Saturday, February 22, 2014

Thing 3

I’ve had my share of rejections lately, and a share of everyone else’s, too. But I did get a welcome acceptance this week from Right Hand Pointing. They’re doing a May issue with three women poets, of which I’ll be one. I don’t know yet which poems will appear as they’re going to whittle down the 10 I submitted to six, but look forward to it. I have a few other poems due out this month which I’ll post as soon as it happens. Otherwise I got rejections recently from Stoneboat, Swarm and Radar! At least it didn’t take them months and months to do it.

In print, I’m happy to say I’ll have poems in two anthologies this year. The first is Not Somewhere Else But Here from the splendid Sundress Publications, a collection of poems about place. My poems are “Europa” and “Good Wife of Hunan,” so I’ve got the Old World and southern China covered. 

My poem “In the Voice of a Minor Saint” will also be in an anthology about saints called St. Peter’s B-list, due in April. As I noted when my poem was accepted, I am by far the least famous poet in the book. Among the luminaries are James Tate and Mary Karr, while the saints include St. Agnes, St. Rita, Big Sur Saints, the patron saint of lost & found, and St. Nick. You can see the table of contents and sample poems here

Finally, print-wise, two of my typeface poems will be in the 2014 RHINO, which also comes out in April. I’m thrilled about the acceptance, having had poems in RHINO a couple times and loving the work they publish. My poems are "Typeface #77" (Moog) and "Typeface #71" (Flotilla Bold), which reminds me of Dr. Seuss’s Thing 1 and Thing 2, and is perhaps not so far off. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

All the Presidents' Furniture

I was reading about Freud a month ago and recall someone saying the couch where his patients reclined was the world’s most famous piece of furniture. That made me think about other famous pieces of furniture, such as the chair that Van Gogh immortalized.

If I weren’t American maybe I’d have better examples (the knights’ round table!) but for me a lot of famous furniture is presidential: the desk in the Oval Office, JFK’s rocking chair, and FDR’s wheelchair. When I mentioned this recently it led to a discussion on whether a wheelchair is proper ‘furniture.’ A friend with a loved one in a wheelchair argued it was an instrument of mobility and absolutely not furniture. While primarily a mobilizer, as soon as a wheelchair pulls up to a desk or a table it also serves as furniture. Anyone can park one in the living room, whether they need it to get around or not. Same with a dentist's chair. No disrespect intended.

Many things not designed to be furniture end up as furniture. Take those cable spools that get made into coffee tables. Or milk crates used as modular shelving. A sail can become an indoor hammock. Today I saw a horse carriage seat repurposed as a bench

Anyway, back to the presidents. Surely the best piece of “presidential furniture” is Thomas Jefferson’s revolving book stand. I thought of it this President’s Day when I was sitting at my desk, my eyes traveling from a newspaper, to a book to the computer screen. I think of the stand, which holds five books, as a precursor to internet tabs.

Thursday, February 13, 2014


Todd Rundgren's Can We Still Be Friends. Don't ask me why a song that has nothing to do with me makes me want to cry. Want to, but not actually do it, because the song is also strangely uplifting.
This song came out in 1978 but I never heard it until the early 80s, courtesy of my freshman roommate, the marvelous Amy N. Maybe the song reminds me of her (LA! LA! LA! LA! LA! LA! LA! LA! LA!), since I wish we were still friends. Her parents were very practical, and she left our liberal arts college to study nursing elsewhere. When she began considering becoming a midwife I got all over her to do it because it impressed me as the coolest job ever. I always felt like I kind of pushed her, but by all accounts she is very happy being a midwife. I, on the other hand, had impractical parents and never had much of a notion what exactly I wanted to do. I just figured it would all work out. Which I guess it did. Einigermassen. (Sort of).
Anyway, although my son wonders why anyone buys music "since you can listen to it for free on YouTube," I spent 99 cents on Can We Still Be Friends on Monday, and have since listened to it about 28-32 times - on the train, in the elevator, trudging through the wet grass to work. If a look around reveals no one nearby, I sing it out loud. So I consider it 99 cents well spent.
Like Neil Young, Bob Dylan and Carol King, Todd Rundgren doesn't immediately strike you as a great vocalist, but in the end it doesn't matter.

Monday, February 10, 2014


You’ve probably seen the hashtag #readwomen2014, and news of the accompanying campaign to make 2014 the year of reading books by women. I’d like to throw in my recommendations. Below my list of 14 great fiction and non-fiction books by women published as of 1980. I went contemporary to keep the Brontes and George Eliot off the list. Because you’ve read them. 
I also omitted poetry, which I’m going to do separately.

I can count but since I really wanted to include two books published before 1980 I added them as a bonus at bottom. I’d love to see other people’s lists of 14. 

Visitation by Jenny Erpenbeck (2010 fiction) 
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (2009 fiction)
This Republic of Suffering by Drew Gilpin Faust (2008 American history) 
Voices from Chernobyl by Svetlana Alexievich (2005 reportage) 
Old Filth by Jane Gardam (2005 fiction)
No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July (2005 short stories)
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (2005 memoir) 
Samuel Johnson is Indignant by Lydia Davis (2001 short stories)
Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates (2000 fiction) 
The Rape of Nanking by Iris Chang (1997 history) 
The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald (1995 fiction)
The Land of Green Plums by Herta Müller (1994 fiction) 
The Piano Teacher by Elfriede Jelinek (1983 fiction) 
Tracks: A Woman’s Solo Trek Across 1700 of Australian Outback by Robyn Davidson (1980 memoir)

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard (1974)
Coming of Age in Mississippi by Anne Moody (1968) 

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Week that was

Drank: Chamomile Tea
Saw: Two people helping an elderly woman walk against the wind
Disliked: My lingering cold
Read: "The Orphan Master’s Son" by Adam Johnson 
Watched: Doubt with Meryl Streep & Philip Seymour Hoffman
Composed this note for the ladies’ room: 'Who keeps wadding kitchen paper towels together and stuffing them into the bathroom stall toilet paper roll with the toilet paper? Is it some harebrained attempt to 'save' paper, in this case paper that someone took too much of, and then forced on anyone who had to use the bathroom?'
Laughed at: This epic battle
Ate: Ciobar, Italian hot chocolate that’s more like hot pudding in a cup
Listened to: Robert Coover read Italo Calvino’s story “The Daughters of the Moon”
Bought: "Katz und Maus" by Günter Grass, which my son needs for German class 
Learned: Americans are split on whether to pronounce 'mayonnaise' as "man-aze" or "may-uh-naze"
Enjoyed: Hot bath with camphor and eucalyptus

Pithiness of the week: “If you run after two hares you will catch neither.” - Erasmus

Friday, February 07, 2014


Happy Charles Dickens’ birthday.

I was lucky to add The Pickwick Papers to the asset side of my reading equation last month, a buoyant, rich and very funny book. As Dickens’ first book, you see the seed of some of his later work here: the interminable law suits (Bleak House), the beloved relative in the debtors’ prison (Little Dorrit), the finger-wagging spirits (A Christmas Carol), and more. 

This book was the favorite of both Fernando Pessoa and Giuseppe Lampedusa, and such high-brow admiration made me a bit afraid of what it would be like. I’d also heard there wasn’t much of a story line, so I worried. Would there be a plot? Would there be characters to follow? Wouldn’t it suck if I didn’t like it? 

I worried for naught, for though the narrative is somewhat liquid, running off on various tangents, there is a plot to frame it, and the characters are marvelous, especially --as anyone who’s read it knows -- Sam Weller, Mr. Pickwick’s servant. Mr. Pickwick himself radiates benevolence, and as always with Dickens, the outright melodrama of it all is like a little kindling in your hands. 

Dickens is a great observer, and his scenes and dialogues can be hilarious. Take, for example, Sam Weller’s father’s explanation of the character of pike keepers:

"Wery queer life is a pike-keeper's, sir."
"A what?" said Mr. Pickwick.
"A pike-keeper."
"What do you mean by pike-keeper?" inquired Mr. Peter Magnus.
"The old 'un means a turnpike keeper, gen'l'm'n," observed Mr. Samuel Weller, in explanation.
"Oh," said Mr. Pickwick, "I see. Yes; very curious life. Very uncomfortable."
"They're all on 'em men as has met vith some disappointment in life," said Mr. Weller senior.
"Ay, ay?" said Mr. Pickwick.
"Yes. Consequence of vich, they retires from the world, and shuts themselves up in pikes; partly with the view of being solitary, and partly to rewenge themselves on mankind, by takin' tolls."
"Dear me," said Mr. Pickwick, "I never knew that before."

Hey, me neither! But now I do. 

Like Pessoa, I can now say that a great tragedy of my life is having read The Pickwick Papers, since I can never read it for the first time again.

Monday, February 03, 2014

I'd also rather walk 10 mins to the next stop than sit waiting 15 mins for the next bus

I’m glad to be from a planet that didn’t know heroin was snortable.

I stayed home again. I spent days under the lurch of sore limbs, head like a bucket of rocks and oil. Although better this morning, it was only in comparison. I thought of the expression “feeling human again” and reminded myself to question all set phrases because what are physical pain and suffering if not human? 

Not to leave out the other animals. 

After reading news the other day about the unfortunate who was strangled to death when her scarf, and then her hair, got caught in escalator steps, I dreamed I was a rescuer who carried scissors in her purse.

Escalators are one of my peeves, or rather escalator riders. Escalators were not invented to make you lazier, but to make you faster. You hasten your journey by walking up them instead of taking them as an invitation to stand still. You get a pass if your leg is broken or you are over 60. 

OK, 57.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

The weight of heavy buttocks

In "In the Voice of a Minor Saint," my longest-ago chapbook, I had a poem called God Have Pity on the Smell of Gasoline. I was flipping through Yehuda Amichai's Selected Poetry today and remembered where the inspiration came from.

There are a lot of excellent poems in his book, and good titles, too. Like You Carry the Weight of Heavy Buttocks. And My Father in a White Space Suit. And Ballad of the Washed Hair. Never underestimate the power of a good title. It will win you friends.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Goodbye January

It wasn’t a great month. Nothing but poetry rejections. I fell on an escalator and gashed my shins. I ate too much, including apples. And at the end I got a cold with a sore throat and a painful cough, each one like a bullet being shot both from me and at me. So much for the apple-a-day theory. 

I called in sick yesterday and lay completely wiped out in bed. A headache made it impossible to read, so I listened to two New Yorker fiction podcasts and picked the duds. Later I was able to read a little of the book I recently began, “The Orphan Master’s Son,” and even 100 pages into it I’m not sure what this book is trying to do. The effusive blurbs make me think I’ve missed the boat. Oh, and it won the Pulitzer Prize. 

So being sick sucks, and let us hope February is a step up from January, which is always too damned long anyway. 

Oh, here’s a good thing: Kathleen Kirk sent me her chapbook Interior Sculpture, a collection of poems about the sculptor Camille Claudel. Kathleen is a terrific poet and the poems work wonderfully. Thank you, Kathleen, for the bright spot.
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