Saturday, June 20, 2009

Attention K-Mart Shoppers: Way to Avoid Fate is Available

I’m not saying anything unusual when I say that as a poet I harbor an unhealthy relationship with my mailbox. Right after my first cup of tea, “it” begins, and I start peeping about for Karen (my mail carrier who manages to wear the shorts into November). Since I receive my mail around 3, sometimes around 3:45, and once at 5:04, I have plenty of time to reel through all the places that might reject me, should reject me, and maybe won’t reject me. And we all know what this build-up results in: let down. Just a KFC flyer, newspaper clipping from my mother, and party invite for my dog. I shouldn’t be disappointed because this happens almost every day. In fact, it’s some mathematical, world-truth equation that goes like this:

The Mailbox=Rejections>Acceptances.

Well, I've discovered a way to avoid the fate of the box. Since I’m out of the country for the summer, my mother is opening all the mail. And here’s the beauty of it: she’s only telling me about the acceptances. For any Killjoy out there: I know the pile is mounting. But hush. In this moment, I’m happy to pretend otherwise. And I’m also happy to say that the good news keeps coming. The North American Review just accepted a new poem of mine. This is especially good news, not only because I respect what this journal publishes, but because I’ve been trying some new angles with my work. And it seems these riskier poems that I assumed only I would like are doing okay out there. So far this year I have about 25 poems coming out, and in some of my favorite journals like Tar River, Prairie Schooner, Denver Quarterly, and now North American. As long as I avoid coming home, and stay away from said box, all is well.

Friday, June 12, 2009

After Reading Sex at Noon Taxes

Since I’m backpacking for three months, I hem-hawed for weeks over what books I could bring. Answer: four pounds of them, nothing more. In the end, I decided on Lonely Planet, Lolita (that I can trade for another novel at a book exchange), a Victorian anthology since I’m taking an exam on this subject in September, and two gloriously slender poetry books from first time poets whom I had never read. Risky. Well, I just finished one of them, and it was a great choice. The poetry collection is Sex at Noon Taxes by Sally Van Doren who won the Walt Whitman Award in 2007. Since I’m putting together my first collection of poems now, I admire how well this book coheres. Sex at Noon Taxes is far from a jumble of “my favorite poems I was thrilled to have published” first book. A look at a few titles gives a sense of the flow: “Proposition” to “Preposition” to “Conjunction” and then to  “Pronoun/Punctuation.”  Word play, evocative images, and imaginative scenarios give this collection a voice that I find refreshing—and inspiring. Overall, these are piston-firing poems that get their power by generating associations for the reader and by creating surprise with the language. Sometimes, those types of poems can vanish from my mind right after I read them, the sensations too nebulous to have any sticking power. Admittedly, a few poems in this collection didn't read as anything more than witty word exercises. What makes a poem memorable to me is a combination of that intellectual play with some sort of emotional stake. And most of the poems do just that. “To Become World” (which I placed below) is an example of a poem that combines intellect, imagination, and emotional resonance. The title alone is intriguing, and the surreal, yet identifiable situation in this poem is one of many reasons why I’d recommend Van Doren’s work.


by Sally Van Doren

In the beginning the girl

told her story, although

each time her words fell

through her legs, a stain


wet her underpants. It was

uncomfortable, this

intimacy between her two

mouths, breeding her tongue’s


distaste for common speech.

With a pair of tweezers, she

plucked out every public hair


and affixed them to her chin.

She stroked her beard

when she spoke and listened.



Thursday, June 4, 2009

First Blog

Ahh, my first blog. A lot of mental hoop-la went into thinking about doing this, and now posting, it’s much more akin to a whimper than a bang. I’m getting started here, so bear with me as I manage and mangle my way through all this.

This summer, I’m writing as I travel throughout Malaysia. Sometimes traveling can result in zilch for writing. So far, this hasn’t been the case. As my boyfriend and I find a spot where we’d like to stay, we do, and just take a week or two to focus on work before heading out for a new town. We’re in week three of this trip and have now been beached ourselves almost this whole time on Kecil Island in Pulau Perentians. Small island, no roads, electricity only at night, internet scanty at best, I’m finding this place ideal to write. Other travelers here have asked if I travel to get inspired, thinking it’s the beauty of this place that gets me going. In all honesty, if I needed this much beauty to get inspired I’d be a pretty sorry writer. And what would I write anyway? “Oh lovely palm, oh white damsel fishy….”  I travel because it’s fun. And staying away this long removes so much that chews away at time. No news, no television, no internet surfing, no hot water, no laundry, no cooking, no dishes, no cleaning, no house, no dog, no friends, no family, etc. So, I’ve been writing a poem a day and finishing up some older poems. Marilyn Kallet and Art Smith first got me hooked on writing a poem a day. I do this for about two weeks, and then spend the next few months revising the ones that interest me the most. When the stash gets low, I start the process again. So far, I think I have some potential pieces. We’ll see. And not a fish in the bunch.