Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Saint Joan

I've always loved Joan Baez: her music, her writing, her politics, her bravery. When last week she camped in a tree with activist Julia "Butterfly" Hill to protest the demolition of an urban farm in Los Angeles, my admiration deepened even more. Come on, people now: this gal is 65, and look at her walking the walk! That's right, you'd better put your hands together. You GO, Joan!

Monday, May 29, 2006

Garden shots

Pics of what's blooming this month in our garden . . . these are all columbines--the single red is the species or "wild" columbine, Aquilegia canadensis. The others are all double-flowering types ("Barlow" mix) that I raised from seed last year, except the very tightly frilled deep blue: it was already here in the garden, and bloomed last year for the first time.

More of these to follow (you've been forewarned).

Sunday, May 28, 2006

No Rau Rom--

--at Reiff's, our favorite nursery, where we buy whatever herbs we can't grow from seed. We've checked twice now. They usually have it. We also went to Gilbert's, where the herb selection was even more limited, but the perennials tempted us. We still had our gift card and ended up buying a dwarf columbine and a lady fern--the fern went into the new bed under the white pines, at the end of the walk. About the pines: whoever planted them years ago put down heavy black plastic to prevent weeds. It also prevents rain from soaking through beyond the first couple inches of soil. Over the years, the pines' roots have snaked across the soil surface. I pull up as much of the plastic as I can find--it's impossible to get it all--and put down well-composted mulch.

Back to rau rom, aka Vietnamese coriander: it looks like a knotweed, with faint "shield" marks on the narrow lance-shaped leaves. Grows vigorously in warm weather, and even though it roots well from cuttings, I've been unable to keep it over the winter inside. It's a gangly, sprawling plant, an excellent cilantro substitute. I think we may have to search for some online.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Moccasin flower

Every May, we drive out to an undisclosed location (if I told you I would have to kill you) and hike into the woods to see the wild orchids. There's just one small colony, but they seem to be increasing each year.


Thumping in the attic late last night: another bat, this time chased by Allie. Randy came downstairs for the "bat net" (a butterfly net we keep in the laundry room in case the neighbors should need it). We chased Allie out from under the spare bed and then I came back down to the kitchen for the flashlight. Randy found the bat squeezed into the floor heater and couldn't get it to come out. We closed the door to the attic and propped it shut with a box to keep the cat out.

This morning: no sign of bat. Is it hiding in a box? Did it escape through the same mysterious route by which it slipped in?

I like bats; they're amazing little mammals. I like watching them dart silently around the trees in the back yard, or along the river where insects are plentiful. But I always feel helpless and a little guilty when they blunder into "our" house. (How we define space: inside/outside, ours/theirs. . .)

Friday, May 26, 2006

June approaches . . .

. . . and with it, the Bucknell Seminar for Younger Poets. This is the first time I haven't been on staff in five years. I can't explain how connected I feel to this program: it just clicks with my own communal bent, I guess. It's such a critical boost for young poets--the lucky few who get in. I'll be directing the seminar next summer: please urge your undergrad poet friend/students/acquaintances to apply this fall.

* * * * *
Kudos to Tyler Mills, who won this year's Gulf Coast Poetry Prize! Tyler was one of my intro CW students a few summers ago--not that I can claim any credit for her serious talent--and has just finished up her first semester of grad school. (Talk about getting a critical boost!)

* * * * *
I'm just about moved into my new office. No phone yet, and no computer. Apparently they can't just take the one off the desk in my old office (which was not being used). Nor can they give me either of the two in my *new* office (in the geology/psychology building), though they haven't taken them away yet either. Or the non-functioning telephone.

How am I posting this, you ask? --On my trusty laptop.

I had to stop working on my summer syllabus in order to move and unpack (and arrange alphabetically on the shelves) my books. Had to. Could not function without being able to spin around in my chair and see them there.

Oh, and I asked for Bob Taylor's plaster bust of Mark Twain. (I inherited Bob's old office last year) I don't know what I'm going to do with it, but I couldn't leave it for some visiting history professor.

Best of all, I also got Bob's old comfy green chair. Super place to read.

And I think there's room on the wall to hang a quilt.

It's only mine for a year, but for that year, it's mine.

* * * * *
If you see Eduardo, pinch him. He owes me poem installments.

* * * * *
Has anyone ever used Rita Dove's "Ten Minute Spill" exercise (from The Practice of Poetry)? I use it in the classroom, because it's a great way to kick-start the poetry-writing half of the semester. I've never tried to write my own poem from it--other than doing the exercise in class along with my students. But last year I ran across this poem by Jennifer Clarvoe, in her book Invisible Tender:

Thread of Song

How would you take a stitch in time?
And where is the boy who looks after the sheep?

The blackberry bleeds on your thumb, bleeds voice.
Come blow your horn. Where is the horn?

Come save the nine lives kittens lost
the the mother's voice, the cloud, the rain,

the rain in needles. Needles lost
under the haystack, fast asleep.

A stitch to keep. Keep time. Keep time.

--I'm convinced that this poem (such as it is) arose from the Rita Dove exercise, though JC doesn't credit her in the book. I would. Wouldn't you?

Thursday, May 25, 2006


How delightful that Anne Pierson Wiese has won the Walt Whitman Award--she's a wonderful poet, and truly deserving. Here's one of her poems that we ran in the spring/summer '05 issue of West Branch:

The Great Roberto

Cooking bare chested to avoid staining
his good shirt, he stirs the risotto,
pours champagne into crystal flutes, sews
black bass into parchment painstakingly.

What we want to know is: Where's your bed?
The apartment is 300 square feet
and we can't locate it. No--really,
where is it? He waves at the long banquet

table and the cocktail bar he's improvised
with a board and French linen: Relax.
Do you know the trick to risotto? He extracts
a one-ounce orange box, passes it before our eyes:

truffle powder. A pinch. His long fingers
linger wand-like above the pot--then flicker.

Saturday, May 20, 2006


We were awakened in the night by a terrible smashing noise. Randy grabs his glasses and heads to the window, while I (bearishly) mumble and roll back into sleep. I vaguely recall more noises.

Turns out Randy had gone outside to check on things. This morning he got the full story from neighbors across the street: a Bucknell senior, extraordinarily drunk, had sped around the corner from Market onto 4th (our street), colliding with a parked car and starting a chain reaction. A guy who'd just gotten out of the third vehicle (also damaged) jumped back into his car and drove backwards down the street, pursuing the fleeing student. Who is now in jail. On the weekend of his graduation.


Wednesday, May 17, 2006


Well I'd just got settled into my office again when the dean's office asked if I would relinquish it to another visiting assistant professor. Sure, no problem, I said, though there was the possibility that I'd have to move *three times* over the next academic year. Fortunately, they offered me a second option, an office in the Geology/Psychology building (yes, for those of us with rocks in our heads) that turns out to be vacant right now. So I think I can move early (next week) and stay in one place through next summer. Sweet.

Every summer I promise myself I'll learn some new technique or tool to improve my teaching efficiency. Because I'm teaching summer session this year, my fall prep time is really chopped in half. So I'm punting: set up an appointment to learn PowerPoint on Monday. I know, I know: I'm the last person in the world to learn this program. But at the faculty workshop I attended Monday and Tuesday, I was impressed by a PPt presentation that someone made and I can see useful (and non-boring) applications in my poetry classes. And the lad at the tech desk today promised they could teach me pretty quickly.

Listening to Patricia Barber's Nightclub: love her.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Old gardener, goodbye

Stanley Kunitz has died. Sometimes even a hundred years are not enough.


When his boat snapped loose
from its moorings, under
the screaking of the gulls,
he tried at first to wave
to his dear ones on shore,
but in the rolling fog
they had already lost their faces.
Too tired even to choose
between jumping and calling,
somehow he felt absolved and free
of his burdens, those mottoes
stamped on his name-tag:
conscience, ambition, and all
that caring.
He was content to lie down
with the family ghosts
in the slop of his cradle,
buffeted by the storm,
endlessly drifting.
Peace! Peace!
To be rocked by the Infinite!
As if it didn't matter
which way was home;
as if he didn't know
he loved the earth so much
he wanted to stay forever.

- Next-to-Last Things, 1985

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Tardy congratulations. . .

. . . to Charlie Jensen, whose chapbook Living Things won this year's Frank O'Hara Prize. I wish we could round the whole gang up: what a reading that would be.

Little pack rat in a great big room

You know by now that Randy and I like to quilt. One of the most basic activities (obsessions?) that quilters engage in is the building up of what's called the "stash": a hefty and ever-growing hoard of various fabrics from which to design and create one's quilts. But like rabid bibliophiles who buy way more books than they will ever have time to read, most stash-builders know (secretly or not) that they'll never be able to use all the fabric they already have. That doesn't stop them (us) from accumulating more.

Enter eBay, forum of the obsessive collector and bargain-hunter, and rationale behind my own fabric binges: what I don't use, I insist, I can always sell on eBay to other fabric-holics. The only trick is forcing myself to part with material I really like but will never realistically get around to using.

My current quilt project requires a relatively small piece of fabric from each sample, and a large number of samples, most from the 1930s (for authenticity: I want the fabric to match the pattern era). Because we live in central PA, it's not that hard to find what I need at yard sales, flea markets. Sometimes I'll spy a reasonably-priced bundle of scraps at an antique store. And my justification for buying it is always: I'll cut what I need for this one quilt, and sell the rest on eBay.

Enter the pack rat, or "Obsessive-Compulsive Lady" as we call her. If you ever go to estate auctions, there are often boxes of assorted junk piled around the perimeter: a box might hold a (used) scented pillar candle, a Tupperware bowl, a pair of flip-flops, some mayonnaise jars, a straw hat, some plastic flowers, a book or two, a heavily-pilled acrylic sweater, a soiled flower pot, drapery rings, a gimme cap with a farm logo on it, a piece of tacky jewelry with some of the shiny beads missing--any or all of the above. These boxes usually go for a dollar apiece. People will paw through them during the auction, checking out the contents, "surreptitiously" moving things so there are *two* beaded handbags in one box *plus* the mayonnaise jars (or whatever seems of value to them). It's kind of interesting to watch, but no one, you tell yourself, is really going to buy all these boxes.

OCD Lady does. I think she buys them all. And she has a building: a huge, sprawling, cavernous, many-roomed building. And let me tell you, boys and girls, it is full to bursting with dollar boxes.

Last Sunday, at a local flea market, I bought a 1945 Reader's Digest (more on this in another post) and a small piece of 30s fabric from her, and we got to talking about her shop (which, it turns out, R and I had been to--once, last year, where we kept to the main room, which actually had shelves, though we had to climb over boxes to make our way through: we actually found some pretty nice fabric--aha!--at a great price.) We've passed her place since then but there's always a chain across the gate, and more and more assorted junk disgorged from the front door (a rusted potbelly stove with intricate scrollwork but one side missing, broken chairs, tire rims, and lots and lots of rain-curled boxes). So we arranged to phone her one day soon and meet her there. Which brings us to yesterday morning.

She directed us to the fabric from the relative safety of the main room: Go past the book room and turn left, watch out for the cat--she's just had kittens and she'll let you pet her but then she turns and bites, the litte bitch, you'll have to squeeze past the bookshelves to get to the clothing room, then work all the way around to the right to get to the fabric room. You'll have to climb over some stuff. Just yell if you need anything.

Imagine a large garage with cinder block walls and sunlight passing weakly through old dirty windows. High, high ceilings, wooden beams among which noisy sparrows are darting around, kicking down what looks like straw and whatever decomposed remaining substance once comprised the ceiling. Broken half-sheets of plaster have fallen, covered in dust. All this sifts down upon what is basically a twelve-foot-high mountain of "fabric": it completely fills the room and the only way in is to step, to climb, onto it. Which we gamely did. We each chose a spot and started digging, pulling on the arm of a sweater, the edge of a jacket, and setting (tossing) each item to another area of the pile to see what was beneath.

I pretty quickly worked out a system: I opened a sheet and spread it across some fallen plaster. Whenever either of us found something of interest (we were digging for vintage cotton), we'd toss it over to the sheet. Dust flew. Some of the mountain was composed of plastic trash bags--these usually contained sweaters or draperies--and there were lots of boxes. Once in a while I'd recognize a corner of fabric as a vintage pattern, grab it, and tease it from the mess. Twice, I found boxes with someone's sewing stash intact: small bundles of fabric rolled and tied with torn strips. Some were good cotton but mots were synthetic blends, which is just too messy to quilt with.

After over an hour, I started working backward, into the "clothing room" where R had retreated earlier, setting things of interest out where I could easily find them. I had stuffed everything I wanted into a large trash bag. I tried balancing it on my shoulders, on my head, as I squeezed between sagging bookcases (of ruined books!) and made my way back to the main room. R, whose obsession is vintage photographs, had found a really interesting one ($5). My trash bag, plus a smaller bag, cost 40 bucks. We thanked the OCD Lady, blinking like moles in the afternoon sun, loaded our treasures into the thruck, and drove away, blowing our noses. I wondered what she would do with her $45: buy food? Or 45 more dollar boxes?

Monday, May 08, 2006

Submission limbo

Well this hasn't happened in a while, so I guess I'm due for a slice of humility: on the recommendation of a good friend, I sent some poems to a newish journal a few months back. I haven't been writing all that much, but I tell myself that's okay because I just had another chapbook published, so (some of) my stuff is "out there" (as opposed to being stuck in my laptop where no one will ever read it).

So it's been a while now, and all last week I kept thinking "gotta check on those poems" and then forgetting again. Just thought of it again tonight. Here's what I found at their website:

"Effective immediately, [XYZ] is on hiatus. We are not sure how long this break will last or if we will have to simply call it a wrap — that remains to be seen."

"As Editor, I appreciate all of the support and encouragement that I encountered along the way.

"Best to all of you on your journey. Writer, may you find the prefect [sic] rhythm in your voice. Reader, may you discover and be changed by these worlds within great stories — worlds we would all surely dream up otherwise."

Okay, so I indulged in a teensy moment of snit by pointing out the editor's typo above. That's all the unkindness you'll get from me.

Except for the following gassy bubble of resentment that climbs my esophagus like Frankenstein clanging up the windmill's spiral staircase to blurt out its monstrous little thought-bile: Would it KILL THEM to notify the writers who've sent work? Who are waiting patiently, dutifully, hopefully? If I hadn't thought to check the website, how much longer would my poems have remained in limbo?

One year, within a span of about six months, my poems went missing at no less than five journals. I was writing like crazy at the time, and had roughly a dozen batches of poems constantly circulating, in a crazed push for validation that I hope I never repeat. I grew so caught up in the unfairness of my work being lost--who are these people who can't keep track of a simple envelope?--that I started enclosing, in addition to the SASE, a stamped postcard that listed the names of the offending journals with a reprimand: "What do V, W, X, Y and Z have in common? They've all misplaced my manuscript within the past six months. Please distinguish yourself from their company." The journal's editor/reader was then asked to both sign and date the card and return it promptly.

Now that I've worked in an editorial capacity for several years--and now that I've misplaced a few manuscripts and written a few apologies--I'm disconcerted--no, appalled--at the egotism of some writers. If your batch of poems is so earth-shatteringly important, if the possibility of human error in their handling is so abhorrent, then why bother sending them to a magazine at all? Why not bypass the slush pile and simply stride right up to the Nobel Committee and demand your fucking prize? And I'm embarrassed to have bought into the same mucked-up thinking that places the writer in some ridiculously imagined position of privilege. If thinking of "my" journal as a living, breathing community of writers--with those who've made it in no more privileged than those who haven't yet--is foolish and passe, then fine, I'm a fool.

Yeah, I wish [XYZ] had let me know that I could send my few poems elsewhere. But jeezustapdancingchrist, it's not the end of the world. I wish the editors well, and thank them for giving the endeavor their best shot.

Week in Review

I meant to post yesterday and the day before. Oh, well. Here's what's been going on of late:
  • Last weekend I finished a blurb for Jeff Mann's new book of poems, On the Tongue, which is due out this summer from Gival Press. Check out Jeff's web site for more on his (prolific!) work.
  • We got our new cell phones on Friday. Randy had studied the on-line reviews & compared models, so it was easy to go along with his recommendation. So now we have flip-phones, kinda neat: they take photos (with flash!) and do all sorts of things that I will probably never learn or need.
  • My sister, whose job takes her all over the country, offered to provide us with a rental car so we can drive to Ohio to see the family. I promised to send her my schedule so we could coordinate a visit. We have a truck, and it's been very dependable, though it doesn't have air conditioning. (My Saturn is still parked in the alley: one of the first things I want to do when my new salary kicks in this fall is get my car roadworthy again. This will probably mean new tires, new battery, new hoses. It's just been sitting there. Our money goes to pressing things like food and rent. I don't like to talk about it.) Randy thinks that I should go, if I can, in mid-May, and then later this summer (late July, after summer session) we can both try to go.
  • We need rain. It's been, like, sixteen days, and this, added to the relatively dry winter, has our region in the early stages of a drought. It's maddening to watch the radar and see rain showers just an hour to the south, knowing it won't reach us.
  • My friend D's manuscript is a finalist for the National Poetry Series. I'm so excited for her. I know they select a pretty large number of finalists, and that chances of winning are only one in ten at this stage, but still it seems to me an incredibly validating event, especially given that so many of the poems are new--I've seen several of them over the past six months as D has been writing them--and since I don't know anyone else who's a finalist this year (I'm sure I probably know *someone* else, just haven't heard) I am totally rooting for D (whose anonymity I preserve here because it really is *her* news, not mine).
  • Still waiting for my copy of Amanda Auchter's new chapbook, which I ordered back in the Pleistocene.
  • The columbines are blooming: these are "Barlow" columbines, generally double-flowered: they look like very full petticoats and so far each plant bears a different color, which is exciting because I started them from seed last year and the wait is finally ending as to what they will actually look like in bloom. The first to open was a dusty rose-pink, very nice. Then a deep violet which, though not double, is (so far) Randy's favorite. Then another pink, much paler, with a cream interior. Then a sort of rust-red. I planted I think twelve seedlings along the shaded side of our back walkway, and those in the sunniest area are large and robust, but even among the five or six plants in deeper shade under the white pines, two have sent up smallish bloom stalks. I also gave several seedlings to the Kellys next door, and one of theirs is the same pink as ours. Also, the last time I visited the folks, I dug some seedlings of wild columbine from their (gravel) driveway. These are the great-great-great offspring of columbines that grew in Rue's garden, which I still remember vividly from my childhood. (More about Rue some other time.) The species is Aquilegia canadensis, the common eastern columbine that grows in rocky forest crevices--the same plant on a limestone shelf might grow six or eight inches high; in our garden, they are two feet tall. It will be great fun to collect the seeds this summer and see what sort of crosses may have developed. Randy says it's fine with him if I plant *lots* more columbines. I'll take photos to post soon.
  • Paula (Closson Buck) has wonderful news: her second book, Dogs at the Temple, was taken by LSU Press and will be out in (I think) 2008. LSU published her first book, The Acquiescent Villa, in 1998. I've seen many of the poems in the new manuscript over the past couple of years, and it's really strong: I think its publication was inevitable, just one of those extraordinarily good works that has to eventually land a good home. And though LSU's titles are off-puttingly expensive, it's a pretty fine press to call home.
  • Eric Leigh (according to Eduardo) is a winner of this year's Nation/Discovery Award! I love Eric's poems--we published a couple in West Branch a while back. Very happy to hear this!
  • I wrote Eduardo a postcard--twice--while he was at MacDowell, but the first time I didn't have a stamp and I stuck the card in a book. The second time, what I'd written just seemed sappy and pretentious. I need to get better at this.
  • Oh, and my P&W entry came up really quickly, within less than 48 hours I think--I received a e-mail notification but haven't yet gone to look myself up.

It's cool and cloudy today. I'm writing upstairs and trying to remember to check the laundry once in a while. Randy called his dad this morning--R has had dreams several nights in a row now about his late mother--and heard a little about another ancestor, a Rowsey I think he said, who was married to a guy who helped to guard Lincoln's casket. Our local mail carrier, Mike, has written several books about the Civil War era, so R flagged him down--I could hear them outside talking about how to research this name--and pretty soon R was online and had located some interesting stuff.

I can't believe it's almost 3 in the afternoon. We've both had rotten headaches all day; I'm just trying to push along but there's this out-of-time-ness to everything I do, a dull throbbing bubble I can't escape.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Directory Insistence

I finally submitted my data to Poets & Writers for inclusion in their online directory. It was pretty easy to do online, just a series of forms to fill out. The site says it takes a few weeks for the entry to show up.

Last year, I urged all the poets in my department to fill out the (paper) forms so we could submit them together and get listed. I think one other person besides me actually filled out the forms, and I thought that I'd mailed them in. But I was working between several offices then, and I fear the paperwork probably ended up in a box with other "urgent" stuff. It's amazing how mail will wait for years in a forgotten box (instead of, what? spontaneously exploding into flames after 30 days?)--and, for the most part, it's a relief that so much of it ends up not really mattering at all. But I do feel bad about P's application. Which is somewhere in my possession.

One other thing: the online directory is searchable by category (i.e., how writers self-identify) and, just to see, I did a search for L/G/B/T writers. I was surprised at how few turned up. So I'm glad I included that tag in my listing.

One last thing: big congratulations to my friend Ben Grossberg, whose manuscript has won the Richard Snyder Award from
Ashland Poetry Press. Ben's chapbook, The Auctioneer Bangs His Gavel, is just out from Kent State. Please buy it--it's really very good. The new book is going to be called Underwater Lengths in a Single Breath (nice title).


That's pretty much it these days. I'm certainly not writing much. Reading, yes: I usually fall asleep reading something from the pile beside the bed. Oh, and the garden seeds arrived (late!) , so I spent a couple of hours this weekend happily starting tomatoes, cucumbers, Thai peppers, more lettuce. And some flowers. And bottle gourds, which we're going to try to grow in big tubs, from which they will--we hope--climb trellis netting tacked to the second-floor windows between our house and the neighbors'.

On Sunday afternoon we drove out to R.B. Winter Forest and walked in the woods, sat by the creek, scrutinized the few wildflowers that are up. It's much cooler up in the woods. No ferns yet. There are colonies of violets growing in the sunny marsh areas--in the running water--and some of these have started to bloom with incredibly tiny white blossoms. And the marsh marigolds are blooming. They're so intensely bright (yellow).

Six weeks now until summer session. Teaching comp in summer is going to be an interesting challenge. (I've probably said this before.) Any writing I hope to do this summer needs to happen soon. . .