Wednesday, December 30, 2009

miss scarlet with a candlestick in the dining room

If I had a license, I’d go the other route to the airport, not the way my husband takes.
If I were a tea rather than coffee person, I’d do Darjeeling.
If I were a man, I’d probably be a worse slob than I already am.
If I were a novelist, I’d spend less time describing the landscape, and the pale, pink, amorphous light that falls on the landscape like a malnourished drunk.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

and there in a wood

I've had some time off, which means walking the dog. On one of my many journeys through the park, I was naming the trees (Octopussy, General Grant, Burgermeister Meisterburger, Frau-Frau, Funeral, Scarface...), and it occured to me that the famous Bong Tree of The Owl and the Pussycat fame must be the Baobab.

"They sailed away
for a year and a day
to the land where the Bong tree grows.
And there is a wood...."

Don't ask me why I had this revelation on a frosty grey German day. There wasn't a Baobab in sight. But recently I’ve been leafing through a book called Remarkable Trees of the World, which features a number of fabulous Baobabs. It's also called “the bottle tree” (and you need a bottle to make a bong, right?). It's also called “the monkey bread tree,” “the cream of tartar tree,” “the chemist tree,” “the sour gourd” and “the lemonade tree.” And get this - there's a place in Tanzania called Bong'wa where this tree grows. Tanzania is a coastal country, thus reachable by peagreen boat. I know I've sometimes taken the Owl & Pussycat thing too far, but I'm sure Edward Lear couldn't resist slipping Baobabs into his poem, disguised as water pipes.

This photo shows Baobab alley in Madagascar, which, as you probably know from playing Risk, is an island off the eastern coast of Africa that split from the continent 160 million years ago. Since then you've had to sail there, although of course these days you could also fly.

There are different species, but mostly Baobabs are famous for just being weird and difficult to climb. You can see more here & here. And here are a bajillion more.

Monday, December 28, 2009


When my kids were little, I told them everyone in the world has their own personal tree somewhere. I don’t remember why I made this up. Maybe I was trying to get them to look more carefully at trees. In any case, the idea of having their own tree intrigued them, then seemed to start gnawing at them. What if they never found their trees?

Eventually I tried figuring out how many trees there are in the world (approximately, of course, since right now the parks department is uprooting a diseased elm, developers outside Saginaw are bulldozing a few acres, the Christmas tree growers are replanting, etc etc). I started at the corner park, which is fairly modest, and got to fifty-three, but then gave up when I came to one of the pathways in, which is crawling with trees and tree-like bushthings that I don’t know if they qualify or what.

I can only conclude that spread out over the face of the earth are five trillion trees, give or take a few. So, the chance any of us would ever find our trees seems remote. Luckily in the seven years or so since I had this brilliant idea, the kids appear to have forgotten it completely, and moved on to finding other important stuff of the teenage variety, like a boyfriend who calls when he says he will.

But I haven’t forgotten the tree idea. It’s romantic and quixotic, and I am in fact always on the lookout. I will let you know when I find my tree. I hope it will be an Laurel or Oak or something flowering, but I’m afraid it may turn out to be a bushthing.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

bridges, cheerfully burning

1. Eat more broccoli.
2. Read David Copperfield.
3. Save the planet.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

less waystation than common grave

I have two "new" poems in Swink. "New" as in newly published, but in fact nearly two years old. Well, Swink is a good zine that takes its time.

The poems are "Staring Contest" and "Bedside Books," the former about defeat, the latter about . . . bedside books! Surprise!
Welcome you enjoy.

the priest sat in the airport bar, he was wearing his father's tie

The name of the tram stop two stations south of mine has been changed. What used to be Versorgungsamt is now Prieststrasse. Until just recently the Versorgungsamt, a state office that deals with subsidies for maternity and paternity leave, was here, but apparently they’ve packed up shop. Versorgungsamt translates literally to something like the “care-taking office.” The nearest intersecting street is Prieststr., so the stop has been renamed, even though the priest surely left ages before the care-taking office did. There is neither a state office nor a Christian authority at this stop to care for you. What is there, and very prominently, is the new Jewish cemetery. It’s easy to identify because of the bright Hebraic script above the entrance, but otherwise it’s fairly nondescript. The best name for the stop would have been "New Jewish Cemetery," but as you might imagine, those who take care consider it better not to draw attention to this.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

gladsome tidings

The Snow is an Intelligence Officer

It’s one subtle secret agent, the snow,
dropping like a soft abductor.
I didn’t know it had this many fingers,
this many keyholes and doors.
There’s never been a mission
so openly covert, such
a pouring on of camouflage.
Flush with this cache, I assume
a new identity. I’m going to wear
a sherpa’s cap and let my hair grow long.
The world’s a mess, but not this morning.
The snow has kidnapped my opinions,
absconded with the list of wars.
The world and I pass by
the bakery window:
we never looked so pretty –
the snow is that smart.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

ash, timberwolf, plum

I’ve been meaning to mention that Read Write Poem is hosting a virtual tour of my chapbook In the Voice of a Minor Saint. Yesterday Dave Bonta reviewed the chap at Via Negativa, and a week back it was reviewed by Joseph Harker at Naming Constellations. I’m of course happy and grateful to have people read my poems.

The upcoming tour stops are here.

Otherwise not much poetry news. I got a Pushcart nomination from Apparatus Magazine for Tinder Box, a prose poem using the colors from the Crayola box of crayons. I’ve had a few acceptances recently but also a disappointing rejection of my little ms of home totem poems. Otherwise, I’m futzing around with a ghazal and some revisions.

UPDATE! DMQ Review wrote to say they've also nominated a poem of mine for a Pushcart. The poem, Monarchs, was in the spring issue. This is the second time DMQ has nominated one of my poems for a Pushcart. I'll have two poems in the next issue as well.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

nice work if you can get it

I’m not a fan of Silvio Berlusconi, but still found it terrible that he’d had his face smashed by a replica of Milan’s Duomo, leaving his teeth and nose broken. I didn’t laugh at the jokes about how he’d need more cosmetic surgery now, etc., but I did find this report on the BBC a bit funny:

'An attack on Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on Sunday was premeditated, Italy's interior minister, Roberto Maroni, has said. Mr Maroni said the suspect had been "developing a rage" against the PM "for some time."'

The funny part about is the invisible question mark after “for some time.” What does it mean? Months? Years? Since the previous Tuesday? Did the assailant sit down that morning and start developing his rage? Where did he start? What tools did he use?

“Developing a rage” is a close relative of “working yourself into a frenzy.” Some people have a great talent for this; for others it takes practice and intense concentration. I find the task of frenzy fairly easy myself. If there are any job openings in that department, I'd appreciate a heads-up.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

spiff & clunker

Everyone’s starting with year-end booklists, so I’m jumping in. Below are the books I’ve read in 2009. It may seem like a lot, but many are short e-books, or poetry collections I read in a couple days. I’ve starred my favorites in different categories.

The book I’m reading now – The Kindly Ones – may end up nudging The Book of Evidence out of the top spot in fiction, if I finish this year (hope!). But maybe not. Otherwise I struck out on novels this year overall. Too few really good ones, at least compared to last year. I did better with non-fiction. Although I picked Evocative Objects as the best non-fiction for this year, the Helen Vendler book on Wallace Stevens may have been better, and the hilarious memoir Running with Scissors is also worth the time, although I was reluctant to read it.

In poetry I picked New European Poets mostly for the spicy variety. There were terrific poems in there, but also some eye-rollers, as it must be in an anthology. There were some typos in the book, which bugs the crap out of me. So much care is put into it and then, boom, typos. I also liked Heather McHugh’s Hinge and Sign a lot, and Maurice Manning’s unexpectedly wonderful Bucolics.

Clunker of the year was definitely The Jewel of Medina, which was a gift from a well-meaning person (husband). I am lucky he tried the book, too, and had the same opinion I did, i.e. what is this shit? Apparently he thought the book would enrich our understanding of Islam! Instead it read like housewifey marshmallow-soft porn written by a sixth grader.

I’ll add books at the bottom if I manage any more before January.

1. Regarding the Pain of Others – Susan Sontag (Jan/Non-fiction)
2. The Jewel of Medina – Sherry Jones (Jan/Novel)
3. Hikikomori – Tao Lin and Ellen Kennedy (January/poetry ebook)
4. Observations from a Children's Bookstore – Ryan Bradley (Jan/poetry ebook)
5. The Ice Storm – Rick Moody (Jan/Novel)
6. Escapes – Joy Williams (Jan/Stories)
7. The Life and Times of Michael K. – JM Coetzee (Jan/Novel)
8. Wideawake Field – Eliza Griswold (Feb/Poetry)
9. Dirt Music – Tim Winton (Jan/Novel)
10. Caves - Matthew Simmons (Feb/poetry ebook)
11. Souvenirs – Bronwen Tate (poetry ebook)
12. Permanent Record – Ted Greenwald (Feb/poetry ebook)
13. The Voice at 3 am – Charles Simic (Poetry)
14. Poems for the Year – Chantel Guidry (Chapbook)
15. Yesterday I Was Talking to Myself – Ellen Kennedy (May/poetry ebook)
16. Meine Bilder – Francis Bacon (Art)
17. Going Fast – Frederick Seidel (Mar/Poetry)
18. Hinge & Sign – Heather McHugh (Mar/Poetry)
19. Crazed by the Sun - Lynn Strongin, ed. (Poetry)
20. a// long / division – Hanna Andrews (poetry chapbook)
21. The Unconsoled – Kazuo Ishiguro (May/Novel)
22. Water for Elephants – Sara Gruen (May/Novel)
**23. The Book of Evidence – John Banville (May/Novel)**
24. The Crimson Petal and the White – Michael Faber (May/Novel)
25. Mandolintires – Philip Nikolayev (June/poetry ebook)
26. Prairies – Natalie Knight (June/poetry ebook)
27. Down and Out in Paris and London – George Orwell (June/Reportage)
28. Wolf Totem – Jiang Rong (June/Novel)
29. Imitation Animals – Julie Platt (June/Poetry ebook)
30. Wallace Stevens: Words Chosen Out of Desire – Helen Vendler (June/Lit Crit)
31. Rogue Male – Geoffrey Household (June/Novel)
32. Winter’s Bone – Daniel Woodrell (June/Novel)
33. Manhunt – James Swanson (June/Non-fiction)
**34. New European Poets – Kevin Prufer, ed (July/Poetry)**
35. On the Beach – Nevil Shute (July/Novel)
36. Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant –Jenni Ferrari-Adler, ed. (July/Essays)
37. Rising – Farrah Field (July/Poetry)
38. Inside Bone There’s Always Marrow – Rachel Mallino (July/Poetry chapbook)
39. Case Histories – Kate Atkinson (Novel)
40. Running with Scissors – Augusten Burroughs (Aug/Memoir)
41. All Shall Be Well, And All Shall Be Well – Tod Wodicka (Aug/Novel)
**42. Evocative Objects – Sherry Turkle, ed. (Aug/Essays)**
**43. Like You’d Understand, Anyway – Jim Shephard (Aug/Stories)**
44. Working in the Birdhouse- Justin Evans (Aug/Chapbook)
45. Olive Kitteridge – Elizabeth Strout (Sept/Novel)
46. The Private Life of Chairman Mao – Li Zhisui (Oct/Biography)
47. Butcher’s Crossing – John Williams (Oct/Novel)
48. Night Shift – Stephen King (Oct/Stories)
49. The Stray Dog Cabaret – Paul Schmidt, ed. (Oct/Poetry)
50. Mister Skylight – Ed Skoog (Nov/Poetry)
51. Cabinet – Claire Hero (Nov/Poetry chapbook)
52. Affliction – Russell Banks (Nov/Novel)
53. How to be Perfect – Ron Padgett (Nov/Poetry)
54. The Place You Love is Gone – Melissa Holbrook Pierson (Nov/Non-fiction)
55. Fabulae – Joy Katz (Nov/Poetry)
56. Moth Moon – Matt Jasper (Dec/Poetry)
57. Bucolics – Maurice Manning (Dec/Poetry)
58. Lark Apprentice – Louise Mathias (Dec/Poetry)
59. The Sad Epistles - Emma Bolden (Dec/Poetry chapbook)
60. The Kindly Ones - Jonathan Littell (Dec/Novel)
61. 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die - Peter Boxall (Dec/List?)
62. No Country for Old Men - Cormac McCarthy

Thursday, December 10, 2009

slumming becomes me

Another long day at work, but overall good.
The office party. I planned to go, but never made it.
Due to jugglers in the lobby. True story.
College was one of the best times of my life.
My grades improved. I read a lot.
Babies were better. Especially when they were asleep!
I am trying to write a ghazal.
I am trying to write anything.
So many things never work out.
I think things like “The Happiness Project” are total bullshit.
If I have to engineer happiness with months of planning, then screw it.
If I set up a program for achieving happiness, screw that.
If I have to establish a “moderator/abstainer” blueprint for enjoyment, nope.
Lists of resolutions and tics on the chart, points, etc., screw it.
Joy never came with a plan. Control freaks did that.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

le monocle de mon oncle

Sometimes I wonder who comes up with the “Word of the Day” at Merriam Webster. I get this in my email and today the word was . . . fiery!

Is there someone who doesn’t know this word? Or does it have some fascinating etymology? No. But every dog has its day, I suppose, and the more I thought about it, the more it seemed to me that fiery is far superior to fire, because finally that itch to pronounce fire as two syllables - /faI/ - /ur/ - can be realized! Throw that /i/ on the end and you’re smokin’. Why did the spelling change to fier(y), though? What would have been wrong with firey? It’s kind of cute, like a little fire.

The birthday present I bought myself finally came today. It’s a monocle! When I saw it I thought of the Wallace Stevens poem and was seized by desire. I’m going to wear it with blouses and, on sunny days, use it to start little fires in the yard.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

the hour between sardines

Sometimes things just go wrong. Your poems are rejected. Your children don’t want breakfast. Employee morale is low. You die from buttocks surgery. Your eye hurts.

You’ll be advised to lay off the Bach Cantatas, turn off the news and read some uplifting poetry. But really it would be better to put all that baloney aside and go with the truth. Misery loves company, especially when the company’s misery is way worse than one’s own.

What better time to wallow in a book about life at its most deplorable, like The Kindly Ones. Here I am on p. 420, where, after apparently being shot in the head in Stalingrad, Hauptsturmf├╝hrer Aue is hallucinating about riding around in a dirigible with the mysterious Doktor Sardine.

“Suddenly, Sardine put his glasses on his eyes and leaned forward to examine me: ‘And are you looking for the end of the world too?’—‘Sorry?’ – ‘The end of the world! The end of the world! Don’t act innocent. What else could have brought you out here?’ – ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about Doktor.’ He grimaced, bounded out of his chair, ran around the table, seized an object, and hurled it at my head. I caught it in the nick of time. It was a cone mounted on a base, painted like a globe with the continents spread out around it; the flat base was gray and bore the caption TERRA INCOGNITA. ‘Don’t tell me you’ve never seen that?’ Sardine went back to his seat and was rolling another cigarette. ‘Never, Doktor,’ I replied. – ‘What is it?’ – ‘It’s the earth! Idiot! Hypocrite! Two-faced bastard!’”

I’m lucky, too, that there are a lot of lice in this book. I love stories with lice. I haven’t seen so many lice in a book since the magnificent/significant Kolyma Tales! Go Russia!

I’d like to thank Jonathan Littell for this book. Whenever I open it, I feel like I'm entering a dilapidated and rotting mansion, at once fascinating and disgusting. That ear infection scene - wow! My son asked what I was grimacing about. And when I told him, he had further questions.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

studies show magnificent differences

I recently misread the word "tampon" as "lampoon," and soon stumbled to "poontang," and then all the orthographic resemblances got crazy mixed-up in a funny and inappropriate position.

This morning I decided that in all the news and research I had to read today I'd replace the word "significant" with "magnificent." Too much of the former and not enough of the latter out there, in my opinion.

Also in my opinion, writers and poets should know how to conjugate "to lay" and "to lie" correctly. And if they don't know, at least their editors at respected university presses should know. Is this so much to ask, language people?
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