Auld Lang Syne

Friday, September 23, 2011

UNH in the rain

So I arrived at the location specified on the directions, and no one was there (I was mucho late due to traffic). I called and emailed the professor who had invited me. No such luck. Now I am at the hotel. I am totally glad the room reservation was not a problem!

When I was MUCH younger, I'd have panicked or gotten upset. I feel strangely calm.

I have homemade donuts in the car, purchased on the way down at Moody's Diner. It's looking like that might be dinner. The only eateries nearby are pizza and pizza. (I guess that is standard university fare). This is Rush Week at UNH. So, imagine all the young rush candidates roaming about, parties galore. When I arrived at the hotel, so did a group of bridesmaids and a bride, all carrying their gowns. Tomorrow will be a big day I'm thinking.

Mazel Tov to the happy couple.

I do not despair. There is no use getting all in a bunch over this. My big issue is not dinner. It is how to find the conference in the morning. Hmmmm. I'm sure I will hear from folks by then. Did I mention I have the WORST sense of direction? Yes. True. But I have my GPS thingie with me. So given an actual address, I can find my way. Good news is I am prepared for tomorrow.

Maybe I will just relax and wait for a call. It's been over an hour and a half since I called and emailed. I'm thinking they will be asking "where do ya think Carol is?" pretty soon. They WILL notice I am missing.... right?

BRB... making donut run to the vehicle.

mmmm good donut. fry bread would be better, or a steak... but ya go with what is available! will limit to one... I promise.

Making tea now and getting into jammies.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


I am being organized today. I am planning my work for the TEK Conference at UNH this weekend. I've gathered sample poems to read to the workshop participants, my own books are ready to go into the car for possible sale, and I have a writing prompt ready for the participants.

But I look around at my office and see that I am not ahead of the game. I have stacks still needing to be weeded or filed. These litter the floor which needs sweeping, vaccing. I look at my desk and see more that I need to organize or file or remove permanently. There is a stack of books that ought to be on the shelves, a bag of books to take to the local book-trade-credit thing (hello hello Books). There is more dust in this room than is probably healthy.

I am in over my head apparently. (Am I? Do the stacks seem to be growing on their own?) Not sure.

But there is some large measure of comfort in my clutter. This is my "stuff." These piles represent my work, my reading, my ideas and plans. They represent my tax year, my accomplishments and failures. They manage to somewhat define my days and my existence as a writer.

I have a 2 foot mermaid on the wall opposite my desk. She seems content. But I notice she is directly looking at the clock with a rather wry smile on her face. Hmmm. Time to what.....?

It's raining. I love the peace and comfort of rainy days. They make feel like writing. But I needed to avoid that this morning in favor of the prompt, the plan, the prep. I will write again. Just not at this moment. I will suppress the urge to write, to play with the words I woke to in my head. I wrote them down, no chance now but they wait for me in my notebook. Later. Maybe when I get to my hotel. As for my office floor... my desk... they will wait too.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Back to writing....

There are two plumbers in my barn and cellar this morning. I love these guys. Mike is the brother of my next door neighbor and he has done a lot of work for us. Brad is one of the guys I called "The Basement Boys" back in 2006 when we were full on into getting the furnace and pipes up to best working order as the kitchen was being redone. These guys are geniuses. Just talking to them makes me happy. (I could use a little happy today... see earlier post).

While they pound away at the latest project (moving the washer and dryer), I am pounding away at my newest manuscript, The Boyfriend Project. I have enough poems. I need an arc. I am still not convinced a chronological arc is the way to go. Seems a bit boring to me. And if I am bored....

What I think is that I will start with the "crush years" as a kind of prologue. Then I could move into a more braided approach, weaving the deep connections boyfriend experiences with poems that comment about love and relationship. I think this is way more interesting. Feel free to weigh in here!

Because this manuscript breaks a bit of new ground, I am pretty free to float some philosophical poems about love relationships into the poems about actual boyfriends or written TO actual boyfriends, mine or otherwise. I like this idea. I read all the poems again this morning, making a few editorial tweaks, opting to alter some lines or to revisit a couple line breaks. Sigh. Thought I was done with that. Maybe I will fly the whole group to my writers group again. When indeed is a poem really DONE?

One of my favorites of the poems is one called No Boyfriends. It starts out humorously and ends with a bit of a twinge. I worry about doing this generally as the poem can fall on its ass with a thud, a reductive or sappy thud. I am pretty sure this poem doesn't do that. I did try it out on a Jr. High girl at a reading and she was totally thumbs-up on it. It is a poem about jr high boyfriends, so I'm thinking it is good as is.

One of the big dangers in writing books or even individual poems or stories is that our readers can misinterpret the "voice" of the thing, can think that each "memory" or "story" belongs to the poet. I get discouraged at this phenomenon. Occasionally, at a reading, I will use a disclaimer. Then afterwards, I ask: "Why do I do that? Why do I care if the readers/listeners think it is all ABOUT me?"

The reality is that poets and other writers pour themselves into their writing. There is often sensitive, raw, or even drastic material put forth on the page. And we live in a rather literal world right now. What bothers me is that. I want to yell at the top of my lungs: THIS IS CREATIVE WRITING!!! Most novelists or short story writers don't have this problem. People seem to see that it is fiction (except for those who thought/think The DaVinci Code is "real." Memoir writers have the problem in reverse: if they fictionalize anything in a memoir, there is a cry to lop off their lying heads. I want to scream THIS IS NOT THE EVENING NEWS, PEOPLE. Oh, but then the evening news is likely to contain made-up material. And we swallow THAT as literal too. It is dizzying.

We pretty much exist in a world of fuzz and vaseline here. The lines are so blurry as to obscure any kind of veritas. I think I'd be a bit happier if we assumed a baseline of disbelief. Let every written piece be suspect. Let all our readers assume we are making it up. We are. Oh, now calm yourselves... of COURSE we write from truth (with the small t) and want to have ourselves and our readers arrive at Truth (with the big T) from the feelings and flavors of our writings. We want to lead our readers into familiar territory with an unfamiliar take on it, to into unfamiliar territory with a familiar feeling coming from it. We want to keep them reading. Above all this.

I for one am ready for any or all of my readers to believe what they want to about the voice(s) in my new work. It will not change me, my life, my past to have them think what they think. What I do want is for them to recall old loves, to relish themselves as loving beings. So, I pound away. The plumbers pound away. In the end it is all good work.

Death in Georgia

I am utterly shocked at the Georgia Board of Parole and Pardons. Their decision not to stay the execution of Troy Davis is a stunning one, given all the evidence that the original evidence was tainted. It is a shame that we (USA) call ourselves civilized all the while injecting, electrocuting, etc so many of our citizens. We are at the top of nations which kill their own citizens in retribution in the world. Civilized? I think not. Non one was asking them to PARDON him, only to not KILL him and to take another look at the process and evidence of his original trial. What would have been the harm in that. Is it not better to explore the new facts than to jam a needle in his arm? (and don't get me started on how they will do it, given that the approved drugs for so doing are not available).

The death penalty is a barbaric way to dispense "justice" and not at all a deterrent to murder (no proof exists of deterrence). We get a little crazy with the notion that seeing one person fried or poisoned will keep someone else from committing murder. And I am absolutely amazed by certain people who claim to respect life, to actually fight for the life of an unborn child, and who turn around and celebrate or sanction the death penalty. If their claim (for babies) is that only God can decide whether someone is alive or not, then what happens when that someone does something we abhor? OK to kill that person and not leave the decision to God? And when Governor Perry of Texas BRAGS about the death penalty and gets applause (!) for the number of people he has "legally" killed, we are all diminished by that. It is wild west mentality, not a civilized approach to a carceral issue.

OK, lest you think I am not outraged at the horror of murder... I am. I think those who commit these high crimes ought to be kept away from society, that society has an inherent right to protection from them. But to kill them ourselves is not right. Not our right.

So, Troy Davis will die. If he is not guilty, the blood shed tonight will be on the hands of every citizen who failed to speak out. If he is guilty, then justice was still not served. Our motives and our methods are as big a part of the mix as our intentions.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

writing in form... oh yes you can

So, here's the thing: without a firmly poured and seasoned foundation, your darned house might just fall down. It's the same with poetry. If you want to break out of form, you must know it, have time in the trenches with it, understand HOW to break it. The "rules" for writing in form help with the framework of any kind of a poem — except perhaps the language poets' work, which does not rely upon rules. I think (no, I BELIEVE), that poetry with formal underskirting is more easily understood by readers because it has a reliability to it that makes it accessible.

I see loads of poems where the poet has no idea at all how rhyme and meter work. I see singsongy rhymes that relegate the poems to predictability, sap, or sentimentality. I see poems where, no matter what, the rhymes end every other line, no matter if the rhymes don't add a thing fresh to the ideas of the poem. I see SO many poets writing to the rhyme, using a dictionary or thesaurus to chart the course of their poems. (yes, these "thesauri-poems" are obvious). I see poems that have no meaning beyond the surface ideas. I see poems with lines that struggle or that falter in length, strength, and music. I see writing that has no music whatsoever, but is simply prose that is chopped into lines and stanzas and called a poem. Oh say it isn't so! We are smarter readers than to fall for these as being universal. Why is it that Whitman, Frost, Keats, and others are still read today? Indeed, because of the firmly poured foundations they used for writing. Many contemporary poets, such as Kay Ryan and David Mason, BH Fairchild, Dorianne Laux, and others, are making use of formalism in their writing no matter how much or little is recognizable in their poems. We remember and admire their poems BECAUSE of the musicality and fresh use of formal strategies.

I am often asked about writing in form, in fact sometimes criticized for doing so by those who think free verse is "modern" or more contemporary, and that form is passé. I had one professor who called writing in form "making it old." The truth is, I write in free verse most of the time, but with a metrical, formal underpinning. It is perhaps why many critics have called my poems "lyrical, musical, smooth, flowing." I am certain that having a firm formalist training and aesthetic, I am in tune with form as I write any kind of poem. It is like the hidden heartbeat underneath the poems I write. I can spot it immediately in others' poems.

It is not that the poets without formal training are bad poets. Not at all. But they are disadvantaged a bit in terms of possibility by their lack of knowledge of some wonderful tools to use in their work. Knowing about feminine endings vs. masculine endings is one thing that often eludes the non-formalist. Knowing about a volta or turn or hinge in a poem, knowing how to make a poem slow down or speed up via line length, knowing how to make rhyme subtle by slanting it, internalizing it — all of these are gifts of grace for the poet that might be available if only the poet had at least STUDIED formal poetry.

And there is a kind of joy that comes from tackling form and finding that a pantoum or a sonnet is not so difficult to at least try. I used to eschew writing sonnets. I was stubborn in my resistance to this form because it seemed so HARD. I came to my senses. I now rather enjoy the form, and definitely enjoy BREAKING or TWEAKiNG the form. I even invented a way to write a sonnet (my broken form is the perfect reversing sonnet).

I now enjoy writing all kinds of forms, will try just about any (recent resistance to Terza Rima now conquered and overcome!). The basis for my willingness to write in form is of course that the elements of form can be used in any kind of poetry I write. I can incorporate elements of a sonnet (the volta for example) into a free verse poem and thus add an element of surprise smoothly into a poem without its seeming jarring or inappropriate. I have the knowledge of the volta and it is now a part of my toolbox for writing. Same is true for meter. I know that iambs and trochees are a part of natural speech. I can vary this for effect by using spondees or anapests. I don't have to be writing form to use these. And knowledge of form makes my use of them both appropriate and timely. I enjoy the heroic couplet. Do I have to be writing an ode to use this? Not at all. I can use a few well-placed heroic couplets for dramatic effect. Or to emphasize something special in a narrative poem, such as dialogue.

My point in all of this is that it seems like a good idea to study formal poetry, that which we grew up hearing from our relatives who memorized poetry and recited it. I think we all need to consider the foundation poured and standing under our poems. Is it shaky? Could it use some reinforcement?

I am NOT suggesting we all take to writing sonnets or ghazals or odes. But why not see if some of the techniques therein are worth incorporating into our poems? It can't hurt to expand ourselves and our repertoires. And remember: once you have mastered a form, you can take it apart at the seams and refashion it for your own use! Go on, do it! Yes... you CAN!

Monday, September 19, 2011


Have you ever done this? Have you ever received a present that was just not "you" and passed it on? I got re-gifted by my sister last year on my birthday. She sent a pair of PJs "from Pajamagram" that was clearly not sent from Pajamagram. Part of the package they always send was missing (the sachet), AND inside the box was a card that read, Merry Christmas, Love Joyce (not my sister's name and not Christmas). I found out the truth when I called Pajamagram to exchange the pjs for a pair I preferred (I do not wear flannel). They had no record at all of my sister ordering from them (they keep records for returns purposes). Anyway, I secretly call my sister Joyce now when I'm in a mood. Is that bad? I choose to laugh rather than to fuss that my sister did not choose a present just for me.

I digress. My point here is to talk about passing things on to others when no longer needed, or when received and not wanted for one reason or another. I think that re-gifting is fine as long as one says: "I got this as a gift and it seemed more like something YOU would enjoy." I do this IN ADDITION to something I chose personally for that person, not INSTEAD of choosing something for him/her. Of course passing on treasures is another way of re-gifting. I have from time to time sent pieces of my jewelry to my daughters. I love that they have and wear and love them as I once did.

What does this have to do with poetry? Nothing much. But the idea of re-gifting is intriguing and might make for a fun poetry prompt. Can you integrate this sad/funny incident into a poem? I think I will try. Of COURSE I will dedicate it as "for Joyce"

Sunday, September 18, 2011

This little thing and other little things

I'm ensconced at a window table at Rock City Cafe, listening to the happy clink of cups and glasses, the chatter of our remaining tourists, and not just a few of the locals who are braving downtown again. Soon I'll be heading down to Bath for a reading at the Chocolate Church. I've never been there, but notice it every time I cross over the Bath Bridge in one direction or the other. It's a little thing, this glance. But like so many other little things, there is something comforting about it. I've decided that today will officially be the Day of Little Things. Here is my early list (a work in progress and in NO special order):

1. My Verizon MiFi device that makes it possible to be connected even in my car (no I am NOT blogging while driving!)

2. Being "known" by the staff at the Brass Compass and at Rock City and Hello Hello Books.

3. The smile of the lady at the next table as she talks excitedly with friends

4. The tenderness of the young mother across from me who is smooching her baby girl behind the ear (this really makes me homesick for my girls at that age though)

5. Cool sheets when I slide into bed

6. Cool breezes over my head at night (those soon to end when the windows of winter are shut)

7. The way my husband's hand looks as he rests it on his cheek while sleeping (oh baby, that one REALLY gets to me!)

8. The sparkle of my lavender crystal on the rear view mirror in my car

9. The ability to read, write, and think (maybe these are BIG things?)

10. Chocolate brownies with walnuts

11. My "girl" friends who write poetry.

12. sparkle-y nail polish

So my little things list is growing. I think that really small things, most of them intangible, are perhaps the big things after all. I do know that if they were to disappear, or if I were to disappear, they'd be missed.