Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Trick or treat

The munchkins are at our door tonight, rapping, tapping, kicking and squealing for attention. We were trying to eat a quiet dinner. I suggested offering some steamed broccoli. Randy had a better idea: posting a SEXUAL PREDATOR: BEWARE sign on our front door. (Ha!)
* * *

Listening to EmmyLou Harris, Wrecking Ball. Love that CD. Grading papers until 9, when we watch an hour of television (as we quilt). I'm trying to get to bed by ten. Now that the weather's growing colder, it's SO hard to get out of bed at six.
* * *

Just saw Paul Guest's wonderful news: congratulations, Paul! A well-deserved award.
* * *

We were delighted to watch the Red Sox sweep what's-their-name, that team in Colorado. Now the long wait until spring (training) begins. In honor of the Sox, here's a poem by Joe Wenderoth, from his 1995 book, Disfortune:

Aesthetics Of The Bases Loaded Walk

Four times the pitch is outside the strike zone:
high, low, outside, low—four balls.
The man must be given a base, a base on balls.
But there is no base to be given,
no base unoccupied, the bases are full.
Some cannot understand this.
They believe it must be a shameful thing,
lowly forfeit,
the humiliation of man-made rules and chalk boundaries.
They imagine confrontation itself has failed.
Some, even most, don’t understand the bases loaded walk,
and they proceed to hiss
or to mock their earlier earnest applause.
But I love it.
They’ve got no room to put him on.
They put him on. They put him on
and here comes the lowly run
home. Certain, uncontested,
and incomparably calm.
A home-run would have been unbelievable—
the grand slam, loveliest of moments
to glimpse—
but it leads quickly, inevitably, away from us.
Bases empty.
Rally as good as over.
But a walk! a walk! Bases still loaded!
Rally never at a more urgent or capable point!
This is the beauty of it.
The maintenance of a simple danger by way of a good eye.
The inning, the game itself,
hangs in the indelicate balance
of this subtlest method for staying alive,
in the casual implication of unending loss,
in the terrible patience of an anonymous victory.
* * *

Brent is so much better than I at writing prose poems. I doff my cap.
* * *
Samhain blessings to all.
* * *
[photo: Cloud #3, 10/12/07]

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Giving books: 5

also, not pictured: William Corbett's Don't Think: Look & John Haines' At the End of This Summer.

What I'm reading

Tea Bags

Remembering, she agitates hand washables
from which dirt streams; delicate things, her white
regulation underwear still damp when she puts it on.

-Thylias Moss, Last Chance for the Tarzan Holler

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


Today was pretty much the Hump Day of the Hump Week of the Hump Month: the semester is a downhill road from here. Students who haven't managed to overcome their propensity for oversleeping, spacing out in class or with homework, and the like are probably not going to pull out of their current patterns, and this is the week when I stop overextending myself and trying to haul them back onto the Happy Raft. Sink or swim, y'all. I have my own paddling to do.

* * *

We're trying a different med for the headaches. We'll see how it goes.

* * *

And now, let's play Name That Novel! I copied pages from several books, pulled more-or-less randomly from home, to use for our erasures a while back. A few days later, in one of my comp sections, something made me remember and refer to the following passage. Students swore I was misremembering the scene, and that it was from another of the author's novels, but when I came home and checked, there it was--and here it is:

". . . [X], frightened at the spreading thighs, alone in the house, and horrified at the screaming wretch his wife had become, went mad with apprehension. Using his hands, his strong fingers for forceps, he had pulled and twisted the baby. The midwife, arriving late, had found the baby's head pulled out of shape, its neck stretched, its body warped; and she had pushed the head back and molded the body with her hands. But [X] always remembered, and was ashamed."

First person to correctly identify the title and author wins, oh I don't know, a slightly dogeared copy of Allison Funk's chapbook From the Sketchbooks of Vanessa Bell. (A nice chapbook!)

* * *

Two words: GO, BOSTON!

[photo: driver's side blur, 10/12/07]

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Giving books: 3

also, not pictured: Mark Doty's Turtle, Swan & Denise Duhamel's Girl Soldier.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Keystone Chapbook Results

The results of the 2007 Keystone Chapbook Competition are in: from the sixty manuscripts entered, our final judge, Jeff Mann, has selected "Underground Singing" by Harry Humes as the winner. Mann praised the manuscript as "a lyrical yet realistic description of coal-town life" that "displays admirable lucidity and accessibility, a haunting, sharp-eyed nostalgia, and vividly evoked detail."
The first runner-up manuscript was "Still," by Deborah Burnham of Philadelphia. The judge commented that the manuscript "brims with finely phrased appreciation of the romantic and the erotic, as well as displaying remarkably fresh figurative language and sensuous imagery."
The second runner-up manuscript, by Jillian Barnet of Pittsburgh, was "You Don't Need a Nose and Other Things I've Learned." Mann assessed this manuscript as "shocking, painful, blunt" and said "these poems of hospital tragedies, disease, and death remind us of how much can go wrong, how much there is to lose, and thus how much there is to celebrate while circumstances allow."
We are delighted to publish Harry Humes' collection this fall. Copies will be distributed to all contest entrants, and will be available for sale in January 2008. If you would like to review this chapbook, please e-mail me.
Thanks to all who entered this year--the judge remarked on the difficulty of selecting among many truly excellent manuscripts--and thanks, also, to everyone who helped to spread the word.
About the judge: Jeff Mann grew up in Covington, Virginia, and Hinton, West Virginia, receiving degrees in English and forestry from West Virginia University. His poetry, fiction, and essays have appeared in many publications, including The Spoon River Poetry Review, Wild Sweet Notes: Fifty Years of West Virginia Poetry 1950-1999, Prairie Schooner, Shenandoah, Laurel Review, The Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide, Crab Orchard Review, West Branch, Bloom, and Appalachian Heritage. He has published three award-winning poetry chapbooks, Bliss, Mountain Fireflies, and Flint Shards from Sussex; and two full-length books of poetry, Bones Washed with Wine and On the Tongue. He teaches creative writing at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia.
[photo: cornfield, 10/09/04]

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Giving books

Library poetry

The campus library is small: a few floors occupying one wing of the academic building which I almost never need to leave. I drive to Williamsport in early morning fog--sometimes the mountains and the other side of the river are completely obscured in mist--and, at the end of the day, I take the stairs (or elevator, depending on how late, how tired) and exit the building, breathe the outside air for the first time in ten hours. People do this everywhere, of course, but working in a windowless office has me looking up at the sky more frequently of late: late sky, early sky, sunrise and sunset, but almost never the sky in between. To get out of my office, I've been scoping out the library for comfortable niches, out-of-the-way tables with cozy chairs, hiding places where I can grade papers for an hour or two before my official office hours begin.

Last week, as I was leaving the library, I asked the young girl at the circulation desk where the poetry books were shelved. PS3569? I asked. Which floor? Feeling not a little ashamed that I'd been on campus for well over a month yet hadn't checked out a single book, I went back upstairs in search of poetry.

Many of the volumes in the poetry section are old. Incredibly old. Beautiful old embossed covers with hand-inked numbers on their spines, leaning together like old men dozing on park benches, untouched for decades. I saw few contemporary volumes. Gathered up a William Stafford, a James Wright, a Richard Hugo--Come on, boys, let's get some air--and a slender book, Like Wings by Philip Schultz, a poet I really know nothing about. I took the Schultz because of two lines: the first, from a poem I opened randomly to, "The Elevator":

This elevator lugged Teddy Roosevelt
when they both were new.

The second was a line by Whitman, set as an epigraph to the section of the book titled "Main Streets":

These are the days that must happen to you.

Downstairs again at the circulation desk, I watched a young man sorting oversized art books on a wheeled cart. Though he was facing me, he didn't look up from his task for at least two minutes. I could have cleared my throat. I didn't mind waiting. When he finally noticed me, he rushed over, apologizing profusely. He took my faculty card, scanned the bar code from it and from the inside covers of my books. The Philip Schultz still has a card pocket inside the back cover, and the original check-out card is still in the pocket. The book was published in 1978. The card is stamped only once, DEC 7 '79, and the borrower's name, written in ink in the topmost blue-lined space, is Pam Mazzotta. I like that Pam's signature is still tucked into the book. I thought of writing a small poem on the back of the card (the blank side), and wondered how many years might pass before anyone noticed it. I go to the public library, the boy said.

(? )

They have a lot more poetry than we do, he stammered. It's just over there--he gestured vaguely toward the river--across from, ahh, across--it's just maybe a block that way.

I thanked him, wondering if I'd ever set foot on a Williamsport sidewalk, or whether this one-year gig would consist entirely of time spent commuting to and from this one campus building. * * * * *
Derek Walcott is being paid a large sum of money to give a talk at Bucknell tonight. He should be launching into it right about now.
* * * * *
I met my new physician yesterday morning. Had to change health plans because Williamsport, where I work, is outside the range of my previous health plan. I was fortunate, both last year and this, to get health insurance as part of my contract. For most of our time in Pennsylvania, I've had to go without.

Dr. H seems nice: a good listener, proficient at posing nicely open-ended questions and gleaning (presumably) useful data from my babble. He strikes me as more assertively diagnostic than my previous physician (who I liked well enough): he wants, for instance, to have a good look at my brain, and so I'm scheduled for a cranial MRI on Thursday afternoon. It would be a relief to find the cause of my headaches. Or at least the source of the voices. (Kidding.)
* * * * *
Here's a poem from the Philip Schultz book that reminds me of something I read recently by a young poet (I'll try to find the latter poem):

What I Don’t Want

Die slouched & undecided in a girlie show
watching her lambs eat the wolves.
Sit talking Kafka this Kafka that
(that bugfaced sword-swallower!).
Play deaf & dumb in Chicago.
Chew the fat of the land while looking
up somebody’s left leg for the right word, ever again.
Cross the Golden Gate Bridge on a bus
listening to the guy ahead say: Doesn’t it look
like a G-string all lit up, Fran!
Die in the house where I was born,
a happy man.

I want, Lord, to die with Neruda & Chaplin
naked & sinful
eating cheese so old it sings on my tongue.

* * * * *
Oh. Found it: a poem by Aaron Anstett, from No Accident (2005). No wonder I was reminded of Aaron's poem--look at the similiarities in rhetoric, voice & setting:

Prayer Against Dying on Camera

Lord, not shot in liquor store stick-up,
jugular uncorked and finely misting or

splatter-patterning display case plate glass
and me so many pixels collapsing

at the feet of bikini’d cardboard
cutout models, purchase a puddle,

last words of my kind, “Oh, shit,”
lip-readable. Jesus not suddenly

in latex novelty emporium or slam-
bang stroke on jumbotron in a coliseum

screaming, not tumbling
from the burning building in a series

of photographs, speed increasing,
one frame famous because I look so calm.

* * * * *
In my poetry class this morning, we did erasures of pages I'd copied, as randomly as possible, from my books at home. We had a marvelous time. The undercurrents, the astonishing shifts in tone from the original texts (which each student read a sample of before reading her erasure), the "rescuing" of words that slipped right past our ears in the initial texts but felt so apt in the re-visions that we could hardly believe they'd been right there on the pages--all great fun. I'm enjoying my LC students, but the 8 AM poetry class (say it!) nurtures my soul.

[photo: Laurel, 9/1/07, R B Winter State Park]

Sunday, October 07, 2007

I'm still here

I'm still here, just swamped with work. Toss me a bail bucket. Fly me to the moon. Let me play among the stars. Or in the trees, before their leaves leave; that sounds nice. I'm starting to envy the acrobatic squirrels.

[photo: Maples, 5/16/07]