She has opened
My lover's fly
Her tongue is
In his ear
He's not here
-- Herbert Engelhardt
She has opened
My lover's fly
Her tongue is
In his ear
He's not here
-- Herbert Engelhardt
For some A Christmas Carol, (Alistair Sim’s version please) is the definitive Christmas film. For others It’s A Wonderful Life holds the honor of best film to watch during the holidays. “Marry Christmas Bedford Falls! Marry Christmas, Mr. Potter!” James Stewart bellows returning from a parallel, yet horrible, reality to face charges for bank fraud in “the real world,” whatever the hell that is. Both have the Christmas spirit for sure. But for me the films to watch at Christmas all star Barbara Stanwyck.
First there is the not very well known Remember the Night (left). Fred MacMurray and Stanwyck star in Preston Sturges’ screenplay. (No, they don’t plot the murder of her husband, though Stanwyck does play a shoplifter.) In the interest of transparency I should mention it’s a romance, the protagonists meet cute, overcome obstacles, fall in love, observe traditional male and female roles (and I mean traditional for 1940) and live in an America that may have only existed in the mind of Preston Sturges and his contemporaries in Black and White Hollywood, USA. Oh yeah, transparency. I should reveal that in the singular nature of my love life, I'm not extraordinary nor remarkable. I’m single and stand alone. And my proclivity to indulge in sentimental notions around Christmas makes my opinion not only biased but most likely hooey, as they used to say in 1940.
As hokey as some of the sentiment is, and as obvious as the plot line of a shoplifter bailed out and brought home to Wabash, Indiana by a prosecutor for a heartwarming Christmas is, the film knocks me for a loop every time. The key and the heart of the film is Stanwyck. MacMurray’s family is seen through her eyes, and their homespun values melt her cynicism in moments that pierce what passes for my veneer of sophistication. Perhaps the fact that I’m approaching the age of fifty-five and have little to show from my love life but a collection of snapshots, cards and memories that linger but do not nourish should disqualify me in the holiday movie round up. Or could it be that that same status should make me Chairman of the Christmas movie board? For the purposes of this blog let’s hope it’s the latter. The two other films to look for are Christmas in Connecticut and Meet John Doe. Though the latter is not set at Christmas its climax takes place on Christmas Eve and that’s close enough for me. In Christmas in Connecticut (right) Stanwyck plays a columnist that has created a fantasy world of a farm in the country, a loving husband and a handle on domestic details that surpasses anything Martha Stewart ever cooked up. When asked to take in a wounded Vet for Christmas by her publisher she attempts to con them both but ends up falling for the Vet, played by Dennis Morgan. The look in her eyes as she gives herself over to her longing is spectacular. But her speech at the end of Meet John Doe, a wonderful Frank Capra film, where she begs Gary Cooper not to jump from roof of the City Hall, is the topper of them all. She’s suckered Gary Cooper into playing ‘John Doe’ so that her ruse of writing a John Doe column for a powerful paper won’t be uncovered. Cooper plays along at first but when he realizes he’s been a stooge for a power hungry Nazi-like bad guy, Edward Arnold, he tries to reveal the scam but is thwarted in his attempt to do so. Abandoned by all those he’s touched across the country he decides to keep John Doe’s promise to throw himself from the roof of City Hall on Christmas Eve to protest man’s inhumanity to man. What he doesn’t know is that Stanwyck, Arnold and his cronies, and some loyal supporters are there waiting for him. Sick with the flu, and desperate to stop the suicide Stanwyck throws herself into his arms and begs him not do to it. The depth of her plea is staggering and when she calls him “Darling” I fall to pieces every time. In short: If Barbara Stanwyck’s character from any of these films walked into my life I’d sweep her off her Black and White feet and never give the bright and shiny world a second glance. I’ll be home and alone for Christmas this year but Barbara Stanwyck, with a little help from her friends, will give me hope. And that’s gift enough for me. Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.
Above: store-bought bow and discount wrapping paper, pieced together with magic tape and love.
Yes, I know there's only five days left till Christmas, that by the time this post is completed Hanukkah is already twinkling its arrival, that some holiday shoppers are sitting smugly alongside their craftily wrapped presents, the kind with hand painted angel paper and chiffon bows and berries artfully attached.
But the Tropical Roundup is not one of these shoppers. She is on Cuban time, which technically means that while everything will get done, it will all happen in a great flurry, at the last minute, with some presents and cards assembled in the driveway outside the recipient's home. Wine will assist in these endeavors, as will cortaditos and pasteles de guayaba (both of which I'd consume twice a day if I didn't care about looking like a gourd). One does not have to be Cuban to exist in this perpetually behind (but well fortified) state. But it helps, as does living in South Florida, where "Cuban time" is as common an expression as Turn down the a.c. and Coño!
Here are a few quick gift ideas for those of us who consider Cronus a nemesis:
1. Behold the beauty to the left, a Great Gatsby tee from Out of Print Clothing, displayed prettily alongside my high school copy of the novel. My birthday, wedding anniversary, and Christmas are all within a couple of weeks of each other, so my husband is doomed to hunt for gifts for me throughout December. I assist (read: prod) him with tips, such as this shirt I'd been eyeballing for about a year now.
On its website, Out of Print states that it "celebrates the world’s great stories through fashion. Our products feature iconic and often out of print book covers. Some are classics, some are just curious enough to make great t-shirts, but all are striking works of art."
Indeedy. Other choice picks include Thoreau's Walden, Darwin's The Origin of Species, the mysteries of Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys (The Sign of the Twisted Candles and The Mark on the Door, respectively), and Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, in a festive red and white.
To browse women's, men's, and kid's shirts, visit here. If you select overnight or second-day air delivery, your prezzies will arrive before Santa does.
2. Last month I was lucky enough to read at the Miami Book Fair International and hear many fine poets, whose fine books I bought as well. I think you should buy them too, particularly from independent bookstores like Books and Books, Powell's, Politics & Prose, or whatever book shop is in your town and is battling Amazon, the real world version of the Dark Lord of the Sith.
Here's some of what I scored: Susan Briante's Utopia Minus (Ahsahta Press); Sandra Beasley's I Was the Jukebox and Gerald Stern's Everything is Burning (both from W.W. Norton); Radha Says: Last Poems by Reetika Vazirani (editors Leslie McGrath and Ravi Shankar / Drunken Boat); Seamless Matter: Thirty Stills (Rain Taxi / OHM Editions), by Ravi Shankar; and Shapes the Clouds Assume (Kattywompus Press), by Jesse Millner, offering one of the best poems I've ever read about my home state.
Why I Love Florida, by Jesse Millner
It's mostly because I'm a pantheist: like the Moguls I worship the sky, blue heaven that floats above me, like Whitman I worship each leaf of the St. Augustine grass, each blade a bright flag of this tropical world's dispostion, like Dickinson I worship the black racers along the dirt road I run most afternoons, those "narrow fellows" pouring their oily bodies into weeds that line my journey west, which is the orientation Thoreau argued for, the direction he walked each day from his shack at Walden Pond as he looked for that particular oak tree, the one whose branches filled with the music of God, which is a chorus of the natural world, a kinship with tree, flower, root, and earth, the hymn shriek of the osprey alighting from the slash pine outside my window last Saturday, yes, God in every thing, manifest in cypress dome or pine barren, in saw grass or slough, in the summer cumuli that blacken to nimbus and bring the hard rain that is itself the only true baptism, that holy hard rain, which cleanses this despoiled paradise, which roars into ditches and lakes that disperse and collect, but does not wash away our many and collective sins.
3. Poster Art from Ironforge Press! Give the music slaves in your life a chance to re-experience their rock-age, or gaze longingly at the show they missed, by purchasing concert posters from this Fort Lauderdale print shop specializing in flatstock and silk screen. Older stoners will enjoy AC/DC, Alice Cooper, Steely Dan, and Black Crowes; skillful tributes to Of Montreal, Arctic Monkeys, and Minus the Bear might appeal to the young and moustachioed set, but, really, there's no accounting for who's going to listen to what. Right now I'm listening to an Uncle Tupelo album recorded around the same time I was in elementary school (that last bit is a fatass lie).
4. Finally, Radio-Active Records is taking orders all week. This independent record store sells a sea of vinyl, along with cds, turntables, and more. Here's an interview I did a couple of years ago with owner Sean Kayes and store manager Mikey Ramirez, who offers this little known bit of vinyl lore: "If you slow down the 12-inch copy of Madonna's Into the Groove, it sounds just like David Gahan from Depeche Mode."
Because plenty of its business is conducted online, Radio-Active knows how to coddle out-of-state customers. But they've got bricks and mortar too. If you live in South Florida, stop by for a vist, as did this groovy lady, who got Jesus (and Mary Chain) while holiday shopping.
On December 9, Paul Violi's friends, family, and colleagues gathered together at the New School to pay tribute to this marvelous poet by reading his poems to a grateful audience. If you missed the event, you can watch it here. If you don't know Paul's work, you are in for a couple of hours of enormous pleasure.
Since the Jewish Festival of Lights and its attendant bacchanal of fried foods begins this week, we thought it a good time to bring back from last year this popular post:
"Fried things are highly popular at any celebration: they add a piquant variety to the menu; they are nice to look at, possess all of their original flavor, and can be eaten with the fingers, which is always pleasing to the ladies." Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, The Physiology of Taste.
This is really a public service announcement disguised as a cooking post. In case you hadn't noticed, we're deep into latke season here. If you read through this post, study the photos, and follow the instructions, you will never have to eat the leaden, oily, flabby discs that so often pass as latkes in restaurants and delis, and, yes, your relatives' homes. My friend, the superb writer and editor and Food Network judge Gabriella Gershenson (photo, above) has generously agreed to share the outstanding recipe passed down from her Latvian babulenka and perfected for the modern kitchen by her mother, the superb chef and caterer Anna Gershenson. Your search for latke heaven ends now. By heaven I mean that your latkes will be thincrispflavorful and so light that you will dispense with all social niceties such as dishes, knives, and forks and eat them with your hands as soon as you can after they emerge from their brief bath in bubbling oil.
We begin: As Anna instructs in the recipe at the bottom of this post, assemble your ingredients and cooking accouterments. You will need several bowls, sheet pans, lots of paper towels, some aluminum foil; the kinds of things that may not immediately come to mind. If you have to stop mid-cooking to find them, latke perfection could be out of reach this time around. (Below, the ingredients: eggs, flour, onions, potatoes, oil. You will also need salt and pepper.)
Before we took this photo, Gabi and I had already peeled and cubed a boatload of russet potatoes. The type of potatoes is key: you want a starchy variety. I'll leave it to the food scientists to explain why. You also want to have a lot of oil on hand (Ed. note: Gabi uses Canola.)
Once you're at the point shown in this photo, you grind the onions and potatoes. "WTF? Grind? Every latke I've ever made has used shredded potatoes." I know, I know, me too. At first Gabi and I couldn't believe it either but you do grind the potatoes. You fit your food processor with this blade and blast away. How do you know when your potatoes have been ground to the proper texture? You listen to Anna: When you see that the potatoes are beginning to slide in the bowl and don't just sit attached to the walls, and moisture starts appearing, it's time to stop.
Next, you dump your first batch of ground onions and potatoes into a strainer set over a large bowl. Grind and strain the remaining potatoes and onions and when you're done, a goodly amount of milky water will have accumulated in the bowl. Peer through the water and you will see that the bottom of the bowl is coated with a thick white paste. This is the potato starch. Pour off the water, being careful to preserve the starch (see photo, right).
Call for applications:
The NYFA Immigrant Artist Project is pleased to announce the call for applications for the 6th Cycle of our flagship Mentoring Program for Immigrant Artists.
The 2012 Mentoring Program will pair emerging immigrant artists with artists from the NYFA Fellowship Program. Our NYFA Fellows will act as one-on-one Mentors to their Mentees for a period of six months. They will help them in gaining broader access to the New York cultural community by sharing ideas, advice, and resources. Mentors will also guide Mentees in achieving one or more specific goals and objectives. This year’s cycle will take place from April to September of 2012.
Along with the services and resources of the overall Mentoring Program, we are pleased to offer five Van Lier Fellowships this year! This award will provide eligible Mentees with a modest stipend and added professional development support.
This is a competitive program that is free of charge to accepted participants. The first five cycles of the Mentoring Program were highly successful with participants advancing in their careers and forming lasting bonds with their Mentors and other participants.
This program is accepting applications for the following areas: Architecture/Environmental Structures/Design**, Printmaking/Drawing/Book Arts, Crafts/Sculpture, Digital/Electronic Arts, Nonfiction Literature, and Poetry.
If you're eligible, apply! Here's a link to the application.
From J. C. Hallman's essay "Books Make Me Masturbate" in Zone #3:
The first to use the phrase "creative writing" was Ralph Waldo Emerson, in his speech "The American Scholar," delivered at Harvard in 1837. . . .For Emerson, "creative writing" wasn't an allusion to the act of creation, to the grand scheme of two people coupling so as to make something beautiful and alive out of nothing, it was a citation of it. That's what he meant. The "-ive" part of the word means that."-ive" is the suffix of similization. In the end, "creative writing" means "writing that is like fucking." It's from the Greek. Or the Latin.
Got that, everyone? Thanks for the helpful italics, JC. -- DL
Still buying holiday gifts for family, friends, colleagues? Give the gift of poetry! Read Michael Parker's review of The Best American Poetry 2011 to find out why this year's volume, with selections made by Kevin Young, will make the perfect gift. Find the review in the most recent issue of Poets & Artists (#30):
Read the review live here .
You may view/read it online here.
The print and digital download is available here.
Thank you for following these posts all week, for your re-posts and your tweets and re-tweets and comments and discussions and phone calls telling friends to take a look at the love we've been making one day after another. Thanks for your many messages of encouragement, your patience with my typos and misprints, and most of all, for looking forward to a new day of gratitude. Thankfulness does not have to end here!
Thank you Chard DeNiord and Rita Dove and Fanny Howe and Michael Dumanis and Christine Garren and Dawn Lundy Martin for being brave enough to tell the truth just because this starstruck admirer asked for it.
Thanks always and forever to David Lehman for The Best American Poetry Series and Stacey Harwood for putting up with the OCD and technological incompetence that help to make me Jericho Brown. Thanks for asking me to do this and for letting me do this my way.
Thank you, Derrick Franklin (the other fine man pictured above), for being the love of my life, for dealing with me and without me in the midst of my end of the semester grading and recommendation writing and refusal to sleep or eat because I think I've figured the right word in the last line of some old poem, for being my long distance love who makes both coasts my coast, for letting me flirt with the anonymous and the ridiculous knowing that, in truth, I'm coming home to put my whole check and whatever else you require in the palm of your perfect hand. Thanks for letting me chase whatever it is I think I'll catch when I'm foolish enough to agree to blog for a week at the busiest time of year.
This final post is written in gratitude for the lives and legacies of Rudolph Byrd, the man I credit with teaching me how to read, and to Essex Hemphill, whose poems Dr. Byrd used as the primer for my lessons. I live with their spirits in my ear: no wonder I get where to go!
And finally, thank you Darrel Alejandro Holnes, Saeed Jones, Rickey Laurentiis, Phillip B. Williams, and L. Lamar Wilson for sending me poems and pictures with which to end this week and to share with lovers of poetry who are about to read what the critics call brilliance. Nobody teaches me to be free like the five of you do, THE PHANTASTIQUE 5.
Since I've been asking questions all week, one last interview before all of you enjoy these short lyric poems:
Q: Why spell fantastic like that? Why five instead of four?
A: Hmm...queer, isn't it?
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My father Joseph Lehman was born today in Furth, Germany, ninety-nine years ago. Ludwig Van Beethoven was born in Bonn on the same date in 1770. When my father had his fatal heart attack in December 1971, I flew home from Paris, where I was studying, arriving too late to see him alive one last time. The fourth movement of Beethoven's Ninth, not only the major theme but the entire movement, from instrumentals through vocals, from development to coda, went through my mind in the following days. I could hear the singing at the funeral, at the cemetery, at home, and in the sickbed that awaited me in Paris upon my return there weeks later. I didn't know then that my father and Ludwig Van shared a birthday. In Paris, Ludwig Van Saul and I spent hours listening to to a recording of the symphony, he doing his best to educate me. Two friends form that time remember my saying, of my father, that he was "a holy man." I believe it. That was also the year I read Dostoyevski, and my head was full of Raskolnikov, the gambler, the Karamazovs, and certain saintly fools. -- DL
I've told you guys before about how Christopher Hitchens borrowed a mite too liberally from my book Doubt: A History, though he cited a lot he definitely did not give credit when it was most painfully due. (I made all that plain in an otherwise extremely positive review of the book and we had some electronic chat about it and suffice to say the man liked my work and just hadn't quite realized how much was indeed mine, i.e. original research and ideas). I'd mostly forgiven him by then and I'd forgiven him entirely upon hearing his diagnoses. I had disagreed with much of his politics too -- I'm not much of a nun hunter and I think taking time out to bash the Clintons exhaustively in a world as corrupt as our is a little jambon-fisted (clumsey in a european way) -- but as he got sicker I thought more of the Hitchens of Letter to a Young Contrarian. And of course his God is Not Great is a hilarious and eye-prying romp through religion's manifold attempts to sway the genuinely curious Hitch, and how they all fail spectacularly. If you haven't read it you really should.
An editor over at the Ottowa Citizen asked me to write up an atheist's take on CH's godless predicament now that the end was likely soon. Thought I'd share it with you.
Hope you're enjoying the warmish cold. Big hugs. Don't give up. Shout "courage" to strangers. Or give up and shout nothing. But don't kill yourself. I shall return to encourage you again.
Posted by Jennifer Michael Hecht on December 16, 2011 at 01:52 PM in Jennifer Michael Hecht, The Lion and the Honeycomb | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
I hear tell that listening to some folks talk about going to Cave Canem can get as boring as listening to angels talk about heaven.
I know. Everybody gets it: “You finally found a community where, simultaneously, it’s okay not to be obviously black in your writing (whatever the hell that means) and it’s okay to be obviously black in your writing (whatever the hell that means). For a few days out of a lifetime, you’re treated like an entire human being by extraordinarily talented people, sharing meals and workshops and tears with poets you’ve loved for most of your life. Yipee.”
Well, those of us sick of the love-fest are going to have to find another blog to read today. (Some of us already changed the channel as soon as we saw the word, “black.” Scary asses.)
I first attended the Cave Canem workshop when I was 24 years old. (I know; to look at me you’d think that was just last year.) And while there, I became convinced that there is no shame in loving all the poetry I love.
I also met a woman whose writing continues to floor me, to make me rethink my every revision, to question all my ways of being.
Dawn Lundy Martin earned an M.A. in creative writing from San Francisco State University and a Ph.D. in English from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Her full-length collection, A Gathering of Matter / A Matter of Gathering (University of Georgia Press, 2007), was selected by Carl Phillips for the Cave Canem Poetry Prize. Her second collection, Discipline, won the 2009 Nightboat Books Poetry Prize, chosen by Fanny Howe. She is also the author of three chapbooks, including The Morning Hour (2003), which was selected by C.D. Wright for the Poetry Society of America's National Chapbook Fellowship.
In 2004, she co-edited The Fire This Time: Young Activists and the New Feminism (Anchor Books, 2004), a collection of essays on activism in America. She is co-founder of the Third Wave Foundation, a national grant making organization led by young women and transgender youth. She is also a founding member of the Black Took Collective, a group of experimental black poets. She is currently an assistant professor in the Writing Program at the University of Pittsburgh.
I met Dawn one Cave Canem summer in a workshop where she, through her comments and poems and hardedged honesty, changed the way I read and see. I still think of her as one of the smartest people I’ve encountered in my life, so I thought I’d share with you some of the questions I’ve wanted to ask her for some time. In memory of my CC sister Phebus Etienne, with gratitude for every Friday ever that anybody got dressed up just to go somewhere sweaty and shake her or his booty, here’s a talk I had with Dawn Lundy Martin:
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In the new Poets & Writers, Kevin Nance has a fascinating piece on the ampersand in modern poetry. Click here to read it in its entirety after taking a quick peek here:
In the twentieth century, the ampersand was rediscovered and exploited, variously, by several generations of American poets, especially those eager to declare their position outside the academic mainstream. Several of the Black Mountain and Beat poets used the ampersand freely, and with conspicuous inconsistency, as an occasional substitute forand—notably Allen Ginsberg in “Howl,” with its “blond & naked angel.” The relentlessly experimental e. e. cummings was fond of the ampersand, as was Frank O’Hara. A number of African American poets also adopted the figure, as Amiri Baraka did in “Monday in B-Flat”: “I can pray / all day / & God / wont come.” The ampersand in American poetry reached its apogee in John Berryman’s The Dream Songs (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1969), in which the poet used the mark to undercut the erudition, complexity, and formality of his rhyme and stanza structures, as in the sequence’s opening:
I don’t see how Henry, pried
open for all the world to see, survived.
What he has now to say is a long
wonder the world can bear & be.
Throughout the mid-twentieth century, such uses of the ampersand suggested experimentation, casualness, a desire to tweak the sniffing nose of literary decorum, and a certain kind of haste. “It is, after all, an abbreviation,” Harvard scholar Helen Vendler pointed out in an e-mail exchange. The ampersand became a mark of originality in American poetry, part of a customized system of punctuation whose earlier elements had included Walt Whitman’s ellipses, Emily Dickinson’s dashes, and cummings’s quirky parentheses and lowercase i. (Later, some of the New York School of poets deployed the exclamation point in similar fashion, even as A. R. Ammons was making his own highly idiosyncratic use of the colon.) Other poets embraced the ampersand for its mere presence on the typewriter, whose keys they were determined to “play” in virtuoso style.
After I my first book was published, I felt a sort of emptiness that I don’t know if I can explain. It was as if the one thing I had for years been doing was done and taken away from me…
No, it was as if the one thing I had for years been doing was done, and I had given it—my world beyond this world—away.
Worse, there was no time for my sorrow and no way to explain it to anyone. Surely, I wanted the book in print. Surely, I understood that others were not so lucky to have their books taken yet. Besides, I had to do the work my best poet friends said I should be doing: promote, promote, promote. Say yes to everything until the book has legs enough to walk on its own. Then say yes to everything else.
And yes, they were right…
But I was tired, and I missed having lines and words and rhymes I could obsess over.
Soon after my book was released, I was fortunate enough that several writers gave it very kind reviews. And I was foolish enough to read them. One of those reviews was written by Wayne Johns, a poet in his own right.
I searched around for his email and wrote him a note of thanks for his care and attention and honest advice geared toward the future of my work. His response was one I can only describe as clairvoyant. He seemed to know that I was no longer writing since the book had been published. He seemed to know that I was lost without working on the countless revisions that had become who I was.
He asked for my address, said he had a gift for me that would be perfect at that moment. A few days later, I found in my mailbox a book I had never heard of by a poet who friends had neglected to mention. Among the Monarchs by Christine Garren.
Wayne Johns knows all. I fell, again, in love with poetry.
Christine Garren’s poems are rooted in exchanges with landscape. Her turning and shifting and dirtied awe read as if James Wright and Franz Wright have found common ground. Her eye for the oddities represented oddly makes it clear what Jean Valentine has to do with Paul Celan, what we all have to do with Emily Dickinson.
Christine’s most recent book is The Piercing. She has received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and been a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award in poetry. Her chapbook, The Difficult Here, is now available at 42 Miles Press.
Though I think each of her short volumes is best read in one sitting for the cumulative effect she creates, here is one of her poems I found online:
Small piercing as if in an earlobe
your leaving caused. Air is filling it now, time fills it
the view through these windows fills the tiny hole.
The people on the street, the manic father
the other father carrying his child in pink—this
millimeter's-width opening is for a decade to fit through.
Look, there you go. There I go—there our landscape goes as if
through a fantastical roof's hole, the shingle pulled off, the nail off—
our death is
flying over the city.
Today is Thursday, and I’m thankful for Wayne Johns. In memory of his deceased partner, the amazing poet Rodney Jack, I asked Christine Garren a few questions. Today is her birthday, and here are her brief and beautiful answers:
-- You can do anything. When planning your future, do not limit yourself to the conventional career paths and to academic jobs dependent on advanced degrees. You can combine anything with poetry; you can be a poet and also a librarian, an advertising copy-writer, a corporate executive, a lawyer, a doctor, a computer specialist, a publisher, an arts administrator, or a journalist.
-- Keep trying new things in your poetry. And keep doing the same tried and true things. If you can, write every day, even if it is only a few sentences in a notebook. Collaborate with friends on poems and projects. If you’re in a fallow period, accept it; sometimes the brain needs time to absorb new experiences. If truly blocked, you can break it by assigning yourself a prompt that has worked for you (like a translation from a language you don’t understand, or an abecedarius, or a poem in imitation of A. R. Ammons). Sometimes a simple reversal of course is all you need do; if you've been writing present-tense, first-person point of view poems, see what happens when you adopt a third-person POV and the past tense.
-- Read poetry. Be generous, but stick to your own lights. This may require some effort at diplomacy. But remember that you don’t have to like a person’s poetry in order to be courteous and supportive to that person. Let posterity decide whose work will endure. We won’t be around anyway. Remember that another person’s success does nothing to diminish your own achievement. Don’t get hung up on prizes. They’re great to get; prestige is nice, money is nice; but you should spend your time on your writing, your reading, your friendships, and not on angling to get a lucrative fellowship. There will come a time when someone else will win the award you deserved, or the job you coveted, or the publication you were banking on. It might even be the person sitting next to you right now. And you will feel envy, you will feel resentment -- you wouldn’t be human if you didn’t. But you cannot afford to give in to these feelings, because envy and resentment, if allowed to fester, can turn easily into bitterness and even spite, and these things are poison to a writer. To ward them off, you will need to go deeper into yourself, into your heart, into the sources of your poetry.
-- Your poems don’t have to change the world. They just have to give pleasure. Don’t feel you need to make sense all the time. Nor should you shy away from sentiment and feeling.
-- Figure out what you need from the world in order to continue as a poet. Sometimes all you need is one magazine editor who believes in your work.
-- Pay no attention to hostile reviewers. Reviewers are bullies, sadistic, and need know nothing about a subject to write about it. And when it is your turn to write about others, resist the impulse to give pain – it’s not good for your soul. And you do have a soul – otherwise you would never have committed yourself to the vocation of a poet.
-- When you read your poems aloud, do so with conviction. Read slowly and clearly. Read one poem fewer than the time allowed. Rehearse so you don’t stumble over your own words, the mark of an amateur or an academic.
Click here to read Jamie Katz's brilliant feature on Donald Keene, the Western world's leading interpreter of Japanese literature, a Columbia professor for more than seventy years. On a visit to Japan in 1990, I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing Professor Keene, who, in addition to discussing everything from Basho and linked-verse to the merits of a traditional Japanese breakfast, taught me the two key rules of pronouncing Japanese and made my two-week stay go a lot more smoothly than would otherwise have been the case..With his books and anthologies, Keene taught an appreciation of Japanese culture to generations of students, not only at Columbia, his home base, but the world over, In April 2003 he was awarded a medal of honor from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. I wrote the inscription, appropriating the tanka as an appropriate form:
To Donald Keene we
owe much of what we know of
Japan's verse and prose.
In shadow of rising sun
stood the lean tree unobserved.
Then Keene could be heard:
in accents lucid and keen
he rendered the scene.
And the bare branch of winter
burst into cherry blossom.
Here's an excerpt from Katz's feature in the current Columbia College Today. -- DL
Keene’s approach to teaching and writing bears the imprint of his freshman Humanities instructor, Mark Van Doren ’21 GSAS. “He was a scholar and poet and above all someone who understood literature and could make us understand it with him,” Keene writes in Chronicles of My Life: An American in the Heart of Japan. “Van Doren had little use for commentaries or specialized literary criticism. Rather, the essential thing, he taught us, was to read the texts, think about them, and discover for ourselves why they were ranked as classics.”
The experience of taking the College’s general education courses was “incredible,” Keene says, and he fondly remembers the great teachers he encountered as an undergraduate. Among them were the “learned and gentle” classicist, Moses Hadas ’30 GSAS; Lionel Trilling ’25, ’38 GSAS and Jacques Barzun ’27, ’32 GSAS, who led Keene’s Senior Colloquium; and Pierre Clamens, a French instructor “who was very stern, but gave everything to his students,” Keene says.
His chief mentor, however, was cultural historian Ryusaku Tsunoda, a pioneer of Japanese studies at Columbia whom Keene often refers to, simply, as Sensei. “He was a man I admired completely,” Keene says, “a man who had more influence on me than anyone else I can think of.”
As a senior, Keene enrolled in Tsunoda’s course in the history of Japanese thought. Fifty years later, in a CCT interview (Winter 1991) with David Lehman ’70, ’78 GSAS, Keene remembered: “The first class, it turned out I was the only student — in 1941 there was not much pro-Japanese feeling. I said, ‘Wouldn’t it be a waste of your time to give a class for one student?’ He said, ‘One is enough.’
Here we are at gratitude day four, and since earlier blogs and resulting conversations this week have taught me so much about the process of selecting, anthologizing, and publishing, I thought you might be interested in hearing from someone who works as an editor.
Michael Dumanis is Associate Professor of English at Cleveland State University, where he also serves as Director of the Cleveland State University Poetry Center, a literary press, and teaches poetry in the consortial Northeast Ohio MFA Program (NEOMFA). He is the author of the poetry collection My Soviet Union (University of Massachusetts Press, 2007) and coeditor of the anthology Legitimate Dangers: American Poets of the New Century (Sarabande, 2006). His writing has previously been recognized with residencies at Headlands Center for the Arts, the Civitella Ranieri Center, and Yaddo; fellowships from the Fulbright Foundation, the James Michener Foundation, the Sewanee Writers' Conference, the Wesleyan Writers' Conference, and the Community Partnership for Arts and Culture; and a grant from the Ohio Arts Council.
I met Michael when we were in school together in Houston. He's proven to be a very helpful reader of my poems and a great friend. With thanks to him for our ten years of arguing and laughing, here are some things he had to say about his own writing and about the Cleveland State Poetry Center:
I watched the owner
pocket a two-dollar tip
left for a waitress.
And I felt sorry
for the guy, knew he would die
hated by his kids.
-- Herbert Engelhardt
Welcome to your Tuesday of gratitude. It was a Tuesday that I first saw Fanny Howe read her awe-inspiring poems at the Blacksmith House Poetry Series run by Andrea Cohen in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Many of you know I'm that fool who will cry at a good poetry reading, so yes, I sat in the darkened audience listening and weeping for two reasons: 1. I had been dreaming of the chance to meet Fanny and see her read since, several years before, encountering her book of essays, The Wedding Dress, a book that led to me reading everything she had ever published. 2. The poems she read were perfectly strange, completely heart rending, and just that damn good!
Fanny Howe is the author of thirty books of poetry and prose, including The Lyrics, What Did I Do Wrong? and The Winter Sun: Notes on a Vacation. She is a recipient of the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize, a fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation, an award from the Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize from the Poetry Foundation.
I finally got the chance to read Fanny's most recent book of poetry, Come and See, in early November and found that I had yet to fall out of love with her writing. I couldn't pass up this chance to share with you some of the questions I had about the book, about family, and about her life as a poet. With thanks to Fanny Howe for treating me like a son and inviting me into her home the year I lived in Boston feeling quite lost, and in memory of the novelist Ilona Karmel, this is Tuesday with Fanny Howe:
Technorati Tags: Blacksmith House, Carolyn Forche, Christian Wiman, Come and See, Danzy Senna, Elem Klimov, Fanny Howe, Ilona Karmel, Jericho Brown, Percival Everett, Please, Poetry magazine, Simone Weil, Susan Howe, The Lyrics, The Wedding Dress, The Winter Sun: Notes on a Vacation, What Did I Do Wrong?
--Wandrers Nachtlied (1780)
Over the hills
Comes the quiet.
Across the treetops
No breeze blows.
Not a sound: even the small
Birds in the woods
Just wait: soon you
Will be quiet, too.
from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman
THE RULE OF THUMB
Ringfinger was nervous
when they learned
that Hand might succumb
to the rule of Thumb.