25 April 2011

Don't call it a comeback

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything here. For the past few weeks, I’ve been trying to figure out exactly how I want to use this space. It occurs to me that I’ve done what I too often do: overthinking, doing nothing. So, at least for now, I’m going to be more active around here and see what happens.

So, a quick highlight reel from the past three months.

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Trying to catch up on some reading. Most recently: The Day Underneath the Day by C. Dale Young, Underlife by January Gill O’Neil, News of the World by Philip Levine, The Edge of the Sea by Rachel Carson, Even the Hollow My Body Made is Gone by Janice M. Harrington, Holding Company by Major Jackson.

I also reread One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey and was surprised to discover how much the film version had taken over my memories of the novel. In my mind, the film is a Jack Nicholson movie, but the novel is far more interesting—and moving—because it’s really more concerned with the first-person narrator Chief Bromden. Anyhow, it got me thinking a lot about the (unfortunate? necessary?) changes that literature undergoes when it’s adapted for the screen. It also got me thinking about how literature changes over time, how our memories of texts can replace the texts themselves, how our reception of a text changes every time we come back to it.

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A good friend received some amazing news. Lory Bedikian, an MFA classmate at Oregon, won the 2010 Philip Levine Prize in Poetry for her manuscript, The Book of Lamenting. Check out the announcement and find more information here.

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I had the chance to see The Low Anthem at the Old South Church in Boston. Strange as it felt to sit in a pew on a Friday night, I can’t think of a cooler place to see a show. Also: they were awesome. They played most of the new album (Smart Flesh) and lots of earlier stuff as well. My favorites: “This God Damn House” (featuring a chorus of feedback from what seemed like every cell phone in the audience), “To the Ghosts Who Write History Books,” and an astounding cover of “Sally Where’d You Get Your Liquor From?”

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My manuscript was named a semi-finalist in two contests. I have two manuscripts looking for a home, so I’m keeping fingers permanently crossed. As a lifelong Red Sox fan, I very much believe in jinxes, so that’s all I’m going to say about that.

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We’ve been spending a lot of time at the Museum of Fine Arts here in Boston. My two-year-old daughter is obsessed with Copley’s Watson and the Shark. Sometimes for thirty minutes at a time, we just sit on the bench in front of the painting while she studies it closely. She asks lots of questions. She tells strangers about it when they walk into the gallery. She demands that I tell her the story of the painting at bedtime. She’s very excited that I’m trying to work on a poem about the whole experience.

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I’ve been very fortunate in the past couple months to publish a few poems and to have a few more accepted by journals.

“To the Guy Who Stole My Bike” appeared in Two Weeks: A Digital Anthology of Contemporary Poetry, a fantastic collection put together by the editors of Linebreak. The e-book includes audio recordings of each poem, including my reading of Margaret Walther’s poem and Angie Macri’s reading of mine.

I’m also thrilled to have a new poem in the April issue of The Collagist and one in the current issue of Waccamaw. And I’m excited to have poems forthcoming in DIAGRAM, Valparaiso Poetry Review, and North American Review.

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I’m currently addicted to playoff hockey. My dad got me hooked on the Bruins when I was a kid. Again, because of the possibility of jinxes, I’ll say nothing more.

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Last week I had the chance to meet Major Jackson when he came to my school to read and to meet with students. It was great to meet him, to hear him read some of his work, and to talk about writing with him over lunch in the cafeteria. The best part, however, was that my daughter came with me. She was too sick for daycare, and I didn’t want to miss the day. So she and I sat on the floor and listened to his poems. She drew a picture of him and gave it to him as a present. He let her play with his iPad while he and I talked. And later, when we came home, she asked me to read his poem about jump rope and monkey bars: “Urban Renewal XVII” from Hoops. That’s about as good as a day can be.

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Music at the moment: Ben Sollee and Daniel Martin Moore, Dear Companion

22 January 2011

Filling in the blanks

Lately I've been trying to read books that I feel like I should have read by now, the books I've bought over the years that I never got around to reading, the books recommended by friends that I never found the time to find.

In recent weeks, I've read Some Ether by Nick Flynn, Shake by Joshua Beckman, and Nervous Systems by William Stobb. In the next few weeks, I'm planning to read Paper Anniversary by Bobby C. Rogers, Underlife by January Gill O’Neil, Phantom Noise by Brian Turner, Prairie Fever by Mary Biddinger, and After the Ark by Luke Johnson. And that doesn't even cut the pile on my desk in half—a pile which includes For the Sake of the Light by Tom Sexton, Words for Empty and Words for Full by Bob Hicok, The Cloud Corporation by Tim Donnelly, and a bunch of journals.

Great list, you might say, so get to work.

Here's the problem: instead of moving on to the next title on the pile, I keep going back to a book I read in December. In the last few years, several people recommended that I read Jon Anderson, especially his out-of-print selected poems The Milky Way: Poems 1967-1982. When I finally found a used copy, I snatched it up and started reading. At first, I couldn't quite grasp what was happening in these seemingly straightforward, almost casual-sounding poems. However, as I worked my way though the poems chronologically book by book, I started to get a dim sense of wholeness forming, of the inevitability of the later poems. I also had the not-so-dim sense that these are poems I wish I'd known much earlier, that there's something here that I've been missing all along. So far, in a little under a month, I've read the book four times. Going forward, I'm not sure exactly how these poems will change my own, but I'm pretty sure that they will.

The final lines of "The Secret of Poetry":
I'd like, please, to leave on your sill
Just one cold flower, whose beauty

Would leave you inconsolable all day.
The secret of poetry is cruelty.

And some of my favorite lines, from "Rosebud" (a poem in which the speaker visits the site of the Battle of the Little Big Horn):
                                       The place might stand for death,
Every loss rejoined in a wide place;
Or it is rest, as it was after the long drive,
Nothing for miles but grass, a long valley to the south
& living in history. Or it is just a way of living
Gone, like our own, every moment.
Because what I have to do daily & what is done to me
Are a number of small indignities, I have to trust that
Many things we all say to each other are not intentional,
That every indirect word will accumulate
Over the earth, & now, when we may be approaching
Something final, it seems important not to hurt the land.

Music at the moment: Gillian Welch, Soul Journey