Monday, December 27, 2010

All that there is.

Sometimes when headlights are too bright I stare at the white outer line. Sometimes in fog I stare at the white outer line. I think as a child about coloring and about the car a crayon I am keeping inside the line white car crayon white coloring inside the white line is also a disappearing.


Once while staring at the white line while in fog the car moving slowly but as fast as it could it was four am and I had to get home and the car was red then and the girl was in high school and the music was loud. Once while staring at the white line in fog I was moving too fast and forgot the road rise to the train tracks and the car lifted up a little and what was in the trunk made a horrible noise and then the light from the train and the white fog became blind white and the white line became electric and the music was drowned out by the train horn and the train was moving startlingly fast. But I was looking at the outside line and the train was coming from the other direction and the fog was so thick that it hid this. Only one of the ways that I could have died but I didn't.


A word is a gesture. A sentence a breast stroke. When I talk when I write I am swimming. It may be in circles but it's movement. The water is warm or it's cold or it's salty or chlorinated (it's often chlorinated) but it is water and I know how to swim. In the pool alone or with a crowd of people I know how to swim in circles around myself but I know how to swim. You might not recognize the motion as swimming. It looks a lot like drowning from above.


L and I once thought we would form a band called The Floaters. In restaurant speak for those who do everything. But also because we could live in water a long time without moving our limbs.


I can still float on my head, bobbing up with the inhale, deeper down with the exhale. But I no longer play any instruments.


I respond in kind, so as not to be overwhelming. They say that humans use five percent of their brains, that humans use ten percent of their brains. I have always felt that I might use more. The flying alongside feeling, some strange tether to other parts of the universe. Whether that means universe or alternate consciousness I can't know. Sometimes I read a book and I want to send that book to someone who might better understand me or we or something else because of it. Sometimes I send a book. Mostly I don't send anything because people don't read. They don't have time in their busy lives. It is possible in knowing me that I only say five percent of what I want to say to you. It is possible that I say ten percent. When the give and take rises, the percentage rises, when it goes down it goes down. Sometimes the percentage may rise as high as twenty, which is maybe how much of a brain is used it contacting the cosmos. But it never goes higher. And you will never read that book. So I keep it on my shelf and I think about sending it and I think about what you would understand if I did and if you read it.


My philosophy: that the world doesn't exist except through the lens of the page.You only think you're seeing anything if you don't read it first.


I am overwhelmed. I think the pace I have set for myself is too much. I think I need to slow. If I think I need to slow and I look around at you people hustling I feel tired and I feel anxious and I want to lie down. And then I lie down for just a minute and I get up again. I hustle. But my hustle will never be what yours is. When I look around at you people just living your lives I think what are you doing? and I think get moving! And then I remember that living is what we're supposed to do not locked up in rooms. I am locked up in rooms. This room. Which is the same as every other room I've ever lived in been in waited in. I am waiting. And the pace at the pace I wear through the hardwood floor within three or four or five days max. The room built up floor relaid once a week. The floor out from under me every time I move. I move. With the floor gone I am in the cold dark dirt under the house. I wear through that a little racetrack in mud. Always without shoes.


That, over there. That isn't really there. This is all that there is.


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Egads, how has it been a month since I've posted anything?

So I have been a little busy finishing a new manuscript, which is probably a fantastic idea since I'm still circulating the other one. But one can't stop writing, right? Once I've had a few people look over the new ms and I have everything where I like it (it's almost there), I will probably stop sending out the conspiracies and switch to the new one. I can't afford even postage for both, let alone any entry fees. A word about those: I don't go out much anymore, so that's where that money comes from. And I know some people are all like, 'you pay to enter a manuscript?' But I look at it as subsidizing a press. That's the only way I can look at it. I have always done my best to send at least 10% of my income to various charities, sometimes cancer stuff, and I love Kiva for example, but usually animal-related stuff (Best Friends, the local shelter, etc). Sending out manuscripts means I shift most of this flow into presses. I consider it my tithe to charity. Of course, I am hoping for a return...

The conspiracies manuscript has now been shortlisted four times. Money for Sunsets was shortlisted twelve times before getting published (on top of sooo many outright rejections (mostly in prior incarnations) I don't want to say)--the 13th time was the charm. All four excellent presses. So I'm almost good enough?

The new ms is solid though, story-wise, which is silly, but I think what people like to read. I'm actually pretty convinced it will do well, and quickly. Maybe I'm just in love with it. But that's okay by me.

I also haven't updated the recent publication list on here, so I'm probably missing a few things. Today I got word that the new Gulf Stream is up, so you might want to check that out. The link is for my poem (one of the conspiracies, from the JFK section of the book), but be sure to check out all the other stuff too, like especially my friend Leigh Phillips's nonfiction, and also Josie Sigler's story. I really loved Josie Sigler's book, living must bury, so I'm pretty thrilled to be in here with her.

Okay, back to work. I promise to make another appearance soon. I mean, soonish. Sometime. Anyway...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Early Sunsets

Sometimes I get overwhelmed with the volume of literary journals that stack up around my room. At some point I break down and go through them, tearing out the pieces I don't want to miss. Here I am reading a story by Roxane Gay, "Down to Bone" that appeared in (and was ripped out of) Mid-American Review. I really like her work. Simple prose about complex matters. From that story: "She loved me as best she could in a family where no one knew how to play their parts properly."

Friday, October 29, 2010

Tinkering with Time and Expiration

I finished reading Tinkers, the novel by Paul Harding that won the Pulitzer for him and for the very small, new press Bellevue Literary Press. I liked Tinkers, I mean, a lot of it. It was a good book. It feels like first book. Both with the raw narrative energy of it, and in that there are, I think, some areas that don't quite work as well as they could. My biggest issue with it was that the shifts in perspective were not recognizable enough. It tells the story of three men, three different generations, and shifts back and forth between them. And this is often only acknowledged with white space (a double space between sections), not in chapters or subchapters or anything, and a few moniker tags in the first paragraph or two. So that if you miss this, you miss it. Occasionally I would be reading with one person in my head and get many pages into it before I realized I had been imagining the wrong person. So I had to go back and start over the section with the right person in my head. A little distracting from losing oneself in a work. Or maybe I was a bad reader for this. I have been unfocused in other ways lately.

Also, though the symbolism of the title was a great detail, that's all it seemed to be: a detail. There was some feeling that much of the concept of tinkers and tinkering that ran through the book may have been edited out in the revision process. Perhaps others feel differently.

Overall a good read.


Parts of Tinkers that particularly spoke to me:

Your cold mornings are filled with the heartache about the fact that although we are not at ease in this world, it is all we have, that it is ours but that it is full of strife, so that all we can call our own is strife; but even that is better than nothing at all, isn't it? And as you split frost-laced wood with numb hands, rejoice that your uncertainty is God's will and His grace toward you and that that is beautiful, and part of a greater certainty, as your own father always said in his sermons and to you at home. And as the ax bites into the wood, be comforted in the fact that the ache in your heart and the confusion in your soul means that you are still alive, still human, and still open to the beauty of the world, even though you have done nothing to deserve it. And when you resent the ache in your heart, remember: You will be dead and buried soon enough. (72)

[At least I'm not buried in rubble.]


Of course, Sabbatis is ancient only to me. My father is ancient, too, because both were men who passed from life when I was young. My memories of them are atmospheres. (150)


Nikki was an old woman who dressed like an aging former starlet whose most dramatic, and final, role was that of the aging former starlet persevering under the tyranny of time. (160)

[I can't even express how delighted I get when a sentence wraps itself around itself like this. I mean, when it's intentional. People garble things in uninteresting ways all the time. I could read this a hundred times and be happy every time. A thousand times, probably.]

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Friday, October 8, 2010

catching up

So a lot has been happening, dear reader(s). I need to get better about updating this blog. First off, I want you to think of the last word you read that made you really happy. I read cloister in an article today and my mouth jumped up and bit me. Say that out loud and say it doesn't make you happy. Cloister. Also nice: cluster. As in: fuck. But! it doesn't have the complication of the oi.

So. News.

First off, if you're in Seattle or the surrounding areas, or if you like planes and me and find travel for poetry worth your time... I am reading at Open Books in Wallingford (2414 N 45th St.) with Shane McCrae(!) on Friday, October 22 at 7pm. Find out more about Open Books here: Also, the event has been *starred* in The Stranger (link to that here:, which means we're superawesome and you should come. As usual, I will be taking requests.

Second, you can find some recent reviews of Money for Sunsets, here: The Sonic Imperative in the Prose Poem: a review of Elizabeth Colen’s Money for Sunsets. And here: Book Notes on Elizabeth J. Colen's Money for Sunsets. A big thanks to Metta Sama and Jory Mickelson.

Thirdly, I've just jumped on board as Thumbnail Magazine's new poetry editor. We're accepting submissions, so get on that.

So that's it for "business." I just got back, well a few days ago, from a long trip to Portland. Well, not long really. Not long enough. I'm working on wrapping up a new manuscript. Writers, what do you do when you work too fast and have several manuscripts you're sending out in the world? I tend to maintain focus on the poetry, as it is (to me) easier to place, but I'm not sure what I will do when I have two entirely finished books of poetry, orphans for a home. My thought is to take the more cohesive (the more recent) of the two and focus on that, meanwhile brainstorming what presses would be more willing to take on the riskier/boundary-pushing one. The bastard, if you will. The bastard that obsessed me for nearly two years. On top of that, I've vaguely sending out two novels. I don't have the administrative energy to go all out on sending three books everywhere I should. Again I will say: I need a secretary. I don't know how people do this. Even as relatively easy as my schedule is (I make my own hours, rarely work forty hours in a week, don't have kids), I can't seem to get Everything done. I also read a lot. Books are my drug. The one that saps hours. The one where I pull my eyes out from the pages and it really is like waking up on someone's floor and having no idea how I got there.

In other news, my town is sad. A week and a half ago a freshman at Western went missing. Wednesday they found him in the bay. A week ago yesterday a two-year old was killed walking across the street, holding her mother's hand. A car had stopped to let them pass and the driver in the next car, distracted, didn't stop. Ran into the car in front, running over the little girl. About a half-mile from my house, and right on the walk I take with Cally every morning. Every morning we walk past the makeshift memorial of flowers and balloons and stuffed animals and notes and candles that grows and grows and grows. Every morning I tear up. Most mornings some passer-by has paused, some car has pulled over to look, some bicyclist has stopped to stand there. This is the difference between living in a city and living here, which sometimes feels like a city. I didn't know either one of them, but I feel it. You know? I guess this is what community feels like. And maybe why I can never leave. I love those pausers. As much as I can love a stranger anyway. As much as I can love anyone. I wrote more articulately yesterday on my private "journal"/blog. Maybe I'll repost that here... Hm, maybe not.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Local Launch, Saturday, September 11


Start: Sat, 09/11/2010 - 7:00pm
Village Books
1200 Eleventh Street
Bellingham, Washington 98225

Set partly in Bellingham, partly on the open road, these prose poems investigate loss, innocence, and what it means to live in beautiful surroundings that remain part of a larger deficit culture. With a narrative arc that follows a hyper-observant narrator from adolescence through adulthood, this book has been described (by poet Mary Biddinger) as “Cinematic and compassionate, sexy and heartbreaking… a debut collection that will thrill you with the sound of your own pulse.”

Event page here: hope to see you there!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Like Some Runner in a Suicide Squeeze

Sometimes lately, well for the past several years, my life seems to be nothing about writing. Doing writing, fixing/trying to fix/improve my writing and others’ writing, reading everything I can of classics and good contemporary work, figuring out how different writing communities work, what makes them tick and how they’re different or like the work I’m doing or trying to do, corresponding with writers and friends who are writers. I don't really like the term "networking." It seems too business-y and weird. I am more likely to disregard an "in" I have than to capitalize on it. Maybe this comes from always having a job/paying my way, even as a child. From not having things "given." I always want to believe it's on the quality of my work and not that someone knows me. So I stay mostly unknown. I mean, other than people reading my work. Nothing delights me more than some stranger saying they like something I've written. All the better that I usually have nothing concrete to offer them. I am not a good contact. No affiliation with a journal or press. I just like reading, being immersed, sometimes writing. I just like words.

Sometimes I feel like all that defines me anymore is this one thing. My relationship to language.

I am not a good conversationalist, but I love to listen. I also like sitting quietly. A perfect evening for me would be sitting on a couch or bench with a book with someone who also has a book. To be together and in separate worlds. There is something inherently sexy about this. Comforting. I think a life best spent would be mostly spent in this way.

And while I said my recent travel was vaguely tangential to writing, what with setting up a few readings for MFS along the way, it was more about getting outside this rabid focus for a little while. I took the train. For a long time. I think I figured the total hours added up to six days. The total trip time was 17 days, with stops in Flagstaff, Wichita (Augusta, actually), and Los Angeles. In Flagstaff, a good friend and her beautiful baby, also a reading.

This is Kate and Max. Two people I love very much.

In Kansas: Grandpa. The impetus for the whole trip. I don't see him enough. He's been good to me, and is the only grandparent I have left.

Handsome devil, isn't he?

I also made the mistake of having to return the rental car in a tiny town in Kansas (Newton: where the train comes and goes at 2:51am and 3:25am... and so it will be forever referred to by me as "the 3am train station) the afternoon before getting on the train in the middle of the night. I felt seriously a bit homeless to have to find a place to be from 5pm until the train station opened at 1am (thank goodness for libraries, bars and my good legs that like to walk). I literally broke into the train station to leave my luggage in a locker. I found a loose side door and worked it, using my grandmother's Saint Christopher key to jimmy it open. Then got walked out/removed by someone working on the building, but not before I'd stowed my bag.

Then there was the reading in Riverside, and spending time with Kathryn and Lola.

Lola is one of the coolest kids around.

LA was mostly about forcing an old friend to reconnect with me. That went well. I mean, we're both awkward human beings. I think it went okay. I actually have little idea how she feels about the whole episode, but one must be content with the mysteries.

Inside The Museum of Jurassic Technology.

I’m actually finding some effort/trouble in realigning back to regular life, reassessing some things I had taken for fact that now seem shaken. It felt nice for a little while just to be on the move, focusing on family, friends, kids, hanging out. Spending time. Rather than being focused inward all the time. Though there's always that inward thrust towards whatever project I'm working on (or the anxiety of what I'm not working on). The whole time, for the month of August I've been in a poem-a-day writing group. Though I didn't always have access to the internet to post every day I did write a poem (or at least averaged one poem) a day. 21 poems, in fact. About half of which I'm quite pleased with.

Like this:


I did that thing where I wouldn’t put anything in my mouth for the longest time. So I wouldn’t lose what was left of you. Even after taste fades, and the feeling. Even after thirst makes everything dry. I parch, I desiccate, die; you replace me.

I rebuild the house from memory all the way home. The fireplace that holds no fire, the broken TV, that lamp everyone has. Stains on the carpet; stains on linoleum. Terra cotta tiles in the foyer, miniature terra cotta animals hunting pale yellow shelves. Stone walls, orange low sun, and you standing in the yard, red face, flushed and mud on your arms, your worn through shoe with its sliver of duct tape crowning the toe.

You were always outside, said the halls echoed. And then you would scream. “What do you hear?” “My father’s snores.” And what does that feel like? The last gun blast, sore throat of smoke and everything quiet.

The arborist had taken the tops off all the trees in the front yard. So they wouldn’t crowd the wires. But I kept thinking: decapitation. Where my head is. Where is my head? The green, another straight line, another horizon. How to get to you. What I want is messier than fire. What I want is soot-black in the keel, a balance wheel back on its heels. Hairspring and oscillation, a regulating beat.

You said the clothing got lonely, waiting for me. Shirts separated by sheets on the line. Thread counts like miles. Dead weight of my bag in the backseat. I felt imperfect again moving away from you, listening as another bee troubled the window like some runner in a suicide squeeze.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Idea like a hit song, a virus in the brain.

I'll admit it. I like a big blockbuster. Quality of the plot and character development are unimportant. What's important? Explosions, the bigger the better. Good, fun things that look good big. And good looking people.

I went to see Inception today. I should mention size also matters. Sitting in an air conditioned theater for 2 hours and 22 minutes was an excellent idea. For the two of you who mightn't know, Inception is the Leonardo DiCaprio vehicle about dreams. The visual effects in a word were: stunning. Especially the scenes with Joseph Gordon-Levitt trying to get the team into position for a wake-up "kick" in zero gravity.

This is not it, but here's JGL running funny:

As with most of my favorite stories, we are presented with the concept that the real world and the unreal world (sometimes fictional, but in this case the dream world) are divided by only the finest of lines. In the best of cases, we can't really decide for sure what side we're on. As a writer, I kind of feel like I live on this line. Actually, that's even pushing it. Differing from some of the characters in this film, I do not have trouble knowing what's real and what isn't. I have trouble maintaining a strong presence in the RW.

I had a conversation just this weekend about this. Over drinks and dinner with a group of writers who live in my town, and a few from out of town, we talked about babies and traveling and TV and a lot about writing. One friend writes poetry, but may be better known for her nonfiction. She admitted that her poetry tends along the lines of nonfiction as well. I contended that I am unable to write "anything true" because every time I try to tell something that happened, things immediately get added, deleted. Not so much that the story is unrecognizable from its origins necessarily (well, not always), but enough that Oprah would chide me if I tried to pass it off.

Necessarily we all do this. Our brains do this in creating memories. We can't not leave things out. But I am aware of the major changes I'm making. I do it willfully, yet uncontrollably. It's just not that interesting if I don't change things around.

From my house I often walk to the grocery store. When I get home, I often find myself adding details and characters to the deli counter and produce aisle. Right now I want to tell you about the boy behind the counter with the incredible, bushy eyebrows, but that was someone ahead of me in line. It's much more interesting if I was asking him for cheese.

I recently invented a woman dancing with tomatoes in a denim skirt. The woman was real. A quick glance gave the impression of dancing. When I turned fully to face her, I realized she had her hands full and was getting the hair out of her eyes. Much less interesting than dancing, which is what I had seen initially. Was this a lie?

Maybe it was. In this relationship C and I have an agreement never to lie about big things. If she tells me she couldn't answer my call because she was watching a house fire, when really she was just in the middle of a thought I'm okay with this. If I talk about long-haired women dancing with produce, I assume this is okay too. This works for us. And I don't mind not always knowing what's real. We tell each other stories constantly. It's who we are. Some are true. Some are better. What I want always, and what I expect from others is an emotional truth.

This is the distinction I make. The facts are not so important as the emotion conveyed. What was felt is prime. Primal.

My nonfiction writer friend of mine and I were talking about how maybe people (or writers anyway) are predisposed towards either fiction or nonfiction. Like on a continuum. I like this thought. Kind of like Kinsey's scale for sexuality. I'm much farther gay and much farther fictional on the scales.

Sometimes I like to break the world into either/ors. Binaries. Such as: 'there are two people in the world: those who like, deal compassionately with animals, and those who don't.' But it is more useful to think of all things in a more complicated way. Perhaps a book could be given a number from 1 to 6 indicating its relation to the facts. We would want most of our textbooks to bear closely to them, but for me all else could gather happily on the other side. (By the way, as expanding as I am of all definitions and breaking down binaries, I probably won't like you if you don't like animals. Although, that said, I'm not much of a cat person. Yes, I know: I have three cats. This does not make the statement any less true, and possibly more so.)

So the movie! I think it bolsters/illustrates my claim that the emotional truth is more honest. It's where we live. There's little to no character development in anyone but the main character, but that's mostly due to the fact that I don't think an audience could hold any more details in their brain while parsing the rules followed in the dream world(s). Kudos to whoever cast the film's stars though; there's someone for everyone.

Also, it's a film that times itself out. So many times (especially in long films, and with me of tiny bladder) I'm left wondering whether I can wait it out or if I should dash off to the ladies' so I can finish the film in comfort. (For those who also drink a lot... I've never used it, but supposedly is an excellent source that tells you when to go.) In Inception everything must happen before the van hits the water. The different dream levels are toggled between (the farther in the dream, the longer time is expanded), and the van makes it's slow descent. Actually, visually these moments were probably my favorite. Sleep-filled arms flailing in the half-light of an overcast day, the water somewhere below, everything riding on a few seconds dragged impossibly and unfelt to the man awake at the wheel.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

There's no one at work in the world.

Yesterday I spent some time perusing the Verse Daily archives in a successful attempt to put off work. I made dinner at 9am. I boxed and did sit-ups in the garage. I watered the plants. Mary B had yesterday's poem over at VD. Exactly a month ago Khaled had a poem up. Perhaps Shane will get one August 13! (My blurbers.) So then I started reading backwards; I like this one a lot. It's Ander Monson. Repetition makes me happy. Just keep saying bags. Keep saying stars. Keep saying beauty. Drink. Take this. It's yours. Tell me that last line again.

More Precisely 

What I meant was stars: lots of them.

What was in the bag: a hundred other bags,

each filled with a star. What came after the world:

silence, lots of it. Like being in a bag for a year,

a portable hole, losing the sensation of sound.

After only two nights stars appear

where there were none. So: I'm sorry. I'm here,

not the star of this poem, nor are you. Nor beauties
in bags draped down by the river in books about bodies

and necks stretching upwards to sky. What comes after beauty
is water, just water, nothing reflecting in it, not even the song

of water. Drink. Take this. It's yours. There's no one at work
in the world. No dogs rambling the park.

Nothing in darkness or pressure arising by depth.

What was in the works but ears, ears everywhere,
on the land like leaves, caught up in updrafts like silk,
like slick maps written on it and worn on a body.

You know it's a beauty. Even seen from a mile,

at which point it's only a dot, it stretches and grows.
Comes closer. She's coming for you. She walks like a star.
Towards you. In her bag is a book. Each page

draped with stars. You'll know her
when she arrives. You've seen her breathing before.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Frances and I sat in the park.

Sometimes, especially when reading, I look up and am shocked to find myself where I am. So transported by the world I have entered through language that the "real" (what I'll contend is not-as-real) world has dropped away. It is also like napping in an unfamiliar place, dream state to new sometimes equals a moment of surprise. Who needs vacations? Okay, I do. And will be taking one soon.

In my studio I nap on the hard indoor/outdoor carpeting, my head on some rolled up piece of fabric I've snatched from studiomate Lisa's vast shelves. In those few moments upon waking I'm not sure if I'm paralyzed, in grass, underwater or what.

Yesterday I was in the co-op (in Mount Vernon!) and I wasn't sleeping. I was reading (re-reading) Stacey Levin's Frances Johnson. I figured it was re-released, I could read it again. New to me! Not so, but it's been awhile. It's a good book, strange. What I'll call the Seinfeld school of novelling. A novel in which nothing really happens. This is also what my most recently completed (and recently begun circulating) novel is like. Something happens towards the end, but it's not big. What happens big is internal. This, I think is more how our lives really are. No one I know has ever been shot. (Wait, I don't think. Though I did see someone get stabbed when I was a kid. He survived! It was OK!) And wild romance isn't really that interesting. I couldn't write a murder mystery (the ultimate SOMETHING happening) or a thriller or, well, no, maybe I could, but it would be an alien thing. The book and the experience. Maybe I'll write a mystery. Really most of the world (and the internal workings of everyone, myself included) is a mystery. So any novel--

Anyway, Frances Johnson. Like this (this is where I was going), this is how I feel: "Immediately, she fell into a hapless, jagged doze, only to wake moments later, frightened back from the horizon of unconsciousness, for she had seen a turtle there" (12). This is what it's like to read in public.

It doesn't always take so long to get to a point. Sometimes it takes longer.

It's kind of how I feel in opposite though. It's not the turtles I'm afraid of. Maybe falling brick. I've been dreaming about earthquakes again. (This morning I walked past a house in my neighborhood with a sign out front advertising that it had been retrofitted for earthquake proofing and had a number to call. In my usual overzealous panic I thought, should we do this? we should do this. But our house has been standing for a hundred years. I trust it. As much as one should trust a house.)

Like the day C's father died and I had just woken from a dream in which an earthquake occurred in a hospital room and the nurse and everyone in the room was freaking out and he was in the bed and said, why is everyone so upset; everything's okay. We're all fine. And then we got the call he had died. In dreams lately it's no one I know; sometimes it is, but rarely. Last week before seeing Deb Poe I had a dream about Deb Poe and Karl was showing me around their house at what they had done.

So the book's out. Luckily I read everything, Kate Greenstreet's blog interviewing poets about first books, some other personal accounts, and talked to people I know, C and others. All of this was kind of like reading What to Expect When You're Expecting. I didn't expect my life to change and it hasn't. Except this month I'm letting myself off the hook a little about submitting things and writing new things (which means I am writing new things, but relaxedly). The time off's been nice. And next month the train. I was going to give myself time off then as well (at least I can't really do submissions), but I'll make that decision come the first of the month or so.

I'm working the earthquake dreams into the new stuff I'm doing, trying not to make it at all about dreams though, but real things that happen. Backdrop of a city, buildings coming down. Not coming down, because the earthquake is mild. But enough shaking that people start thinking more concretely about a "big one."

(Read about tsunamis from a thick blue book. Read about the Big Ones, the ones that killed, the causes, how many dead. Read about velocity and volume, then go down to the water.Walk the beach, feet tipped in low waves. Imagine every tremor an earthquake—waves, birds beating quiet wings, a waterfall—then shiver as you watch the horizon for the swell.)

The above is actually from a poem in Money for Sunsets, but every time I say or think "big one" that's what runs through my head.

So I'm relaxed, sort of.

I'm also sending the book places, which takes some time. Who knew 5-line cover notes could take so long?

How else the book has or has not changed my life: holding it. I understand it's possible. That the others can find homes. That maybe I'm a Writer. Also that no one can take this away from me. Maybe I am still that younger version of myself with the threat of heartbreak in its varied and maniacal manifestations hanging over me. Any floor can drop. But this one I can walk on. I feel like a teenager who has just given birth so that someone will always love her. How's that for mixing metaphors? MFS, be a good little child.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Money for Sunsets

"David Lynch meets Gertrude Stein." -Denise Duhamel, author of Ka-Ching!

“Protean like dreams, jittery montages of the quotidian-turned-nightmare, Elizabeth J. Colen’s lyrical prose poems in Money for Sunsets shed a steady gaze on our present moment.” –Khaled Mattawa, author of Tocqueville

"Here are poems that speak many minds with a single voice." -Shane McCrae, author of Mule

“Cinematic and compassionate, sexy and heartbreaking, this is a debut collection that will thrill you with the sound of your own pulse.” –Mary Biddinger, author of Prairie Fever

Get your copy here:

I came home last night to a box of books on my porch. Slept with one in the room last night. Carried one around all day. Yeah, she's pretty. Prettier than me. Probably a little smarter and dirtier, too.

Friday, May 28, 2010


Hooray! It looks like all is well in the world of the book. That is, in Money for Sunset's world. The world within the book is still a little bit messy -- what with our world being messy as it is, but the proofs are proofed and gorgeous, thanks to Tom C. Hunley and his crew.

I've had more people ask me what the book is "about," not satisfied with the answer, "well, it's poetry, prose poetry." (Yes, I say this kind of like Bond, James Bond.) So I'm working out a description my aunts or my grandpa could spout when someone asks. Something along the lines of...

"An individual examination of our culture of deficit. You know, with sex and stuff thrown in."

Okay, so it's a working description. But that first part I like. And there is a lot of sex in the book. Appropriate sex, sex in inappropriate places, beach sex, imagined sex. I could go on.

In reading the book again while proofing I realized,

a) Hey, this is a really good book! (I hadn't read it in probably more than a year, so distanced it seems sometimes like some other creature wrote it. But they are my obsessions in there.)

b) There is a lot of talk about overconsumption, and specifically about oil. Oddly. I finished this book more than two years ago, but somehow all the environmental stuff that crops up seems way more relevant today than it did even then.

Must. Walk. Dog.

Thanks for checking in.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

A poem is not an abstraction.

Excerpt from a letter from Lee Hickman to Todd Baron (lifted from this place, if you want to read more):

You talk of “pure charge.” Pure charge is the meaning. In a poem, there is no other saying. What is said and how charged it is said are the same thing. As in life, the generosity and intensity of your love is that love, there is no separating them from it. A poem is not an abstraction. It is a product of the body. It is not the fingerprint. It is the fingertip. No poem goes beyond meaning. Meaning is the body. Yr body.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

From Sara Greenslit's The Blue of Her Body:

The blue slur of oncoming sleepiness. She wants to shut down and forget all the complications, the rugburn of communication, the loss of words and fighting, the drag and stop of language as she fails Kate again and again. She hates these moments of burn and anger, and bites her nails until they bleed, copper in her mouth. (47)

The habit of meals and sleep, the patterns of pattern. Hours and streets and seasons. Leaves, new growth, then falling. Failure. Capability and time line. Endpoint and/or circular. (62)

Humans only use 60% of the oxygen in their lungs; birds 99%. (98)


Think of all the mouths you have known: kissed, fed, envied, missed, desired, touched, grazed, imagined, fingered, fled. Your own: given, shut, blurted, silenced, sung. Enter. The room brims with words, vowels hitting our faces. Exit. Say X Y Z. If we linger here, where the alphabet runs out, never fear, our mouths loop back to A. My home is your mouth. Your home is my mouth. Remember? (125)


You see, the heart splits both down and across. (125)

Quarterly reading check in--Title, Author (Notes to Remind)

What I've read so far this year...

I like my new feature of what amounts to a <10-word personal "review." I'm a list-maker, a haphazard organizer of things, mostly words. I have this idea that everything I've ever read will be useful to me forever. I keep a notebook of quotes I like from books I read. I should say notebookS; you should see the stack of them. I started doing this when I was about 10. I should have known then that words would be what my life was made of, but I kept thinking psychology, neuroscience, then photography, before I got irritated at artists s**t-talking each other at some party and decided to focus on what had always diverted my attention anyway: writing. I'd always written stories. When I was a kid (often sent out of the house for the day) I would take a notebook and re-write stories I liked. I never had any interest in remembering them the way they were told exactly. I retold them, sometimes adding characters, plot twists. Then I started re-writing events in my life, making them turn out differently, better. Then I saw that better didn't make the story better.

Anyway, I have this idea that in twenty years, thirty years I will see some book cover or someone will mention Wallace Stegner or Maggie Nelson at a party and I will think, yes, I've read that/those book/books and will return home to look through my lists and have a good time remembering the read based on my ten-word description of it. So if you see me at that party and I have a faraway look on my face I'll either be conjuring this list, or forming a new list for something onto which I'm placing our conversation.


1. Trust – Liz Waldner (Not quite as engaging as Dark Would. “Passing”=amazing.)
2. Counterfeit – Christine LeClerc (Smart. Pop culture references. Nods to theatre.)
3. A Thief of Strings – Donald Revell (a bit of nature, a bit of the war)
4. Plato’s Bad Horse – Deborah Woodard (Long lines, excellent sounds, erudite references.)
5. The Most of It – Mary Ruefle (Short short prose from an excellent contemporary poet.)
6. A Season in Hell and The Drunken Boat – Arthur Rimbaud (Woah. I want the Revell translation now.)
7. The Totality for Kids – Joshua Clover (Echoes of end of the world; pop culture.)
8. The Lack Of – Joseph Massey (As always, genius. I want more.)
9. Jane: a murder – Maggie Nelson (Poetic examination of aunt’s unsolved murder. Stunning.)
10. Wrong – Reginald Shepherd (Best moments=when sounds overtake him.)
11. The Red Parts – Maggie Nelson (Memoir, written shortly after Jane, while the murderer was being tried.)
12. Bluets – Maggie Nelson (She’s in love with blue; I’m in love with her. Paragraphs numbered remind me of Coetzee’s second, In the Heart of the Country.)
13. Angle of Repose – Wallace Stegner (Novel of the “frontier west.” Grandma Susan’s lesbianish friendship explored; both women married men.)
14. Fifty Poems – Liana Quill (Spareness I don’t get. Birds and trees.)
15. Old Souls: The Scientific Evidence for Past Lives – Tom Shroder (Journalist’s examination of guy who examines scientific evidence for past lives—Ian Stevenson.)
16. Are We Lucky Yet?: Stories – Jane Bradley (Made me remember high school. And feel like a straight girl.)
17. The Black Swan – Thomas Mann (Mann’s feminine look at his imminent mortality.)
18. The Mere Future – Sarah Schulman (Satiric social commentary; only killers gain acclaim, riches.)
19. I is to Vorticism – Ben Mirov (“interstellar ventriloquism”=meaningful absurdity)
20. Otherhood – Reginald Shepherd (cover reminds of a Pgh photograph I once took)
21. Other Prohibited Items – Martha Greenwald (Best=Amtrak holdback; office poems also had excellent lines.)
22. Minimum Heroic – Christopher Salerno (best of the three)
23. The Muse is Always Half-Dressed in New Orleans – Andrei Codrescu (“Not born but snapped”; best moment=showing book jacket as I.D. to cop)
24. Housekeeping – Marilynn Robinson (beautiful language I would have appreciated more if not for the voice of the woman on the audiobook.)
25. Becoming a Man: Half a Life Story – Paul Monette (coming out story; language)
26. Six Seconds in Dallas: A Microstudy of the Kennedy Assassination – Josiah Thompson (most interesting to see the questions we do have answers to that the writer is asking in 1967; good math)
27. The Book of Frank – CA Conrad (feels like my childhood; maybe I am Frank)
28. Letters to Wendy’s – Joe Wenderoth (comment cards blossom epically)
29. Sudden Fiction: American Short-Short Stories – ed. Robert Shapard & James Thomas (a few nice pieces)
30. Personationskin – Karl Parker (terror and comedy of ambiguation; lots of caps)
31. Spar – Karen Volkman (prose poetry narrative interspersed with regular line-break poems; like)
32. Fast Lanes – Jayne Anne Phillips (title story one of the best ever love stories/relationship stories)
33. Half Girl – Stephanie Dickinson (swine princess; excellent metaphors)
34. The Preservationist – David Maine (retelling Noah’s Ark)
35. Savage Love – Dan Savage (compendium as of ’98)
36. Ka-Ching – Denise Duhamel (first section so good, money; parents’ mishap with escalator stunning – unable to look away)
37. Silkscreen Techniques – J. I. Biegeleisen and M. A. Cohn (a future project)
38. Family Dancing – David Leavitt (early 80s, standard storytelling, very consistent)
39. The Housekeeper and the Professor – Yoko Ogawa (tender, fascinating conceptually, 80-minute memory, mathematics prof.)
40. OK, Goodnight – Emily Kendal Frey and Zachary Schomburg
41. I Have to go Back to 1994 and Kill a Girl – Karyna McGlynn (girl in the pool, yes)
42. World Famous Love Acts – Brian Leung (Loved, “Leases”=woah)
43. The Blue of Her Body – Sara Greenslit (Sex, drugs, and birds of prey)

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Once I Had a Brother, but I'm Thinking Olivetti

So I have this problem with eyestrain. I'm thinking of getting a typewriter. Really I should say 'another typewriter.' Although born at the latter part of the "X" generation, and firmly within the timeframe that should have allowed full computer access as my birthright, my family didn't get a computer until long after I'd flown the coop. This is why I'm a little slow when you talk about html, it's why I don't really know the difference between PC and Mac. I just think Mac looks slicker. I mean, it goes with things, you know?

I had a Brother typewriter when I was in junior high, graduated to a "word processing" typewriter when I was in high school. Mostly I used the computers at school, but my first experience with a glowing screen (other than TV) was the suffusion of those two lines of type from my typewriter. I was so happy I could fix those definately's and correspondance's before they ever got to the page.

I spend so much time on my computer, and word processing in particular these days, that I want to "Apple X" every time I move something in the garden and don't like the new placement. Or I want to hit save before I take dishes out of the cabinet, so I can just close the evening's document of dinner without saving and have everything be neatly back in place the next time I look. I think about things in terms of Microsoft. I like Excel. I like to Excel. I edit for a living. Which means I spend hours in front of the computer before I ever spend hours in front of the computer doing my own work. Sometimes when I get there I can barely see.

I turned 34 this year. Not a big milestone by any measure. But shortly after my birthday last month I noticed three things. 1. A new furrow growing between my eyes. I already have thick eyebrows (which I like), adding a furrow makes me feel like Walter Cronkite. 2. Gray hairs. I've found two or three. I've never had them before and I look at them like I do the bees in my yard, with a fond familiarity for their newness and an understanding that things could get painfully out of control. And 3. eyestrain. I've had this for awhile, but it's gotten worse in recent months. While I have perfect vision, sometimes my eyes feel like they're about three times their size and still trying to fit in my little sockets. It's not so much painful as it is nauseating. Luckily I have no problem reading when this hits, it's just the glowing screen. The computer. I find myself not blogging, not reading online news or online journals, and using a notebook (the paper kind) much more often.

I mention this partially as an excuse, as I've run into eight people in the past two weeks who have asked me what's up with the blog. I didn't even know any of these people were reading what I wrote here. This post is for them.


Also, the new Knockout is out. It has an interview with Charles Jensen, and work by me, Kim Chinquee, Charles Jensen, Richard Siken, Paul Lisicky, Joseph Massey, Sherman Alexie, Denver Butson, Matthew Hittinger, J.P. Dancing Bear, and a whole host of other folks.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Jack Spicer is my valentine

So Jack Spicer asked me out. I wasn't sure if I was going to go, but he was sweet, unassuming, didn't expect anything from me. Just a few hours of togetherness.

I'd never read anything by him. I'm still somewhat new to poetry, still feeling my way. Focusing on contemporary work, while slowly filling in the back story with the classics of the 20th century.

C buys a lot of books, which is good for me because I like to read, often directionless, book to book as they appear in front of me. In this house there's no shortage.

I'd heard the name, loved the title (my vocabulary did this to me - supposedly his last words), so I picked it up the other day, daunting in its collectedness at nearly 500 pages. Well-behaved reader that I am, as expected to do so, I read the intro AND the "about this edition." I was into it. The first handful of poems though? Good lord, no. I'm not really into poets waxing all mythological. I mean, I know that's a style and there's a great tradition and I should have paid more attention to Edith Hamilton. That's on me. And I like it the way I like the Bible. For the silly stories. Kind of in the abstract. I don't want either to feature in the poetry I read, though god and gods can be done well.

Then I got to "Imaginary Elegies":

Yes, be like God. I wonder what I thought
When I wrote that. The dreamers sag a bit
As if five years had thickened on their flesh
Or on my eyes. Wake them with what?
Should I throw rocks at them
To make their naked private bodies bleed?
No. Let them sleep. This much I’ve learned
In these five years in what I spent and earned:
Time does not finish a poem.
The dummies in the empty funhouse watch
The tides wash in and out. The thick old moon
Shines through the rotten timbers every night.
This much is clear, they think, the men who made
Us twitch and creak and put the laughter in our throats
Are just as cold as we. The lights are out.
The lights are out.
You’ll smell the oldest smells—
The smell of salt, of urine, and of sleep
Before you wake. This much I’ve learned
In these five years in what I’ve spent and earned:
Time does not finish a poem.
What have I gone to bed with all these years?
What have I taken crying to my bed
For love of me?
Only the shadows of the sun and moon
The dreaming groins, their creaking images.
Only myself.
Is there some rhetoric
To make me think that I have kept a house
While playing dolls? This much I’ve learned
In these five years in what I’ve spent and earned:
That two-eyed monster God is still above.
I saw him once when I was young and once
When I was seized with madness, or was I seized
And mad because I saw him once. He is the sun
And moon made real with eyes.
He is the photograph of everything at once. The love
That makes the blood run cold.
But he is gone. No realer than old
Poetry. This much I’ve learned
In these five years in what I’ve spent and earned:
Time does not finish a poem.
Upon the old amusement pier I watch
The creeping darkness gather in the west.
Above the giant funhouse and the ghosts
I hear the seagulls call. They’re going west
Toward some great Catalina of a dream
Out where the poem ends.
But does it end?
The birds are still in flight. Believe the birds.


I'm hooked. We're spending the day together, just me and Jack. Maybe a bottle of gin. Maybe some Chinese take-out.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

I want to be the man who has me.

Paul Monette mentions several times throughout the winding coming-out narrative of Becoming a Man how he has to work hard not to let the current Paul, the one writing the story get too disgusted at the closeted Paul he used to be. This removes some of my readerly and gay sensibility of wanting to yell, 'what the hell, dude. It doesn't have to be this hard.' That said, it is hard. It was hard for me in the nineties, it was sure to have been even harder in the seventies. I guess I give it today's worldview (mine) and it all seems ridiculous to be so bent on staying sexless. In the context of 1972, just slightly post Stonewall (and though he was living 70 miles from the city, it seems to have been little more than a blip on his radar of self-hatred), even his therapist seems confused that his goal is to be straight. And he tries!

This book was written in 1992, just a few years before Monette died at age 49 or 50, young. Written as a startled response to the warm, fuzzy response his book Borrowed Time received. Borrowed Time was a portrait of his relationship with Roger Horwitz and Roger's death from AIDS. It was loving, accessible story of two men in love that made the loving look easy. Becoming a Man: Half a Life Story was Monette's angry response that, sorry, no. Gay love is not that easy.

It's hard not to see myself in all coming out stories, as I'm sure many gays do. My story ran parallel to his in many ways. But where he kept celibate and then dated women to try to cure himself, mine was all for show. In the coming-out formulary, his self-hatred equals my self-preservation. He truly wanted to change; I simply didn't want to die. This has mostly to do with the time. Though my coming out pre-dated contemporary gays in the spotlight (except maybe for Elton John and a few other elders, and the bi-wonder of my idol David Bowie), I knew it wasn't something wrong with me. I just figured there was no one around like me (except the queer black kid, the double excuse for punching bag in our white, straight suburban dream), that I'd meet them in another life, find my own "city of orgies, walks and joys" like my kind had been doing for ages (or since the advent of capitalism, thank you John D'Emilio). At some point my attraction to women just evolved into a quiet acceptance of, 'oh, this is something I'll worry about once I leave this small town.' (Though I did eventually end up getting lucky in high school.) I dated boys and enjoyed it, even though my heart was never in it; I never once thought it might go somewhere.

I wonder what the equivalent is now.

While I can't really cozy up to the fact that he didn't get laid regularly until he was approaching thirty, I can understand the trend of running from people he actually liked. "I told myself to go with it, not to be afraid. I was beginning to worry that I didn't know how to have sex with someone I liked" (271). My history is littered with girls I liked and ran from. The longest relationships were always with the safe ones, the ones where I knew where I stood emotionally and so had nothing to lose. The ones I actually loved, well, I never let those relationships go anywhere. But this has more to do with being stupid than gay.

At least I got that figured out soon enough to do the right thing by C, who is definitely not safe, and whom I be a wreck by if I ever lost.

Anyway, I'm starting to use this space as more of a reading diary than anything, which I suppose is okay. An homage to lines I love. If you know me, you know that I may interrupt your speaking to let you know that what you just said would make a good line, that you should probably write it down. Unless, of course, you aren't a writer. Then I'll steal your shit, rest assured.


And I think of my father when I read this, he who would love his sexless daughter:

The project of our enemies is to keep us from falling in love. It has always been thus, the history writ by straight boys who render us invisible, as if we were never there. Left and right, fascists and communists, they loathe us in equal measure. Then the Holy Fathers of every religion, their sick equation of pleasure and sin. If you isolate us long enough and keep us ignorant of each other, the solitary confinement will extinguish any hope we have of finding our other half. (25)

I can't believe it myself, how fresh the wounds of the deep past sting, how sharp the dry-eyed tears are even at this distance. The very act of remembering begins to resemble a phobic state--feeding on every missed chance, stuck forever in the place without doors. What's crazy about it is, I forget that I ever got out. For an hour or a day the pain wins. It throws a veil of amnesia over my real life... My white-knuckled grip on happiness, hoarded against the gloating of my enemies, against the genocide by indifference that has buried alive a generation of my brothers. (172)

Throughout, Paul Monette's language is beautiful. This is the first I've read of him, and won't be the last. It seems everywhere I've gone with this book in the past few days someone has stopped me to say, I loved that book.

If we learned to drive as badly as we learn to make love, the roads would be nothing but wrecks. (175)

...I had no choice but to keep on looking in the wrong places for the thing I'd never even seen: two men in love and laughing. For that was the image in my head, though I'd never read it in any book or seen it in any movie. I'd fashioned it out of bits of dreams and the hurt that went with pining after straight men. Everything told me it couldn't exist, especially the media code of invisibility, where queers were spoken of only in the context of molesting Boy Scouts. (178)

No longer invisible, we still have a long way to go. Even Weeds, a show I love, likes to kill their queers. (We're currently watching Season 5.)

Waiting numbly for a train in a place where there are no tracks. (179)

And just getting into bed with somebody wasn't the magic solution, because people could hide their terrors in pure technique--depersonalizing so completely the body embraced so they felt nothing at all. (253)

From his journals in 1972 when he was sleeping with men and women, still figuring out the sway of his orientation:

I feel fairly calm and together until I have to explain myself at all to anyone... Sex is more regular with Ellen. That is, I'm not afraid I can't do it anymore, but I can't stand the intimacy of it, can't face being the man in the situation. And yet I think of Bruce on Saturday [a trick] and get pissed thinking how irrelevant I was/am in the passive role. I want to be the man who has me. (264)

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Mean Something?

I understand the trend of popular readership through my family. They are not literary people. But they've always been readers. My father likes art books, he's a high school art teacher, went to school for sculpture. My mother consumes romance novels by the truckful. My Aunt Louise reads a lot of nonfiction, mostly things about the natural world. When my aunt tells me she likes Robert Frost and 'isn't smart enough' to understand contemporary poetry, I understand she's smarter than she thinks.

Some call it putting random thoughts together, a friend recently referred to it as the 'smart-aleck' school of poetry. Contemporary leanings in poetry and fictive prose have been about seeming either smarter than their readership in making references the general population won't be privy to or cultivating a camaraderie of 'you get this, don't you? look how smart and funny we are' geared towards the other smart alecks of their trade.

My aunt says she's not smart enough and I tell her it's not her, it's writing right now, poetry, the contemporary drag. That's just where we are right now. The smart clothes we're putting on. Maybe it's the Bush years, the war years, how we were attacked 'right on our own soil,' the years of upping alerts, packing small vials to get on planes. Our culture of fear. There's so much that's so important that needs to be looked at, that perhaps we as a tribe are overwhelmed and so write about very little. We want to be smart enough to outrun the fear. We don't want to look at it. (And I'm only marking it from W's reign because I wasn't enough aware of the contemporary poetry scene prior to about 2000. I am ready to stand corrected.)

That said, there are some excellent contemporary poets and prose writers who are getting down the important things about the way we live now in understandable terms and with beautiful care to language. Richard Siken, Heather Derr-Smith, Shane McCrae, Brian Turner, Patricia Smith, to name a few. It's just that they're hard to find if you don't know where to look. And looking from the outside, most contemporary writing is not for the populace; it's exclusionary. With that in mind, I would tell my aunt to read Robert Frost and not to try to bust in and find some meaning in what's being done today. If I see something I think she'll like, something that will mean something to her, I'll send it her way.

This is something I've been thinking a lot about lately; it relates to much of what Codrescu's The Muse is Always Half-Dressed in New Orleans talks about. The book is from more than a decade ago, but is still vital thought on what's going on.

Ted Genoways (Virginia Quarterly Editor) has some smart things to say about the current state of fiction and literary journals here: The Death of Fiction, including:

But the less commercially viable fiction became, the less it seemed to concern itself with its audience, which in turn made it less commercial, until, like a dying star, it seems on the verge of implosion. Indeed, most American writers seem to have forgotten how to write about big issues—as if giving two shits about the world has gotten crushed under the boot sole of postmodernism.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Reading Andrei Codrescu's Half-Naked Muse and the Boy in the Lake

But here is the thing: physical intimacy or potential intimacy is only a device for opening the floodgates to what really matters: words. What I want from my friends, male or female, are words. Great torrents of conversation, ramblings, monologues, infinite confidences, stories, anecdotes, confessions. I know that there are silent friendships out there just like there are platonic ones. I don't hold to those. I like my friendships warm, fleshy, verbal, sensual, sensorial... (50)

Me too, Mr. Codrescu. I think some of my prior relationships were gotten into mainly as a ruse for trapping people I admired into endless conversation. That said, I do enjoy the other aspects.

As the written depends only on the written, a poet finds himself inside a vicious circle of substance sucking by his own products' products. What was once living becomes Naturalism, Realism, Surrealism, Modernism, Postmodernism, etc. The speaker diminishes and the speech becomes all. But this is not the same speech as the sacred speech of the beginning: this is the even speech of machines, not the unpredictable story of the gods. This is speech turned upon its own devices, speech about speech. The cosmogonic myth and the fairy tale are replaced by the novel and television. The ritual-sacred utterance becomes a bourgeois commercial proposition feeding endlessly on the demands of a self-perpetuating market that is not an audience but, precisely, a market. Who reads? Who watches? The reader and the viewer have been replaced by the Spectator. Utterly different creatures these three: they vary physically. The body of the Spectator is a strategic map for the deployment of cultural products. The reader and the viewer used to touch. That is now forbidden: art is produced for the sake of production, which is to say for the sake of storage. It is made to be noted, credited and put in resumes, not to be actually read. In fact its message may be exactly the opposite: NOLE ME TANGERE, DO NOT READ ME. Art pour l'art is art contre l'homme.

The poet today is like Scheherazade: he must tell a story each night in order not to die.

The workshop writers masquerade as non-mainstream writers but that's only an illusion; they simply cater to the surveyed needs of a different class of consumers, namely academic institutions. Notice I said "consumers," not "readers," because properly speaking, these workshop writers do not have readers: they produce their materials for resume-building in order to fill the self-generating slots of a growing bureaucracy. These writers do not even read other members of their resume-building subgroup. ...These writers are institutional insiders disguised as outsiders. (135)

What is prompting me additional thought, and which I don't feel adequately able to speak on yet, is the alignment here of resume and commercialization. The selling and the selling. While I agree to some degree, to some degree there are differences. Part of why I read like a pig, snuffling through the muck of everything I can lay my hands on, is to avoid this sense exactly. That no one reads. I read you. I read you all, provided that you never cease to entertain me with something I can't find anywhere else. This, too, a steep order. The business.

Also why, thus far, I'm happy to have avoided cogging in the machine of the academy. Or so I think. I don't have (as much) the anxiety of gross production.

To believe this entirely would be to lose hope. So I don't. But there's something to it certainly. I'm also always shocked by how many creative writing students are so resistant to reading. The grumblings about how much reading instructors are forcing on them. How they don't read for pleasure. (What is pleasure? Vacancy?) But then, in my experience anyway, they don't tend to be the most engaging storytellers.


The weather continues to consume me. Sun and warm that calls for my blanket on the beach. Sand, rock, grass. I used to go to Lake Padden a lot to read, after a bike ride there, after a run around the lake, after a swim. My own triathalon (taken slowly). I haven't been there in a while, not since I moved and the bike ride got tripled. There're closer shores. The bay is just down the street.

Last weekend a young man drowned in Lake Padden when the canoe he and a friend were rowing capsized. The lake is so manageable. Like a bathtub is how I've always thought of it. I swim across, I swim back, I swim across. It's three miles on the trail around. I don't know what the diameter is the length I swim across. But I just can't imagine anyone dying there. People in boats die young in this town. One boy was drowned, the other was saved. When the authorities pulled up the canoe from the lake bottom, the two life jackets, unworn, were still in it.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Stretched Out in the Current

As with any small town budding metropolis, much of the watershed is concrete. I read in the paper that 43% of the Meridian corridor is parking lot. And we’re a conservative bunch. By this I mean we like our land, our land conservation. We don’t shop like you do. While we’re the 8th largest “city” (having lived in Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and having spent much time in New York I have a hard time with this term here) in the state, we’re the 35th biggest spenders. We’re tentative consumers, and most of us are leaning toward sustainability in our own ways. Carol and I have a dozen fruit trees that bear much more than we can eat. I can look out my front window and see the neighbor’s chickens scuttling across the little road. I’m generalizing. We have a Wal-Mart too that I’m sure does good business. We have our mall on the other side of the freeway that caused our city center to cave substantially. What was once Macy’s hasn’t held anything since. That was before my time. From the street I like to look at the dormant escalators and imagine what the second floor looks like.

I’ve lived a lot of places bent on paving land, but this is the only place I’ve ever been where broken concrete sits in all the water. Much of the bay is lined with it, like parking lots have tried and failed to cover over these bits of nature too. All the waterways are lined with it, the bay, the creeks and streams. Maybe we’re just reusing? Getting spent concrete to keep erosion in check. Even in the “nice” park, the one where everyone takes their parents when they’re in town has these broken bits. And broken sheets of masoned brick as well. Rows and rows of it that I can’t tell whether they were street once or buildings.

This morning I walked the dog downtown, the same walk I always do. On Cornwall we cross the creek going into town, the little bridge that blends into the road. The creek sits between an office building full of insurance and lawyers with a gym I used to go to in the basement and an antique store painted a gaudy golden yellow that clashes with the sky no matter what the sky looks like. This pocket always smells like bleach and sweat, like the gym has leaked outside. It’s assaultive really. I know we’re becoming a city because there’s been a shopping cart for some time tipped sideways, half in half out of the water, casting strange eddies downstream of it. Today there were two. And what I thought was a body was only a sleeping bag caught on a low-slung branch and all stretched out in the current.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

News flash from RMP

Rose Metal Press recently announced that We Know What We Are by Mary Hamilton was selected by Dinty W. Moore as the winner of their Fourth Annual Short Short Chapbook contest. In excellent company, my ss ms was among the finalists.


Elizabeth Colen for Dear Mother Monster, Dear Daughter Mistake
John Jodzio for Do Not Touch Me Not Now Not Ever
Tim Jones-Yelvington for Evan's House and the Other Boys who Live There
Mary Miller for Paper and Tassels

And semi-finalists:

James Tadd Adcox for A Miracle of Some Sort
Spencer Dew for Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres
Roxane Gay for Things to Know about Career Girls
Tiff Holland for Wrapping Kevin
Thisbe Nissen for Etiquette
Cami Park for The Sun Has Packed So Many Suitcases

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Insult to Genetic Researchers

…I took the pie home with me and ate it with my mouth gaping, painfully aware I was not a moose and would never be a moose, but I had loved you in such an eerie and unnatural way. (from “Peek-a-Moose”)

I didn’t love this book the way I normally love Mary Ruefle, though (of course) I enjoyed it. It was kind of like combining Mary Ruefle with Borges and some clever contemporary poet boy (I haven’t decided which). Her (first?) book of “prose,” from Wave Books, The Most of It was published in 2008.

Poets are so coarsely bred they believe in force-feeding, arranged marriages, predestined outbursts. (from “A Half-Sketched Head”)

I’m not sure what this means, but I like it. Especially the part about predestined outbursts. Yes, we do decide we’re going to explode upon the world.

My job, as far back as I can remember, was to look forward to being happy. (from “The Diary”)

I’ve always been determined to be “happy” now. To most people (and to me) this includes to a great measure not working, not having a j-o-b. Since being abandoned by my family early on, I did poverty. I decided that I could do poverty very well. By poverty maybe I mean budgeting. Regardless, for a long time I was very poor. From that time I decided never to work full time if I didn’t have to. Though just combining work-work with the work of writing, and with visual work, I almost always put in what would be considered “a lot of overtime” each week. Not working so much allows me to be something of a workaholic.

That said, I also like movies. And cocktails. Long walks with the dog and playing Scrabble.

Reading I don’t consider work or leisure. I’m not sure what I consider it. To say it’s breathing seems overused.

How many books have I read? Only one – just as anyone who is literate has read only one book, or, to be precise, is in the process of reading the one book they will complete in their lifetime. That book is the particular sum of every book they have ever read, written in the particular order in which those books were read. The book is never the same, for no two persons have ever read exactly the same books in exactly the same order. There is a great difference between The Secret of Larkspur Lane followed by Anna Karenina and Anna Karenina followed by The Secret of Larkspur Lane. And if What One Can Do With a Chafing Dish happens to fall between … as opposed to Don Quixote … well, I don’t mean to insult the genetic researchers, but I have a hunch that if no two people are alike, this is why. (from “A Half-Sketched Head”)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


I don't really mind getting a rejection on a manuscript withdrawn from a competition five months ago.

This was my only rejection so far this year. That said, I have very little out, as I'm working on a heavy ms revision and am refusing myself other tasks until I get my head under and get it done.

This also means no blogging, even though I have things to say about the friend who did not save my life, crow instability, invisibility, and getting at the word of God by nuns neglecting orphaned infants.

Friday, January 1, 2010

2009, A Good Year For Reading

What I read last year:

1. The Puppet and the Dwarf: The Perverse Core of Christianity – Slavoj Zizek
2. The Capital of Solitude – Gregory Orfalea
3. The Automatic Message, the Magnetic Fields, the Immaculate Conception (Atlas Anti-Classics) – Andre Breton, Philippe Soupault, Paul Eluard
4. Bad Alchemy – Dionisio Martinez
5. Singing from the Well – Reinaldo Arenas
6. Dreamtigers (El Hacedor) – Jorge Luis Borges
7. Live Nude Girl: My Life as an Object – Kathleen Rooney
8. Only This Blue – Betsy Warland
9. In the Devil’s Territory – Kyle Minor
10. The End of Rude Handles – Jen Tynes
11. Last Evenings on Earth – Roberto Bolano
12. Earth in the Attic – Fady Joudah
13. --------FEB---------Too Close to the Falls – Christine Gildenour
14. The Art of the Poetic Line – James Longenbach
15. Names on the Land – George Stewart
16. A Humument – Tom Phillips
17. In the Land of the Free – Geoffrey Forsyth
18. Bloodroot – Betsy Warland
19. Kafka on the Shore – Haruki Murakami
20. --------MARCH--------The Bride Minaret – Heather Derr-Smith
21. Blessing of the Animals – Brenda Miller
22. Meteoric Flowers – Elizabeth Willis
23. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – Junot Diaz
24. The Massacre at El Mozote – Mark Danner
25. Becoming Abigail – Chris Abani
26. Airport – Emily Kendal Frey
27. The Doorbells of Florence – Andrew Losowsky
28. This In Which – George Oppen
29. Pain Fantasy – Jason Bredle
30. Eva Hesse Drawing – Catherin de Zegher, ed.
31. Falsework – Gary Geddes
32. Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees: a life of Contemporary Artist Robert Irwin – Lawrence Weschler
33. Areas of Fog – Joseph Massey
34. Travel – Yuichi Yokoyama
35. ----------APRIL----------Nada – Carman Laforet
36. In the Mode of Disappearance – Jonathan Weinert
37. Dark Thirty – Santee Frazier
38. Blood Dazzler – Patricia Smith
39. Quadrifariam – Frank Samperi
40. The Man Without Qualities (Part One) – Robert Musil
41. Undersleep – Julie Doxsee
42. The Glass Castle – Jeannette Walls
43. ---------MAY---------Wetlands – Charlotte Roche
44. Annie John – Jamaica Kincaid
45. Voice of Ice – Atla Ifland
46. All the Day’s Sad Stories – Tina May Hall
47. The Boy with the Thorn in his Side: A Memoir – Keith Fleming
48. We Are All Suspects Now: Untold Stories from Immigrant Communities after 9/11 – Tram Nguyen
49. Antidotes for an Alibi – Amy King
50. Dark Blue Suit – Peter Bacho
51. Fox – Adrienne Rich
52. Recycle Suburbia – Dan Nowak
53. Carnage in the Love Trees – Richard Greenfield
54. Denny Smith – Robert Gluck
55. Remnants of Hannah – Dara Weir
56. Body Language – Mark Cunningham
57. ---------JUNE---------In a Bear’s Eye – Yannick Murphy
58. Women as Lovers – Elfriede Jelinek
59. Don Juan in the Village – Jane DeLynn
60. Helene Cixous Live Theory – Ian Blyth & Susan Sellers
61. This is Water – David Foster Wallace
62. After – Nancy Pagh
63. Signed, Mata Hari – Yannick Murphy
64. The Devil’s Highway – Luis Alberto Urrea
65. The Letters of Allen Ginsberg – ed. Bill Morgan
66. ----------JULY----------Black Leapt In – Chris Forhan
67. Milestones – Marina Tsvetaeva
68. Prairie Fever – Mary Biddinger
69. Nets – Jen Bervin
70. Dutch Painting – R.H. Fuchs
71. When Poetry Ruled the Streets: the French May Events of 1968 – Andrew Feenberg and Jim Freedman
72. Heironymus Bosch – Walter S. Gibson
73. Some of the Dead are Still Breathing – Charles Bowden
74. Stone – Osip Mandelstam
75. Self-Portrait with Crayon – Allison Benis White
76. The All-Purpose Magical Tent – Lytton Smith
77. ----------AUGUST----------The Passion of Michel Foucault – James Miller
78. Self-Portrait – Brian Johnson
79. Ohio Violence – Alison Stine
80. Finding Water, Holding Stone – Jim Bertolino
81. The Air Lost in Breathing – Simone Muench
82. Legend of Light – Bob Hicok
83. The Savage Detectives – Roberto Bolano
84. Bardo – Suzanne Paola
85. A Personal Anthology – Jorge Luis Borges
86. Belligerence – Andrei Codrescu
87. The End is the Beginning – Matt Briggs
88. ---------SEPTEMBER---------Torch Lake – Brian Johnson
89. Auspices – Cid Corman
90. Names Above Houses – Oliver de la Paz
91. Plight – Cid Corman
92. Livingdying – Cid Corman
93. The Heart that Lies Outside the Body – Stephanie Lenox
94. Scary, No Scary – Zachary Schomburg
95. The Painted Bird – Jerzy Kosinski
96. Crush – Richard Siken
97. Furious Lullaby – Oliver de la Paz
98. Fup: A Modern Fable – Jim Dodge
99. Madonna anno domini – Joshua Clover
100. The Feminine and the Sacred – Catherine Clement and Julia Kristeva
101. How Some People Like Their Eggs – Sean Lovelace
102. Lust & Cashmere – A.E. Simms
103. Almond Blossoms and Beyond – Mahmoud Darwish
104. The Continental Caper – Sally Alatalo
105. A Beginning on the Short Story: Notes – William Carlos Williams
106. The Bomb – Makodo Oda
107. “A” 1-12 – Louis Zukofsky
108.------------OCTOBER------------Conspiracy – Anthony Summers
109.Quiet Days in Clichy – Henry Miller
110. The Pinch Runner Memorandum – Kenzaburo Oe
111. Internal West – Priscilla Becker
112. Amulet – Roberto Bolano
113. Ties That Bind – Sarah Schulman
114. Say You’re One of Them – Uwem Akpan
115. 40 Watts – C.D. Wright
116. Boris by the Sea – Matvei Yankelevich
117. Transgender History – Susan Stryker
118. Lamp of Letters – Katharine Whitcomb
119. Stars of the Night Commute – Ana Bozicevic
120. Rhapsody of the Naked Immigrants – Elena Georgiou
121. To Engineer is Human: The Role of Failure in Successful Design – Henry Petroski
122. ----------NOVEMBER----------By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept – Elizabeth Smart
123. In the Architecture of Bone – Alan Semerdjian
124. Winter Season – Toni Bentley
125. The Anthologist – Nicholson Baker
126. American Husband – Kary Wayson
127. Tree of Smoke – Denis Johnson
128. Timbuktu – Paul Auster
129. American Romances: Essays – Rebecca Brown
130. Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers – Arundhati Roy
131. Rimbaud: The Double Life of a Rebel – Edmund White
132. The Brother Swimming Beneath Me – Brent Goodman
133. The Bitter Withy – Donald Revell
134. The Bomb: A New History – Stephen M. Younger
135. Bold Spirit: Helga Estby’s Forgotten Walk Across Victorian America – Linda Lawrence Hunt
136. Take It – Joshua Beckman
137. Where I Stay – Andrew Zornoza
138. ----------DECEMBER----------Anthem – Ayn Rand
139. Parabola – Lily Hoang
140. Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? – Lorrie Moore
141. Lost Alphabet – Lisa Olstein
142. For You, For You I am Trilling These Songs – Kathleen Rooney
143. Summer Crossing – Truman Capote
144. Dark Would (missing person) – Liz Waldner
145. To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life – Herve Guibert
146. Household Words – Joan Silber
147. Golden Days – Carolyn See
148. Source – Mark Doty
149. The Curtain of Trees – Alberto Rios
150. Radio Crackling, Radio Gone – Lisa Olstein