Monday, January 02, 2017

Slow to ignite

I was early for an appointment so I went to the English section of the bookstore, which I was sorry to see had shrunk, yielding to a stupid section of Frankfurt paraphenalia. My eyesight has grown so poor I have to keep taking my glasses off and putting them back on - on to scan the bookshelf, off to peruse the book in my hand. I found a short story collection by Lucia Berlin - such a European name, though it looks like she never left America. She grew up somewhere obscure and moved to Texas and NY, like everyone. She was an alcoholic with a back brace and multiple sons. I was surprised to read that the bright-eyed, coiffured woman on the cover was her - I thought it was a character. I read three stories including ‘Macadam,’ which begins “When fresh it looks like caviar,” then the bio, how her last marriage was to a guy named Something Berlin and I thought —until it dawned on me at dinner— wow, weird that she ended up with a guy with the same last name as her…

Sunday, January 01, 2017

I Can't Expect to Avoid Anger & Brooding

Training

I’m thinking of living forever.
I think that way I might finally
get my gig straight and solve the crosswords.
I’m considering outlasting everyone
although I know I’d have a hard time
explaining not having read Ulysses
past the first chapter.
I don’t care if death smells like nutmeg.
I don’t buy the plotline on eternal rest.
By staying alive someday
I might manage to hail a taxi,
and fulfill my father’s wish
of reaching town without a red light.
I couldn’t expect to avoid anger or brooding
or to make the journey with my beasts appeased.
But I might walk vast expanses
of earth and always be beginning
and I love beginning
or could learn 
to love it.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 books

I had a good year of reading, with a number of terrific books rolling through in December alone. I've been putting off making my list with the notion I might be able to stuff just one more in, but with 14 hours of 2016 left, it's not going to happen.

It wasn't a great year as politics goes, but Bob Dylan did win the Nobel Prize and I will never forget sitting at my desk flushed with surprise and delight, then spending days rebutting the naysayers. I found out I don't like Elena Ferrante, nor do I care who she is *in real life.* There were a number of books that underwhelmed, including Half a Life and Blood Will Out, which was very disappointing. Where did I get that book? 

Here are my favorite reads pretty much, though it is terribly difficult to make choices. I bolded 10 highlights below, but there are some others of course that almost made it.  

Best fiction: So Much For That Winter by Dorthe Nors, A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel
Best poetry: Bright Dead Things by Ada Limon, The End of the West by Michael Dickman, Death Tractates by Brenda Hillman 
Best non-fiction: The Three Christs of Ypsilanti by Milton Rokeach
Other: The Book of Embraces by Eduardo Galeano

1. The Dinner by Herman Koch (Jan 3)
2. The Dog Stars by Peter Heller (Jan 7)
3. What the Truth Tastes Like by Martha Silano (Jan 16)
4. Going After Cacciato by Tim O’Brien (Jan)
5. Zinky Boys by Svetlana Alexievich (Jan 27)
6. Chocky by John Wyndham (Jan 29)
7. Bright Dead Things by Ada Limon (Feb 6)
8. Hotel World by Ali Smith (Feb 7)
9. The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber (Feb 18)
10. Swoop by Hailey Leithauser (Feb 20)
11. Shockwave by Stephen Walker (Feb 22)
12. The Scented Fox by Laynie Browne (Feb 29)
13. The Three Christs of Ypsilanti by Milton Rokeach (Feb 29)
14. Blood Will Out by Walter Kirn (Mar 3)
15. Kindred by Octavia Butler (Mar 17)
16. The Wind Blows Through the Doors of My Heart by Deborah Digges (Mar 19)
17. My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante (Mar 27)
18. Heartsnatcher by Boris Vian (April 6)
19. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra (April 21)
20. There Was An Old Woman by Jessy Randall (May 2)
21. Five Days At Memorial by Sherry Fink (May 17)
22. Selected Translations by WS Merwin (May 28)
23. Universal Themes in Literature by Howie Good (online chap, May 29)
24. The Vegetarian by Kang Han (June 3)
25. The Book of Embraces by Eduardo Galeano (June)
26. The Possessed by Elif Batuman (June 25)
27. Half a Life by Darin Strauss (Jul 1)
28. The End of the West by Michael Dickman (Jul 3)
29. Small Boat by Lesle Lewis (Jul 5)
30. Sight Lines by Sandra Marchetti (online chap, Jul 5)
31. drip, drip by Lizi Gilad (online chap, Aug 1)
32. Stone Bruises by Simon Beckett (Aug 11)
33. Death Tractates by Brenda Hillman (Aug 11)
34. Where There’s Smoke by Simon Beckett (Aug 13)
35. It Is Such a Good Thing to Be in Love With You by David Welch (Sep 2)
36. A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel (Sep 16)
37. Ochre by Gla4 (online chap, Sep 18)
38. 102 Minutes: Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers - Jim Dwyer (Sep 27)
39. Misery by Stephen King (Sep 29)
40. It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be by Paul Arden (Oct 25)
41. Seven Years by Peter Stamm (Oct 17)
42. Crash by JG Ballard (Nov 1)
43. Chinoiserie by Karen Rigby (Nov 1)
44. The hows and why of my failures by Dan Nowak (chapbook, Nov 5)
45. Lovely Green Eyes by Arnost Lustig (Nov 12)
46. Pigeons in the Grass by Wolfgang Koeppen (Nov 23)
47. The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder (Nov 27)
48. Mislaid by Nell Zink (Dec 5)
49. So Much For That Winter by Dorthe Nors (Dec 9)
50. Arthur and George by Julian Barnes (Dec 16)
51. The Immortality of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (Dec 25)
52. A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett (Dec 27)

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Holiday poems


We had a lovely Christmas with my mother here. As usual, everyone got many presents and if anyone complains they will be duly smacked. A highlight was driving up the Rhine on Monday to a restaurant overlooking the vineyards and river. There was a sun shower and lots of wind and our brunch was horrendously expensive but I’d do it again. 

In writing news, I’ve got two poems up at Ghost Proposal: “Gestures in a Landscape” and “Rome Postcard.” I really enjoyed the issue and hope you’ll spend some time there. “Gestures” is aphoristic, moving through war, landscapes and air. “Rome” is a travel fragment. 

Barnstorm, where I had a poem a couple or three years ago, also published my poem “Rue Musette” mid-month. I wrote this mostly at the end of last year after visiting Dijon and visiting the beautiful Fontenay Abbey in France. I usually decline to record a reading but I went ahead this time. When I sent it I said “if it sounds terrible just toss it” but the very kind editor said it was beautiful and I felt happy about that for a long time! 

Three more of my Misery poems have been accepted, and I’m looking forward to seeing them out in the world soon.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

death tractates

This year, so far, I’ve read three really outstanding poetry books. Forced to pick a favorite I’m going with Brenda Hillman’s “Death Tractates.” It wasn’t written this year —it’s rare I read books the year they come out— but in 1992.

It has a dullsville cover, and the title makes it sound like some kind of plodding, ancient tome. I didn’t have high expectations, though I’d loved Hillman’s “Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire” a year ago. (That one I bought that on a whim and after opening it was like, ugh, I’m going to hate this. But I ended up loving it.) 

“Death Tractates” is certainly about death, and suffused with grief, but Hillman puts suffering off to one side to ask questions about existence. The poems convey death’s mystery, and treat the deceased as if she were still present, only separated a little, and unreachable. The dead woman is often referred to as a bride and she is nowhere and everywhere. The poems aren’t filled with tears or wailing, but with questions and thoughtful wondering.

Here’s the start of ”Seated Bride” -

She had died without warning in early spring.
Which seemed right.
Now that which was far off could become intimate.

I said to the guides, let’s stand
very close to the mystery
and see how far she’s gone…

One of the best poems is “Much Hurrying,” which begins:

—So much hurrying right after a death:
as if a bride were waiting!

Crocuses sliced themselves out
with their penknives. Everything well made
seemed dead to them: Camelias. Their butcher-
paper pink. The well-made poems

seemed dead to you …. 

The other two outstanding books of poetry I read this year were Ada Limon’s “Bright Dead Things,” which WAS published this year, and Michael Dickman’s “The End of the West.” Of course I read a lot of very good poetry books this year, but I'm being really strict with myself here. So: 3.

Friday, December 09, 2016

Black chair

My husband and daughter went to Italy for a long weekend. My son has school, and I’ve taken the day off to lounge around and stare at the walls.

Ha, I wish. I have to paint a wall, buy the paint, finish a story for work (get back to me, people), and pick up a small chair that’s been reupholstered. Black. 

My first Misery poem is up at concis. It’s simply called “Misery 31.” 

I think a recorded reading of a poem can ruin it. The poem on the page is expansive and porous. A voice pierces it. It’s like illustrating a book. You drew a character in your mind, and suddenly a different image barges in.

This is not always so. Some poets are great readers. 

If the department of transportation decides phone calls are OK on board airplanes I will really start reading aloud aloft. I have done this on the subway when someone would not shut up. 

The day before a day off is always the better day. 

Going to put on my paint-splattered pants and bike to the DIY store. At some point. Today.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

more on misery

Since my trip to the states I’ve been on a writing hiatus. I did poke around in poems in progress but haven’t started anything new. Fall was dominated by the Misery project. I haven’t abandoned it yet, but I know when I pick it up again I’ll be leaving this peaceful period, whether it’s Misery or another book.

This wasn’t my first time doing found poetry but I did spend more time with Misery, and my approach made creation feel very intimate - sewing paper with thread, cutting and dissecting pages, pasting them with confetti and magazine cut-outs. It was one of the more tactile relationships I’ve had with a book. I cursed a lot about glue. 

A lot of the poems I came up with were failures as poems go, but I dressed them up and managed to give them some charm. The ones that worked both as poems and visuals I’m happy with and am submitting. Others are going nowhere. Nothing I did was elaborate. I didn’t set out thinking I’d do visuals every day, but then I couldn’t drop it once I started.

Misery is an entertaining book. It’s well-written, it’s got plenty of gruesome moments and a wound-up villain. But it isn’t a masterpiece of literature. You don’t want to start with a masterpiece when you’re doing found poetry, in my opinion. You find too much unearned gorgeousness.

I also forgot to post these recent poems from The Baltimore Review: Industry Lap Dog and The Quiet Car

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Goldfish Sitter

I’ve been remiss! I had a rich October doing the Stephen King found poetry project. I had more energy than I expected, turning each daily poem into a little creature with various kinds of collage and drawing, which motivated me. I ended up submitting lots of poems in November, without much payoff so far - a few rejections, a stray acceptance.

I also visited the states last month to help my mother prepare to move and to enjoy a rare Thanksgiving, a holiday I always loved because of the food (and family). The family has scattered I’m afraid, and my mother, our last New Jersey stalwart, picks up stakes in January, too.

I did have one poem published last month, Goldfish Sitter, in the National Poetry Review. It’s a poem I wrote after Christmas last year, when I was indeed assigned to babysit a neighbor’s goldfish over the holidays.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Reposting a Dylan entry from a couple years ago...

I have dueling versions of Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands on my iPod, Bob Dylan’s and Joan Baez’s. For a long time I only listened to hers, but in fact I prefer his. She has a distinctive, beautiful voice, whereas he just has a distinctive voice. But he’s also got personality, and that piercingly sad harmonica!

Ok, so what's another reason to love the song? Because it is a list poem that reminds me of the French surrealists, that’s why.

Take this, from the song:
With your sheets like metal and your belt like lace,
And your deck of cards missing the jack and the ace,
And your basement clothes and your hollow face,
Who among them can think he could outguess you?
With your silhouette when the sunlight dims
Into your eyes where the moonlight swims,
And your match-book songs and your gypsy hymns (etc)

Then this, from Benjamin Peret’s “Here:”
my ghetto of black iris my crystal ear
my opal snail my mosquito made out of air
my bird-of-paradise mattress my hair of black foam
my exploded grave my rain of red grasshoppers
my flying island my turquoise grape (etc)

Then this, from André Breton’s “Free Union:”
My wife whose hair is a brush fire
Whose thoughts are summer lightning
Whose waist is an hourglass
Whose waist is the waist of an otter caught in the teeth of a tiger
Whose mouth is a bright cockade with the fragrance of a star of the first magnitude
Whose teeth leave prints like the tracks of white mice over snow
Whose tongue is made out of amber and polished glass
Whose tongue is a stabbed wafer (etc)

See! I told you.

Monday, October 03, 2016

Dial M for Misery

I'm doing a poem-a-day project as part of "The Poeming," where each participant gets a Stephen King book in which to find a poem. My poems are all at Dial M for Misery, though I'm calling the tumblr blog "Remaking Misery," since I've hauled in some thread, confetti and coloured pencils.

I did read "Misery" as part of the deal, so I'm not at four King novels, the other three being "The Dead Zone," "The Shining," and "The Stand." I've listened to some stories on tape in the car, too. Not entirely my cup of tea, but enjoyable. To get into it I even watched the movie the other night.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Waxwing Readers

The journal Waxwing is holding a competition that emphasizes the importance of readers by letting them nominate their favourite piece of the last three issues. They call it the Good Bones prize, named for the beautiful poem from issue 9 that went viral. You can vote for any creative writing in the issues - poetry, fiction, translation or non-fiction.

I've spent some mornings reading all the poetry. I thought to include poetry in translation, too, but it seems unfair to choose between a heavy hitter like César Vallejo and a relatively unknown poet writing now. Vallejo is a tremendous (and dead) poet. He doesn't need to be made famous. Yes, I appreciate the work of translators, but they had excellent material to start with, and the poets begin with an empty page.

The competition is a smart idea because often people don't read everything literary magazines have to offer. Sometimes, even with my favourite journals, I read the work of people I know then a couple more poems at random or because of their curious titles, then put it aside - partly because there are 10,000 other journals to read.

There's a lot of good poetry in Waxwing. Reading the issues, I was relieved when I got to a poem I didn't like because my list of candidates was growing long. I still haven't decided but here's my short list:

Maya Pridyck "Sometimes a First Kiss Is a Matter"
Nathan McClain "Power Outage Elegy"
Chloe Honum "Lunch Break at the Psychiatric Ward" and "Group Therapy at the Psychiatric Ward"
Jennifer Jean " "Object" and "The Hero of Seymour Avenue"

Check out Waxwing's submission guidelines if you want to participate too. Deadline Aug. 31.


Tuesday, August 16, 2016

We came back from a vacation in France this weekend


See France. Ferment France. Eat France. I love France. I didn’t want to leave. French is the first language I tried to learn. I still know the lesson 2 dialogue of my 7th grade French class word-for-word. It’s been completely internalized, for decades. France has bread. France has peaches. France has beautiful cities and green marshes. It has slim chimneys and wrought-iron balconies. Its streets are named after ancient typographers. The French are into splendor. They are into vibrancy. If only I had truly learned French, I would move there. Maybe it is not too late.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Not without my picture of the sun

It is a hot month. My daughter moved out. My son went on a trip to Prague. I rode my bike back and forth to work despite being rather nervous about it. The best thing to do is let yourself get nervous, to worry, and grimace, and find out (hopefully) later that everything is absolutely ok. 

In addition to the bitten fingernails I've been ditching, I’ve got some recent poems and prose about.

At Flag+Void I have two prose poems called “The Bend” and “Spot Lightning.”

At Right Hand Pointing, I’ve got “The Backache” and “November.” 

Elsewhere, Push Pull Books asked me to recommend books that are “without category.” I have a number, but had to limit myself to three.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

gone electric

Happy International Typewriter Day. I bought my little red beauty at a flea market on the Rhine for less than 10 euros. I remember seeing it almost as soon as we got to the market. I snapped it up immediately and as we browsed it quickly grew heavy. It is a portable, though, with a handle and a case that snaps shut. The maker, Triumph-Adler of Nuremberg, first made bicycles, then branched into typewriters.

I love typewriters because they’re beautiful and the writer’s totem. When I was a child, my father, a reporter, had a small study upstairs and you could hear the typewriter clacking away, busy and productive, a positive presence. Sometimes he let me sit on his lap and peck at the keys. It was our piano. I also went to high school at a time when typing was an elective class. My European colleagues have always found this funny, but in a good way, as a sign of how practical Americans are. Indeed, it’s a great skill to have. 

One of my favourite typewriter scenes in movies is the opening of Atonement, where the sound of typing soon mixes in with a piano. This is a book I wish I had read before seeing the movie, since knowing the twist takes the air out of it. It's a good twist, though. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Colors in Swann’s Way, in Order of Ascending Frequency

“There are tints in the clouds this evening, violets and blues, which are very beautiful, are they not, my friend?” he said to my father. “Especially a blue which is far more floral than atmospheric, a cineraria blue, which it is surprising to see in the sky. And that little pink cloud there, has it not just the tint of some flower, a carnation or hydrangea?”
*
Cineraria Blue - Plum-Colored - Fleshly White - Blushing Pink - Eggshell Yellow - Pearl Grey - Golden - Orange Red - Ruby - Silver - Coral - Cabbage Green - Ultramarine - Roseate - Blood-Red - Opalescent - Plum Blue - Emerald-Green - Wine-Colored - Pearly - Scarlet - Dark Green - Crimson - Sky Blue - Orange - Lilac - Brown - Mauve - Red - Azure - Violet - Purple - Green - Grey - Yellow - Gold - Pink - Black - White - Blue 

Blue is the most mentioned color in Swann's Way. There are blue eyes, blue feathers, cuffs and ceilings, blue tiles, and a portrait of a man with a blue mustache, among many other moods and tints.  

I had to look up cineraria, which turns out to be a flower I’ve seen but never heard named before. The “ciner” suggested it could have to do with ash, and indeed the German name is ‘Aschenblume,’ or ash flower, but in reference to the underside of the leaves rather than the petals. 

I love how Proust's characters look at the sunset and imagine flowers blooming. 

The image from a seed packet found at the Smithsonian. You can see it says "cineraria hybrida." There are other varieties I found online that are even more intensely blue, and lack the white ring around the center. 

Saturday, June 11, 2016

A Note on the Type: Frasco

The text of this book is set in Frasco, an angular typeface based on the handwriting of Eduardo Frasco, royal scrivener to King Ademarr I.

Frasco expressed his intelligence in a barbed tongue, with a wit evinced in the reams of correspondence he left behind. Frasco the man was an epicure: his spacing provided ample separation, inviting readers to savor every shape and word. 

Frasco wrote in an quick hand, his bowls evoking eyes that squint skyward in inquiry, be it daytime, midnight, or eclipse. The typeface that bears his name bristles with loops and tails; its ascendants emerge like figures leaping up on tiptoe. 

The letterforms are a lean creation, sparingly adorned, marked by acute curvature. Steep swoops dictate the pace, while the capitals are not overlarge, like a king who is respected, but not given too wide a berth.

Monday, June 06, 2016

Joy Alert

Things like Marie Kondo’s book about owning only items that ‘spark joy’ and articles like “Arrange Your Morning around Tasks that Bring You Joy” make it seem like joy is some kind of everyday commodity, within reach just by a trick of organization. 

That’s not joy. That’s what the marketing department and the cereal packaging designers are telling you to sell books and smart phone apps and Coca-Cola. 

Beware of products that promise you joy. It isn’t something you buy or pencil into your schedule. 

Joy is a mystery. Joy is a very welcome but unexpected guest. Joy is going to surprise you when you didn’t make careful plans for it.

Joy is exaltation. Joy is overwhelming, discombobulating happiness. Joy is emotional and/or spiritual. It isn’t a glutton, a hoarder or a hedonist. It does not appear on the menu. 

Joy is not a voluptuous blouse or a silk tie or an almond chocolate bar. Those might be a pleasure. They might give you satisfaction, even deep satisfaction, but they will not exalt you. Joy is of another order. 

Here’s a goofy listicle hellbent on debasing joy at your expense: “100 Things That Can Bring You Joy.” Among the supposedly joyous activities here are things like Go Shopping, Have More Sex Than Your Friends, Organize Your Bedroom, Eat More Steak, and Make a Gigantic To-do List.

If Starbucks brings you joy every morning, what word are you going to reach for when your underappreciated, much-beloved, deserving daughter against all odds wins an award for bravery? I feel sorry for you if you group these two things in the same category: joy.  

It is exaggeration that cheapens value.

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Grassland


Grassland, a poem by Sarah Sloat from Dave Bonta on Vimeo.

Here's a video of 'Grassland,' one of my older poems, put together by Dave Bonta. I love it. I love the colors and the fiber-optic grass and the birdsong. Hope you'll watch and enjoy.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Dictionary Illustrations


Dictionary Illustrations from Marie Craven on Vimeo.

The gracious Marie Craven has made a blockbuster video of my poem "Dictionary Illustrations." It's really fun. I hope you'll watch it.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Due to a long-term subway service interruption, I have begun commuting by bike

On the upside it is invigorating. On the downside it is exhausting.

On the upside it is efficient exercise with no gym costs. On the downside you compete with cars. 

On the upside it is faster than public transportation. On the downside you cannot read. 

On the upside you see the world differently. On the downside it could rain. 

On the upside it demands focus and concentration. On the downside it requires focus and concentration.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Stalks

The wind is torn.

In the field behind my house, flowers not on stems but stalks.

As a child driving at night with my parents and uncle, so foggy my uncle threatened to get out and walk, and threw the door open on the highway.

Why has ‘debauch’ been usurped by ‘debauchery?’ ‘Debauch’ being one instance?

Most people have to invent their own pain, but I lived not far from the factory.

Some cut flowers can be revived by submerging in cool water. Warm makes the wilt worse.

As a child I was a fervent devotee of prayer. I had a looming divorce to pray against, and dreaded going to bed, knowing how long it was going to take to bless everyone I loved, or who deserved my love.

A horse is prized for beauty and strength, and to hell with its inner qualities.

“Children go through divorce in single file,” said Judith Wallerstein. It doesn’t matter if their friends got there first.

A gentleman is not an implement, Confucius said.

And the flophouse is no place for a lady.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

The clean break

I’ve always found it a pleasure to pull a perforated paper apart at the seam. There’s something satisfying about doing it neatly. Then throwing it away, of course, since perforated paper is mostly used for tickets, or mail-in offer forms, or at least it used to be. 

Anyway, I wrote a poem about the imaginary person whose job it is to perforate the paper. It’s called - surprise! - The Perforator, and is up at Star82.

I bet this baby would enjoy tearing paper along the perforation too. 

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Heiress to a Small Ruin

My new chapbook, “Heiress to a Small Ruin,” is out! It was slightly delayed, but I like the February publishing date. I need more Pisces in my life. The poems are old and new. There are cigarettes and wine and household gadgets. The wonderful cover collage was done by Catherine Mellinger

The Quotidian Bee, a website that runs poems from new books and chapbooks, put up Airstrip Heart yesterday, one of my favorites. Thanks for reading. If you’d like a copy, you can order one here. They're $7, or about 29 cents a poem. Which is what? Two tall lattes? 

The poems: 
Salem - Airstrip Heart - Thrall - Seven Postcards from Solitude - Chablis, Amen - Headache, Amen - Heiress to a Small Ruin - Bloodshot Cartography - Clinic Lilies - Snapshot with Mica & Narcolepsy - The If Horse - Lines written in a Japanese noodle shop watching a building be demolished - I Will Now Eat a Loaf of Bread - Inebriate of Air - Self-Portrait with Lava Lamp -Hackers - Smoking Jacket - Nightlight Ghazal -Inksleep - Electric Singer

Monday, February 15, 2016

Things I Love (v-day, a day late)

Fontina cheese. Talking Heads. Kurt Schwitters. Kalamata olives. David Markson. Peonies. Santa Fe. The Greatest. The oceans. Bidú Sayao. Villette. Rioja. Gingham. Good Reads. Paul Klee. Almonds. Dusk Litany. Black-eyed Susans. Titled. Lichtenberg. Brown paper. Brattleboro. Mairead Byrne. 72 Fahrenheit. Candles. Babies. Dachshunds. My Dead Friends. Fernando Pessoa. Fondue. Rucola. BWV 82. Norman Dubie. Teal. Marimekko. Fireplaces. Affentor. Tapioca pudding. Brittany. Chanel 5. Garamond. Meryl Streep. German. Acorns. Daunt Books. Lavender. Bath bombs. Barrister bookcases. MoMA. Collage. Garlic. Satie. Street cars. Tidiness. The glottal stop. Book art. Complex plots. Warm washcloths on airplanes. Adjectives. Szymborska. Steak. Alexievich. The Jackson 5. Birdsong. Kimonos. Wooden matches. Emily Dickinson. Naples. Calligraphy. Upscale hotels. Aspirin. Lake Constance. Breast feeding. Spoons. Pocket knives. WS Merwin. Snow. Persimmons. Apollinaire. Burt Bacharach. Camper shoes. The Owl and the Pussycat. Pipe tobacco. Bright Pittsburgh Morning. Licorice. Wattwandern. Popcorn. Aprons. Hans Arp. Swann’s Way. Dark blue velvet. Chai latte. Chuang Tzu. Lord of the Rings. Pocket watches. Clouds.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Petals fell like snow into the year of the monkey

Good Wife of Hunan

You knew I’d been up all night startling the wok 
and I’d been up for ages grooming the dog star
of ticks, throwing a tarp over all that barking
for the sake of the neighbors and cosmic harmony.
Clearly I’d been up with my measuring stick
by the river, which chilled my toe bones and triggered
that crying-jag phone call to my mother two monasteries
west of here, my mother who was glad to have girls.
Spring petals fell like snow into the year of the monkey.
Snow fell like snow into the year of the cat.
And it seemed I’d be up startling the wok
for generations and it seemed I was going to live
to see 10,000 or at least the day you dropped dead
drunk from the jug of plum wine and I’d shown 
the barking star who’s master.

Song of the day: Year of the Cat

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Evening falls / so bespoke blue

My poem “Electric Singer,” which appeared in RHINO last year, is now up online. I’m lucky to have been in a number of RHINO issues, and last year they accepted a poem for this year, too, called “The Quiet That Follows a Protracted Racket We’d Ceased to Register.” You may know I like short-ish poems with long, intricate titles.

Another intricate I liked this week was #colorourcollections. Over the past 2-3 years there’ve been scads of adult coloring books, some rather hokey. But this week various museums put up files of their collections in black & white that you can print out and color. There were some lovelies, including Oregon Health & Science University and the Folger Library. If you like that kind of thing. You can find more via Twitter with #colorourcollections.

Monday, January 25, 2016

The 5th Gospel

We spent the weekend in Leipzig, where my husband wanted to see a concert of Baroque music. On Saturday we arrived in time to see the afternoon program at St. Thomas Church, where Bach was musical director. It was my second time in Leipzig and both times I was lucky to attend the hour-long Saturday program in this church. 2 euros. Can’t be beat.

We stayed directly across from the church in a comfortable hotel. Nice bed, nice tub, kitchenette for making your own coffee, which we are very attached to. We take our own coffee pot with us, and our coffee, and find a market for fresh whole milk, preferably 3.8%, etc. 

We also visited the small Bach museum. We didn’t expect much but it was surprisingly enjoyable and modern. There was Bach’s family tree (the males, anyway, it must be noted) with its many musicians. He traced back past 1575 to a person named Veit, a baker who fled Hungary and played music in his mill. The listening room was the highlight, then the organ. 

My husband asks what appeals to me about religious music if I don’t believe in god and the answer is it expresses such exquisite longing. Bach is the height of it. Bach’s cantatas have been called “the fifth gospel” because of their beauty and apparent ability to sway heathens to Jesus and Christianity. 

If I must ascribe to something, sign me up. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Making Myself Marvelous

I have been trying to dance on stilts for a number of years.

I have been attempting to walk the bomb-pocked streets of the little Olde World on my fingertips.

I've been entertaining a lethargic thought.

My aspirations have retreated into a silence so complete I've had to have my hearing tested.

You can imagine how tired I am.

Still, stuff gets done. Like the amazing editors at Doubleback Books who have re-ushered my first chapbook back into the world of the reading, seven years to the month after it first appeared. 

Yes, that's right: "In the Voice of a Minor Saint" is renewed & improved and completely free online.

Think of the forests we have saved by working together in this way. 

Woot!

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Snow blowing into the mouth of amen

After so much wishing we finally woke up to snow this morning. The snow rarely sticks in Frankfurt, so we're lucky. I only hope my kids, wherever they are this morning, are up in time to see it before it goes. They wished with me for all this aspirin.

Anu Tuominen

I have a poem up today in Word Riot called Deluxe Moments, one of what I call my sentence poems. The inspiration for at least one of the lines comes from my idol Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, whose "The Waste Books" is one of my bedside favorites. In Notebook F, number 121, he writes simply: "An amen face." 

I love the idea and image of "an amen face."

Friday, January 15, 2016

One made a manger of me

I’ve got two poems up in the new issue of Radar Poetry today, my first publication this year. The poems are Pacific Archives and Indoor Horses
I’d submitted to Radar at least twice before having these accepted. I’d wanted to land a poem with them every since I read Mary Lou Buschi’s poems in issue #1. 

Radar has consistently published interesting work and I love the art they’ve used. They let writers suggest art to accompany their poems if they have an idea. For Pacific Archives I really wanted to use this collage by Shannon Rankin, whose work I’ve admired on Etsy. I was so glad she agreed. Radar ended up using some of her other pieces, too.

I was a bit stumped on the art for Indoor Horses, but luckily they knew an artist - Sarah Jacoby - who was willing to do something original. I thank her, too. On an otherwise dreary Friday, I was happy how it all turned out. 

Sunday, January 03, 2016

Stats-n-stuff

So, here they are - my end of the year ‘stats.’

I submitted a lot last year, but didn’t feel particularly productive. Positive was taking part in Found Poetry’s PoMoSco project in April, which got me writing and yielded two poems that I’ve since published.

I started an online workshop 3 weeks ago hoping again it would motivate me, but the truth is all you have to do out is turn off your distractions and concentrate and write. Even if you write crap, just go. You can throw the crap away. The workshop aspect is a plus because it’s like running with a partner. They show up, so you have to, too. 

I sent out more submissions last year compared with 2014, 85 vs 74. 

In two cases I had a poem accepted that I’d submitted more than 40 times. In one of those I rethought the poem with the criticism of an interested editor and ended up (surprise!) with a better poem. 

In two other cases, a poem was taken by the one place I sent it to.

Altogether I had 25 poems accepted, and 20 published, a good number for me, even if it sounds miserable! 

I also published four prose or hybrid pieces, so I'm part of the creative non-fiction crowd now, too. 

There were journals I finally got into after at least three tries: Rust + Moth, Radar (forthcoming)

And journals I’ve yet to get into & maybe never will: Adroit, Boaat, AGNI

One ordeal was, after a wait of nearly 3 years, I pulled a poem from a publication that had been promising to publish it. It was a good publication, newish, and I hesitated because I wanted to be in it. But it seemed they were winding up to go out with a whimper, and ignoring my polite and infrequent requests for an update. Anyway, I pulled the poem and it was accepted very quickly by Whiskey Island. And that was even better. 

I received a Pushcart Prize and a Best of the Net nomination for my poem "Newlyweds, Ukraine" from DMQ Review, where I have published 16 poems over the years. Thank you DMQ!

This year, DoubleBack Press will reprint my first chapbook, “In The Voice Of A Minor Saint.” And I expect my chapbook, “Heiress to a Small Ruin” to come out from Dancing Girl Press. 

On the submission front, after not submitting for about two months I sent out three batches of poems on January 1, and had a poem accepted by a publication I’ve been trying to crack within five hours. 

So take that, crappy stats.

Poems
Crab Creek: Bloodshot Cartography
DMQ: Newlyweds, Almost Pain
Whiskey Island: Airstrip Heart
Gravel: Nothing Fits Me Anymore
Bird’s Thumb: Reader’s Block
Cleaver: Medieval Photographer
RHINO: Electric Singer
One Sentence Poems: Separate Bed
Petite Hound: The New Me
Sundog Lit: Flush Sky, Whittler
Hermeneutic Chaos: The If Horse
Stoneboat: Keyhole Confessor
Citron: Nightlight Ghazal
concis: Inebriate of Air
Literary Bohemian: Outer Space, Oarsman Ghazal
Right Hand Pointing: Single Brick 
Rust+Moth: Seven Shaved Bald in One Room

Prose & prose-like
Lunch: Overlapping Landscapes
Matchbook: Buchenwald
The Offing: See Also Fire
The Offing: Changeling , a collaboration with Anu Tuominen, whose image is above. 

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Book list

This past year I read fewer books than usual, mostly because of work but also because of a creeping creative laziness that seems to have extended to reading. I don’t have any resolutions, but hope to shake that off. 
Below are my favorites. In fiction I suspect I may have picked The Accidental not only because it's fresh but because it’s fresh in my mind. I read a handful of excellent novels, including The Corrections, Station Eleven and The Last Samurai. The disappointment was All the Light We Cannot See, which failed in a number of ways and again persuaded me the Pulitzer Prize is full of crap. (My review on GoodReads is here.) In graphic novels, Tom Gauld's You're All Just Jealous of My Jetpack was a close second.

Fiction pick: The Accidental by Ali Smith
Non-Fiction: Going Clear by Lawrence Wright
Memoir: Wild by Cheryl Strayed
Poetry: Negative Blue by Charles Wright
Graphic/Comics: Girl Stories by Lauren Weinstein
Favorite Cover: After Midnight by Irmgard Keun

Full List
1. Wild by Cheryl Strayed (Jan 4)
2. The Fifth Woman by Henning Mankel (Jan 6)
3. Insomniac Circus by Amorak Huey (Jan 12)
4. Dina’s Book by Herbjorg Wassmo (Jan 15)
5. Ann Coulter’s Letter to the Young Poets by Sara Biggs Chaney (Jan 20)
6. According to Mark by Penelope Lively (Jan 21)
7. Galatea 2.2 by Richard Powers (Jan 23)
8. The Last Samurai by Helen Dewitt (Feb 5)
9. Deep Dark Down by Hector Tobar (Feb 11)
10. Girl Stories by Lauren Weinstein (Feb 12)
11. Are You My Mother by Alison Bechdel (Feb 14)
12. Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman (Feb 14)
13. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (Feb. 16)
14. After Midnight by Irmgard Keun (Feb 22)
15. Negative Blue by Charles Wright (March 12)
16. Novel Interiors by Lisa Borgnes Giramonti (Apr 3)
17. In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower by Marcel Proust (June 14)
18. Monsieur Proust by Céleste Albaret (Jun 28)
19. Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross (Jul 8)
20. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters (Jul 21)
21. We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families by Philip Gourevitch (Aug 2)
22. The Dogs of Riga by Henning Mankell (Aug 11)
23. Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire by Brenda Hillman (Aug 18)
24. Late Wife by Claudia Emerson (Aug 19)
25. Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake (Aug 19)
26. Auf eine Zigarette mit Helmut Schmidt (Sep 4)
27. Was ich noch sagen wollte by Helmut Schmidt (Sep 7)
28. Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake (Oct 11)
29. You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack by Tom Gauld (Oct 17)
30. The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick by Peter Handke (Oct 17)
31. Going Clear by Lawrence Wright (Oct 21)
32. Remembering Satan by Lawrence Wright (Oct 23)
33. Blankets by Craig Thompson (Oct 24)
34. The Dead Beat by Marilyn Johnson (Oct 26)
35. Translations on Waking in an Italian Cemetery by Michael Keegan (Oct 27)
36. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen (Nov 2)
37. Postmortem: Poems by Maurice Kilwein Guevara (Nov 17)
38. Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar (Nov 23)
39. The Secret Life of Hardware by Cheryl Lachowski (Dec 2)
40. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (Dec 12)
41. The Accidental by Ali Smith (Dec 19)
42. Joie de Vivre by Lisa Jarnot (Dec 24)

Monday, December 21, 2015

up early


At the airport there was an abandoned paper bag with images of stone figurines on it the color of cookies, but not cookies, if you tried to bite those you’d break your teeth; your teeth aren’t up to that, like if the game were “rock, scissors, teeth” your teeth would not win that game

which reminds me of the editor who hated my semi;colons

also the woman on the train this morning in black pants, dress shoes and neon green socks, hello

it’s awkward having to talk to hair cutters and taxi drivers and people with whom you must spend an allotted amount of time alone, also doctors, which is why I suck at therapy but I do make an exception for my dentist because he is a smiler and upbeat and even if it’s fake it’s a relief 

my mother brought me a stack of New Yorkers and I notice a weird thing they’re doing with their print layout here’s a picture 

In my earliest memory I am inserted onto a saddle atop a brown horse like a piece of text

Saturday, December 05, 2015

Park your car, forget your anger

Some of my recent poems

Is it white, or what?

This week Ruth+Moth published my found poem “Seven Shaved Bald in One Room,” which uses Svetlana Alexievich’s book “Voices of Chernobyl” as its source text. The acceptance note said the editors “found your poetry to be of tremendous power and importance, both poignant and professional.” 

burns like black handkerchiefs
Another poem I wrote using the Alexievich book was “Newlyweds, Ukraine 1986,” which DMQ Review has nominated for both the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net anthology. I posted it here a couple months ago when Alexievich won the Nobel Prize. 

Cease beeping, we said to just about everyone
Concis published my short poem “Inebriate of Air,” which takes its title from an Emily Dickinson poem (“I taste a liquor never brewed”). 

The brick is an enemy of the bohemian
Right Hand Pointing also published one of my object obsession poems, “Single Brick,” in its latest issue. 

What should we be without the help of that which does not exist? - Paul Valéry
Literary Bohemian also published two poems - “Visiting the Outer Space Exhibit in Bonn on New Year’s Day 2015,” which is about exactly that, and “Oarsman Ghazal,” a poem written in the Persian ghazal form.

the day I resembled a hill / hunched up and clutching
My poems “Whittler” and “Flush Sky” were published at Sundog Lit this fall. “Flush Sky” is also a found poem, in which I switched words of a pop science interview with new words. 

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Damage to a person

Coming home on Thursday the subway driver said we’d be delayed by what German rail jargon calls “Personenschaden,” which literally means “damage to a person” and really means a suicide on the tracks. The subway pulled slowly into the station and my car drew up alongside the man, who lay directly below my window. He was alive. You could tell because his lips moved and paramedics were caring for him. There was a little blood coming from his head but otherwise you couldn’t make out an injury. Some passengers gasped.

We stood there for 10 minutes since traffic was a mess. I was glad I’d seen him. It was of course terrible but not in a graphic way. I’d rather have seen him than be in the next car and just see everyone staring curiously out the window. And though I had my new iPhone in my hand 1) I refrained from taking a picture, and so did everyone else. 2) I decided not to cancel my annual donation to the paramedics association, which I’ve been considering. 3) I hoped that he would live and that whatever pain brought him there would abate, and that someday he’d be 79 and glad to be alive. 

Sunday, October 11, 2015

A church I have sat in

I recently had two poems in Sundog Lit, a journal that tastes good and is good for you.

The first poem, “Whittler,” is a poem I was particularly fond of when I wrote it, and I was disappointed after the first rejections came in. A Sundog editor asked me to change a clumsy stanza with a semi-colon like a door stop. And he was right. 

I wrote the second poem, “Flush Sky,” for a project with the Found Poetry Review. The idea was to take a text and replace some recurring words with alternatives. I took a text called “English Speakers, You Stink at Identifying Smells.” I switched ‘smell’ for ‘cloud,’ ‘speaker’ for ‘sleeper,’ and a couple other more minor words, then choose different passages and changed the order, but without adding anything that didn’t otherwise appear in the original text. 

These pencils were made by the Finnish artist Jonna Pohjalainen.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Nobel

I didn’t expect the Nobel Prize for Literature to be given until next week. But I woke up this morning and found out today was the day and I remembered last year how I was rooting for Svetlana Alexeivich and figured I’d root for her again. I even looked at my copy of Voices from Chernobyl on the shelf and thought I should take it in my purse, like that would be the charm, but decided to do what I could to care a little bit less.

I was glad I hadn’t been anticipating it a whole week, and it would just be a few hours. And bingo. How exciting. Alexievich won. She said she was ironing when she found out. I haven't been as pleased since Herta Müller won in 2009, and before her Wislawa Szymborska in 1996. I am partial to Eastern Europe, and women writers. 

Voices from Chernobyl is a great and devastating book. I took it from the library at my mom’s house, a couple years ago, and later decided to buy it. 

By chance, last week I found out DMQ nominated my poem “Newlyweds, Ukraine 1986” for Best of the Net. It’s a found poem and the source text is the prologue to Voices from Chernobyl.

Newlyweds, Ukraine 1986
Poem found in the prologue of Voices from Chernobyl by Svetlana Alexievich

I don't know what I should talk about—about death or about
summertime. Who’s going to explain how the mouth wants

a kiss, and a flame the whole sky? At first there were little
lesions in the morning. They came off in layers—white film, 

a transparent curtain. Then burns like black handkerchiefs
came to the surface. The trolleys stopped running, the trains. 

They were washing the streets with white powder. No
one told us a coffin could be built from a loaf of bread.

Barefoot in his formal wear my love squeezed into bed.
There was an orange on his table. A swollen one, pink. 

He smiled: “I got a gift. Take it.” The nurse was gesturing
through the plastic film that I can't eat it. It had been near 

him a while. Not only could you not eat it, you shouldn't 
even look at it. “Come on,” he said, “you love oranges.” 

Monday, September 28, 2015

Lunar vulgarity

Yesterday there was a big full moon, and then an eclipse, and folks went bananas about it. I don’t usually go bananas about such things, but a family friend said she would have to tell her son to get a train from the airport home because she didn’t want to miss the moon rise.

So when the moon was out I took a look. It was pretty. Was it unbelievable? No. Did I stay up until 4 am to watch the eclipse? No. But coincidentally before bed I was reading a hilariously pathetic love scene in Gormenghast, the second book of Mervyn Peake’s trilogy, that kicks off in the “lunar vulgarity” of a garden.

“While they stood by the fishpond in which the reflection of the moon shone with a fatuous vacancy. They stared at it. Then they looked up at the original. It was no more interesting than its watery ghost, but they knew that to ignore the moon on such an evening would be an insensitive, almost a brutish thing to do.”

Friday, September 25, 2015

Leipzig

I visited Leipzig for the first time earlier this month. My daughter and I stayed at a latchkey hotel just outside downtown, across from an abandoned building. It’s a clean, small city, sometimes called “Hypezig” because it’s supposedly the new Berlin, full of hipsters and used record shops. I bought a few used CDs myself, and so did Luisa. In an antique shop I also bought a handful of old photos for about 1.90 euros a pop. I love the texture and coloring of them. On the back of the one on the left it says "Oma Martha mit Martin." The one on the right doesn't say anything, but I love the look of the pensive young man, his military suit, and his yellowing frame.


The highlight was seeing the Thomaskirche, where Bach’s remains are buried. Bach’s music is gorgeous purity and longing, and I am a huge fan. I found out the boys’ choir would be singing a Bach cantata at 3 pm on Saturday, and I left Luisa to her wanderings to attend. I got there around 2.30 and found two long lines. Tickets were 2 euros. The place was packed and the best bet was the nave, where the acoustics weren't great, but there were plenty of seats. I sat beside a nice gentleman right next to Bach’s grave. The man told me how the remains found their way there after WWII and how we owe it to a mason and a knowledgable civil servant from the Russian culture ministry that Bach's bones were salvaged at all.

It's a simple grave - you can touch it, or lay flowers there if you want. All you have to do is arrive. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

By the sword, at the stake, through the plague

I’ve had a trio of poems out in the past couple weeks. 

The latest one is Medieval Photographer, a poem about an impossible vocation. It’s up in Cleaver Magazine.

Nightlight Ghazal is up in The Citron Review. I’ve written so many ghazals now, and had another accepted this week. I enjoy how the form works like a stack of short, separate poems. The first one I wrote is Ghazal of the Bright Body, published 10 years ago. 

The If Horse is in Hermeneutic Chaos. I have written a number of sentence poems like this but haven’t published many. The first was published in 2012 in qarttsiluni - The Only Order the Day Had Was Chronological Order. I had another recently accepted at concis.

Friday, September 04, 2015

the boredom catalog

Boredom breeds frustration because it’s tortured by possibility.

The setting doesn’t matter – shack or palace, car park or ship at sea. 

Whereas we fool ourselves we’re in love, or convince ourselves we’re ill, boredom has the benefit of authenticity. 

Familiarity breeds contempt, but the stop-over is boredom.

Insomnia is boredom made flesh. The mind races, the body can’t be bothered.

Tedium is boredom in jacked-up, drawn-out form. Boredom can be found within minutes in a waiting room. Tedium needs a marriage.

What lies in boredom? Brood, for one thing, and also doom.

Boredom disperses. Tedium leaves a stain.

In Italy: “Don’t tell me it’s going to be another beautiful day.”

Boredom comes on its own, often by accident; it is not something that can be achieved.

In class we blame it on geometry; in museums on dismal painters. It can be a personal failure, though we seek the cause externally.

It’s no surprise that boredom rhymes with whoredom. We all fall victim to it occasionally, but only some make it a career.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Dog days

I showed up.

I photographed poorly.

I cancelled my insurance. 

I laid claim to a glacier.

I toothed and nailed. 

I cracked my gum. 

I stole a pigeon. 

I longed for a cigarette.

I enjoyed touching the sandwich man’s hand when he gave me my order.

I imagined a new way of crossing the border. 

It was the end of August.

I grew tired of myself.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Titus Groan

I finished Titus Groan today, the first book in Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy. It was a great reading experience. The mood is melancholy, the descriptions and vocabulary are marvelous, and the  odd characters have evocative names like Sourdust, Dr. Prunesquallor and Lady Fuchsia, to name a few. 

A high point came near the end in the death battle between the servant Flay and the cook Swelter. It was one of the longest scenes in the book, but wonderfully sustained. Near the beginning comes the lightning bolt of a summer storm:

To Flay it seemed an eternity of nakedness, but the hot black eyelid of the entire sky closed down again and the stifling atmosphere rocked uncontrollably to such a yell of thunder as lifted the hairs on his neck. From the belly of a mammoth it broke and regurgitated, dying finally with a long-drawn growl of spleen. And then the enormous midnight gave up all control, opening out her cumulous body from horizon to horizon, so that the air became solid with so great a weight of falling water that Flay could hear the limbs of trees breaking through a roar of foam

The end scene in which Titus is made Earl of Gormenghast was also glorious.

I’m afraid I didn’t make enough checks to mark my favorite passages and sentences. I bought the book used and besides such checks there are just two places where a reader wrote had written a note. 

In the chapter called The Burning, the second paragraph describes a seating arrangement which seems to have an editing flub regarding who is sitting next to whom. An attentive reader notes in the margin: “? Nannie was on Gertrude’s right.”

At the end there’s a scene where Mr. Rottcodd, curator of the so-called Bright Carvings, looks through a window to see there is a new Earl, and realizes that he has seen no one for over a year. He hadn’t known the previous Earl died.

What had happened? As he asked himself the question, he knew the answer. That no one had thought fit to tell him! No one! It was a bitter pill for him to swallow. He had been forgotten. Yet he always wished to be forgotten. He could not have it both ways.

Alongside the paragraph, the reader wrote “yes, you can.”

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

I needed a day off & I took it

It was a good day to finish Brenda Hillman’s Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire.

It was a good day to go with my son to a weight-lifting place he wanted to join, and did.

It was a good day to remove adverbs from sentences.

To inherit a book from my daughter. To listen to Bach. To find the shower gel I bought at the TJ Maxx near my mother's for $7 costs 71 euros in Germany. 

It was a good day to make tomato sauce & meatballs.

It was a good day to see my piece “See Also Fire” published at The Offing.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Some observations on my trip to France, from my semi-German perspective

First, France is more beautiful than Germany because its ancient buildings are still standing.
Also, France is more of a mess than Germany because its ancient buildings are still standing.

Germany looks more well off. I looked at the GDP per capita stats, however, and it’s not that much richer, #11 vs #13 in Europe. So why does France look rundown? Is it those ancient buildings, which are painfully charming but also slowly disintegrating?

We visited Semur-en-Auxois, for example, by reputation one of the most worthwhile villages in Burgundy. It’s enchanting from a distance, like outside the town walls or from one of the town towers. But close-up it’s sad. I say it reluctantly. 

Semur-en-Auxois
Ancient buildings hold 1000x more charm than any efficient modern structure. Ancient buildings pose 100 more problems, and need more care. 

France is more rural and less populated than Germany, which is relaxing when you’re driving through the rolling landscape. Germany has rural areas, too, but its uninhabited areas are often wooded rather than agrarian. 

It is also true that the French are not punctual. As my husband told the man who was supposed to meet us at 4 pm to let us into our apartment but showed up at 5.30, “Roland, la ponctualité est pas votre force.” This after Monsieur Roland was also an hour late for our meeting to return our deposit and reclaim our keys. In fact rather than being ‘just’ 50 minutes late, he was out in the street stretching it out to a full hour with a smoke break - we saw him. 

“Je suis désolé Je suis désolé Je suis désolé,” he protested. Désolé, my ass. 

It is indisputable that the French language is fabulous. I wish I’d stuck to my French lessons. 

Gorgeous place. The well-cared-for abbey of Fontenay brought me to tears. 

Also Proust and Satie and Apollinaire and Matisse. 

But fate has delivered me to Germany, where I am late for work, accompanied daily by Weltschmerz and Bach cantatas.

Herr Camper related that when a missionary painted the flames of Hell to a congregation of Greenlanders in a truly vivid fashion, and described at length the heat they gave out, all the Greenlanders began to feel a strong desire to go to Hell.” - Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, Notebook G, The Waste Books

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

to flash or not to flash

I have a short piece up at Matchbook called Buchenwald. Such things are often called flash, or flash fiction, or micro-fiction. I don't like the word flash. It reminds me of 'flash in the pan,' or Flash Gordon, or a flasher. And mine's a story, though not a fictional one. I wish there were another label for it. Matchbook's subhead is "stories quite short," which I can live with.

New Pages says of Buchenwald, "If you were thinking the story would be light subject matter, YOU THOUGHT WRONG. It's super short, intense, sad, and somehow humorous."

I can live with that, too. Germany isn't much of a tourist destination, but there are some places and things worth seeing. And a concentration camp really is worth anyone's time, depressing and horrid as it may be.

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