Forgive my meandering way of saying you must check out these recent publications of Bill's work. The first appears in the current issue of The Coffin Factory alongside work by Lydia Davis, T.C. Boyle, and Charles Simic, among others. “Postcards” is from “The Museum of Emotions” from Bill's film Asphalt, Muscle & Bone, which we've written about elsewhere on this blog.
The second link leads to Psychology Tomorrow magazine and Wilhelmina Frankfurt's memoir of George Balanchine. Bill's photos of Frankfurt illustrate the piece and they're stunning. In her piece, Frankfurt describes her final encounter with Mr. B. Shocking but not surprising.
About a year ago, the Chicago based theater artist Erica Barnes approached David Lehman for permission to adapt his poem "Mythologies" for the stage. According to Erica, she was in the midst of a somewhat fallow period when on a whim she visited the Poetry Foundation website, clicked on the "Poem of the Day" and "fell in love." David's sequence of thirty sonnets "Mythologies," first published in the Paris Review issue 106 (1988) and awarded the Bernard F. Connors prize, was the Foundation's featured poem. Erica has this to say about David's poem:
We need new myths. Our old heroes are too unattainable, too perfect, too… heroic. David Lehman’s poem ‘Mythologies’ tells the story of a man struggling to construct new myths in the wake of the disintegration of his expectations. Blending the language of poetry with the ritual of theatre, ‘Mythologies’ searches for the answer to the age-old question -- what is it to be human?
David granted permission and over the next several months Erica dispatched periodic updates of her work- in-progress. She secured funding, hired a full cast and crew, found performance space, and held rehearsals. On November 1, "Mythologies" opened at the Hamlin Park Fieldhouse Theater in Chicago. "It was a success," writes Erica, and her excitement is palpable. She sends along this preview video, which makes us wish we could put the production on the road:
Erica promises to send more photos of the performance, which we will share here. Meanwhile, you can find out more about "Mythologies" in Chicago by visiting the dedicated website. You will find Erica's interview with David here.
"Mythologies" will be included in David Lehman's forthcoming New and Selected Poems (Scribner).
The wait to vote was only about an hour this morning, not too bad on a brisk sunny day. My polling place is an NYU building a few blocks away and as I approached I could see that the line extended from inside the building into the street. I was prepared to settle in for a long wait but after about five minutes a helpful young man called for voters in my district. “I can get you in right away,” he said, something I would expect to hear while waiting to enter a hot new club, not a polling place.
I soon learned that what he meant by “get you in” was that he could get me into the building, where the line for my district was still quite long, though shorter than the lines for other districts. We all stood patiently in a crowded hallway as the lines crept along. From time to time we cleared a path down the middle to allow an elderly man or woman to come through on the way to or from voting. A blind elderly man made his way confidently. When he passed, my neighbor, a tall striking young woman whom I assumed was either a model or an aspiring actress (there are many in these parts), looked at me and shook her head. “Amazing,” she said. “When do you ever see such determination?”
From there we started a conversation that made the remaining wait go by too quickly. We traded Sandy stories and agreed that it was strange to be in Manhattan, where things seemed to have returned to normal when just a short distance away so many were suffering.
She was originally from Albania, and has lived in the US for
fifteen years. (I had detected a slight accent.) “This is home,” she said.
She’s in her first of four years of graduate studies at the National
Psychological Association for Psychoanalysis, nearby on 13th Street. When she completes her studies,
which require 750 supervised hours of treating patients plus classroom work and
her own thrice-weekly sessions with a psychoanalyst, an experience she
described as life-changing, she hopes to treat children and young adult victims of sexual abuse. I asked if before she began her studies she
considered herself to be a happy well-adjusted person. She seized upon “happy.” “What
does it mean to be happy?" she wondered. "Isn’t that the big question?” Well, yes.
We decided to use the word “satisfied” instead but after batting that
about came up with “leading a well-integrated life with intimate relationships
and satisfying work,” a much less satisfying phrase than the simple “happy.” I never did get her answer, but she seemed
like a happy person to me, at least during the time we were together.
As I approached the sign-in desk, I was disappointed to learn that we were using paper ballots that we would fill out in a “privacy booth” and scan on site to be delivered to . . . where? The Board of Elections? I had always looked forward to the private moments in the voting both, concealed from view by the grey curtain, when I moved the little red nob to indicate my vote and the check mark appeared in the box next to my candidate. And, having made my selections, I liked to believe that when I shifted the big lever from left to right and the curtain swung open, I was connected with millions of Americans who were doing the same thing.
Great catch Ken Tucker! On September 3, this @KenTucker tweet breezed by: "I fear betrayal in friendship and love that blindsides me": not Walt Whitman, but another poet, Denise Duhamel" and now lots of people want to know which poem it's from.
"82 Reasons Not to Get Out of Bed" is too long to reproduce in its entirety but you can find the poem in Saints of Hysteria A Half-Century of Collaborative American Poetry Edited by Denise Duhamel, Maureen Seaton & David Trinidad (Soft Skull, 2007).
Here are the first few lines:
82 Reasons Not to Get Out of Bed (by Denise Duhamel et. al.)
I fear dented cans,
the ones with their labels torn like a pantyhose run.
I fear dented cans even though I know
bulging cans are the ones that cause botulism.
I fear small caskets, and I fear small pox.
I can’t be vaccinated because I’m allergic to the serum.
Check my arms—I don’t have any of those vaccination dents
like everyone else. I fear going to a new hairdresser
or gynecologist. I fear people with authority who look nervous.
I fear any box big enough to hold me.
I fear the number 4 for no reason.
I fear this bad habit will catch up to me.
I fear being awake in the middle of the night
when everyone else is asleep, even that yappy dog Peppy,
and the baby in him. I fear the dogs that do not recognize
my smell or care. I fear the whirr and rattle of the tail.
I fear the front door slamming when the bedroom window is locked.
I fear strangers who do not know my strength . . .
And this is what Denise Duhamel had to say about how the poem was written:
Lines for “82 Reasons Not to Get Out of Bed” were written on October 24, 2001 by the members of Special Topics: Trends in Contemporary Poetry—Literary Collaboration and Collage, a graduate seminar I taught at Florida International University. Mitch Alderman, Terri Carrion, Andreé Conrad, Kendra Dwelley Guimaraes, Wayne Loshusan, Abigail Martin, Rita Martinez, Estee Mazor, Astrid Parrish, Stacy Richardson, Sandy Rodriguez, Jay Snodgrass, Richard Toumey, George Tucker, Jennifer Welch, William Whitehurst, and I wrote indi- vidual lines. Rita Martinez took the lines and rearranged them into the final ver- sion of the poem. Stacy Richardson, the only undergraduate in our class, passed away in 2002. This poem is dedicated to her.
Fans of poetry and Breaking Bad know that Walt Whitman had a starring role. Did anyone besides Ken pick up on Denise's cameo?
Henry James and Edith Wharton often went "motoring" together. Wharton wrote about one such trip in A Motor-Flight Through France (1908). Here, she describes an experience with James while traveling in England:
From A Backward Glance by Edith Wharton
The most absurd of these episodes occurred on another rainy evening when James and I chanced to arrive at Windsor long after dark. […] While I was hesitating and peering out into the darkness James spied an ancient doddering man who had stopped in the rain to gaze at us. ‘Wait a moment, my dear—I’ll ask him where we are’; and leaning out he signalled to the spectator.
‘My good man, if you’ll be good enough to come here, please; a little nearer—so,’ and as the old man came up: ‘My friend, to put it to you in two words, this lady and I have just arrived here from Slough; that is to say, to be more strictly accurate, we have recently passed through Slough on our way here, having actually motored to Windsor from Rye, which was our point of departure; and the darkness having overtaken us, we should be much obliged if you would tell us where we now are in relation, say, to the High Street, which, as you of course know, leads to the Castle, after leaving on the left hand the turn down to the railway station.’
I was not surprised to have this extraordinary appeal met by silence, and a dazed expression on the old wrinkled face at the window; nor to have James go on: ‘In short’ (his invariable prelude to a fresh series of explanatory ramifications), ‘in short, my good man, what I want to put to you in a word is this: supposing we have already (as I have reason to think we have) driven past the turn down to the railway station (which in that case, by the way, would probably not have been on our left hand, but on our right) where are we now in relation to…’
‘Oh, please,’ I interrupted, feeling myself utterly unable to sit through another parenthesis, ‘do ask him where the King’s Road is.’
‘Ah—? The King’s Road? Just so! Quite right! Can you, as a matter of fact, my good man, tell us where, in relation to our present position, the King’s Road exactly is?’
‘Ye’re in it’, said the aged face at the window.
It's a grey rainy day here in Ithaca and after the heat, I can't say that I'm too sorry. Still, it was nice to open today's post from terrain, a blog I've been following for a couple of years. I don't know much about blogger Julia Fogg other than that she's a UK landscape designer who travels widely and takes stunning photographs. She concludes most of her posts with a poem. Take a look:
continue reading here.
Leslie McGrath's recent post about the similarities between writing and cooking reminded me of this passage, by Charles Simic:
If not in bed, my next writing-place of choice is the kitchen, with its smells of cooking. Some hearty soup or a stew simmering on the stove is all I need to get inspired. At such moments, I‘m reminded how much writing poetry resembles the art of cooking. Out of the simplest and often the most seemingly incompatible ingredients and spices, using either tried-and-true recipes, or concocting something at the spur of the moment, one turns out forgettable or memorable dishes. All that’s left for the poet to do is garnish his poems with a little parsley and serve them to poetry gourmets.
-- Charles Simic, New York Review of Books, February 10, 2012
Reading Catherine Woodard's post last week about NBA coach Phil Jackson reminded me that way back in the mid-1980s Jackson coached the Continental Basketball Association Albany (NY) Patroons. The Patroons' home arena was the 3,500-seat Washington Avenue Armory, a former New York National Guard center with a forbidding castle-like exterior. Jackson won his first championship ring when he guided the Albany Patroons to the 1984 CBA championship. Walter (Walt The Stalt) Williams was named MVP of the series and went on to become a key assistant coach to Jackson.
I lived a short block away from the Armory and with my girlfriends regularly attended Patroons home games. The mid-week games rarely sold out and we were able to get great seats near the floor. Phil Jackson no longer had the unruly hair and beard of his Knicks days but he was easily recognizable by the way he paced along the sidelines, hands on hips, shoulders back. It was sometimes more fun to watch him than the action on the court.
Those were the days!
(1) It is 2012. You follow your boss at a sales conference. Throughout her presentation – on marketing a new DVD of Oliver Stone’s JFK – she makes wildly erroneous statements, e.g. that Gerald Ford was JFK’s vice-president and that Ford escalated the war in Iraq. When it's your turn to talk,
a. You make no reference to your boss’s flubs.
b. You say she is famous for her dry, deadpan humor.
c. You take a chance and say “see what I have to put up with?”
d. Same as c. but you say it in French.
e. You deftly change the subject by talking about Henry Ford and the problems Detroit is having competing with Japan and how ironic that is, etc.
(2) As you rush down the subway steps and onto the downtown platform, you are pushed by a woman, who fights her way onto the R train while you struggle to maintain your balance. Then as her train pulls out you notice she has dropped a cute little leather purse with five twenties folded inside. You
a. Don’t think twice, it’s all right.
b. Try to find the woman to return her purse and show her what a superior human being you are.
c. Regard the money as insult added to injury, utter a delicate profanity about the bitch, then dump the cash on a bottle of vintage champagne.
d. Imagine the woman as the protagonist of your new novel.
e. Look around in a world-weary way as if you were the protagonist of a black-and-white 1940s British movie like Brief Encounter.
Saturday April 21, 2012, 3:30-5:30 PM: Poetry & Cocktails To celebrate National you-know-what (hint: April), the acclaimed East Village restaurant Back 40 is once again hosting a poetry/cocktail slam, for which it has enlisted some of New York's most inventive chemists to create cocktails inspired by their favorite poetry. The great slam impresario, poet Bob Holman will raise each glass and conjure the poem that inspired its contents. We were there last year, we'll be there this year. For God's sake--hock and soda water!
For more information and to purchase tickets go here.
I just returned from the AWP conference in Chicago, where I participated in a panel discussion about this blog. It was great to see so many friendly and familiar faces in the audience and to meet and talk to others later. I certain came away with some great ideas and the energy to put them into practice.
We did a bit of reminiscing about favorite posts from the past four years. Even if you couldn't be there, you can have a taste of some of those that live on:
Is This Thing On? Can You Hear Me Now? by James Cummins (February 7, 2008)
Trochaic Theory Picks Obama by David Lehman (August 6, 2008)
Stuff, or "Clean up your room!" by Laura Orem (October 7, 2008)
Dogs and Poetry, by Richard Garcia (July 22, 2009)
Kouman Sa Ta Ye by Emma Trelles (January 23, 2010)
Sex in the Stacks: Porn and the Librarian by Stephanie Brown (May 20, 2010)
Caution: I've found that one post leads to another and before you know it, it's tomorrow.
Do you have any favorites? Let us know!
During a lecture many years ago, Donald Hall advised his students to look down a page of their prose and rewrite any paragraph that began with "I."
The other night during the KGB bar reading, Star Black told her audience that she banned "I" from her work for five years.
Later, while introducing Mark Ford, David Lehman shared that while working for Newsweek, he wrote something like 125 articles without using "I."
For starters, let's all take the Johnny Carson challenge and see what happens.
Yesterday I rented a car and drove from New York City to Little Egg Harbor, NJ, to spend a day with my mother. It's roughly a two hour drive, depending on traffic leaving the city. The car is a compact and as basic as it gets (manual windows!) except for one thing: it has satellite radio, with a gazillion channels. I caught a fantastic interview with Greil Marcus about his new book, The Doors: A Lifetime of Listening to Five Mean Years, which I am now eager to read.
When his interview was over, I decided to play a game with myself. I would rotate the dial among the pop stations to see how many songs of my youth and adolescence I could sing along with from memory. I was pretty confident about Motown hits, the Stones, the Beatles, Simon and Garfunkle, The Supremes ("Love child, never meant to be/ love child, take a look at me. But I'll always looooove you, I'll always lo-ove you hoo hoo") and certain songs that were popular before my time (Elvis, for example) but what surprised me was how quickly the one-hit wonders came back to me in a giddy rush. Like this one, from the canon of revenge songs(I apologize in advance if you get an ear worm):
Reading Amy Glynn Greacen's post yesterday about memorization reminded me of the pamphlet I picked up at a book sale a few years ago. If you went to public school in New York City during the first half of the last century, you were required to memorize poems if you wanted to advance to the next grade:
Here's the table of contents from 1925:
I bet that if you approach a public school educated Octogenarian, he or she wouldn't hesitate to recite Invictus or Sea Fever or some other verse. One of my cherished memories is of sitting in a Washington, D.C. restaurant with David's mom Anne Lehman, when she was inspired to recite, in her native German, a Schiller poem that she had learned as a girl, before her world was turned upside down by certain unfortunate events that forced her out of her childhood home in Vienna, 1939. David and I and the diners at the nearby tables were rapt and when she finished: applause.
When I was in the third grade, my friend Adina Bloch and I memorized Poe's "Annabel Lee" for show-and- tell. Years later (many years), after hearing Robert Pinsky lecture about the value of memorization, I made a sustained effort to memorize Wordsworth's Tintern Abbey and I got pretty far into it though I abandoned the project when the same lines kept tripping me up. Was there a psychological reason I wonder, for this resistance to certain words or lines?
One must make a commitment to memorize a beloved poem but to succeed means you will have it always, whenever you want or need, wherever you may be. If you were updating those public school memorization requirements, which poems would you include? Would you keep any of the poems from 1925?
If you do a "close" reading of the P&W methodology section you will see what shifting sand the ranking is based on (background on rankings is here). Most of what is in the methodology section would be more accurately placed in a separate section called "findings." This distinction is important because by keeping the findings separate from the discussion of methodology the reader knows that the findings are just one person's interpretation of the data.
Most of the statistics derive from a single number, 640, the number of would-be applicants who visited a blog and responded to a poll by completing forms. Most of what the author says are "demographics" are poll responses. The author does not provide demographics (such as age, gender, location, income, etc of the respondents).
The methodology says the responses are "votes" and that those programs receiving the most "votes" are the ones the respondents hold in highest esteem. Yet if you read elsewhere you learn that the "votes" are the programs to which respondents are applying; there may be no connection between which program one might hold in high esteem and those to which one individual is applying (eg. I may think Houston is the best but because I live and work and have family in NYC, it isn't practical for me so it's not on my list of programs I'll be applying to. I may believe that Cornell has the best program yet I know the liklihood of getting in is slim so I'm not applying- these scenarios aren't captured in the ranking). Respondents were not asked to reveal which programs they hold in highest esteem; they were asked to disclose to which programs they would apply.
Every time the author says, "it is reasonable to assume," know that it is also reasonable to assume something other that what follows. Such claims are not backed up with any evidence, anecdotal or otherwise.
Most of the programs ranked got fewer than half the number of "votes" than the top ranked program - there are many many ways to account for this gap and yet the only explanation given is that it reflects the "esteem" with which potential applicants hold the program but it could reflect many other possibilities.
A good deal of the "methodology" section is devoted to history of MFAs and to discrediting other polls - irrelevant in a discussion of methodology.
I could go on. The infelicities of the writing style are too numerous to mention. Strip away all of this filler and you see how little substance there is to the ranking.
And there is more: The author of the ranking methodology makes many unsupported claims. None of these claims have anything to do with the method used to gather data for the so-called ranking. Here are but three examples from among many (my comments in bold):
When programs are assessed by individuals already within the system, the natural result is that older programs—whatever their selectivity, financial resources, faculty resources, curriculum, pedagogy, or student outcomes—move to the top of the pack due to their profile advantage. Yet applicants report only limited interest in programs’ historical pedigrees, as pedigree itself is often considered a suspect quantity in the national literary arts community." (What is the basis for a sweeping statement about the national literary arts community's views of "pedigree"?)
Whereas scientific rankings (which require demographic data that is, in this case, unavailable both to independent researchers and national trade organizations) traditionally poll, at the state level, well less than a hundredth of one percent of their target population, and national polls typically sample well less than a thousandth of one percent, the sample size for the 2012 Poets & Writers Magazine rankings, in a nod to the necessarily unscientific nature of the polling, is between 2,000 and 20,000 times larger as a percentage of population. (Scientific polls use precise measures to identify and calculate sample size, which is why they don't have to rely on large numbers to get valid, replicable results. The sample here is unreliable because the pollster has no control over who has responded to the poll and because the pollster has known biases.)
In most instances, student scores are only lightly scrutinized (or simply ignored altogether) by the programs themselves, and instead reviewed—where they are reviewed—by individual universities’ Graduate Colleges, which often have minimum GRE-score requirements (typically very generous ones). Creative writing MFA applicants should not avoid the GRE General Test for fear of the Mathematics portion of the exam; even those programs that do give minor weight to standardized test scores in their admissions processes generally look only at applicants’ Verbal and Analytical Writing scores. (How does P&W know that applicants fear the mathematics portion of the GRE and how admissions offices value them?)
These inaccuracies, sweeping statements, and blatant falsehoods are buried in the excess verbiage that is characteristic of the author's writing. Strip the garbage away and you're left with . . . garbage.
Once again, Poets and Writers Magazine has published creative writing MFA/Phd program rankings that are based on a poll of would-be applicants to such programs who visit a blog. Clearly P&W doesn't let its ethics get in the way of perpetuating a scam to boost circulation. After three years of seeing these rankings gain traction, nearly 200 MFA/Phd-program teachers and administrators, led by Robert Pinsky, Leslie Epstein, and Erin Belieu, have lodged a protest, in the form of an open letter (reproduced here by Dan Nester) to P&W that cites many of the same reasons for objecting to the rankings that we have noted here, here, and here since they were first published in 2009.
Here are a few of my thoughts on this mess:
Poets & Writers has entrusted the task of the rankings to a blogger/poet who has no credentials as a research scientist and who is not disinterested in the outcome: For each year of the rankings he has been enrolled in one of the programs that is being ranked. This fact alone should disqualify him for the job.
In attempting to shore up its phony methodology, P&W wastes a lot of ink on why other rankings fall short. This is like saying my poem is good because yours is bad.
P&W is wrong to assert that a scientific ranking of MFA programs is not possible. A ranking is possible, though to construct it properly would require time, money, and commitment, resources that might be better spent elsewhere. The underlying data, if collected by a reputable research firm, under the auspices of the Association of Writers & Writing Programs and with the cooperation of its members, could establish a ranking that would give MFA/Phd applicants valuable information to guide their decisions about graduate programs.
Many of the signatories to the open letter are affiliated with our most prestigious universities. To lend more depth and credibility to their criticism, they should ask a member of a social science research department to review the ranking methodology and comment on its soundness. A first-year graduate student could do this in an afternoon; the outcome would underscore the extent to which P& W is flouting its responsibility to its readers.
The MFA programs should immediately pull their advertisements from P&W. Why continue to support a publication that is so lacking in journalistic integrity?
Here in New York’s Finger Lakes, corn season arrives late and leaves early. If you're like me, when you spot the first ears at a farmers market or roadside stand, you go a little crazy. Even though I’m usually cooking for just my husband and myself, I tend to buy dozens of ears at a time. My favorite comes from Ed Fedorka (above, also known as "the corn dude"), of Rainbow Valley Ranch, because corn is all he sells. Ed is living proof in my experience that if you make just one thing, you’re going to strive for perfection (think Antonio Stradivari). When corn comes in, Ed’s table at Ithaca's farmer's market is strewn with his super sweet varieties ($5/dozen); later in the season, he adds corn for popping packaged in neat plastic bags shaped like hands.
This season’s first corn coincided with a string of brutally hot days, days so hot that to boil water to cook the corn in my usual way would have made our un-airconditioned kitchen uninhabitable. Instead, I soaked the ears, still in their husks, in the sink filled with water, and threw them on the covered grill for roughly 10 minutes. The corn took on the smoke from the hardwood charcoal and was delicious, no butter or salt required. Even so, we had five large ears left over from a meal that included grilled wild salmon (also in season), and a salad.
The next day, with the temperatures holding steady in the 90s, I decided use the corn for a cold soup, nothing fancy. I stripped the kernels into the blender, added the last of my garlic scapes along with salt and pepper and a fistful of fresh cilantro (stems and leaves). After liquefying the corn, I streamed in about a cup of water, enough to thin the contents to the consistency of a pancake batter, and strained everything through a mesh sieve. Once chilled, the resulting soup was the essence of corn, or as some might say, the flavor of Kansas in August.
Fresh corn always reminds me of this poem, by Elaine Equi:
I strip away
your pale kimono.
Your tousled hair too,
comes off in my hands
All ears and
tiny yellow teeth.
from Surface Tension (Coffee House Press, Sept 1989)
I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark
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.