Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Readings , Observations, Papers


I spent an exhausting weekend writing up a couple papers for classes. One on Pride and Prejudice, one on Ellen Glasgow's Barren Ground which, if you've never read, is an amazing novel. Tuesday, my dept. chair at MSU sat in on one of my classes to "observe." I think I did fairly well. I fumbled a little bit in certain spots of the lesson, and I lost some sleep replaying those parts in my head last night. I'm awaiting an assessment. Of course, with all this paper-writing and teaching- I haven't been making poems, and for the most part, when I don't make poems, everything else in my life seems to fall apart. I do have a couple readings coming up, (check out and I'm hoping those get me rolling again.

I hope you are reading and writing poems.


P.S. My new favorite pastime:

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Process, Projects, and Ballads

Have you ever been approached and asked to write a poem? Multiple times? By the same relative? This is my story: my first cousin twice removed (don't you love genealogical terms? I come from a big family, so I get to throw them around a lot) kept appearing by my side at family gatherings, no matter the seriousness, weddings, funerals, reunions, like that "bery, bery sneaky" guy in the Adam Sandler movie. "Have I ever told you about Sarah Mitchell?" he'd say in a near-whisper. And then he'd launch into the saga of Sarah Mitchell, who escaped death, but not capture, at the hands of "the Indians" way back when. I suppose I brought it on myself, having written a ballad about my great-great-great-grandmother. At first I was amused, then I was exasperated, and finally, I'm interested. He sent me some information. He asked the Kentucky Historical Society to send me some information. He sent me a sketch of the scene by a Kentucky artist. It just so happens that she is related to Abraham Lincoln, so this ties in very neatly with the bicentennial. Now I am armed with background material for the perfect historical ballad.

So that's my current project. From here I plan to scour the material and hum some old ballad to myself while I stew over the lines. "Caleb Meyer," by Gillian Welch seems a likely candidate. It begins: "Caleb Meyer lived alone/ in them hollering pines/ And he made a little whiskey for himself/ said it helped pass the time." Those are the happy golden bygone days of the story. Things get dark. If you've never heard the song, I recommend it. Just don't blame me when you wake up singing it in the middle of the night. It gets under your skin.

But I haven't decided whether to set this to music or not. Which is a decision that I usually make early in the process. I tend to write songs with melodies rather than lyrics and music separately. So if it's going to be a poem "only," then I can stop listening to the wind chimes for possible notes to steal.

Still getting rejection slips in the mail, but I got two encouraging parcels amongst the sludge: 1) 94Creations's long awaited first issue came out. I have an essay in that one. And 2) Women. Period. finally came out, too! I have two poems in that one. Both are beautiful to look and fun to hold in the hand. I love the cover designs. As I'm still reading them, I'll refrain from reviewing at this moment, but so far, so good.

Happy poeting,


Monday, February 9, 2009

The Poetic Prose of Josephine Johnson's Now in November

I just finished reading Josephine Johnson's novel Now in November. First published in 1934, it's a tragic narrative of the poverty and mental illness suffered by a family of five during the Great Depression.

Johnson's prose is beautifully lyric throughout, but I was most impressed by her use of the ellipsis, especially in a passage about halfway through the story:

At no hour did life suddenly change, nor was there any moment which could be said to have altogether made or altered us. We were the slow accredtion of the days, built up, like the coral islands, of innumerable things.--The moment of evening air between the stove and the well outside...the sound of wind wrenching and whining in the sashes...the flesh of corn-kernerls...fear--fear of the lantern's shadow...fear of the mortgage...cold milk and the sour red beets...the green beans and the corn bread crumbling in our mouths...fear again...and the voice of Kerrin singing to herself in the calf lot...the sense of safety in mother's nearness...the calm faith that was in her and came out of her like a warmth around...the presence of each other and a lusty love of being, of living and knowing there was tomorrow and God knows how many more tomorrows and each a life sufficient in itself...We were added to by the shadows of leaves, and by the leaf the blue undulations across the snow, and the kingfisher's rattling scream even when creeks were frozen over. (58-59)

Johnson's close attention to time throughout the novel is apparent here. Her usage of the ellipsis serves as a reminder that the narrator is functioning from memory, that all of the tragic events of the novel have passed through the prism of time before the narrator can recall them in often fragment and incoherent forms.

But the ellipsis does more than that. It gives the prose of these two pages a poetic glow they would not ordinarily possess.

Happy Reading,


Monday, February 2, 2009

Dance, Dance Revolution Part III

Happy Groundhog Day. I finally finished DDR. I think I will be a long time understanding it. Poetry Magazine's podcast features Park Hong reading from the book, which helps. Hearing the guide in the poet's voice helps. It's more fun to listen to than to read. As may be true of much poetry. Here's the link:

Wish I could offer more wisdom. Happy listening,