Monday, October 31, 2005

"The poetry of lust and rooted in spiritual longing.."

From from the Summer 1995 Catalogue of the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics:

* Week One
**The Poetry of Lust of Love
Sam Hamill

The poetry of lust and rooted in spiritual longing, as demonstrated by the poetics of Sappho and the amatory poems of the Greek anthology and the classical poets of India, China, and Japan. Drawing on these traditions, we explore the erotic lyrical imagination from alayman's Zen perspective, including a look at the poetry of several Zenmasters.


True, the cover of Fence isn't porn. It's ironic "alt" "soft core."

Today one of my students dressed up like Michael Myers from "Halloween." He had the mask and the hair and the orange "correctional facility" union suit and white sneakers and white socks. It was pretty creepy.

I feed Lester hemp seeds. In the recent issue of Self Magazine, I read an article that said people should eat hemp seeds, too, tossed in olive oil. Yum!

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Tits, Fence, the 3rd Wave, Cleaning

I. Alt-Porn and Fence

How do folks feel about the cover of Summer 2005 issue of Fence? My feelings about porn--alt porn etc--are complicated and probably not terribly uh, specific to me.

And even if I didn't have a personal aversion to porn....Well, it seems worth noting, duh, that a poetry magazine has alt-porn on its cover and then a link to an alt-porn site with lots of cred in the pop-alt world.

I'm not sure why suicide girls is feminist. Yes: you can have market sex appeal even if you're an alt-girl with dark hair and piercing. But that's more about niche-marketing and cultural management than Feminism. If I had my notes to Empire by Hardt and Negiri I could be more articulate about "cultural management."

But I have some. Here:

"We have thus arrived at a series of distinctions that conceptually mark the passage from modern to imperial sovereignty: from the people to the multitude, from dialectical opposition to the management of hybridities, from the place of modern sovereignty to the non-place of Empire, from crisis to corruption." (This is in Part II. I think on page 207.)

Right. Alt-porn=a hybridity. Or am I, like, way out of touch with the third wave? Economic equality is by no means a done deal. But I'm all for the Riot Grrrls and Buffy. And I'm all for the idea of complicating, confusing, questioning what it means to be female, feminine, etc--and that includes playing up and playing with excessive or new forms of traditional femininity (does that sentence cancel itself out?). I enjoy the fact that people often assume I'm a cute bimbo--it makes it that much more devastating and shocking when they find I'm not.

But people still like looking at our tits even when we're displaying them ironically and they'll pay money for it. As Rebecca Wolff notes, tits sell better than almost any thing else. Yup, ok. So put them on a poetry magazine and maybe you'll sell more copies of the magazine. Fine. But why not devote a bit of critical thinking to the implications of this? The editor's note pauses only briefly: "I pause now to muse upon the dubious impulses that govern my own, and the average consumer's, purchases."

I want reflective risk-taking art and reflective, risk-taking criticism, too. The editors of a magazine need to worry about the aesthetic, political, and economic (yes yes) decisions they make--they don't need all the answers, but I want to know that they're at least thinking about them. Sigh.

II. My superstar Parrotlet Lester

Time to talk about Lester. Lester took two baths today. He is very clean and green. Right now he is eating hemp seeds.

III. Criticism I Heart

Speaking of reflective, risk-taking criticism, anyone in New York next weekend should check out the CUNY Conference on Contemporary Poetry. Especially this, like, way cool panel on Friday:

Segal Theater
Syntax in Text and (Gender) Performance: Cha, Ono, Waldrop, Weiner

  • Linda V. Russo: Spaces too wide to reach the next word: Gesture and Gender in Rosmarie WaldropÂ’s Poetry
  • Kaplan Harris: Fashion Auras, Culture, and Gender Norms: The Journals of Hannah Weiner
  • Jessica Smith: Gestural Poetry: The Performance Works of Yoko Ono and Theresa Hak Kyung Cha

IV. Reasons to Clean

Me mum is coming to town on Tuesday, and my kitchen is really really messy.

V. Etc

Postmodernism is about longing. Lyric often uses a "beloved" third party in order to form a connection between "I" and "you." I swoon, but poor beloved.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

publishing/Lorraine blabs about her bird again

Lester is small. He's not even as big as a parakeet. Rather, a budgie. But I am amazed at how much heat his little body produces. His feet, for example, are always very warm on my finger.

Uh. But this post is supposed to be about publishing. The first poem I published as an adult was in 108, a magazine edited by John Lowther of the Atlanta Poets Group. Tom Orange guest edited a "DC Poets Issue." We were at a party, and Tom said, "are you interested in publishing," and I said "yes." And then I sent him poems.

Someone told me once to not be nervous about publishing poems, because the people who will really pay attention to them have probably already read them. This was a bit of an overstatement, but I think it's true. It is both irksome and a comfort.

I love that I can have this blog and say all sorts of exciting and dull things and it's completely public and no one reads it, except for Kaplan maybe sometimes, who must have been googling too much to have found it in the first place. Or maybe I told him about it after too much scotch. I also love that I can delete and create posts at any time. The archive is totally unreliable.

Monday, October 24, 2005

My Bird Sneezes/Today's Ailments/Teaching screw-ups

1. My bird, Lester the parrotlet, sneezes. A few mornings ago he had the hiccups. Other than this he is in excellent health.

2. Today's ailments:
  • Sinus headache
  • Regular headache
  • Tight external rotaters (or is it rotators?), especially on the left size
  • Asthma acting up
  • General nervousness about the weather and the Halloween decorating I must do for my EFL classroom.

3. Today's teaching screw-ups:

  • Choosing "pomegranate" for a game of hangman and then spelling it "pommegranet"
  • Choosing "mollusk" for a hangman word, then thinking I'd spelled it wrong when in fact I'd spelled it correctly. One of my students is a biologist.
  • Asking vague questions such as, "So, what do you think of Aristotle?"

4. Etc. Today I learned the word "pococurante." It can be an adjective, meaning "indifferent" or apathetic." Or a noun, meaning "one who does not care." And yes, pococurantism is a word in use. Are any of you, dear readers, pococurants?

Eating garbage, birds, Everyone with Lungs

Ok. So I like Juliana Spahr's new book This Collection of Everyone with Lungs. And I like "Gentle Now, Don't Add to Heartache." Maybe I shall attempt to say something coherent about it. Them.

But for now I'm only thinking about the cover. I didn't immediately notice that it's not of a landscape but a garbage dump.

This reminds me of a picture from the most recent issue of National Geographic. There was a picture of a six-month old Laysan albatross chick in the outer Hawaiian Islands who starved to death because its stomach was full of cigarette lighters, pump-top sprayers, nut shells, shotgun shell, broken clothespins, and hundreds of plastic bits. Trash that gets trapped in mid-ocean gyres gets eaten by adults and then regurgitated to chicks. "It's rare now to see one of these masses that doesn't contain marine debris. Starvation associated with marine debris is a significant cause of death in chicks that don't fledge." (NG, October 2005, p. 86)

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Recordings/Birdsong/My blog is worth nothing

Spent a lovely evening with Justin, Mary Ann, and Andrew doing the recording for the Narrowhouse chapbook CD thing. Andrew is a real pro, the mic was perfect and the sound in Justin's living room/kitchen was open and resonant. Plus I have a slight cold, which makes my voice lower--a good thing for recording.

I work up early this morning to flocks of geese flying overhead. This is migrating season. It's a clear cool fall day, and I wish I were by the ocean or in the mountains.

So here's my lovey bird poem, written after Frank O'Hara (to prevent it from becoming violent and weird):

I've got to tell you
about living, singing,
fat-feathered birds always

I think of them on
blue mornings or at
sundown out the window
with love

in my mouth the tea
is always too hot
then and the breakfast
of blueberries and
cereal my Chinese

robe warms me I
need to tell you of
birds and look out
the window at noisy
trees at night

on 16th street the
top three floors of
Christian Scientist Church
glow blue sky and I

am lonely thinking of parrots
and the sounds they
make when bathing

I miss you always
at dawn lying in bed
the birdsong comes
in and the serenade
seems specifically mine
although you have
your California

birdsong and I do
not think of life two
months ago in the way
you said you don't
think of life two

months ago
no typing at the
computer I say goodbye
to Lester then leave
and comeback to say

goodbye again you are
eating dinner or coming
back from a run what
do you eat is it pasta
and did you at least
ad a few mushrooms it

is difficult not to speak
or birds and us
together you brought
me birds last night I

read a book that you
have read about
looking for self
in the wilderness

and the books I've read
and the poems I've
written of you birds
and the wilderness are
numerous everything

distracts me birdsong is
only everywhere you
know how it is when
you see something once
you see it everywhere

In other news, I am pleased to point out that:

My blog is worth $0.00.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Lorraine's exciting social life and teaching screw-ups

I was going to stay home tonight and clean. Instead, I am going to 1) Have dinner with some friends. Well, they will eat dinner and I will eat some dessert, because I have already eaten dinner. Then I will 2) go meet some other friends at a bar, where my friend is bartending.

On Saturday I'm going up to Baltimore to do the recording for my chap-CD thing with Narrowhouse. The main question is, will I retain my "endearing" neurotic reading style during recording.

Today's teaching screw-ups:

"Because the weather is cold, Lorraine wears more close."

Other thoughts:

I think that I should move to Istambul and open a bird sanctuary.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Amiri Baraka and Rod Smith read last night at Georgetown University in the Lannan Poetry Series.

I normaly work at Joy of Motion on Tuesday nights, and it was a big pain to switch my schedule around--but it was worth it! I've been reading his autobiography and am trying to figure out a way of incorporating some of it into the memoir class I'm teaching at the corcoran. It was one of the largest crowds I've ever seen at a reading, and there were students in the front rows actually jumping up and down in their seats because they were so excited.

Have a look at Kaplan's pictures from the event.

I arrived at the pre-reading seminar late. At a certain point the talk turned to the issue of how all art is social and political and the need to cooperate and organize is very real. At the same time, most organizations as we know them suck.

Sample Baraka quote (or perhaps paraphrase, since this is from my notes): "It's a question of cooptation, bribery, and murder." Cooptation, bribery, and murder are of course part of what organized art needs to oppose.

A few students expressed concern that organizing would somehow compromise the "individuality of the artist."

I dislike the idea of the artist as romantic loner and individual. Ok. I don't dislike it. It's appealing in some ways. Ok, a lot of ways. But it's not the only or even best model for an artist. Even if I go and live in the woods alone and write poems and never talk to anyone again, I'm participating in a history of poets going into the woods and never talking to anyone again.

The discussion reminded me of some of Bob Black's writing. His best known essay is called "The Abolition of Work." It also brought to mind Jessica Benjamin's theories of psychology. Subject-subject instead of subject-object.

Uh, pause to check notes.

Jessica Benjamin asserts that there is an “ongoing interplay of destruction and recognition” between subjects, and that this interplay forms a “dialectic between fantasy and external reality” (Like Subjects, Love Objects, 45).

More later.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Stuff to know

  • Jessica Snowden (formerly Jessica Smith. She did not get married, just changed her name) and Kaplan Harris and Linda Russo are on an ultra groovy panel at the CUNY Conference on Contemporary Poetry.
  • Alicia Askenase and I are reading tomorrow, October 16 at In Your Ear at the District of Columbia Arts Center.
  • There is talk of the future possibility that the Australian Defense Force will have to go and prevent Papua New Guinea from becoming a "collapsed state."
  • Neo-Nazis are active in Ohio. And Anti-Nazi groups are also active.
  • I bought Dar William's new album, "My Better Self." There's a really fabulous cover with Ani Difranco of "Comfortably Numb."
  • My excessively long work days have altered my body in the past two months. My legs and arms are literally popping out of their sockets.
  • Lester is molting, and so he's a bit ornery. He's stitting on the collar of my shirt, underneath my hair and snuggling into the nape of my neck.

Dance of the Blue Footed Boobie!

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Cops, News, Students

I have several new students this month from Turkey, Korea, Ukraine, Slovenia, the Russian Far East, Moscow, Honduras, Japan, and Mongolia. They only arrived in DC a few days ago, but they have all heard the news about the cops who beat up the retired schoolteacher in New Orleans. They wanted to know if they should carry their passports around all the time just in case they are stopped by the police. First I told them that their student IDs should be enough, then I changed my mind, then I said, "ask S--- in student affairs, she can help. Now, let's discuss models!" Except that we didn't really discuss models, I talked about them.

So many ways to make a polite request:

Can I see your passport?
May I see your passport?
Could I see your passport?
Would you mind if I looked at your passport?
Might I look at your passport? I hate the news.

I check my Internet sites every day but I don't really feel like I know or understand "what is going on." I feel like we've been blowing things up and being blown up forever. I know that many folks take comfort in being able to list precise details, in numbers, but lately I feel like that such things are even more abstract than photographs.

I won't ever really know how many votes each presidential candidate really received in any election, I won't know who owned what voting machines, won't know how many died and how. 30 Iraqis in the northern town of Tal Afar and in Baghdad from two separate bomb attacks. Six army personnel washed away in a massive landslide in Tangdhar. According to Xinhua news agency, a least 180,000 people have died in Darfur, many from hunger and disease. About 2 million others have fled their homes to escape the conflict. 21 buffalo are dead of possibly anthrax in the wildlife resort town of Hwange in northwestern Zimbabwe. How about all the nile perch that have been dumped into Lake Victoria that have eaten many of the fish that used to exist in that ecosystem?

I suppose this sounds trite. I miss being forced to read the news in a foreign language. Getting through one article felt like an accomplishment, and at the very least I'd learned something about the culture(s) I was living in and some new vocabulary words. The most daring newspapers in the PRC usually came from the south and took a few days to get to us in Harbin. They reported on Africa and the Pacific, or sometimes India. They managed to print a story about the Falun Gong demonstration on Tiananmen square on April 26, 1999...

I'd read three or four paragraphs of the news after lunch--about half an article--and then go play flute in the bathroom among the dying laundry. I liked the acoustics. So, I'd write my new vocabulary on flash cards, and then go play some sonatas in the bathroom. Usually Mozart. Once, a woman knocked on the door of the bathroom. She was a viola player from Boston. I don't remember why she was in Harbin but she knocked on the door and said, "do you speak English?" I wasn't sure. I was playing the flute in a dormitory bathroom in Harbin. We stared at each other. I hadn't really spoken English in about five months, and my writing was starting to deteriorate. "I play the viola. We could play together."

I am not using correct dialogue format.

I was upset that I wasn't in Beijing when we bombed the embassy during the NATO strikes on Belgrade in April 1999. I wanted to participate in all the outrage and to apologize and to tell people that there were a lot of US citizens who were also angry, not just about the bombing of the PRC embassy, but about the air strikes and the cluster bombs and the situation in general. But I was in Harbin, where there isn't even a US Consulate but there is a mosque and a very lovely Russian Orthodox church.

I was going through a security clearance background check to work in U.S. Intelligence. The agency bureaucrats, seemingly unaware of geography and time differences, would call me at 3 or 4 in the morning. The phone in the hallway would ring, someone would wake up and yell for me in Chinese, and I'd put on my slippers and wool sweater and go out into the hall and say "wei?!" into the phone. They kept asking me to send them official fingerprints. I kept telling them that I was 15 hours away from the nearest branch of the US government. "Look," I'd say, "I can't just go to Beijing tomorrow. I'll try and go this weekend." But we bombed their embassy, and I couldn't go anywhere.

I waited until I returned to DC to be fingerprinted and to break-up with my boyfriend. By April I'd already decided I had no intention of working for the US government, but the process of going through a security clearance seemed "interesting," and it was a way of pretending I wasn't a total weirdo.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Things that are true today

  • I am suffering from general achiness. Aches are a type of nagging pain. Note that general achiness is often related to general malaise or muscular atrophy. Obvioulsy muscles are just waisting away.
  • It rained a lot in DC today. I got caught in it after work and walked home barefoot.
  • I saw the mouse yesterday.
  • The birds in the trees outside my window are singing. It is sunset and they know it even though it is drizzling. Lester is singing with them. This is what he usually does.
  • If he is allowed to wake up with the light, Lester usually sings in the morning.
  • I did most of the standing sequence this morning and an abbreviated version of first series. Birds sing, so I am trying to do sun salutations.
  • My obturator externus and internus, gemellus superior and inferior, piriformis, and quadratus femoris are really really tight. They have gotten worse over the past few weeks.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Rock Heals

I have some poems and a prose-thing up at Rock Heals this week. Huzzah!

Today's Aliments

Today I am suffering from general malaise, which could be caused by any number of things. Sometimes general malaise (as well as fatigue and insomnia) can stem from unresolved dental issues. Some other things it can stem from"

  • Emotional problems (of course)
  • Stress (certainly)
  • Fatigue (yes)
  • Depression (no)
  • Depressive disorders (no)
  • Poor diet (my diet has been mediocre this week but not wretched)
  • Inadequate sleep (certainly a factor)
  • Illness (maybe)
  • Virus (maybe)
  • Chronic sinusitis (kind of)
  • Toothache (I do not have a toothache)
  • Anemia (NO!)
  • Hypothyroidism (I was tested for this once and do not have it)
  • Certain heart disorders (No, no, no)
  • Certain lung disorders (Does asthma count?)
  • Certain abdominal disorders (Nope)
  • Intestinal disorders (Yuck)
  • Certain urinary disorders (Ick)
  • Urinary tract infection (YuckIck)
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease (AH!)
  • Prostate disorders (Certainly not)
  • Almost any possible condition - Almost every illness makes people feel unwell. (Are there any illnesses that make people feel well? Mania?)

The way to cure general malaise is apparantly through "tonics," "vitamin preparations," and "stimulants." What kind of stimulants? One of my students brought some kola nuts to class....

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Hooray for the rock hyrax!

Ah. The noble rock hyrax! The one above lives at the national zoo. Those buck teeth are actually tusks!

If ever you find yourself in the house of mamals, go visit the rock hyrax. They usually live in large social groups, and the one at the zoo lives alone. You'll find her around the corner from the chinchilla.

For Further information:

Order Hyracoidea. Animal Diversity Web. University of Michigan Museum of Zoology.
Hyracoidea. The Ultimate Ungulate Page.
Afrotheria Specialist Group. IUCN - The World Conservation Union. Species Survival Commission.
Order Hyracoidea: the Hyraxes. University of Edinburgh Aubrey Manning Gallery Collection.
Hyrax. African Wildlife Foundation.

Cydney Chadwick's Flesh and Bone

So, I wrote this review back in 2001 and never placed it, which sucks. But Flesh and Bone is a most excellent collection of short stories. And Avec is a most excellent press.

Cydney Chadwick
Flesh and Bone, Stories (Avec Books, Penngrove 2001)

“In his room he is a famous poet…The further he gets from his apartment, the less well-known he is.” –“Mists”

“This is not unusual and in fact happens to everyone.” – “Flight”

Flesh and Bone, winner of the 2002 Independent Publisher Book Awards for Short Stories, is an elegant collection rendered in a succinct yet lyrical language. Told from the point of view of a “you,” “we” or he/she that always implicates the reader, these stories highlight the often-painful and opaque dynamic between the inner and outer fantasy worlds we create and project on others—and those created by others to which we are in turn subjected.

Flesh and Bone is bound to fascinate and make any reader slightly nervous: Cydney Chadwick exposes emotional secrets, explains sources of fear, and dismantles fantasies. But Chadwick’s understanding of how people emote and attempt to connect with one other is substantial. The stories in Flesh and Bone remind us that, though our emotions and neuroses are powerful, they are not necessarily unique:

“We believe something might be wrong with us or that we have gone crazy…We suspect we are disintegrating so we redouble our efforts to appear stable and competent” (69).

As readers, this statement is obvious and illuminating. The recognition that “we suspect we are disintegrating” is an admission of estrangement. Yet, it is this admitted feeling of alienation that circumscribes the reader back into a community of “we,” even as it articulates a sense of disaffection. Chadwick’s characters are sometimes admirable, sometimes despicable, and always ambivalent. They end up in situations they did not intend to end up in, and most of the time they don’t know why. They are characters whose perceptions of themselves, of others, and the world around them are skewed, but it’s impossible to know where the inaccuracies lie. Although not all of Chadwick’s stories are about “you” or “us,” the frequent use of inclusive pronouns and the narration of familiar emotions open up the possibility of connection, even with characters whose genders and social situations may be very different from that of the reader.

The book opens with a story called “Irritants,” a portrait of a single man who seems to work in a job with a high-paying salary, living alone relatively comfortably with a cat. Throughout the story he is plagued by irritants, both physical and psychological, yet he chooses to ignore them—he is unable to understand them, and maybe he doesn’t even know they exist. There are cat hairs in his eyes; the woman he plays tennis against is too good a player, he finds himself saying things he doesn’t really believe. The man cannot admit his general dissatisfaction, because to do so would be to admit his view of the world and of himself is inaccurate and at best opaque. He can’t get rid of his cat even though she bites him and uses his expensive shoes as a litter box. If he did, “he would be the kind of person who abandons animals and secretly desires to hit women with tennis balls” (16-17). That many of Chadwick’s readers are not single, wealthy businessmen makes familiarity of the character’s loneliness and dissatisfaction all the more uncomfortable and revealing.

Flesh and Bone is a feminist collection, though not in any blatantly ideological sense. Many of Chadwick’s stories are about women trying to live creative lives in a world hostile to both art and women. For example, in “An Adolescence,” the main character and her friend are approached by a man in a bookstore:

“The man says she does not have to talk about such lofty things as art. But I like art! she exclaims. Soon the man grows hostile; she and her friend are hurrying out the door and running to their car as he follows them” (118).

While the disturbing power of men relative to women is addressed in these stories, Chadwick’s view of female oppression is complicated and nuanced. Her characters, both male and female, are all subject to the anger, resentment and ignorance of those around them, but they are also complicit in it: everyone has fantasies. In “Hangman,” pubescent girls divide themselves into two groups, those who “have breasts” and are “wearing dresses and makeup,” and those “who are either pre-pubescent, wear braces, glasses, or have imperfect skin.” This second group of girls amuse themselves at recess by running around on the playground shouting “Ugly bitch…while trying to knock one another down in the dirt” (110).

Cydney Chadwick’s Flesh and Bone portrays a world filled with vulnerable people, often unable to recognize or articulate how enmeshed they are in numerous and conflicting relationships. An attentive reader cannot help but recognize the honesty of such a world as well as their inevitable entanglement within it—as readers, as people. Although at first this recognition creates a sense of bleakness, Chadwick’s stories also assert that being vulnerable and prone to fantasizing is not an entirely negative situation, nor is such a state of being completely our fault. The world of human interaction and emotion is substantially shaped by fantasy, but despite the opaque yet astoundingly common nature of human relationships, connections between people do in fact occur. In the world of Flesh and Bone, misinformation abounds, and misinformation mixed with fantasy yields less than expected results. But expectations are just another form of fantasy, anyway.

World Animal Week

World Animal Week begins today and runs until October 10.

Monday, October 03, 2005


Thanks to Shann Palmer for the shout out. We met and spoke at the James River Writers Conference, so she should have been in my initial list of "some people I spoke to."

Sappho's poetry is so good it makes my hair stand on end!

Lester is asleep right now, but I am awake.

Someone should write a paper about animals and avant-garde poetry.

Marianne Moore wrote about animals and has an essay called 'What There is to See at the Zoo' (1987): "The zoo shows us that privacy is a fundamental need of all animals. For considerable periods, animals in the zoo will remain out of sight in the quiet of their dens or houses. Glass, recently installed in certain parts of the snake house at the Bronx Zoo makes it possible to see from the outside, but not out from the inside."

Guillaume Apollinaire has several animal poems. For example: The Dove, The Dromedary, The Elephant, The Goat of Tibet, The Octopus, The Peacock.

How about Emily Dickenson?

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin,
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.

Or Gary Snyder's "Smokey the Bear Sutra" ?

Or "A Noiseless, Patient Spider," by Mr. Walt Witman?


Oh, John the rabbit, Yes, Ma’am
Got a mighty habit, Yes, Ma’am
Jumping in my garden, Yes Ma’am
Cutting down my cabbage, Yes Ma’am
My sweet potatoes, Yes Ma’am
My fresh tomatoes, Yes Ma’am
An if I live, Yes Ma’am
To see next fall, Yes, Ma’am
I ain’t gonna have, Yes Ma’am
No garden at all, Yes Ma’am

Manatee in Richmond

Read all about Chessie, the manatee who swam all the way up to Richmond, VA.

Chessie Photo (c) Save the Manatee Club

Sunday, October 02, 2005

James River Writers Conference

I was in Richmond this weekend at the James River Writers Conference. It was fun. The weather was nice. I stayed with Cheryl Pallant and did yoga in her basement in the evenings and petted her cats. (Pause to scratch Lester's head).

Some of the people I talked to at the conference (other than Cheryl) were:

  • Rosalind Miles--Author of I, Elizabeth, and The Guenevere Trilogy, among others. Rosalind has a fabulous sense of humor and is a lively conversationalist. Her feminist perspective was necessary and welcomed. She also wore red bejeweled high heels to the end-of conference party.
  • Reb Livingston--We were on a panel together and because she lives near DC I like to claim her as a DC poet.
  • Ron Hogan--Ron Hogan smokes cigars and drinks scotch. He also edits Beatrice.

Things I learned:

  • That I should be more proactive about sending out work. Usually I just wait until someone solicits something from me. But if I'm going to, like, publish more fiction, I need to send out more fiction, and so on.
  • In a poetry panel at a writing conference, someone will always ask "what is a poem?" or "how do you deffine a poem?" They will ask this question with some degree of hostility.
  • Poets really are viewed with awe or suspicion.
  • A possom is the size of a large cat, but they are not as cute and have bigger heads.
  • That I am still quite young.
  • That the word "craft" is frequently used at a writing conference.
  • That people who write in different genres can have fun at parties together.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

On Not Joining the Circus

At the beginning of my not-yet illustrious graduate school career, which may already be over, I decided to blow off the Modernist Studies Association conference to go to Romania. Friends and acquaintances were either shocked or not shocked, depending.

Some asked, “But isn’t it important that you give papers in your field, aren’t you a modernist?” I didn't tell them that I hadn't even written my paper yet.

Others said sternly, “Resist the urge to join the circus, Lorraine.” I sulked and said nothing.

My advisor was skeptical but not unwilling to help. “What are you going to do in Romania for two weeks? Is it relevant to your thesis?” He had his pen poised to sign a form that would eventually force the department to pay for my plane ticket.

“It’s a translation studies conference,” I said. “And maybe I’ll give a reading there.”

My flight to Bucharest left from New York, so I took a bus up from Washington, DC the night before and stayed with friends in Green Point, Brooklyn.

Here’s the part where I noodle a bit:

Four or maybe five months ago for work, I attended a reading by a well-known and influential poet who said that there had been no good American poets since W. H. Auden. He’s wrong, of course. I probably only care about Auden because of the sense of energy and humor he brought to New York. I can’t fathom the arrogance needed to dismiss, for example, “Beat” poetry, the San Francisco Renaissance, Adrienne Rich, Jerome Rothenberg, the New York School, the Nuyorican Poets, and many many other individuals and groups about which I’ll have to write later.

I don’t know what kind of narrative historians and literary scholars of the future will construct to define and judge the many kinds of poetries being written and performed in the United States. But I can analyze the present, and at present there are a lot of poets. The friends I stayed with in Brooklyn are poets.

Rarely do I exist in a public context where being a poet is relevant, and it's never OK. My partner, Mark, tells a story about traveling in southern Portugal after being at the International Meeting of Poets at the University of Coimbra. He was with the performance artist and writer William R. Howe (although when Mark tells the story it is just “Bill”). Mark and Bill are tall men. At the time Bill was sporting a stiff purple mohawk. They checked into a hotel in a small walled town. They filled out cards with their name, nationality, passport number, and profession. Next to profession they wrote, “poet.” The woman behind the desk didn’t speak any English, but she recognized the word poet.

“Ah, Poetas!” She exclaimed, and gave them a twenty percent discount.

This kind of thing doesn’t happen in the United States. If anything, people want to see cash up front when they find out you’re a poet.

As it turns out, being a poet in Romania is OK, although it has its difficulties. Florin Prodan, poet, critic, and kind host, is often between jobs. When I was in Romania, his friend was making some money by writing an article about garlic.

“Ah,” Florin said, “there is an annual festival of garlic in Bucovina.”

“Tell me, tell me!” His friend replied.

I spent my first three days in Campulung Moldovenesc, a town in Bucovina, nestled in the “foothills” of the Carpathian mountains. I stayed up until 4 in the morning most nights drinking homemade afinata, a liquor made, I think, from a berry similar to blueberries. There was something in the afinata that allowed me to talk all night about poetry, politics, and art. Each morning I woke up at 7:00 am, hyper and excited, without a trace of hangover.

"Afinata is organic," Florin said. "It does not make you sick."

My hosts in Campulung Moldovenesc gave me a large plastic jug of afinata to take with me, since I seemed to like it so much. I lugged this jug on both train and bus rides. In Suceava, the provincial capital of Bucovina, I was starting to feel sentimental and lonely, which meant I haden't had enough sleep. When poet and journalist X showed me a series of achingly lovely unpublished translations of his work, I cried like the Green party/sometimes Democrat I am.

“It’s OK,” he said through a translator. “It’s not your fault you didn’t know of us. But you know us now.”

By the time we arrived in the university town of Iasi, I was strung out and overwhelmed by the number of talented writers I’d met, and had decided once again that I know nothing about anything. I like this feeling, it’s why I travel.

One evening, we retreated to the rooftop balcony in the home of poet Radu Andriescu. Radu is one of the few contemporary Romanian writers to have his work translated into English. On his bookshelves he has a complete set of Sulfur, the magazine edited by Clayton Eshleman dedicated to engaging “multiple aspects of innovative contemporary poetry in the context of international modernism,” etc.

Dizzy, I headed back up the spiral staircase to the roof and complimented Radu on his magazine collection. He looked at me and took my half full glass of Greek (yes, Greek) whisky.

He smiled and says, “let’s put on some Frank Zappa!”

I don't like Frank Zappa, but I like some of Radu's poems. Any man who uses the verb "rape" ironically in song lyrics is not OK. OK, so maybe "Little Rubber Girl" and "Bobby Brown" are ironic, but I don't identify with their glee, and I'm not supposed to, and I don't want to listen to them. But I'm glad that Zappa opposes censorship.

That night, there were no less than five wedding parties at the hotel where we were staying. The music and dancing lasted all night. I called Mark a bit drunk and lonely.

I managed to bring my plastic jug of Afinata back to Washington, DC to share with friends.

“Will it make me blind?” One asked.


Here’s a recipe for Afinata, in Romanian. Anyone who can tell me exactly what "afine" is/are...please do.

5 kg afine, 3 kg zahar, 3 I votcă

Mod de preparareSe aleg afinele si se spala, se scurg si se pun in damigeana cu zaharul presarat in straturi, deasupra fiind stratul de zahar. Se leagă damigeana la gură cu tifon împăturit şi se pune la soare cca 4 saptamini. Cind afinele s-au macerat si-au lasat un sirop care acopera fructele, se adauga alcoolul. Se inchide damigeana cu un dop de pluta si se mai pastreaza la macerat cca 3-4 saptamini. Se strecoara prin tifon sau printr-o strecuratoare deasa, se pune in sticle si se pastreaza la rece. In aceleasi condiţii se prepara si zmeurata, cornata si capsunata.