Here's a photo I took from my hotel room in State College on Tuesday night. It was late; the streets were pretty much empty, and I was drawn to the television images in an apartment a block away. Couldn't quite make out what was going on, but I think the pic came out really well. I took a whole series of these and now I'm itching to do more.
On Tuesday, I'll be heading over to Penn State to attend a reading & the release of the Public Poetry Project's new series of broadsides. This year, judges Lynn Emanuel, Jeanne Walker & I selected poems by Gerald Stern, Terrance Hayes, Gregory Djanikian, and Stacey Waite. I'm especially proud that we continue to expand the range of voices represented in this great series. You can order broadsides from the web site.
If you happen to be in State College on Tuesday night, please come to the reading & say hello. It takes place at 7 PM in Foster Auditorium in the Pattee Library.
You can also check out the videoof me reading at this event last year!
My copy of Steve Mueske's Digerati anthology arrived a week or so ago; I've just started reading it. Want to say first off that this is a handsome book! Great cover, nice paper, nice large font. It would have been great to have author names/titles in the header or footer, but on the other hand it's fun to just open the book randomly and read without knowing whose poem I'm checking out. (There is a table of contents, of course, so it's easy to figure this out.)
Happy to see Nancy, Paul, Eduardo represented here. I'm not on a first-name basis with anyone else, but I'm looking forward to reading everyone's work.
About a month ago, on one of those unbelievably warm, fake-you-out-that-Spring's-about-to-arrive February days, I asked Randy if we could stop over at the Kountry Kupboard. The KK is one of those Old Folks Buffets: soft, overcooked veggies, kitschy PA "Dutch" decor, busloads of octogenarians shuffling in to dine and then browse through the gift shop and--and--the greenhouse.
I love the greenhouse. I love any greenhouse, at any time of the year. For one summer in my youth, I worked in the greenhouses at King's Island (a theme park) in Cincinnati. Before we sold our house in Houston, I told Randy that the only way I'd ever move north again was if our place had a greenhouse. We don't have one. But the President's house, right next to the Poetry Center, has one, a modest walk-in greenhouse attached to the side of their Victorian home, and through five years and two university presidents, not once--not once--have I seen a single plant growing in their greenhouse. I have to squelch the urge to throw on some coveralls, knock on their front door, and say "Kids, let's make a deal."
On this particular day, lots of orchids were blooming on the back bench: oncidiums, phalaenopsis, lots of hybrids of hybrids--plants I'd never heard of (Randy was the orchid grower in our garden back in Houston). But the one thing I wanted to take home was a small-leafed passion vine. They had a dozen or so, some in bud, in little 4-inch pots. Sure, R said, then about gagged when it rang up at nine bucks. I brought it home, repotted it in a glazed bowl, and strung it up in the bathroom window with some heavy fishing twine. I've been checking vigilantly for spider mites--which defoliated the impatiens cuttings on the dining room sill--and watching the first bud slowly grow to the size of a swollen thumb. And today it finally opened.
A delightful lunch yesterday with Deirdre, Steve, and (surprise) Erica, who's in town on her break. Great food, delightful conversation, an experience I don't get often (most of my "people time" is spent in the classroom--after that, I just want to crawl back into my cave to recharge).
Erica is a hoot: even though she's (currently) living in St. Louis, she knows more gossip and stories about what's going on here in central PA than anyone I know. Hence, the "whizzinator" tale, which she swears happened locally just last week or so:
Guy walks into a convenience store and asks the clerk to please nuke something for him in the microwave. (This is one of those places where you can buy packaged sandwiches and heat them up.) She obliges, but when the microwave beeps and she turns to remove what she presumes to be a meal, she realizes it's a penis.
I can only imagine the gasping and shrieking, the dropping (flinging) of the object. Did the guy stay or did he flee? Did he try to stammer an explanation? If he had, would she have listened? Would you?
Story makes the local news. (I wish I'd seen that newscast: "PENIS Found in Microwave"--like a headline straight out of the tabloids.)
And again on the late edition. But by now, there's more information: no one is running around with a missing penis. It turns out that there's a drug testing facility right next door to this Speedy Mart. And it turns out that there's this gadget called the "Whizzinator" (I'm not sure of the spelling; I haven't Googled this): an artificial penis containing a fluid receptacle. Right: you fill this fake dong with someone else's pee, stuff it in your boxers, waltz into your drug test, whip out your faux manhood and let 'er rip.
There's a catch: apparently, the urine has to be warmed (in order to flow freely through the counterfeit urethra?) (because cold piss is a dead giveaway to the technician, more likely).
So there you have it: guy comes in for his drug test, makes a pit stop at the Gas -N- Go next door, calmly asks the clerk to pop his fake whizzer into the microwave so he can be all ready to pull a switcheroo at the lab.
I told the story to Randy when I got home, and he says "Oh yeah, the Whizzinator. Tom Sizemore."
"Tom Sizemore. The actor. Remember? He was brought up on drug charges and then they caught him faking his own urine test. He used one of those things."
Okay, so R knew all about it--if not about our local incident, then at least about the gadget itself. Still, some crucial questions linger in my queer mind: is this a one-size-fits-all fake weiner? Does it come in various flesh tones to match the wearer?
Can you wear it to the beach? Is it a one-use item or can you sterilize it in the dishwasher and use it every month (or however often one goes in for drug testing)?
Is it cut or uncut?
Oh. And isn't Tom SIZEMORE missing a totally hot marketing opportunity here? To cast a model bearing his name (and likeness)?
Checking my e-mail late Wednesday night, I found an invitation to teach a summer comp course. I've taught composition only three times, and though every course feels to some degree like a work in progress, comp is where that sensation is truly heightened: a crucible of ideas and methods, of trying one approach, tossing it aside, trying another.
Last week, before everyone left for AWP, my friend Betsy asked if I had a short fiction exercise she might use in her class that day. I have a whole "bag of tricks" for fiction and poetry writing. We talked about a few ideas and B said she was going to try one--I haven't seen her since AWP but then again, I've been staying home this past week. Anyway, my point is that I don't yet have a bag of tricks for teaching composition: it still feels like an uphill journey.
And a nice challenge. I've taught creative writing in summer sessions, but not since 2003.
So: this is an open call to anyone who's taught summer comp and is willing to share a few ideas, textbook recommendations, essay exercises, even a rough syllabus. I'm going to spend next week getting my head around this class, and I'd love your input.
[photo: unidentified tree along Dale Engle Walker Trail, Monday afternoon]
Okay, if you don't care a whit about quilts, just skip this post now.
Still with me? Aren't you a dear. Well. The quilt frame was empty, so yesterday afternoon I took up the challenge of copying a design (okay, it wasn't that much of a challenge) from one of our books. It took about five hours to get the whole thing pieced on the machine; I finished up just after midnight.
It's a basic Amish pattern, "Diamond in a Square." Randy's going to quilt it. I may bore you to death with progressive photos.
On Friday I was offered a one-year contract to teach several creative writing sections at Bucknell next year. The great news is that I'll be teaching as a visiting assistant professor. Real money (whew) and benefits.
::sigh of relief::
And I was superstitious enough to wait for confirmation from the Dean before posting this.
Randy and I took a break this afternoon to enjoy the unseasonably warm weather, heading out to the Dale Engle Walker Trail, just a couple miles out of town. There's a trail along Buffalo Creek that winds, eventually, up a pretty steep hill and through some woods and fields. A couple years ago I was delighted to find a stand of bloodroot in full bloom. I thought it was a fairly uncommon wildflower, but then last spring I noticed some blooming in the yard of a house just down our street.
We brought along the digital cam, though there's not much up yet (in terms of wildflowers). I ended up taking some macro shots of tree bark and stones. Then, crossing a field, we ran into this malodorous fellow: a mud-caked snapping turtle making its way, I guess, toward the creek. It hissed and lunged when I got too close with the camera, and though I was a good ten feet away, believe me I jumped. This turtle is just amazing, totally armored and capable of inflicting serious damage to fingers or hands. Its smell was stupefying--I guess from hunkering down in the same muddy hole all winter--and we circled it a few times to get photos and then wished it well.
I just like singing it in my head to the tune of Elvis's "Blue Suede Shoes."
Actually, it refers to the uncommon coloration of certain snow geese. I haven't researched it. All I know is that last night, walking to campus to hear Kwame Dawes read his poems (wonderful reading!), I heard snow geese flying over. So today, Randy and I drove out to the Montour Preserve, which has a really big lake (on which, currently, all boating is banned because, sadly, someone drowned recently and they haven't found the body), on which thousands--two thousand? three?--of snow geese had landed.
The noise was tremendous. We crept slowly from the parking lot to the covered shelter, carrying the camera and tripod. Hundred of geese milled around on the banks, but most were in the water, flapping, ducking, splashing, swimming around, taking off from one area to land in another. Most were white, but I counted maybe ten "blue phase" geese. Just before we left--Randy had the camera at this point; we had traded it back and forth a few times--I saw a dark flock coming in, about sixty birds, and hollered at him to look to his left. He took several shots as a big rowdy gang of Canada geese landed on the water. Such a sight. I love living here.
That's all I'll say, except to note that my literary friends will probably think "Dickens" and my more bohemian friends will think of the first syllable only. It's neither. That's all I'll say.
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I've spent the better part of the day reading fiction for West Branch: I wish Chris Torockio would send another story. I wish he'd just sent "Conservation." I wish we'd taken it when he did. I hope it landed someplace nice.
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Going tonight to a reading by Kwame Dawes, and I'm embarrassed to admit that I know absolutely nothing of his poetry. Looking forward to being surprised.
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It's funny how reading unengaging manuscripts (I'm not trying to be mean, and I'm certainly not naming names) can launch me back into my own work with renewed energy. . . I have a whole series of VD poems, mostly unpublished, that I keep thinking I'll finish into some kind of project. I'd set a 3:30 deadline today to stop reading mss. for a while, and along about 3:05 I started thinking about one particular poem, "Skin," and how it fails: voice too scattered, for one thing. So I got to tinkering. I'm not through tinkering, but I think it's going to be a sonnet. I'm totally excited about this.
Sonnets are like double-fudge brownies: before I'm through with one, I'm already thinking about the next one. I'm thinking, I could do a wholepan of these.
And yeah, the wave of nausea hits around number three.
* * * * *
I was offered a course for fall '06: the foundation seminar I've taught twice before. It's never the same course exactly. Already thinking about how to make improvements.
Talking to the (English) department chair tomorrow about more possible courses. Wish me luck, y'all.
* * * * *
Thanks to friends--
--D, for giving me a job when I really needed one.
--K, for surprising me with a delightful phone call the other day.
--S, for prodding me about getting a website together. And for offering to help. And for doing that thing you did late late in the night last Tuesday.
Back in January, I noticed one day at the Writing Center that someone had thrown the remains of a plant into the trash--long, ropy, wrinkled stems of pothos (looks like marbled philodendron, if you don't recognize the name), absolutely leafless and desiccated, but still I grabbed it impulsively, coiled it inside my lunch tote (one of those soft-sided insulated things) and brought it home. I did throw most of it out, but cut the greenest section into stem cuttings, layered them in potting soil, watered it sparingly, covered the whole thing with plastic wrap, and stuck it on a high shelf in the bathroom. Two weeks ago when I checked it there was a bright green shoot. Today there are about a dozen, one large and the rest really small. I've moved the tray to the bathroom counter--nice bright light--and removed the plastic wrap. If Allie doesn't dig them up, I'll have a nice batch of wee pothos vines soon.