving lines or images into other poems that don’t have as much. [Poetry as socialism.]

I think of poetry as sculptural (cf. my essay, “The Plasticity of Poetry”) and some poems are like collages that I add to, stealing images and lines and stories from elsewhere, while other poems are like carvings, where I whittle away and maybe save some of the shavings for the collages.

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Editors and Poets

A few years ago, I tried to be an Editor. Mostly, I was bad at it. I accepted more manuscripts than I had the time or financing to publish. I made a really awesome magazine called Foursquare, but publishing it depended on whether I had enough money for print cartridges, card stock, and shipping; whether both my computer and printer worked (which they never seemed to, at least not at the same time); whether I had time, after working a FT and a PT job, to solicit and read submissions and format the issues.

Every follow-up email from an author who submitted work was like a pinprick– annoying and slightly hurtful. Didn’t they know that my editorial efforts were completely idealistic? That I wanted to publish their work, but I lived paycheck to paycheck, not always able to pay my utility bills or buy gas for my commute? That I worked 60+ hours a week to make these paltry paychecks and every hour I could steal to work on publishing projects was hard-won?

Talking to some of my other editor friends about this, we joked, “every writer should be an editor.” If every writer is an editor, maybe they’ll understand how hard it is to balance life, work, and financial problems when editing a small magazine or press, most of which do not receive outside funding and are operated by one or a small handful of people who volunteer their time and invest their own money to publish poetry. Maybe the diva emails would be humbler, the complaints less whiney, if they only knew.

As a writer, I haven’t been very interested in “sending out” work. I usually wait till an editor solicits my work, because then I know that the editor is interested and will be responsible when formatting my poems for print (which is less difficult now with the ease of .pdf conversion than it was the last time I saw a poem of mine mutilated in print). Last year, I was talking to a friend of mine about the submission process and I thought, “I need to submit work so that I know what it’s like to be a poet today.” Poets seem to spend a lot of time submitting work to editors, and I’d skipped that part of the process. I decided to try it.  I sent some poems and manuscripts out, and some of them have been out for more than 6 months. I check Submittable every day because I’m a masochist like that, and luckily my experience as an editor keeps me from emailing any of the editors and annoying them.

But it’s really different on the other side. As an editor who worked 1.5 jobs to barely survive day-to-day, who had no real time or money to spend making poetry books/magazines, I couldn’t understand why poets were so impatient and selfish. As a writer submitting work and waiting for months to hear anything, I wonder what the editors are doing other than reading my (clearly amazing) poems.*

To maintain a healthy balance, everyone in PoBiz needs to do a little bit of everything. Don’t be such an arrogant poet that you only send work out to magazines and never give back.  Volunteer to help edit a magazine you like, buy books/chapbooks/magazines, and make financial contributions to presses if you can afford it. Try not to openly complain about how long a press or magazine takes to get back to you on your brilliant masterpiece– if it’s been a long time, contact the editor before you lambast them on social media. (And don’t think that other editors don’t see the lambasting and judge you as someone they don’t want to work with in the future.) On the flip side, maybe it’s good for editors to experience the pain of the poet-in-submission — feeling the frustration of waiting for an editor to get back to you when you submit work could help you feel more compassionate with poets you publish.

* If you don’t understand sarcasm, you probably shouldn’t be reading my blog.

Posted in Contemporary Poetry, small press publishing

2003-2013: Ten years of nostalgia

Organic Furniture Cellar

I’m in Boston for AWP– I’m moderating a panel tomorrow at 1:30 on Poetry and Librarianship. In the Spring of 2003, another early March if I remember correctly, I was in Cambridge for the NEMLA conference, giving a paper on plastic poetry. The paper was to become the preface of Organic Furniture Cellar, an essay in Swedish in OEI, a chapbook from No Press, and, edited for scholarly consumption, an academic paper. But at the time, it was a set of loose ideas about the poetry of Susan Howe, Steve McCaffery, and other Language/visual poets.

It was bitterly cold in Boston. The Charles, about which I was to write a poem for OFC, was frozen solid, and the wind blew off of it. I was improperly dressed for the weather. I’d driven the 13 hours from Buffalo expecting it to be warmer– who wouldn’t expect Boston to be warmer than Buffalo? But the wind was impossible. I walked around Cambridge, exploring, eyes squinted in the wind but inner eyes open, explorative.

I came upon the Organic Furniture Cellar on Pearl Street with its vivid mural. They were closed, so I couldn’t go in, and I didn’t know what “organic furniture” was. The three words together, the open O and rusty Rs, the meter, the way the meaning shifted in and out of focus (what is an organic furniture cellar?) echoed my concerns in the poems I was working on. I wanted the reader to warily enter meaning, to come upon it as a new reader comes to sound out the meaning of a word, to be surprised, to detach again from the meaning. To be alienated and to rejoice in the pleasure of understanding what she reads, again and again, oscillating between opacity and transparency, finding pleasure in the textures of the sounds and patterns of words on the page. Thus I named my first book.

Posted in Organic Furniture Cellar, Travel

Transient Views of Western New York

Transient Views of Western New York

Screen shots from Terry Cuddy’s film Transient Views of Western New York (2002) treating my chapbook bird-book (2001), now in this Flickr photo set.

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Terry Cuddy’s Transient Views of Western New York (2002)

Terry Cuddy made this amazing video featuring Buffalo “transient” poets (mostly Poetics Program graduate students) writing about their favorite local WNY places. Featuring poetry by Mona Niculescu, Sandra Guerreiro, Kyle Schlesinger, Linda Russo, Christopher Alexander, Alejandro Rutty, Amela Kazazovic, Kristen Gallagher, Ric Royer, Eun-Gwi Chung, and Susanna Paju. Thanks to Linda Russo for alerting me that Transient Views is now online.

Terry’s piece is one of a handful of artistic interpretations of my chapbook bird-book (2001). The video for bird-book starts at 18:56. I still find this video to be a very moving, sensitive, beautiful interpretation of the poems.  There’s some great footage of the poems on the page and blue herons and the sounds of the environment around Ellicott Trail.

bird-book is now part of the mnemotechnics manuscript described in posts below.

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Traumatic romantic

I have a poem in the new Word For/ Word. Thanks Adam and Jon!

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The Next Big Thing

Thanks to my colleague Douglas Ray for tagging me to do the following interview; Douglas co-curates the Indian Springs School Visiting Writers Series with me. I am answering the following questions for what I hope will be my second book; my first book, Organic Furniture Cellar, came out in 2006.

What is the title of your book?

It’s not a book yet, just a manuscript, so its title might be mnemotechnics, or it might not be. mnemotechnics was a finalist in the 2012 Nightboat Poetry Prize, but it has been entered elsewhere with the title island of iridescent tree.

Who is the publisher of your book?

Who would like to be?

What genre does your book fall under?

Poetry… what we might call experimental, visual, and/or open field poetry. Ecopoetic lyric visual poetry.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

mnemotechnics explores the mental craft of assigning meaning to objects in order to retrieve memories.

What inspired you to write this book/where did the idea for the book come from?

The problems of how we read, recognize words, and retrieve meaning has been of interest to me for a long time, and was a theme of my first book, Organic Furniture Cellar.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

11 years, but I’m still working on it. mnemotechnics comprises two sections, one of which is an edited version of my chapbook bird-book (2001). When it was in print, bird-book sold a lot of copies and was taught in at least one MFA program. I wanted to “complete” bird-book and make it a book-length manuscript– I felt like I owed it to the chapbook– but I never knew how to extend it. Last year, I decided that instead of trying to get back to the place where I was when I wrote bird-book, I would write from my current perspective, which is less visually experimental and objective and more narrative, personal, diaristic. I have started using objects (in this case, birds) as prompts to revisit and write about personal memories, and the second half of mnemotechnics allowed me to practice that method. Thus the first part of the manuscript is “about birds” and the second half is “not about birds,” not really, but birds are a theme that link them together.

What are your influences for this book / what other books would you compare this book to within your genre?

Hoa Nguyen, Lorine Niedecker, Louis Zukofsky, Joseph Massey, Paul Celan, Stephen Ratcliffe… American Objectivists, Canadian visual poets… I’m a writer of short, sometimes intensely personal poems with short lines that sprawl across the page.  I also like visual art: collage, huge bare installation works, pieces with organic repetition (Tara Donovan, Katie Sehr). I spend more time looking at art and book arts on Pinterest and Tumblr than I do reading poetry, and I think my poetry is influenced as much by the visual arts as by the literary.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Tippi Hedren?

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

bird-book, the chapbook that spawned the manuscript, has been set to music and dance. I think it’s a cross-genre artist’s book of poetry: you can lose yourself in it, like listening to a long piece of instrumental music, and let your imagination find its own nesting places.

Posted in personal

Feb. 13, 2013

There are only
two ways:
create the situation
(and this is love)
or avoid it.
This also can be

— Charles Olson

(With thanks to Alex Porco.)

Posted in personal

Aug. 6, 2010

He could not think another
thing that evening
simply a life
had stepped in in place of theory (LZ, A-15)

Posted in family, gender, health | 2 Comments

Ugly Duckling’s Digital Library

If you’re left without anything “good” to read now that Ron’s sophisticated and brilliant comment box conversation has been shut down, I’d suggest these four books from Leslie Scalapino. I came to Leslie’s work as an undergraduate at Buffalo, and I remember staying up late one night reading Considering How Exaggerated Music Is voraciously, with a driven intensity. A few years later I met her at Buffalo (not an intense meeting– not the kind of meeting where the poet you admire will remember you afterward) and witnessed an interesting discussion between her and Susan Howe about being a female writer. I found this discussion dissatisfying but eye-opening, because Leslie and Susan were in a different generation than I am and had very different feelings about being a female writer than I do.  (Emma and Nona’s interview with Marjorie Perloff stages almost the same dynamic I felt during that discussion.)

Another treasure trove you could explore is Ugly Duckling’s digital library. I recommend Maureen Thorson’s Novelty Act and Jen Bervin’s a non-breaking space.

Posted in Contemporary Poetry, gender | 4 Comments

The Silenced Generation

I want to comment briefly on a special phenomenon I’ve seen and experienced with regard to Ron Silliman‘s blog. It seems that to some degree, poetry’s youth is being trampled, discouraged and undermined with a potential long-term detrimental effect on Poetry.

First I want to point out that Silliman’s blog is not, in and of itself, the problem. Silliman does the Good Work of discussing, reviewing, pointing to, and otherwise engaging with some three generations of living poets– everyone from the the last remaining elders (over 70) to Language and Post-Language poets to us more fledgling poets (in our 30s) and our juniors (those just emerging from college).  He can’t write about everything, but he does try to assemble and disperse information about poetry and he comments in depth when he can. One can disagree on a scholarly level with the way he engages with poetry– everyone has their own interests and ways of engaging, and Silliman has been criticized, for instance, for inventing names for “movements” and “groups” of poets that don’t necessarily exist or accurately describe poems. But overall, Silliman’s blog is undeniably a major and constant source of information about experimental poetry.

The problems with Silliman’s blog and its effect on contemporary poetry are in the comment boxes. Now, as we all know, comment boxes are notorious for being a place where a few self-appointed “experts” on any subject can whack off listening to their own voices. Comment boxes are more often frequented by men, and they’re usually angry, aggressive men looking for an argument. This is true everywhere on the internet, not just on poetry blogs. A few years ago, Silliman’s comment boxes were especially poisonous; I’m not entirely sure what changed, but they seem to be less active now. However, when active, they are still poisonous.

To be reviewed or simply mentioned by Silliman is double-edged. On the one hand, even a mention can increase web traffic and sales. On the other hand, a positive mention brings furious backlash, both in the comments box and in other venues. I experienced this when Silliman reviewed Organic Furniture Cellar. On the one hand, Silliman was probably single-handedly responsible for selling about 200 copies of the book in a short period after the review came out. On the other hand, in both his comment stream and in other reviews, people seemed irrationally angry about Silliman’s review and turned their fury on me instead of on the book.  I know it sounds wimpy and whiny (to such people) to say this, but the experience has made me disengage with the poetry community (not write, not publish, not participate actively in a wider conversation). When newbies to the blog/poetry scene show up fresh-faced, craving a few words of positive feedback or attention, I want to warn them about just how awful people can be. If you succeed at all, even in one person’s eyes, you’ve unwittingly set yourself up as an object of cruelty. It’s like the cyber-bullying one reads about high schoolers enacting upon each other, but in the case of poetry and Silliman’s blog specifically, the bullies are grown people who, through some lack of ability to empathize, will lash out at anyone who receives attention they think they themselves should be getting.

I am not, of course, the only person who has experienced this with Silliman’s blog, and although I am not in any way “authorized” to defend two other objects of comment box wrath, I will. The less recent example regards Amish Trivedi’s Museum of Vandals, published by Cannibal Books. The gist of the criticism was that the format of Museum, a folio designed by Cannibal Books, was an inadequate way of showcasing the work. Like most small press publishers, especially chapbook publishers, the Cannibal Books editors spend an inordinate amount of their own time and money designing and hand-making their wares. Like most young publishers, these editors do not publish because they have scads of money and time to spend on pet projects; they do it out of a love and need to publish poetry. (I cannot stress enough how important chapbook and zine publishers are to the growth of experimental writing and how much time, money, and effort go into publishing a single issue or single chapbook. If you are not such a publisher, you have no right to complain about anything related to publishing. If you think something ought to be done differently, do it yourself– with your own time, money and sweat.)

Like most publishers, Cannibal Books has faced its share of diva poets and criticism, the kind of whiny self-indulgent bullshit that poets seem particularly likely to inflict upon their editors. So I cannot say that the negative public commentary on Silliman’s comment box was the last straw. But I imagine that it was probably a contributing factor to the message that now, sadly, heads their blog:

Cannibal no longer takes submissions of any kind and will complete the books it has in its catalog before disbanding at the end of 2010.

Although the Cannibal editors will probably continue to be active on other projects, the death of Cannibal as a publishing platform is a substantial loss for poetry. Besides celebrating the work of their elders, the publishers have printed the works of many fledgling poets and have been at the forefront of introducing the world to these younger voices.

The more recent example of the negative effect of Silliman’s blog stems from his recent review of Joseph Massey’s work. Silliman’s attempt to favorably review Massey’s poetry and place it in a larger critical context is admirable; even if one disagrees with the critical commentary, one cannot fault Silliman for reading and thinking critically about the poetry (one can only hope for such a reader). But some of the comments, which are largely from Silliman’s usual suspects, are positively putrid, and reflect very poorly on their authors.

Let’s keep in mind, however, that most of Silliman’s usual suspects are simply (and possibly clinically) narcissistic sociopaths and that there’s no real point in engaging with them or acknowledging their (usually insipid and underinformed) claims. The real problem is how their commentaries affect their object, who in this case is Massey. Good poets are a sensitive, melancholic people– not to reinforce a stereotype, but we have to be sensitive in order to be observant in new, interesting ways. To be the object of unmerited scorn and immature but hurtful comments (that are evidently made by those with little experience with the work itself) is psychologically detrimental to a poet, as it would be to anyone with a modicum of respect for other human beings. I’m not saying that Massey’s reaction to such commentary would be as extreme as mine, but I do think that no one escapes unscathed from these brutal and inhumane comment box wars. If a talented young poet like Massey is turned off of writing for even a few days or weeks as a result of being skewered by a few robotic-hearted cyberbullies, even that brief interlude is a loss for Poetry.

Something that Massey, Cannibal and I have in common is that we are all fairly young, relatively unknown operatives in the poetry world. Like all young poets, we need and deserve the occasional positive or constructive feedback, and we are discouraged from doing our work by such floods of negative feedback. Although an apocalyptic statement such as “Silliman’s comment boxes may silence an otherwise important group of upcoming young poets” may seem hyperbolic, I worry that it isn’t.

Posted in Contemporary Poetry | 101 Comments

Why I Use Twitter

I have multiple Twitter accounts and I use them for different purposes.  When people whine that they don’t know why people use Twitter, I’m shocked at how little creativity goes into that statement. Why wouldn’t you use Twitter? There are so many ways to use it! I feel similar affection for Tumblr, which is like a happy medium between Twitter and WordPress. Twitter is like a conversation and mostly text-based (for pictures you have to click on links), where Tumblr is like a tumbled heap of media and words– there’s a bit more content but it feels like there’s less “face to face” interaction.

The Twitter accounts that I have serve different purposes. I have three major accounts:

@crocus is my oldest account and it’s private (no, seriously, very private, so unless you like rejection don’t request to follow it). With this account I communicate regularly with about 20 friends. By “regularly” I mean that I have had the account for three years and have over 17,500 tweets, which means I tweet about once every two hours. This Twitter feed is like a delayed group chat, where my friends (who are also poets and predominately female) and I talk about poetry and other things, worry, blow off steam, etc.  It’s a great support system.

@looktouch is my public, personal account for engaging in poetry discussions.

@subclassz On this feed I talk to other librarians including fledgling librarians from my MLS program.

And then I have smaller, project-oriented accounts, which have fallen by the wayside. Two are:

@minilibrary was an idea I had while I was bored during class one day and thinking about small poems. I wanted to make a library of poems that would fit in a single tweet. But then I got caught up with other ideas and it didn’t get very far.

@BuffaloArtsDL was the Twitter feed for a digital library we made last semester, but in the end we had severe problems with the server and couldn’t upload everything for public consumption. We still have plans to work on it (and by “we” I mean one of the team members, artist Donna White) but not any time soon– I think the project burned everybody out.

Posted in personal | 13 Comments

Planned Obsolescence

An ongoing problem with getting Foursquare out for the past few months (besides it not being as high a priority for me as school, job, family, etc.) is that I’ve been waiting until I had enough disposable income ( = student loans) to upgrade my Adobe CS2 to CS4. I use Photoshop and Illustrator to lay out Foursquare. Continue reading

Posted in personal | 3 Comments

Elisa’s Atelier: Hermes Ambre Narguile

After trying the Accord Parfait Fourgère this morning, I found it so overwhelmingly smelly and unsubtle that I gave up and washed it off. (If anyone’s itching to try it, let me know. I think it’s a good guy scent.) It didn’t wash off entirely, so I did dishes, took a nap, and took a shower. Then I felt like I was ready to try something different, so I went to the Hermessence sampler and chose Hermes Ambre Narguile, which I’d chosen for its amber rather than for its lavender qualities.

I think Elisa and Jean Claude Ellena must be in cahoots to break my piggy bank, because like the Brin de Réglisse for which he is also responsible, Ellena’s pricey Ambre Narguile is pretty amazing. Unlike the take-no-prisoners Brin de Réglisse, the Ambre Narguile starts off sweet (“musk, vanilla, caramel, honey“) although to me this doesn’t signal “foody,” but rather “vanilla cigar.” Its initial scent reminds me a bit of the Kiss My Face Vanilla Honey lip balm, which reminds my boyfriend of vanilla cigars, so I think he would like this. (Studies show that men prefer foody scents like vanilla and cinnamon, and lavender and licorice for that matter, so the Hermessences would seem to be uncompromising aphrodisiacs… perhaps to be expected from an Aries with Scorp rising.)

Unlike the NST reviewer, I do sense floral in the drydown, but I agree that it’s subtle and that this is, by and large, a caramel-vanilla amber and would be most appropriate in fall and winter. I also don’t get “fruity” — I think that’s what I’m smelling as “floral.”

Unlike Brin de Règlisse, there are no exciting trips through the market going on in Ambre Narguile, but it’s a subtle and complex scent that smells rich and warm on my skin and makes me want to smell myself. I’ll try it again tomorrow when N. returns home from a trip and see whether it passes the boyfriend test.


Although it is probably not quite fair to test a perfume on a man who’s been away from his woman for a few days, this one did seem to be a hit.

Posted in perfume | 1 Comment

How To Seduce a Scorpio Woman

I was looking over some of the search terms that lead people to my post “How to Win (and Lose) a Scorpio Woman,” and I wanted to do a little Q&A session based on the search strings.  I think the original post and this description of the Scorpio Woman will be of use to most people searching for information, but here are some 1-to-1 answers:

Q: How to seduce a scorpio woman

A: You do not seduce a Scorpio woman. She seduces you.

Q: How to conquer a Scorpio woman

A: You do not “conquer” a Scorpio woman– or any woman. Love is not a war. Continue reading

Posted in love, zodiac | 13 Comments

Elisa’s Atelier: A Straightforward Amber-Lavender

With the last, palest whiffs of the Hermes on my wrists, I decided to stay in a similar group and try Ambre & Lavande (Fougere) by Accord Parfait today.

A very straightforward and “smelly” scent, it immediately smells like what it says it smells like: amber and lavender. There’s amber. And there’s lavender. It’s very masculine, with its olfactory shades of indigo and deep brown. No bustling market stalls, no come-hither drydown, no mysterious basement sex. If Hermes Brin de Reglisse is a Scorpio with its femme fatale wiles and dimly lit corners, Ambre and Lavande is an earth sign: there’s no mystery, just dependable delivery.  At $2.72/mL, its price is about half the Brin de Reglisse.  It smells really good, but it’s not quite inspiring.  I think it would work better as a cologne (which technically it is– it’s “unisex” but seems to often be described as “masculine”). I would love to smell this on a man, but I want a more complex scent for myself.

Posted in perfume | Leave a comment


14,600,000 Unemployed *

3,200,000 Jobs Available

11,400,000 Unemployed if all available jobs were filled *

11,200,000 Combined urban populations of NYC and Chicago

14,500,000 Population of Mali

11,300,000 Population of Greece

8,600,000 People working PT who would prefer to work FT (not “unemployed”)

8,300,000 Population of NYC

23,200,000 Unemployed + Underemployed

23,000,000 Population of Australia

27,000,000 All the unemployed people *

26,900,000 Add the population of Norway to Australia

1:4.6 Potential employment (3.2M) to unemployed (14.6M)

1:7.25 Potential FT employed when underemployed (8.6M) are included

13.8 Your % chance of getting a job against other un(der)employed applicants

13.8 Your overachieving teenager’s % chance of getting into Brown

24.75 Percent unemployed during the Great Depression

12,830,000 How many people 24.75% was in 1933

9.3 Percent current unemployment rate

14,600,000 How many people 9.3% is in 2010

Posted in job, money | 2 Comments

Elisa’s Atelier: Lavender’s Dirty Little Secret

Because the Caldey Island Lavender wore off so quickly, I was able to get up this morning and try a new perfume right away without showering (yes, it’s summer, but I have an AC and am unemployed so I don’t have to shower till about an hour before my boyfriend gets out of work).  I decided to try Hermes Brin de Reglisse, not remembering what it was supposed to smell like. I received three Hermessence samples, and I knew only that this was one of them.

When I first sprayed it on my wrists, I thought… “ew, what is this smell?” It smelled familiar but I couldn’t quite pinpoint it. I decided it smelled like curry and baked goods, like some kind of curry danish. Ew. After a few minutes this ugly smell faded into the all-consuming smell of pipe tobacco. At this point I looked up the perfume again, wondering what the hell was going on (curried pipe tobacco? Did I really choose this? Did they label it wrong?).

Lee over at Perfume Posse described Brin de Réglisse as “a series of diaphanous veils, one lifted or completely removed to reveal more fully the next transparent layer”, and that is perfectly apt; it doesn’t seem to follow the typical pyramid structure so much as it seems to change course entirely several times over the course of its development.

I wouldn’t describe this as a “series of diaphanous veils” (“diaphanous”? hardly) but more like going to an open-air market where each stall has a different scent. Luckily, by about a half hour in, I reached the lavender stall.

The lavender of this perfume is a deep, smoky, sultry lavender, like you’ve been dragged into lavender’s poorly lit basement to engage in some kind of sex scandal. Depending on how long it lasts on my skin and whether it goes through any more olfactory shape-shifts (I’ll update later tonight), this may be the one. I can stand a few minutes of preliminary shop-talk for a trip to the basement.


Although this perfume required a second application later in the day, it grew on me– and not only did it grow on me, it overtook me with its complexity and made me passionately desire it. It’s unaffordable, but may be a “special perfume” to purchase a larger sample of for special occasions (when I was younger, my “special occasion” perfume was Oscar de la Renta’s Oscar, inherited as a small amount left in my mother’s discarded bottle… maybe I should try that again, too).

Posted in perfume | 7 Comments

Elisa’s Atelier: Caldey Island Lavender

I received the Hermessence and Caldey samples today and decided to try out the Caldey Island Lavender, since my initial intention was to find a good blue lavender scent. I’m open to finding a replacement for Obsession, or at least trying the nicer, more expensive orientals to see the difference, but the original objective was to find a good “blue” scent, cool but not too “clean.” My normal summer scent is kind of a snappy pink/yellow and Obsession is a deep amber-brown, and I want something earthy but light to split the difference.

I got out of the shower and used my Kiss My Face lavender body lotion and put on my relatively unscented deodorant, then spritzed the Caldey Island Lavender on my wrists and neck. I couldn’t differentiate the smell from the lotion I’d just rubbed on.  I put the vial in my purse and went with N. to a new local restaurant to meet some friends for drinks.  Smelling my wrists about an hour after applying the perfume, I still couldn’t really detect a smell. Am I just immune to lavender?

I applied some more perfume and now, 4 hours later and after 2 hand-washings, cannot smell it.  This may be because it’s a lighter scent (than the MPG) or because lavender has become such a familiar scent to me that I don’t detect it anymore, or because it doesn’t last as long, or because it washes off more easily.  Whatever the reason, it doesn’t stay the course, which makes me reluctant to commit to a bottle.

Posted in perfume | 1 Comment

Elisa’s Atelier: MPG’s Ambre Précieux

I knew nothing about it, but I put a drop on my skin, breathed it in, and said, “Oh, my god” aloud, though I was alone in the room. I was intoxicated by it, possessed, consumed.*

I received the first sample perfume I ordered from The Perfumed Court today. At $6 a mL, MPG’s Ambre Précieux was the most expensive sample I ordered, and twice the price of Obsession, but according to reviews it will last a long time on my skin. Luca Turin gives it 4 stars (he gives Obsession 3 stars and my summer fragrance, which I’m not going to publicly admit to wearing, 5 stars). Its notes are supposedly “myrtle, lavender, amber, vanilla, nutmeg, ambergris, peru balsam, [and]  tolu,” but online reviewers smell a radical spectrum of things from cinnamon to powder.

My first reaction upon smelling the open container was that it was heavily amber and vanilla. It’s not as spicy? as Obsession, but feels “lived in” very quickly. (There is no first rush of alcohol, and I disagree with reviewers who smell cinnamon– it’s more “heavy” than “spicy” to me.)  It smells great on my skin. I just want to sit around smelling my wrists.  It is indeed “intoxicating” and “swoon-inducing.”


The second reaction was my boyfriend’s, as I stuck my wrist under his nose and said “smell this,” and in classic boy form he drew away and I said, “no, it’s perfume.” He said it smelled good, but I don’t think he can tell the difference between it and my normal perfume. Also, as someone who doesn’t wear cologne, I’m not sure he cares.  Thus I am not sure MPG is worth $120/bottle.


I cleaned the bathroom, did laundry, and washed my hands my typical borderline-OCD number of times (I don’t like suspecting that I have cleaner on my hands, even though the cleaners I use are organic) and could still smell the perfume on my own wrists (I can’t smell the dabs I put behind my ears) by the time we went out for ice cream in the evening (I had freshly made toffee custard). Then I slept on it, and I can still smell it faintly on my wrists (the amber and vanilla remain the dominant notes to my nose… maybe tolu too?). It may be an expensive perfume, but it certainly lasts. I only used small dabs of it in the first place!

Posted in perfume | Leave a comment

12 or 20 Questions

In which I participate in rob mclennan’s long-running interview series. Although rob has been prodding me to do this for awhile, I didn’t feel inspired to until Dottie did it. What can I say, peer pressure works.

Posted in My Poetry, Organic Furniture Cellar, Outside Voices, poetics, poetry readings, small press publishing, visual poetry | Leave a comment

Elisa’s Atelier: : Lavender’s Blue

Checking into the Twitter hive this morning, I listened to Gillian talking to Elisa about cherry scents and mentioned that I have a fetish for lavender. All of my cleaning products are lavender: Seventh Generation‘s lavender and mint dish soap and their lavender-eucalyptus dryer sheets; Method’s lavender cleaning spray; Febreeze’s lavender-vanilla linen spray and lavender room spray; Swiffer’s lavender sheets and lavender wet sheets. I also use Kiss My Face’s lavender shea lotion and mix lavender essential oil into my witch hazel,* and when I’m feeling particularly lavender-y I just use lavender essential oil instead of perfume. So, I’m committed.

Elisa’s knowledge of perfume has made us all interested in finding the perfect scent, and as I’ve watched, Michelle, Gillian, Katy and Maureen have tried a slew of scents under her guidance. The conversation about lavender turned into a search for a more complex lavender perfume (that is, more complex than the essential oil). The trick with lavender is to find a scent that’s a blue lavender– there’s a chemical lavender smell that’s fine for some cleaners but not as a perfume. Elisa’s first suggestion, Caldey Island Lavender, has been described as a “blue lavender,” so apparently my olfactory synesthesia is accurate (or at least not alone) in picking out color shades of lavender scents.

Reading reviews of Caldey Island Lavender led to Hermes Brin de Reglisse. I don’t know how I feel about licorice as a scent– I dislike it as a flavor, but I don’t usually rub candy on my skin. So I decided to try the sample pack of 3 Hermes scents from The Perfumed Court (which Maureen has mentioned on her blog**). To round out the three, I chose Ambre Narguile and Vetiver Tonka, because when I’m not interested in lavender I’m interested in woodsy, sultry scents– my favorite perfume for almost two decades has been CK’s Obsession (I get compliments on this all the time– it may be a clichéd department store scent but it works for me).

Continuing to search through the Perfumed Court by scent with Elisa’s tweeted real-time input, I found Ambre & Lavande by Accord Parfait (for which I could find no English reviews) and MPG’s Ambre Precieux. I ordered sample 1.5ml spray bottles of all six scents for under $50 and will report my findings here after the samples arrive.

* Witch hazel is a mild natural astringent and is actually available in a lavender scent but it’s cheaper to make your own by adding essential oil to the drugstore brand. Far be it from me to drag anyone away from her rose witch hazel, though– I’m not sure adding rose oil would produce the same effect.
** Maureen, I told Elisa to ask you about the lavender fields/pinky story.

Posted in perfume | 12 Comments

Protected: The readiness is all

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Posted in gender, health

Protected: Goodbye, Coach Laughlin

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Posted in gender, health

An evaluation of the last 10 months

I’ve finished my coursework for my Library Science degree (the MLS). Continue reading

Posted in Academia, job, moving | 2 Comments

Corresponding Juvenilia: 1993-1995

Poems from 8th and 9th grade– because I think it’s interesting to see how what one reads affects what one writes. During these Junior High years I liked Emily Dickinson, and I numbered my poems, feeling that if the title revealed more about the content of the poem than the poem did within itself, that was a failure of the poem. Other pillars of my poetics were: 1. write what you know– knowing I was young and relatively inexperienced, but also knowing the value of keeping/recording my experiences before they were “mature,” I strove to write my world as it appeared to me. 2. Most of the poetry is narrative and has a clear arc, often with a traditional three-part strophe signature (even if the poem isn’t divided into strophes).

I wrote every day, often many poems a day, in Mead 1-subject notebooks. I also wrote in my journal almost every day, but more about boys than about poetry. Although I wrote a lot, and began sending out poems to contests and journals (I often placed in contests and was published in surprisingly many journals, for a child), I was a relatively rigid critic of my own work, and few of the poems I wrote made it into the word processor or got sent out. Still, I long for the way I must have felt then, that I could “just write” and choose later– when now, I feel like whenever I write, what I produce needs to be publishable. So I write very seldom. I still think most poets should be a lot harder on themselves with regard to sending out work that is actually not publishable (or shouldn’t be). This desire curtails my production even more.


Political Discussion

A Conservative
(a poor excuse to be mean)
is only afraid.

Could be a writer;
But when he describes, he
doesn’t think deeply.

Flowers in her hair;
and in a gun’s heartless aim
(he doesn’t see them).

Even when he sees
He can’t understand
Other people’s lives.

A Conservative
(a poor excuse to dismiss)
is afraid of change.

Funny thing about this poem is that the subject, a boy I had a crush on for many years and who I still know, is still like this. Well, so am I.  This is (obviously) a set of haiku. The rule (I’m not sure if this is a real rule or only one that I follow) for a good haiku is that the first and third lines can be read together without the middle line.

Nature’s Own

Albatross hunting
Glides over fearsome sea
his powerful beak
catches the tide’s provisions
the bird hides it stingily.

I’m not sure what this is. It’s something. There’s a metrical scheme. What is it?


Animosity is a Puffin

Animosity is a Puffin
with a flaming red beak he chews and tears
up seagrasses,
instinctively; were they not meant for his
salvation? He knows no other civilization,
no higher calibur of life
naturally he eats his fill, not bothering
to salvage a shred for
Rebirth; Renaissance
He hardly notices his own emotions
Not conceiving the charity of
Live and Let Live
Animosity is a Puffin.
When the land is dead and barren
he searches through cold, troubled waters
crying for company–
his rock-nest,
his ancient, neglected home is locked
and empty–
Can it be that he has only lost his way?
He awaits the end not having
understood the beginning
of the entire vicious circle–
Animosity is a Puffin.

This poem was based on a writing experiment that was something like, “x is a y” where x=some kind of emotion and y=some kind of animal. I always thought both the experiment and the results were kind of bullshit, especially with this poem, because puffins are cute. That said, it won some prize or another, because the “x is a y” thing was a popular form in the Birmingham youth poetry circuit at the time. The original has some non-left-aligned formatting on some of the lines, but I’m too lazy to reproduce that here. I still think, in my Laura Riding way, that this poem is kinda bullshit because puffins don’t seem very evil. An albatross may have been a better choice to pin “animosity” on. But even so, anthropomorphisation is boring. And finally….

On Red Mountain– October 8, 1994 (Birmingham, Alabama)

On Red Mountain
I walk along the road cut:
the air smells wet and dark–
of rain on the fallen leaves
the sky intoxicated with
thick winter fog…
Throughout this day
I’ve worried about a friend,
but now I am amid history
I crawl through the
boundary fence
to walk alone on the sharp rocks.

my fingers turn raspberry
with the powder of
scattered iron ore;
my bare feet are black
from the shale
and fossilized stones
and when I finally
stand still,
surrounded by
morning glories and golden rod,
I can visualize all
that happened long ago.

And the Mountain roars
with the hoarse cries
of hundreds of miners
and the clinks
of their picks
against the limestone
and conglomerate
And though I know
that it is only an illusion,
the smoke from a long-deserted furnace
again fills the air–
fills my lungs
my heart and mind.

On Red Mountain
I stand spread eagle,
my feet melted into the ground;
Here I can feel
the wind and
but beautifully purified

This poem is kind of my coming-of-age poem. Red Mountain is the dividing line between urban and suburban Birmingham, and I volunteered at Red Mountain Museum for much of my 7-12 grade life, so I spent a lot of time on the Mountain. Historically, Red Mountain is the division between the working poor (miners and steel factory workers) and the landed gentry, blacks and whites, urban death and suburban sprawl.  I was up there, wandering along the road cut (the Mountain is split by a highway and you used to be able to walk along the cut and see the sedimentary layers– this is no longer possible), thinking about a boy I liked (who ended up, sweetly and memorably, being my first kiss, at sunset on this road cut).

Formally, the poem the culminating moment of my entire Junior High poetics. I still think it’s a good poem, although there are things I would change if I edited it now. It won a bunch of awards, both locally and regionally, and was published in some magazine, probably the local The Imaginary Club which was a great, thoroughly conceived and edited little magazine full of ephemera and poetry from the local 7-12th grade populations. Again, “On Red Mountain” has some alignment formatting that’s not visible here but can be viewed, if you get really curious, in my juvenilia.

Posted in Childhood, juvenilia, poetics | 1 Comment

My favorite poem in 9th grade

She Had Some Horses
by Joy Harjo

She had some horses.
She had horses who were bodies of sand.
She had horses who were maps drawn of blood.
She had horses who were skins of ocean water.
She had horses who were the blue air of sky.
She had horses who were fur and teeth.
She had horses who were clay and would break.
She had horses who were splintered red cliff.

She had some horses.

She had horses with eyes of trains.
She had horses with full, brown thighs.
She had horses who laughed too much.
She had horses who threw rocks at glass houses.
She had horses who licked razor blades.

She had some horses.

She had horses who danced in their mothers’ arms.
She had horses who thought they were the sun and their
bodies shone and burned like stars.
She had horses who waltzed nightly on the moon.
She had horses who were much too shy, and kept quiet
in stalls of their own making.

She had some horses.

She had horses who liked Creek Stomp Dance songs.
She had horses who cried in their beer.
She had horses who spit at male queens who made
them afraid of themselves.
She had horses who said they weren’t afraid.
She had horses who lied.
She had horses who told the truth, who were stripped
bare of their tongues.

She had some horses.

She had horses who called themselves, “horse”.
She had horses who called themselves, “spirit”, and kept
their voices secret and to themselves.
She had horses who had no names.
She had horses who had books of names.

She had some horses.

She had horses who whispered in the dark, who were afraid to speak.
She had horses who screamed out of fear of the silence, who
carried knives to protect themselves from ghosts.
She had horses who waited for destruction.
She had horses who waited for resurrection.

She had some horses.

She had horses who got down on their knees for any saviour.
She had horses who thought their high price had saved them.
She had horses who tried to save her, who climbed in her
bed at night and prayed as they raped her.

She had some horses.

She had some horses she loved.
She had some horses she hated.

These were the same horses.
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My favorite poem in 8th grade

This Alice Notley poem, available in Grave of Light, was in our Scholastic reader in 8th grade and I identified strongly with it.

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My favorite poem in 7th Grade

My rebellion poem, from Carl Sandburg’s Chicago Poems. Via Bartleby.

The Red Son

I love your faces I saw the many years
I drank your milk and filled my mouth
With your home talk, slept in your house
And was one of you.
But a fire burns in my heart.
Under the ribs where pulses thud
And flitting between bones of skull
Is the push, the endless mysterious command,
“I leave you behind–
You for the little hills and the years all alike,
You with your patient cows and old houses
Protected from the rain,
I am going away and I never come back to you;
Crags and high rough places call me,
Great places of death
Where men go empty handed
And pass over smiling
To the star-drift on the horizon rim.
My last whisper shall be alone, unknown;
I shall go to the city and fight against it,
And make it give me passwords
Of luck and love, women worth dying for,
And money.
I go where you wist not of
Nor I nor any man nor woman.
I only know I go to storms
Grappling against things wet and naked.”
There is no pity of it and no blame.
None of us is in the wrong.
After all it is only this:
You for the little hills and I go away.

I was also fond of this one, from the same textbook we used to learn about archetypes.

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A poem I wrote in 7th Grade

The Callow Heart

Inside of anyone you see
There is s heart of candle-wax
and a slender string
That is lighted
by trivial fires
of orange…
So that when
A heartbreaking incident
The wick burns crimson
and after a time
Your heart
Callow and soft
Is melted hard
and nothing, now,
will light it
Because it is wiser
than it once was
when faint orange glows
set it afire.

Thx NB for typing this up.

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My favorite poem in 6th Grade

As far as I remember, this was my favorite poem in 6th grade. My grandfather bought me Minou Drouet’s First Poems at a library sale. (Thanks to this blogger for typing it up.) (Academics may cf. Barthes’ “Myth Today”)

“Tree that I Love”
by Minou Drouet

Tree that I love,
tree in my likeness,
so heavy with music
under the wind’s fingers
that turn your pages
like a fairy tale,
knowing like me
the voices of silence
that sways
the depth of your green locks
the quiver of your living hands
that I love
my all alone
lost like me
lost in the sky
lost in the mud
lacquered in the dancing light
by the rain
echo of wind’s grief
and birds’ joy
tree undressed by winter
for the first time I watch you.

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Happy Bloomsday!

In the spirit of the Twitter trends #booksthatchangedmylife and #happybloomsday, 217 words that changed my life:

INELUCTABLE MODALITY OF THE VISIBLE: AT LEAST THAT IF NO MORE, thought through my eyes. Signatures of all things I am here to read, seaspawn and seawrack, the nearing tide, that rusty boot. Snotgreen, bluesilver, rust: coloured signs. Limits of the diaphane. But he adds: in bodies. Then he was aware of them bodies before of them coloured. How? By knocking his sconce against them, sure. Go easy. Bald he was and a millionaire, maestro di color che sanno. Limit of the diaphane in. Why in? Diaphane, adiaphane. If you can put your five fingers through it, it is a gate, if not a door. Shut your eyes and see.

Stephen closed his eyes to hear his boots crush crackling wrack and shells. You are walking through it howsomever. I am, a stride at a time. A very short space of time through very short times of space. Five, six: the nacheinander. Exactly: and that is the ineluctable modality of the audible. Open your eyes. No. Jesus! If I fell over a cliff that beetles o’er his base, fell through the nebeneinander ineluctably. I am getting on nicely in the dark. My ash sword hangs at my side. Tap with it: they do. My two feet in his boots are at the end of his legs, nebeneinander. (Proteus)

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Reading Lists

The last time I had time to “read for pleasure” was 2005, in the short summer months between finishing my MA and beginning the PhD. I was in Sweden and few books were available there in English, so I worked my way through Jane Austen and  a few Henry James novels (DM, WMK, WS, TB) with the occasional Woolf, Kafka, Duras (my three favorite authors who I’d brought along) for good measure.

This week I read The Handmaid’s Tale and I’m now reading The Bell Jar.  How did I get to be 30 years old without reading these books? Continue reading

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I am not here

There are too many things going on in real life (remember “real life”? the one where people have to do things like make money, have families and not write/make poetry all day?) for me to be here. I may be back in July.

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