I’ve found that keeping a reading log is mostly an exercise in grief and despair, but at least it attests to my trying. It’s hard, especially at the end of the semester. Had to bargain internally for way too long before I let myself finish Allison Seay’s excellent To See the Queen in bed last night.
But my lack of time right now doesn’t keep me from buying books and stacking them up in my study. May 17th, and I’ll have time again. Fifteen days until:
Robert Graves, The White Goddess
Brenda Shaughnessy, Our Andromeda
Dorothy Sayers, Gaudy Night and Busman’s Honeymoon (I have no words for how excited I am)
Meg Wolitzer, The Interestings
Adam McOmber, The White Forest (our May book club book!)
C.D. Wright, Steal Away
…as well as everything else on my reading log page. Bounty.
"...That's why the movies are
such a disaster. Now there's a form of popular culture that
doesn't have a clue. Movies should be five minutes long. You
should go in, see a couple of shots, maybe a room with orange
draperies and a rug. A voice-over would say, "I'm having a
hard time getting Raoul from the hotel room into the eleva-
tor." And, bang, that's the end. The lights come on, everybody
walks out full of sympathy because this is a shared experi-
ence. Everybody in that theater knows how hard it is to get
Raoul from the hotel room into the elevator."
from "The Politics of Narrative: Why I Am A Poet" by Lyn Emanuel
On a reading-for-pleasure tear these past five days, something I’ve gotten so far away from that it breaks my heart. Finished Jo Walton’s lovely Among Others after a few Door County couch nights with candles and lap-cat. Exactly the sort of novel I hope the one I’m working on will be. Read also Kristin Cashore’s Graceling, which had been recommended, but I found it much more enjoyable as a study of a young-YA novel’s structure than a book in and of itself–the sentences were painfully simple, but not in such a way as they disappeared. Disappointing. I would’ve loved that book at ten, maybe. Will most likely start Bleak House next, though I’m sort of strangely excited to get into Foucault’s Birth of the Clinic. I’ve told myself I need to buy new sticky-notes before I do so, though, and there are none to be found on the Wisconsin peninsula.
They say what you do to ring in the New Year forecasts how the next will go. Will be here, reading.
Best things I’ve read this year: the aforementioned Walton; MFK Fisher’s Gastronomical Me; Cheryl Strayed’s Wild; Bruce Smith’s Devotions, for finding something new in it each time I pick it up; Tana French’s In The Woods (the others after, as well); Justin Torres’ We the Animals; honestly, I can’t think of any others. That’s rather sad.
On docket is the bulk of my prelims list (which honestly I’m excited for, especially if it helps me renew my interest in 20th century poetry); Danielewski’s Fifty Year Sword (bought because it was so lovely to hold, though it seems insubstanstial); the Gaiman/Pratchett Good Omens (no shame, none); a few books on demons that some Amazon reviewers inform me will bring terrible luck (interesting) but seem increasingly necessary for the novel’s world-building; Conroy’s Stop-Time; Lessing’s Golden Notebook; Elizabeth Hardwick’s Sleepless Nights; the Martha Stewart Housekeeping Handbook (…no shame, none); a book on going paleo, as I want to after this next round of traveling (Arkansas, NYC, Door County again) is over.
Well, there it is, really: the inside of my head.
My major area has to do with the myth of the self and identity creation in 20th century American poetry, a question that seems to very much take its most visible root in mid-century confessional poetry. C. mentioned the other day that a friend asked if I, being a poet, liked Sylvia Plath, and he told me that he laughed and said “that’s a complicated question.” Because, of course, the question was phrased in the way that most think of Plath: not just what you think of her work, but what do you think of her, the myth of her.
Should biography be important?
Most mainstream readers of poetry aren’t really interested in the death of the author. This isn’t an issue with readers of contemporary fiction, though I do always laugh when I see the placard ‘Based on a True Story’ in a movie trailer or in the first pages of a ‘fictionalized account’. I quite like this quote from Saul Bellow’s Humboldt’s Gift on the subject of the myth of the poet, particularly the dead poet:
The country is proud of its dead poets. It takes terrific satisfaction in the poets’ testimony that the USA is too tough, too big, too much, too rugged, that American reality is overpowering. And to be a poet is a school thing, a skirt thing, a church thing. The weakness of the spiritual powers is proved in the childishness, madness, drunkenness, and despair of these martyrs. Orpheus moved stones and trees. But a poet can’t perform a hysterectomy or send a vehicle out of the solar system. Miracle and power no longer belong to him. So poets are loved, but loved because they just can’t make it here.
I find, in my own work, that I write in third person to escape a lot of these associations. That, by casting myself as ‘she’ or ‘her’, I create enough distance to tell my own version of autobiography. (I talked about this briefly for Blackbird.) It’s an escape hatch that I’m attempting to stop using, because I worry that it’s like writing a poem about a dream: difficult to get your audience invested. Instead, I’ve been writing first-person poems that include deliberate lies: my speaker has been married for three years, my speaker is uncomfortable in the trappings of contemporary life (which, in its own way, feeds into Bellow’s discussion of created mythology), my speaker is mourning a child. My speaker is not me, not me, not me. Don’t look at the girl behind the curtain; the girl isn’t the issue. How she’s hiding and how she’s revealing herself — that’s what is.
This might be the hardest year of academia I’ve had since beginning it. All the work I’m doing for the doctorate is immensely satisfying, as it’s difficult to do and do well. Of course, it being difficult also means…it’s difficult. I’ve needed to schedule everything to keep up, up to and including brunch dates, and so when I come to after a month and realize I haven’t updated my blog, it’s because I forgot to schedule that too. Hello blog! I didn’t mean to abandon you.
I read in St. Louis this Monday with the amazing James Arthur and Teresa Scollon, which was lovely, and it was great to see old Bread Loaf and Bucknell friends at dinner.
I have been missing Becky Hazelton something awful, but am so excited for her books to come out early this spring, because then I can carry her around with me.
The wonderful Kit Williamson came to visit the week before last, and we took the ferry across Lake Michigan and then drove up to Interlochen, our old boarding school, where we made videos and drank wine out of styrofoam cups in a Howard Johnson and had dinner with Jack Driscoll, our first mentor, on whose office couch I laughed and played terrible emo music and cried about boyfriends and poetry and nonsense all through high school. On top of all the acting and playwriting and everything else he does well, Kit also has a thriving headshot business, and so the new photo on the right of this blog is his doing. Thank you, dear heart.
I may or may not have booked tickets to go visit my friend Emily over the Baker Street Irregulars Birthday Weekend in NYC. We may or may not be going in costume to a Sherlock Holmes charity ball. This may or may not be the best thing that’s ever happened to me.
This semester I’ve been doing lots of academic writing, so much so that I haven’t really been able to squeeze in quality creative time, and then it’s as if there’s this hierarchy that I’m constantly shifting: I have two hours. Do I write a poem? Do I write a new scene for the novel? Do I finally take the notes for that Holmes essay and turn it into something real? Ultimately, I fret about what I should do with my free time until it’s over and all I have done is add clothes to my Svpply list. Four hundred dollar boots I can’t afford: we do not have a complicated relationship, just an unrequited one.
I have more or less dropped out of poem-a-day, sadly, though it was nice to write alongside such great poets while officially breaking through the brick wall of not-writing-poems-at-all. But things are so busy right now, between the PhD and traveling and sick, sick, sick, that I haven’t had a chance to work at all on the novel–which would be fine, except it’s what I think about what I’m not thinking about seminars. (A new terrible Ray Carver story?)
So I’m de-stickying that top post in acknowledgment of this most current poem-a-day burn-out.
Off to Ohio tonight to see my wonderful former flatmate get married, and then back again this Sunday. Somewhere in there, coursework and course-planning and a stray job application or two.
I was really lucky to read for the launch of Great Lakes Review last week at Boswell Books in Milwaukee — thanks so much to David Bowen for putting that together. For my St. Louis area friends: I’ll be reading next for the Observable Poetry Series at the St. Louis Poetry Center on Monday, November 5th, and I’d love to see you there!
Poem a day. I handwrote the last few days’ poems (also known as the first Hail Mary pass) as I’ve been traveling. (I’m back from the UK as of 9pm last night, which felt much more like 5am.) It’s been interesting to translate them to the computer screen today and see what did and didn’t work. I had to relineate them entirely. Long lines in a reporter’s notebook are not, in fact, long lines.
On the eight hour flight yesterday, I tried to do work only to find that my computer did not, in fact, charge on its converted-power-supply. So I watched Hysteria (lackluster), the 2006 Pride & Prejudice (whatever happened to Matthew Mcfayden, I ask, then Google and find out he’s a British miniseries stalwart now), and Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, which I found tremendously lovely and sad, despite the slightly unbelievable romance (though, simultaneously, I loved the unbelievability of it–I understood it, facing the end, how you’d made decisions you otherwise wouldn’t). Anyway, that took me pretty much straight through, as did the Mountain Goats, and I remembered that I used to always listen to this song on transatlantic flights. I love how mysterious and sad it is–John Darnielle does just-buried-passion so well, I think. It’s a tone that works well for a dark, quiet room, even (especially) if that room is thousands of feet above an ocean.
Also, I’ve redone the blog. It’s slightly less bombastic, I think, which is never what I intended in the first place.
I’m writing a novel about angels, so it probably makes sense that I’m listening to the City of Angels soundtrack (which was much better than the travesty of a movie it was connected to). I have such a soft spot for these two songs:
Which led me to my other favorite 90s songs…which led me to a lot of Sarah McLachlan (through “Angel”, and then on to “Adia”). Which means I’m watching the music video for “Fallen” and having flashbacks to eighth grade, when I taped this song off the radio and played it constantly through my tinny speakers.
Which means now I’m not writing. File under: when your process hijacks your process.
If any of this, God forbid, makes you want to rewatch City of Angels and you haven’t yet seen Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire, try that instead. It has some of my all-time favorite film scenes, like this one, where the angel Cassiel tries to comfort a young man and fails:
Today’s overcast and windy. I fell asleep with my window open and woke up wonderfully cold. Now I’m at the coffee shop with Chloe, hammering away at our novels, and I have this song on repeat on my headphones. It reminds me of a summer storm.
Becky and I spent the morning getting our collaborative chapbook into shape for May contests. We may have had very little to eat. Things got slightly out of hand. Then worse. Then this happened:
We are coming with our hunger and our dragons and our poems. Look upon us and despair.