Quotes and aphorisms can be very helpful little teaching moments for writers and other creatives, basically all of us thinkers. They’re also really good reality checks. Many of these are again from the Bo Sack’s marketing newsletters I get on my day job and they all involve skills you need as a writer, especially as a poet.
"Social networks do best when they tap into one of the seven deadly sins. Facebook is ego. Zynga is sloth. LinkedIn is greed." Reid Hoffman
"Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work." Thomas A. Edison
"I put my heart and my soul into my work, and have lost my mind in the process." Vincent Van Gogh
Both Maya Angelou and Edith Wharton read books as children even before they understood the meaning of the words printed in them. The loved language and they loved it pre-meaning. “You can only become great at that thing you can really sacrifice for.” Edith Wharton
"Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing." Benjamin Franklin
"Individual commitment to a group effort - that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work." Vince Lombardi
"Time changes everything except something within us which is always surprised by change." Thomas Hardy
"If it's free, it's advice; if you pay for it, it's counseling; if you can use either one, it's a miracle." Jack Adams
"Nothing is softer or more flexible than water, yet nothing can resist it." Lao Tzu
"Success is really about being ready for the good opportunities that come before you. It's not to have a detailed plan of everything that you're going to do. You can't plan innovation or inspiration, but you can be ready for it, and when you see it, you can jump on it." Eric Schmidt, University of Pennsylvania Commencement Address, 2009
"Anything that is in the world when you're born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works. Anything that's invented between when you're fifteen and thirty- five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it. Anything invented after you're thirty-five is against the natural order of things." Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt
"Things can fall apart, or threaten to, for many reasons, and then there's got to be a leap of faith. Ultimately, when you're at the edge, you have to go forward or backward; if you go forward, you have to jump together." Yo-Yo Ma
"Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude. Thomas Jefferson
"To condense from one's memories and fantasies and small discoveries dark marks on paper which become handsomely reproducible many times over still seems to me [...] a magical act, and a delightful technical process. To distribute oneself thus, as a kind of confetti shower falling upon the heads and shoulders of mankind out of bookstores and the pages of magazines is surely a great privilege and a defiance of the usual earthbound laws whereby human beings make themselves known to one another." John Updike
"Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations." Steve Jobs
"Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes... the ones who see things differently -- they're not fond of rules... You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change things... they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do." Steve Jobs
"It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it." Upton Sinclair
"It requires a very unusual mind to undertake the analysis of the obvious." Alfred North Whitehead
"Any time scientists disagree, it's because we have insufficient data. Then we can agree on what kind of data to get; we get the data; and the data solves the problem. Either I'm right, or you're right, or we're both wrong. And we move on. That kind of conflict resolution does not exist in politics or religion." Neil deGrasse Tyson
"Lack of money is no obstacle. Lack of an idea is an obstacle." Ken Hakuta
"Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep." Scott Adams
"The most reliable way to forecast the future is to try to understand the present." John Naisbitt
"Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man." Francis Bacon
"If you spend too much time thinking about a thing, you'll never get it done." Bruce Lee
"Don't ask me who's influenced me. A lion is made up of the lambs he's digested, and I've been reading all my life." Charles de Gaulle
"The best intelligence test is what we do with our leisure." Laurence J. Peter
"In school, you're taught a lesson and then given a test. In life, you're given a test that teaches you a lesson." Tom Bodett
"Data is not information, Information is not knowledge, Knowledge is not understanding, Understanding is not wisdom." Cliff Stoll & Gary Schubert
"We don't receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us." Marcel Proust
I wanted to end on how we think, how we process and how we write in order to list a few new articles on processing and keyboards. This first link is an insight graphic from an analytics blog I follow.
Next up is an article dealing with the fact that handwriting initiates thoughts in ways typing on a keyboard does not. From The New York Times, Why Handwriting Is Still Essential in the Keyboard Age. And what about that keyboard? Why are the letters scattered around like they are? And who was thatfirst writer to think with it? The New York Times also published in their daily digest about the history of the keyboard.
The layout of the keyboard you use today has a lot to do with a machine that you very likely haven’t used — or maybe even seen — in years. That invention, the “Type-Writer, 1868,” was granted a patent on this day. With its ivory keys, it looked like a mini-piano and took up an entire table. It wasn’t very successful, partly because typists couldn’t go very fast. The keyboard was laid out alphabetically, and the keys would lock up if letters that were close together were struck too fast in succession. The solution that the inventor, Christopher Latham Sholes, came up with in the 1870s was to spread out the most commonly used letters across the keyboard to prevent the jams. It was called the Qwerty keyboard, after the first six letters of its top row, which also has all the letters needed to spell “typewriter.” This may have been done so salesmen could more easily type the new word. The Qwerty keyboard has long been criticized as inefficient, but it has been the most popular form of English-language typing since Mark Twain typed out “Life on the Mississippi” (1883), by some accounts the first time an author handed in a typewritten manuscript to his publisher. Early on, typewritten messages were seen as impersonal. Anyone who has received a handwritten letter is likely to say that still holds true today.
Here are some step-by-step guidelines for you.
Step 1: Take a look at your poems and classify them by:
Different poetry journals cater to a variety of these possibilities.
Step 2: Research poetry journals to find ones that match these poetry styles. There are two ways to go about this:
The best way is to visit the periodical section of your local libraries or bookstores (if you have any) and read some of their poetry journals. If you don't see any that match your work, don't worry about it. Your poems might fit a niche journal the library doesn't carry. But this will give you a good idea about current popular poetry journals, the top tier to aim for someday.
The old school way was to buy a copy of Poet’s Market but you’ll have to do this every year or two to get current listings (things change fast out there in poetry land). I found this was not a feasible option for me long term. Plus, what to do with all the old issues? Your library might have an up-to-date copy.
Create a list of possible journals from this research.
Step 3: Create your cover letter. You can list previous publications here or note that this would be your first publication. Different journals aim for different kinds of writers. Some want established writers and some want to find the next new discovery.
Everyone has differing ideas on the details needed in a cover letter. Feel free to experiment but keep this in mind: journals have seen it all. Literally, they’ve already read thousands upon thousands of “creative” cover letters. Don’t pour all your creativity into this. It’s a functional document.
Step 5: Submit
When you find journals to submit to, peruse their websites for submission information. Sometimes I search Google for "[journal name] + submissions" to get a link directly to the submission information page (because some journals hide the stinker pretty far into their site).
Pay special attention to how they want submissions submitted. They're all different. Determine what format they want the submission to be sent: printed and mailed, attached as a word or PDF or Word doc, or included in the body of an email. And note the maximum number of poems they will accept.
Many journals these days only take submissions through an online service called Submittable (http://www.submittable.com/) so go ahead and sign up for an account there. It's free and the site helps you keep track of every place you've submitted poems and what the result was so you don't have to create an XLS Spreadsheet or other document to keep all that straight, although maybe you should create a spreadsheet or notebook anyway for the few email and mailed submissions you might also send out.
More information on submissions:
Poetry has been all over the news the past few weeks but if you weren't paying attention, you will have missed it. Poetry is intricately linked into our lives whether or not we think it’s commercial or relevant or goes sadly unnoticed. My news clippings on Big Bang Poetry over the past years prove, (to me anyway), that poetry is not ignored in major magazines and culture. In fact, it's there in times that are both disastrous and calm and is especially prominent during our days of national failings and tragedies.
Seeking solace in poetry after a mass shooting (PBS NewsHour)
Those refer to the Orlando shooting at the Pulse nightclub. But don't forget there was a UCLA shooting this month as well.
'Where We Find Ourselves': Juan Felipe Herrera's poem on the shooting at UCLA (The Los Angeles Times)
On the radio last week regarding Trump's most current political speeches I once again heard this sobering poem invoked, "First They Came" by Pastor Martin Niemöller.
And poetry was invoked multiple times in stories commemorating the life and death of versifier/boxer Muhammad Ali:
Muhammad Ali, the Political Poet (The New York Times)
And as you may know I also blog as Cher Scholar somewhere else. When Ali died, this video of two of his poetry performances, one on a 1977 episode of the Sonny & Cher Show found it's way around Facebook.
Even in pop culture.
"The influence of narcissism on today's pop culture has warped the way people interact. The author's commentary was smart and relevant. It caused me to think about the way I treat other people. Even as I criticize vapid, self-aware narcissism, I'm sure I still act that way out of a desire for validation. Like they say, "everybody wants to be special." If I was a college professor, I'd have my students read this book. It provides a good lesson in humility."
The inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. Lovecraft actually sees this as a mercy.
A few months ago, a friend of mine sent me this article by K. Dipalo about how to arrange your head-space in an environment of too much information and task overload. We are not built to deal with this much information coming at us in emails, Internet articles, books, TV streams, radio shows, podcasts, apps….
Dipalo recommends mindfulness as a way too offset noise overload:
“Just as the pioneering work of Clifford Nass points out, we are not built to multi-task, forever parsing up our attention into smaller and smaller bits. We are not designed to automatically deal with the surging tide of information around us. What is more like likely to happen is smart people will learn to change their behaviors or devise clever short cuts to maintain focus and, more importantly, a sense of sanity."
His specific advice:
In another article by Dipalo, the benefits of boredom are highlighted:
"Information overload is the red-headed stepchild of the mobile age. We are literally bombarded every day, every hour, every minute with information. Are we smarter, faster and more informed because of all this effort? Not really." (I would argue less informed.) "In 2010, Lexis-Nexis released a global study that found, on average, workers spend slightly half their days receiving and managing information vs. using information to do their work. Sixty-two percent of those surveyed admitted that their work suffered at times because they couldn’t go through the information they receive fast enough. There are even apps available to help people cut down on their fascination with online and mobile information, including, well, their use of apps.
...move to the edge of occasional boredom; just enough to spur some brilliance. Brilliance, by the way, is a form of connection that is pure magic. And pure magic is a good thing for any professional, or any enterprise, to experience."
Singer-songwriter James Taylor seems to agree. In his Oprah Master Class interview of 2015, he maintains that in order to find space to create, you need to hang out in boredom.
From the Huffington Post review of the show:
“When writing a song, I need quiet,” Taylor says. “I need those three days of boring nothing-happening before I start to hear them.”
Soon, the chords begin to surface and the words begin to swirl. It’s not instantly a complete song, but the elements are there. This is when the quiet is especially important, Taylor explains.
“You get these pieces, and then you’re going to have to sequester yourself somewhere, find a quiet place and start to push them around,” he says.
In Taylor’s opinion, he isn’t the only artist who benefits from this type of isolation in the creative process.
“I think in order to create, artistic people need to be alone,” Taylor says. “They need to have time to themselves. Isolation is key.”
While there is a difference between being alone and being lonely, Taylor says artists shouldn’t fear the latter.
“If you have to be lonely in order to be free, learn how to tolerate a little bit of loneliness,” he says. “It’s hard, but you’re strong. You can do it.” Watch the video.
My friend Coolia attended the AWP Conference this spring in Los Angeles. What an awesome location of info-overload as she described it: 500 panels! She sent this satirical article of "AWP events not to miss" which highlights the absurdity.
Think of it: thousands of panelists and thousands of points-of-view. How can you effectively process them? Or not be paralyzed by the choices?
For an academic book on how poets have dealt with information overload historically, pick up “The Poetics of Information Overload: From Gertrude Stein to Conceptual Writing" by Paul Stephens. He tracks the early origins of poetic digestion going back to World War I.
The fantastically entertaining and poignant twitter blog So Sad Today is another good example from a poet of how we now actually have one-thousand ways of looking at a blackbird. Was 13 enough?
The Poet Idolized by a New Generation of Feminists (New York Times)
Creator of “Mad Men” Started Out as a Poet (New York Post)
Famed route of poet Basho eyed for Olympic torch relay (The Asahi Shimbun)
Advice to poets: get out of the ivory tower (PBS Newshour)
Body of work: Poet Louise Glück (Santa Fe New Mexican)
Sad Keanu: An Encounter With Keanu Reeves, Poet (W Magazine)
Timothy Levitch, a Beat-Poet Tour Guide (New York Times)
Lucinda Williams pays tribute to poet father (The Tennessean)
Walt Whitman discovered to be America's first paleo poet (Los Angeles Times)
Poet Walt Whitman health tips unearthed (BBC News)
Chile reburies remains of Nobel prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda (BBC News) - Truly a story without end.
U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera reappointed to second year (The Washington Post)
How poetry helps us understand mental illness (PBS Newshour)
Shire’s poetry backbone of Beyoncé’s ‘Lemonade’ (San Antonio Express)
Poetry Behind Bars: The Lines That Save Lives — Sometimes Literally - (NPR) About poet Jimmy Santiago Baca's DVD now available on iTunes.
Boston's Secret Sidewalk Poems Add Some Cheer to Rainy Days (The Atlantic/City Lab)
Like the Big Bang Poetry page on Facebook by the end of May 20 to enter in the free drawing!
All free including shipping. Trying to find this great book a great home!
I was sent a review copy of this book. Right away, I was fascinated by the beautiful and evocative cover design. This is a well-made book. Good fonts, good paper.
And I enjoyed this book. It’s the type of part-surreal, part-haunted type of poetry I tend to like. Lovely word constructions and almost-but-not-quite rational meanings tipping slightly out of reach. The book is divided into many small sections that, for the most part, play as small little harrowing journeys. Ghosts ripple throughout the book. The obscure poem titles feel very painterly. The poems themselves have surface tension. Subjects ooze with darkness, bone and flesh. The word lifeboat floats through many of the pieces throughout the book. An other-worldliness of death has been created. The pieces are full of loneliness and suffering with often cryptic meanings but still enjoyable (after all, bleak is beautiful). Big concepts are drawn in particular ways that feel almost, but not fully, recognizable. These poems are enigmatic, wandering souls.
This line from one of the poems: "Your daily search for catacombs will end on your front door” immediately reminded me of the current One Story short story named "Catacombs" by Jason Zencka where a preteen boy goes missing in Acapulco and his younger brother suffers through issues of memory, guilt and a spiritual search for redemption in the catacombs of cities around the world.
As an aside, I really enjoy One Story. If a barometer on literary journals is how excited you get when they arrive in the mail, One Story would be my favorite. I have to admit, I never got excited over Poetry's arrival. The bad thing about One Story is how hard it is to get the darn thing. Both of my subscriptions have necessitated emails after months of not getting any issues. The first year there was some odd subscription snafu after my free trial ended and I had actually paid for it. This year, the publishers seemed to be on hiatus while they redesigned themselves. No emails, no heads-up, no setting expectations, no welcome back. If you can deal with these kinds of aggravations, (which are quite unique in the magazine subscription world), there’s much to recommend in their selections.
But back to the poems. Here are some examples:
The little girl tells us
about her hands
and what they cannot do:
“This is how you hold
a thing in your hand
so it will not want
to be let go.”
Then she shows us
her empty palm.
The opening line of "Preface to a Pornographer’s Dirty Book" is also indicative of how almost-sensical the poems can be:
“Love is foreplay waiting to happen”
Her poem “Steady Guide” begins with
“The senseless steering that has led you to believe that all skies are created equal.”
and ends with:
“And just like that bakery boy guzzling sugar when our backs are turned, you make sure that nobody sees you hunched like that, that nobody sees you in pain.”
Surely that must remind you of somebody. This is how it felt reading the whole book.
So I lived in Santa Fe for three years between 2010 and 2013. I've lived in New Mexico for 14 total years on and off. My father’s family homesteaded here and still lives here. I was born here. I have many ties to New Mexico and many visits have brought me to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe. Monsieur Big Bang even worked security there for three years while he was completing his master’s degree nearby at Highlands University in Las Vegas, New Mexico. So needless to say we have lots of O’Keeffe books. Over the years I’ve also collected a few books of poetry dedicated to her. Three, in fact, solely covering the topic of O’Keeffe, either references to time spent with her or responses to her work.
O'Keeffe Days in a Life by C.S. Merrill, 1995
This book consists of 108 un-named poems that read almost like a journal: O’Keeffe did this; O’Keeffe did that. Carol Merrill, a University of New Mexico graduate poet student, started working for O’Keeffe in the early 1970s cataloging O’Keeffe’s estate library. She worked with O’Keeffe, then 85 years old, for seven years doing personal assistance and secretarial work.
to Miss O'Keeffe
a large piece
of white water color
looked particularly good
with rough surface
and curly edges.
"Yes, it'll never look
is drawn on it."
Literally, these are just slices of life considered to be of some import to Merrill. Sort of illuminating in a biographical sort of way. Enough so that the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum keeps copies of this book in their gift shop.
Christopher Buckley is the son of William F. Buckley, Jr. and these are his 39 pages of poems mostly named after locatiosn and paintings. Some examples:
Red Hills and Bones
No one takes the absence
into account the way I do -
this rind of backbone, the bridge
and scale of its blank articulation,
sustains some perfectly whole
notes of light against the raw
muscle of the land unbound,
the undercurrents surfacing
in concert with the white riffs
of cholla spotting the swales.
Put right, one part of loss
counterpoints the next, leaves us
much to see despite the frank
abrasion of the air, Finally,
this thighbone is every bit
the bright, hard stuff of stars
and against the hills'
rust and clay sets free
a full, long silence here
that as much as anything
sings all my life to me.
Sky Above Clouds
My first memory
is of the brightness of light -
light all around -
a quilt of it, a patchwork
of red and white blossoms on blue
like these clouds down the evening sky,
heir form, their budding lines . . .
My mind holds them
bove the day's cadenza,
hat half hour when the hills
low and lift on a last held note -
t is then that my mind saunters
ver the cool, immaculate squares,
ver the horizon line,
he next hill, where light flowers
across the finite trellis of this world . . .
This is an improvement. At least Buckley is having a personal response and trying in ways to capture the flair of the paintings.
However, neither of these two books manage to capture O’Keeffe on paper. Much of this has to do with the banality of describing her day-to-day life, as the first book tries to do, or attempting to describe the paintings and a visceral response with poetry and failing, as the second book tries to do in surreal yet vague ways.
This book seems much more alive than other two. Although also a response to the artworks, Jacobs is from a younger generation. Much more material about O’Keeffe is now available for scholarship. This book was also written while Jacobs was staying near Ghost Ranch, a location close to one of O’Keeffe’s two homes, writing in self-imposed seclusion and using the O’Keeffe museum research center to spur creative output. In fact, Monsieur Big Bang might have been working at the front desk of the research center when Jacobs came in.
Jacobs poems are both more simplified and yet more detailed, something necessary when writing about paintings. This poems have the “dirt in mouth” quality she describes.
One concern of the museum has been the fact that their visitors tend to skew older, particularly older baby boomer women. I've often wondered, does O’Keeffe translate to younger women? This book tells me that indeed she does. Jacobs 'gets' O’Keeffe’s themes and considers them in her project of self-imposed solitude within the same setting of O’Keeffe’s somewhat self-imposed solitude.
Jacobs tackles love and sexuality, modernism, place, skyscapes, O’Keeffe’s penchant for looking through objects, the cult of celebrity and the religion of nature. Jacobs has studied O’Keeffe correspondence with her husband, Alfred Stiglitz, and the book follows both the chronology of O’Keeffe’s life alongside Jacobs’ own poem-a-day for a month project near Ghost Ranch. The points-of-view switch between O'Keeffe, Stiglitz and Jacobs. Considering the complexity of points of view and the two biological tracks, Jacobs embodies O’Keeffe in truly surprising ways and with recognizable accuracy. For narrative satisfaction, Jacobs even provides a quiet resolution for O’Keeffe and herself.
It would be great to know Georgia O’Keeffe history for this book, but Jacobs provides generous notes for these poems.
In a fragment from “From The Faraway, Nearby” Jacobs tackles the idea of abstraction:
There is no middle
and back collapse
to a single plane.
Untitled (Dead Rabbit with Copper Pot)
—Georgia O’Keeffe to her friends Anita Pollitzer [Columbia, SC, to New York, NY; 1915]
In the pines, we found a house,
deserted and crawling
with roses. I came back alone—
a night when the moon made
even the underbrush shine.
Close-grown trees chirred
in the breeze. I locked the door,
tacked up the paintings
I’d carted from New York
and stared until each
spoke like the teacher
could see I’d painted it for—
a weak-penciled arm lopped
at the shoulder; Art Nouveau
Virginia lawn; dusky dead rabbit
beside a tarnished red pot—
each painting’s tone more
strident than the last, speaking
in every voice but my own.
Anita, I will have to start over.
No. 8—Special (Palo Duro Canyon with Spiral)
—Georgia O’Keeffe [Canyon, TX; 1917]
After the parceled horizons of Manhattan,
Texas plains are a glassy eternity
laminated by sky. Trapped
between them, I am a too-diluted pigment,
going transparent at the edges.
Which makes Palo Duro a deliverance.
At its rim, I am a sail,
arms outstretched, ready to crow
over the canyon, dive down into it.
But the only paths in are cañadas,
steep and rocky, forged and rutted
by hoof prints. Straggles of cattle
watch from above, lines of black lace
against the blanched day. By night,
that thrill is still with me. I stand
with brush to the tight-wefted board
while the cows, now penned,
low for their calves
rhythmic as a Penitente song.
Book Title pic: http://www.georgiaokeeffe.net/pelvis-with-the-distance.jsp
It’s been exactly six years since I’ve been to the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. Since that time the festival has moved from the UCLA campus to USC. It's always had a reputation for being the biggest book festival in the country and I’ve always found its free lectures and panels highly stimulating and enjoyable. This year, however, the turnout seemed low. This could have been because the comparatively-massive AWP conference was just in town weeks earlier, (my friend Coolia tells me it was much more poet friendly, if not outright revering) or it could have been the unusually drizzly LA weather.
The last conference I attended was in 2010 and was memorable for two reasons. First, I had just purchased my first smart phone and when I forgot to bring paper to the lectures I was happily able to take notes on the iPhone. How fun! Secondly, I experienced my first carpel tunnel attack the following days. Was it all that iPhone typing? Was I carrying around too many heavy books in my big backpack? Was it just bad timing? Who knows but so severe and depressing was the situation and resulting psychological connection, I never looked at those note files again until I returned to the festival last month, six years later.
Actually, the LA Book festival has always felt transformative for me. One panelist there, in fact, convinced me I could learn Smashwords and self-publish certain projects.
This year I immediately walked over to the what I call the poetry pit, (formerly I called it the poetry nook at UCLA) where Ron Kortege was reading to a tiny, tiny crowd (see pic above). There seemed to be even fewer chairs than I remembered at UCLA. And it definitely took more effort to get down into the pit than it did into the nook, (which was near a major thoroughfare). Jorie Graham was scheduled to read next but she was sick and bailed so the pit organizers decided to read her poems during her set. I didn’t stick around for that. I can read aloud my own Jorie Graham poems.
I toured the poetry tents nearby and bought some books at a haiku tent. I learned about the group Haiku North America who will be having their 13th conference in Santa Fe in 2017. A tiny flyer advertised presentations, readings, workshops, demos, art and music for the Sept 13-17 dates at the Hotel Santa Fe. The flyer advertised their website but it has absolutely no information about the conference yet there. I also bought a Poet t-shirt from the Get Lit tent, a teen literacy group sponsored that day by the LA teen slam team. This is their tag line: "Find your voice. Discover your poem. Claim your life."
Next I went to my first panel discussion, a “Conversation with US Poet Laureate Juan-Felipe Herrera.” Herrera told long, drawn out stories. He talked a bit about his family history, anthropology, cultural social spaces in California then and now, and he spoke charmingly about how he uses hotel note paper to write his poems, almost he said like the hotel pads are kind of press imprints. He talked about putting your self into motion. People asked him what the U.S. Poet Laureate job description entailed and he talked about his House of Colors all-language project and his Washington, D.C. office overlooking the White House. People asked him about stereotypes regarding California writers, (which are plenty but he demurred) and unlike Billy Collins, Herrera's attitude was not that there are too many poets. Herrera insisted there is a lot of room in everything. And he said, “Things are only impossible 60% not 100%. Forty percent is possible." He did the Iowa MFA program at 40.
Next up was "The Sacred and the Profane in 21st Century Poetry." Carol Muske-Dukes led the discussion. I’ve seen a few times at book fest. I really like her essays and non-fiction and I just bought a book of her poems at the festival. I loved her book about her husband. But she can be annoying in a panel because she always kvetches about the title of the panel and how meaningless and constraining it is. This time the technology of the mic kept confounding her and she seemed irritated more than amused by it. Finally, another equally annoyed audience member yelled for her to just “hold it” and thankfully that fixed the issue.
Harryette Mullin filled in for the sickiepoo Jorie Graham and was generous and illuminating. Instead of reading her own poems on the topic, (the sacred and the profane), she read "The Pope's Penis" by Sharon Olds and “Crazy Jane Talks with the Bishop” by William Butler Yeats.
Ron Koertge was also on the panel. I’m normally a fan of Koertege and I love the poem "Guide to Refreshing Sleep." But he turned every question around to himself in a somewhat suffocating way. This was jarring when juxtaposed against Mullen self-effacement. I experienced my typical disappoint when I see poets in person that I’m a fan of. This happened with Stephen Dobyns who I saw read grumpily at Sarah Lawrence College and Albert Goldbarth who was on an LA Bookfest years ago and refused to talk craft. Why attend a craft panel then? Anyway, I still read and like those poets. I just wont go see them read again (or see them participate in craft panels).
Dana Gioa was the fourth panel member. So here’s the reverse phenomenon going on. I read Gioa’s essays and am consistently irritated by them but then I always end up liking him better in person. This time I decided his facial expressions remind me of actor George Segal. Anywa, I just took a class in New Mexico art history and learned all about bultos and santos, little carved saints Catholic woodcarvers in New Mexico created in the 17th century for local missions. Gioia talked about his Mexican heritage, (did he say Hispanic? I can’t remember), and read a santos poem. “The Angel with the Broken Wing" which was published in Poetry magazine.
As you can see I took very bad photos with my camera phone. I was amazed at how brazen I had become in six years to even take bad photos.
The panel started with pretentious paper shuffling from the poets, something that fiction panels never do. “We are all doing stuff of import!” They discussed the role of religion in poetry and when and where they might have used something sacred or profane. Carol Muske-Dukes asked, “Is all art in a way religion? Do the sacred and profane come together in poetry?” Ron talked almost exclusively about this own childhood. Dana talked big picture stuff about all of our metaphysical longings, the material versus the divine, and about how people are leaving behind spiritual codes but are still feeling a spiritual hunger. And I can’t help but explicate everything he says in order to determine where the coded politics is bleeding through. He claimed anthropologists have yet to find a culture without poetry. I asked my anthropologist husband about this and he said this sounded like an overstatement and was probably not true. I added that since you can’t really control the definition of what poetry even means, we’ll never be able to verify or disprove such a statement. Dana and Carol Muske-Dukes argued about whether W. H. Auden was religious.
Late in the day Ross Gay gave a reading in the poetry pit and it was lovely and amazing. Smile: check. Working the audience: check. Wearing a Poetry t-shirt similar to the one I just bought: check. Captivating reading: check. He didn’t do a “performance” reading per se. He read. But he read really well. I still haven’t finished his book which I bought on my eReader so I couldn’t get it autographed. Bummers.
The next day I attended “Poetry and the Arts: The Influences of Music, Cinema, and the Visual Arts in Contemporary Poetry.” Hands down, the best LA book fest poetry panel I’ve ever been too. And note to Carol Muske-Dukes, the poets on the panel embraced their topic.
David St. John was funny and said he liked listening to performances, seeing artworks, and was able to make profound connections mostly through film influences. He said he found his voice by watching films.
Elena Karina Byrne’s parents were artists and she was raised on contemporary and conceptual art and these were her early, primitive experiences. Her father was a famous figure drawing teacher to Disney animators. She said all art is a dialogue with the world, the self and history. She quoted Magritte to say "art is a dream for waking minds" and Mark Doty who said "you can cause time to open by looking." She said Mark Strand began as a painter from Yale.
Ralph Angel was an enjoy-the-moment, slow talking guy, wholly present but almost boring he took so long to get to a point. He read a poem by Agnes Martin, a painter I've been studying in my New Mexico art history class. I didn't know she wrote poems but she did, sometimes about her paintings. He referenced John Coltrane a few times and said he was inspired by essays, novels, a walk, film, music...."so many guides."
Fiona Sze-Lorrain was a very interesting Chinese French author/poet/harpist also on the panel. She said that no art exists separately. She said she started with notes before words and appreciated music’s precise syntax and tempo changes. She liked working with an instrument bigger than herself. She talked about the shape of her breath and architecture. Musically she liked Bach, Debussy, Beethoven, and Joni Mitchell. She said poems fail when they start to describe painting, they become autobiographical. Then I wondered if she said Joan Mitchell or Joni Mitchell. Both were painters. She also plays the zither – a rare Chinese instrument, and I was reminded of my favorite Billy Collins poem, Serenade.
At this panel I noticed many more differences between fiction writers and poets. Poets don’t go to each others’ panels like fiction writers do. Does that say something about the poet character? Poets also don’t talk as casually before their panels. There was no talking together before this one and two of them were even friends. Very few people attended these poetry panels, sadly. Someday I hope to compare these panels to AWP poetry panels.
Some notes form the fiction panels I aggended:
My friend and fest-mate had a crush Crush on the new fiction writer Matt Sumell (see pic right) and he did have a charming New York vibe going on. He also looks and talks like Jon Stewart. In this panel the writers talked about unlikable characters, mostly defining what they are. Sumell said "Bad choices make good stories."
In another panel on Creative Storytelling, Tony-winning playwright Sarah Ruhl talked about how plays have shapes that emerge two-thirds of the way into writing them, sometimes real geometric shapes. They don’t always follow the Aristotle arc she said. She also noted that our culture is obsessed with originality to its detriment. John Scaret Young said “Don’t tie up everything” and Mark Haskel Smith said it’s "all about energy so don’t edit as you go."
In the panel Writing the Writer, two writers admitted they were afraid to show the writing samples of accomplished, brilliant characters who were writers, as if they couldn’t live up to their descriptions of the talent. Someone said they wrote about writers because they wanted to explore the life they didn’t have. Another said he wanted to write about someone like himself. Paul Kolsby said to learn how to get out of your own way.
Another thing I noticed this trip: to be a panelist it seems you need to be peddling a recent book. This kind of made the whole thing feel like a publicity event more than an educational one.