Selvage:

ON THE EDGE OF LANGUAGE

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Pink.

















I found him in my Christmas stocking. I expect big things out of my desk this coming year.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Poem.

Each year, I write a Christmas poem for the annual card. I do this in the spirit of Robert Frost and Joseph Brodsky, neither of whom were known for being a Christian poet--or particularly religious at all, for that matter. I started doing it as a way to share a poem with a different audience, and as a challenge. It's hard to write a poem drawn from a biblical verse and the quintessential Christian story that is faithful to the text and contexts without being heavy-handed, literalizing, or dogmatic. I take neither my poetry nor my faith with dogma.

Last year, I wrote about the shepherds, and this year our pastors at the church used a line from my poem as the title of their sermon this past week:

In the Same Country

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field,
keeping watch over their flock by night. (Luke 2:8)



Night feels like the bottom of the well. He clenches closer.
Stars dance between the bodies of sheep, grasses rustle.

Against his back, the usual tree wanders with his breathing.
When the light comes, it is neither lantern nor stick nor sun.

The sky cracks open. His field is ablaze without flame.
He presses his face to the dirt, pants, cries out for the others.

Feathers graze his skin like a story. It is both old and new,
the telling of a memory, the song of a multitude in a single

moment. He hears it spoken on the wind, in the lit dark,
and, forever after, he will be shepherd to those words.

Driving down Lake Avenue, I looked over and almost had an accident when I saw the sign for the first time.

This year, I moved forward in Luke to the story of Simeon, which is rather a hard spot to find poetry in. He's a withered man, who wants to warn Mary about the crucifixion even as she is a new mother. But I took a stab (sorry for the pun) at it anyway:

Simeon at the Temple

And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother,
Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many
in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against;
(Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,)
that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.
(Luke 2: 34-35)



So that the heart may be struck
open. So that the piercings may undo
a body, running away in long tears
to ground itself back in the baby
on the straw, who soothes himself
to sleep under a star cast
into the universe not just for him.
So a sign may manifest. So it may.

Simeon spoke the words in his old
mouth. He saw his old skin, rippled
as a surface of water, lift the child
under the hewn sky. He felt all
his years returned to him
in the stares of the parents,
who marvelled to hear these
new words, from such a new man.

Merry Christmas to you and yours. Have a wonderful eve, and morning tomorrow! Now, back to some Eartha Kitt.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Lights.


















Some of the lights of my life.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

In the Eye of the Horse.

I was asked by my editor at the press to guest-blog this week and offer some background commentary on my poem, "Eye, Appaloosa," which was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. You can find the post here.

I also want to apologize to folks whose blogs I often comment on, as I'm not having the opportunity to do so of late. I've been on jury duty for almost two weeks now, and the trial will be lengthy, and I'm having a hard time squeezing in my usual pursuits--although I do try and read on my iphone everything everyone's posting during our breaks at the courthouse. I just don't have time to punch out witty and trenchant responses on the little keypad before we're lining up again. I am reading and enjoying, though.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Once and Future Projects.

I have a short interview up today at the L.A. Review: click here to read it. (I have a poem in their current issue.)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Paths Crossed.

I am, in most things, a rank-and-file skeptic. A confirmed cynic. I am certainly not a particular adherent to any philosophies of fate. Except to those that I am. I do, in fact, think that on occasion, or on most occasions even, that we cross paths with those folks whom we are supposed to for one reason or another. For me, it goes something like this.

In typical Ashberyesqueness, that's not an easy poem. Here's what I have made of it, the far paler rendition:

Poem Coming On


Ashbery’s sense of it—the stranger, always moving

toward you across the next rise, all the people

you haven’t yet met, don’t yet know,

but who are coming on. The sense of someone

out there, moving in a life, now washing the dishes,

now pruning the roses, now talking on the phone.

They cry and make love and laugh out loud

without you. Bury their mother. Stop for coffee

at the corner and glance at the morning

headlines. Show up at the family barbecue.


When you do know them—when the point

of meeting finally does arrive—your life

and theirs no longer remember difference.

Perspective shifts. You see the two lives

as a painter sees the hay bales sitting in the fields:

black boxes against green. No dimensions.


I do think people--and situations, events--are constantly in an unpredictable line aimed at yours. To flinch from the meeting is perhaps to miss a destiny. (That said by someone who resists the idea of destiny at every turn.)

Yesterday, I was sworn in on a criminal jury in downtown L.A. It's at least a month-long trial. It's going to be intense and discomfiting and nothing I can speak of in any detail until it's over. Yet I do feel (in yet a diffuse way) that this experience was put in my way for a reason. Can't explain that. I certainly don't feel like the case needs me in any way. More like I need it.

I'll let you know. Eventually.

And though I'm not there as a writer first, in any stretch of the imagination, the first poem will undoubtedly be titled, "Voir Dire."

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Friday, October 9, 2009

Roy G. Biv (sorry, I can't let indigo go)

This is a view of Skull Valley, taken while standing on my front porch at Cipher Canyon Ranch, looking east to the Sierra Prietas. Weather in the mountains of Arizona is a wild thing, often entirely unpredictable--this is a picture of November, an odd time for rainbows, perhaps, which are not a permanent feature of this view but rather an entirely conditional one.

I'm missing this desert a bit. Mountains are unique, and memorable and, as such, a little like friends.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Where It's Always 20 to 9.

Miss Havisham's Table
"Look at me," said Miss Havisham. "You are not
afraid of a woman who has never seen the sun
since you were born?"
-- Great Expectations

She is not the old bat you were taught in school.
Her dress is a little loose, a topiary form
on a withered yew, rough like cast bandages.
On the dresser, a jeweled brooch welters
in a bride-to-be's mess, its sunburst pattern
impressed in dust. The only clock running
is Miss Havisham herself, who sweeps the room
on Pip's shoulder, round and round
the wedding table. 20 to 9. 20 to 9. 20 to 9.
What's different here is simple: loss
is fixture. Memory occludes each crystal
on the chandelier; her foot is a rag of silk.
She has refused to play Time's brunt,
triggering a mortal spar: each wrinkle, each
sallowed sag of skin, each mouse that rattles,
eats away the ordered universe. The cake,
a one-time ziggurat of cream and froth, hums
with the clicking shells of beetles. Cobwebs
drape like aviary nets. She has accepted ruin.
She expects to lie down on the dilapidated feast,
a pyre of dark and lovely light. What else
is there? She's done the best she could:
cursed the day, trod on a few young lives,
preserved a world that's cantilevered.

_________________________________
In Defense of Objects, available now from Bear Star Press. $16. No shipping fees.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Itch That Must Be Scratched.

I read a poet-blogger the other day describe her inability to find the time or opportunity to write as making her itch.

I get that. Only I feel like I've gained weight, rather than broken out in hives. I feel bloated. And like my clothes don't fit anymore. Everything is too tight and about to pop buttons.

This is a metaphor.

I've been retaining words all summer, and I finally intend to shed some serious pounds. I'm meeting my muse in the morning, and we have a bruising work-out scheduled.

Tomorrow, my daughter goes back to school.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Innovative People.

I enjoyed reading this article from the Harvard Business Review on the five "discovery skills" that distinguish innovative entrepreneurs.

They are (I'm quoting from the article here):
  • associating -- a cognitive skill that allows creative people to make connections across seemingly unrelated questions, problems, or ideas;
  • questioning -- an ability to ask "what if," "why," and "why not" questions that challenge the status quo and open up the bigger picture;
  • ability to closely observe details, particularly the details of people's behavior;
  • ability to experiment -- the people studied are always trying on new experiences and exploring new worlds;
  • ability to network with smart people who have little in common with them, but from whom they can learn.
"You might summarize all of the skills...in one word: 'inquisitiveness'...it's the same kind of inquisitiveness you see in small children...

If you look at 4-year-olds, they are constantly asking questions and wondering how things work. But by the time they are 6 1/2 years old, they stop asking questions because they quickly learn that teachers value the right answers more than provocative questions. High school students rarely show inquisitiveness. And by the time they're grown up and are in corporate settings, they have already had the curiosity drummed out of them."
________________________

Obviously, I'm less interested in this issue for corporate settings and more in terms of the creative act. Does a similar skill-set translate to creative types--artists and writers and poets?

It's an interesting question to me, as I've become less and less satisfied with discussions of left-brain and right-brain cognitive dispositions, or handedness, as indicators (or contraindicators) of creativity. Obviously, this list above catalogs behaviors, rather than cognitive function, so we're tracking effects rather than causes. Nonetheless, coming at the issue from the rear, so to speak, could be helpful.

This past summer, I attended a lecture given by an aesthetics scholar, who wanted to claim that language (which lives on the "rational," left side of the brain) is an ugly hindrance to the unmediated apprehension necessary for right-brained, artistic creation. Problem is, he couldn't explain poetry. He conceded that poets experience unmediated apprehension, just as other types of artists do; yet he couldn't explain how or why they then use language as their medium, particularly as they're not transcribing the experience at some later moment, but writing exactly as they're creating. Hmmmmm...

I did take one of those brain hemispheres quizzes on Facebook. Interestingly, I was *exactly* 50-50, right and left, which I guess is fairly rare. But the real point is, if hemispheric interpretations of creativity don't really work for one medium, why would we assume it works for others?

As for this new research into creative behaviors, I can only say that most artists I know (in any medium) would say that they're naturally inquisitive. Yet I'm not sure all or many fall in line with others of these behaviors; for instance, many artists I know are not all that keen observers of other people. They're fairly inept when it comes to reading social situations or understanding the nuances of a particular culture (Facebook, again, comes to mind). Artists tend to stick to their tribes. Now, the "associating" behavior is right-on-the-money with artists and poets--my mind certainly connects weird stuff together. It's the act of metaphor.

Nonetheless, a lot of artists simply know what they know. Ya know?

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

What do quarks and hoodoos have to do with each other?


An Astronomy of Things

An astronomy of things is established by the perfect knowledge

of the space an object should occupy .

—Giorgio de Chirico, Metaphysical Aesthetic, 1919

Some objects are real only to each other.

In that cosmic recipe of stardust and heat,


the tiniest things—strangelets and quarks

spin and crash unseen under Swiss wheat. Yet


the super-collider lives to know. Coiled

far below the earth’s surface, its copper veins


pulse with matter, with a beam of protons

that bends time back to its origin: to


Before Objects, when there was only the space

between—though chances are, that’s an object


too. In order to talk about what we can’t see,

we invent a charmed language: particles


of beauty and truth, dark energy, strange matter.

Dimensions curl up or stretch into strings.


It used to be our reach was shorter,

we told stories to explain the nature


out our front door: hoodoos and rivers,

bugs, seasons, weather. Stars, too, of course,


their habits, features, affairs. Let’s just get it out

on the table, amid the trinkets and dust:


there is nothing in Nature

that isn’t colliding with words.


_________________________________________














Winner of the 2009 Dorothy Brunsman Poetry Award.

Available now ($16, shipping is free!) from Bear Star Press.

Monday, September 28, 2009

at the end, I reveal what I miss from back East...



Lost and Found in the American West

on the Green River, Utah



Objects write the river, its surface a tablet

of leaf, branch, rock, carp, fingers that trail


through the green-brown, all those tiny mirrors

tarnished like saloons. Swallows angle off wind,


their huts blooming from cracked canyons,

and pink brooms of tamarisk tidy the buzz.


The first day, our skins turn to what might be

at the bottom of a puddle. The third day, ritual.


By then, our eyes can’t hold the river long

enough for beauty. It’s where we’ve been.


We blink by red rock, streaking varnish down

its face. Awe proves unsustainable, despite


the eddy’s backpedal, its remnant fin. Off

the river at dark, the Milky Way catches


in cottonwood. Night raises smoke. Objects lost

mean fireflies, that nostalgic flick, which is not


the light of stars.


___________________________________________

Winner of the 2009 Dorothy Brunsman Poetry Award, the complete collection is available now by clicking on Bear Star Press. $16. Free shipping!



Gearing Up.














click on the image for a larger view...


Official publication date is this Thursday, October 1st. I may become dismally boring in the next few weeks as I self-promote. But I will be posting some teaser-poems.

The book is available for purchase from my publisher now (and eventually, like six months from now, on Amazon) for $16. Free Shipping! : : Bear Star Press Website.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Las Vegas.

Places are hard for me to take in, wholesale. I prefer to think in bits and pieces. Years ago, I realized that if I aimed my camera at details and particulars, using a telephoto lens, I could produce something close to an artsy, admirable photograph. No building facades or street scenes, just a cornice here, a cobblestone there. No landscapes, but rather a stripe of quartz running across a rock, a pattern of treebark, the serrated edge of a leaf. I have a wonderful photo of Notre Dame--it's the magnified ear of a gargoyle.

Travel by extrapolation.

Las Vegas is, by its very nature, hard to take in fully, even by those who enjoy a wide-angle lens. As my husband said as we pulled into town the other day, it defines Massively Overdetermined Signification. And it likes it that way.

But I still take it pixelated.

The warm frisee salad, with the translucent egg, at dinner the first night.

The copper glare off the Wynn windows and the mix of pines and palms in the Wynn golf course. Wynn happened to be in our line of vision.

The unexpected way the sunlight danced on the floor of the dolphin habitat, imposing itself twenty-three feet down.

My daughter letting loose a huge "Wheeeeeeeeee!" when the monorail kicked up to speed, and everyone on board smiling at her enthusiasm.

How much I wanted to be back in Venice as I was walking through the close quarters of the Venetian's faux "streets."

And it was then my husband reminded me: "Who says what's real and what's not?" Besides one's pocketbook, I mean. Which also seems to keep tabs on the places we go in bits and pieces. Mostly 0000s and decimal points, in fact. So I was glad to hear that the calles of the Venetian may be every bit as real as those farther afield.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Happy, Happy.

Images from my birthday yesterday.

I am clearly raising someone who loves birthdays as much as I do...






































I am a sucker for All Things Metal...














We had a lovely picnic in the park and then watched a performance of Midsummer Night's Dream, where Nick Bottom's Pyramus stole the show. Later, the girl told me her favorite part was "the goat." At first, I thought she meant Bottom as the donkey, but then I realized she liked Puck. The naughty fairy. Ah, what fools these mortals be.

Fairies were hanging from the trees as we walked the paths to the amphitheater. The girl was enchanted. It was her first Shakespeare play. I'm so proud.


















And, of course, later there were candles.

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Six-Week Recovery Plan.

When I was a kid in elementary school back east in the early 70s, we were part of an educational experiment that was testing innovative design in the classroom setting. The physical space of the school consisted of a large square, with a so-called "pod" in every corner. Each pod was a very large, square room without interior walls, with four "classrooms," one in each corner of the pod. You could look over across the way and see what any other teacher was doing with his or her kids at any time. The open design was supposed to encourage the free-flow of information and imagination, was supposed to be a way to ensure that interactive learning occurred. Each of the four open pods was named after an area in Disneyland (although I didn't realize this at the time, having never been to Disney). The little kids had Fantasyland; the next grades were in the Frontierland pod; the third-fourth graders in Adventureland; the fourth-fifth graders in Tomorrowland.

I remember that it was very loud.

That's about the extent of innovation in my early learning experience. By seventh grade, I was attending a post-war-era middle school, with traditional classrooms whose heavy, wooden doors lined up along maze-like corridors. All very civilized, if predictable. But, then again, I'm the type of person who prefers her windows open and her doors shut.

When I became an educator myself, I was trained in and sought out all sorts of alternative classroom practices, based mainly on student-centered learning philosophies, where my role as professor was understood as "coach" or "facilitator," rather than the egghead autocrat permanently ensconced at the podium. Some of those pedagogies worked better than others, but the days when the student passively notated while the professor droned on at the front of the room were well over. Student evaluations, if nothing else, saw to that.

My daughter is now a preschooler at a Montessori school. I'm familiar enough with several of the alternative European models of early-childhood educational philosophies--Montessori, Waldorf, Reggio Emilia--that emphasize child-centered learning, but I am no expert in the practice of early childhood education. And, although I'm probably going to inflame someone's ire for saying it, I'm not sure I'm the definitive expert on All Things Daughter. I know it's popular to claim that no one else knows your kid like you do, as Her Mother, but, ya know, I don't diagnose my daughter's health conditions. A medical professional does. I don't teach her to walk across a high beam or play the piano; I pay experts who can help her do these things. So, why would I think I can teach her (despite the evidence that I am, in fact, a trained teacher)?

I guess I'm just wary of the ways we've devalued education in our culture, partly by refusing to recognize it as a very specialized area of study. Which is, of course, why women are by and large the elementary educators in this country. We don't pay much to those whom we think of as as qualified as the next guy.

Yet, my daughter has been out of school for a month now, recovering from a major surgery, and she misses her "work." So, despite my long-standing reservations on this subject, I decided we should undertake a period of homeschoo---, uh, no. Not that. Let's call it something--anything--else. Homelearning. Homeworking. Homeclass. You get the idea. In point of fact, it's only six weeks, so I am thankfully off the hook about having to justify, or even identify, what it is to anyone else.

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So, she and I have been working at home. We have a workbook that teaches letters and numbers and concepts such as "less" and "more" and covers some other abstract thinking. She adores her workbook, begs me to do more and more pages with her. I also converted an area of our living room into an "art center" where she can have easy access to her paints and papers and easel and fabric and thread. We've been learning embroidery with a large dull needle and a square of burlap and a large hoop. We are sewing a little bit, drawing with fabric markers on muslin and then sewing the edges round and stuffing it to make a pillow critter. We joined a "young musicians" class at the local conservatory and have incorporated music and rhythm and movement into our days working at the table in the art center. We have been taking family field trips--to the aquarium; to the low desert; to Disneyland; to Dodger Stadium; to see A Midsummer Night's Dream at the local Shakespeare in the Park event (that's tomorrow night, actually). She's been making ice cream in the new machine (which we gave Daddy for Father's Day) every night.

It feels good to be able to offer her some sort of alternative to what she's missing at school, although I can't simulate her friends for her. But I have to say I'm exhausted. And that bothersome muse keeps knocking at my door, without receiving any satisfaction.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Few of My Favorite Fishy Things.

My favorite thing at the Aquarium of the Pacific is this ray. It looks like the night sky, like constellations plotted against these black wings. It's rare a metaphor is so darn literalized for you. But there it is.



And then there are the show-offs:


















These corals were so magnificent, so technicolored, that I thought I might still be at Disney. But they are challenging, too. The only thing I can think to compare them to are the riotous bloom of flowers, but they're decidedly not plants. They're animals. So, I guess bright feathers are a more apt reference point. But to think about these underwater gardens as creatures, rather than vegetation, is hard. It takes re-training of the way our eye inputs information to our brain. Breaking off a branch to display on our coffee tables (which is of course illegal) is akin to taxidermy, rather than floral arranging.
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Saturday, September 12, 2009

Love and Marriage. Preschooler Style.

In the car, on a recent outing, the following words were exchanged with my four-year-old:

HER: Mom, are you and Dad married?

ME: Uh, yes.

HER: Are Miya's parents married?

ME: Yep. Most of the parents you know are married. Someday, maybe you'll get married if you want to.

HER: I want to!

ME (inciting revolution wherever I can): But not until you're older. You can marry a boy or, by that time, hopefully you'll be able to marry a girl in California, if you want to.

HER: I want to! No, no, no, no! I mean I want to marry Thomas. I'm going to be his engine.

ME: (!) Wow, his engine, huh?

HER: No! NO! I mean, I'm going to be his DRIVER.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Valley.

Hit a low point this week. I can usually pull myself out of a funk and am not generally given to paranoia; I believe things turn out, and we typically call whatever that is the best, and that's just fine with me.

But this week, this summer, I am beginning to take things personally.

Case in point:

My family is homebound right now, with a four-year-old who is recovering from major surgery. She is doing well, but it has been frustrating for all concerned in its departure from routine. She is missing her first six weeks of pre-school this year, and I am putting off poetry until then. She is eating only soup. We are eating only soup.

Check.

Then there are the fires. You may have heard. L.A. is burning, and it happens to be directly out our window. We are not in imminent danger, but the air has been determined to be at a hazardous level for toxins, and more falling ash covers the fig tree and basil plants every morning. Not that we were going out anyway (see point one above). And there are, of course, people all around us who are much more directly affected than we are, not the least of whom are the firefighters, to whom we all are in deep debt.

Check. Check.

And then there is the little matter of the flu. On Sunday night, I started to have the chills. Serious. Cold. Shakes. Should I mention at this juncture that it is 100-106 degrees out this week? As in, what in the hay is going on? By Tuesday morning, it was clear that what was going on was some serious viral business. I am dressed in my winter flannels, several layers, woolen socks, huddled outside in the 106 degree heat, in the direct sun, trying to get warm.

Check. Check. Check.

Did I mention it was 106 degrees?

Check. Check. Check. Check.

But none of that did me in. I was cranky but still sought causes for these effects, as if there were rational explanations for such a confluence of ick.

No, what did me in was the serpent in the garden. As I'm curled up in the direct sun, in my woolies, on the chaise longue, shaking with cold in the 106-degree heat, in the falling ash, my homebound daughter comes over and sits next to me on the cushion. I glance down and see a rather aggravated, brown-widow spider wiggling out of the cushion onto her leg.

That was a low point.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Code.

Go look at this article. I'll wait.

Isn't that beautiful? The programmer crafted a view of the surrounding landscape, including the sacred peak of Mt. Fuji, into his HTML code. Only through serious unpacking do the rest of us come to realize the aesthetics of what we would otherwise presume to be a rather soulless, completely functional job.

Back in the Renaissance, there were a group of poets who crafted emblems--basically, secret and purportedly mystical riddles embedded in concrete, visual verse. No stream-of-consciousness involved. No tapping into the emotional seas of self. But a painstaking encoding into poetic "hieroglyphic" of what the poet believed to be a spiritual, metaphysical truth. In fact, the emblematic package was thought to create meaning, to imbue greater significance to the idea coded within. You could make it magic.

Maybe poets today should exchange emblems rather than business cards.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Star in the Fig.

I have been canning this summer. If you know me at all, you know this is a new practice for me. My mother made elderberry preserves for years when I was a child, as we lived in a townhouse development that backed up to open meadows where elderberries grew wild in the hedgerows. Her jars were the small ones with the quilted glass that made the dark-purple jam refract like a jewel.

I, too, find myself in debt to a volunteer plant. Last summer, I complained and ranted about my weed tree and its seemingly-endless fig drop. I believe I may have even compared the rotting, fetid fruits on my patio to the deposits my dogs sometimes leave there when they forget themselves and the more-than-adequate area provided them for such activities by the yard.

This summer, however, I have made a study of my tree...my Brown Turkey Fig tree, also known as a Texas Everlasting. It has three harvests per year and produces a fruit that is mottled green and wine-colored when ripe, rather than deep purple as with the Black Mission figs. Its jam is a most lovely amber color, full of tiny seeds, and my favorite part of the canning process is scooping the stuff into the jars that make them look like pints of smoky quartz. I am an object person, after all, much more than a cook or a consumer of jam. And, so, these little quilted jars are destined for Christmas boxes and wrappings come December.

The true irony is that I find myself suddenly vigilant about my harvest and thus in a constant battle with the finches, the jays, and the squirrels to make sure I don't lose many ripe fruits to their nibbles and pecks. This morning, I found this particular exhibit left by one of my house finches, I think, and it reminded me of a line from one of my poems...












"Under the sweet logia air, he writes it into his book of measures, and the fruit opens into a star." (from "The Baluster and the Pomegranate Flower," In Defense of Objects, 2009)

It's almost enough to make one wonder whether animals possess aesthetic sense. In any case, another lovely object.

Friday, August 7, 2009

In Memoriam.

Yesterday, when I collected the mail from the porch, I found the envelope with Barbara’s book of poems. I was thrilled. Barbara and I both arrived in the small mountain town of Prescott, Arizona, in 2000; I came for a job and a man, she came there with her husband to retire. We met through the local college where I was teaching and where the community group for publishing poets and fiction writers initially met. The group eventually ended up getting together at her house, which had a stunning view of the red sandstone formations, the chino grasslands, and the snow-capped mountains to the north. Arizona landscape changes color the way fabric does that's been dipped in a dye wash—quickly and in liquid waves. Her yard's backdrop was like watching cinema natura.

It was also the cleanest, sparest space I've ever loved being in. Her great room area (really the living and dining rooms and kitchen all under one cathedral-ceiling space) was generally white and absolutely without knick-knack. Her room's color was in the art and the blue leather sofa and the long wall of glass that opened into the northern view. I am not usually given to rooms devoid of objects, nor can I imagine getting my house to the point that there aren't some stacks of papers and random...thingeys...laying around. But I loved being at Barbara's. She always had a fresh carton of half-and-half in the fridge for the just-brewed, afternoon coffee, and she always had a plate of some cookie or another on the table where we huddled to read and mark each other's pages. It was a comfort to be there, among friends and cats and words.

When I opened her book on Wednesday—in true Barbara style, she titled it Pinch Me—out fell two engraved cards. One was devastating in its simplicity: her name followed by her dates, November 10, 1950-June 27, 2009. The other invited me to her memorial brunch next weekend. We hadn't been in touch since my move to California, although I thank her by name on the acknowledgments page of my poetry book, the one I first held in my hands just days before her death. I wish she would have known that I was grateful for her guidance. I suppose I was guilty of thinking she could beat anything—any disease—any recurrence—time itself. That was not to be. She had fought cancer a couple times and won. Or, at least, bought herself some space to be herself in. I am glad for the reprieve, as I met and got to know her in those hard-won years, and she got to do the thing she always wanted: be a full-time writer, publish a book of her poems.

The first thing I did after opening the package yesterday (sent me by her husband, by the way) was to read her poems through, from start to finish. She did not shirk the grim muse. Her voice is fierce—yet warm, and even reverent—at the end, in the end, and it’s no wonder that I’m still hearing it in my ear. The second thing I did was to go to my shelves and pull out several books by various poets that I had lent her a while back, so I could read the post-it notes she had stuck on their covers for me—her response to the work. I left them in place, all of them, because that was the effect that Barbara’s words had on a person. They rang true enough to want to hold on to them:

Linda, I think this is awful poetry. I didn’t feel anything but irritated and sometimes wondered if C.L. played a random game with her dictionary to select her next word. And if I read one more poem with the word ‘canoodle’ in it, I think I’ll lose it. At least her poems weren’t espaliered across the page—that would have been pure torture! Barbara

Linda, I liked these poems—was especially taken with those on p. 5 and p. 11. Her work is agonizingly tweaked and polished. Barbara

Linda, There’s a good essay by Peter Campion in here, as well as a damning review of Wright’s Cooling Time ! ? Barbara

These are the three notes I came across on a quick scan of my shelves yesterday. What I know is that there are more of her notes stuck to more of my books and that I will come across them haphazardly some future afternoon when I’m looking for something to read, and I will open a book to find Barbara’s words staring back at me from a little square of yellow or orange. I am looking forward to those meetings.

The sound of my unused life
is delight darkly.

RIP Barbara.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Windows of Santa Fe.

Recently, I was in Santa Fe for the annual conference of a regional aesthetics group I've been involved with for about 10 years. Let's just say, it ain't easy being green. Ongoing hotel renovations; strong personalities; relentless heat; missing furniture; missing black-out curtains; last-minute cancellations; bored preschoolers; and unfortunate encounters with mental illness make for a challenging time.

Of course, there are also all the reasons why I keep coming back to this meeting, year after year: good friends; fabulous meals; secret courtyards, strung with little white Christmas lights and blooming with pink hollyhocks; music on the plaza; Georgia O'Keefe; the holy dirt of Santuario de Chimayo; intellectually challenging talks; and deep glasses of dark wine on the loggia.

This year, I did a reading of my poetry, and I had books to sell afterwards. I actually made some money on my writing.

And windows. I love the windows of Santa Fe. I like that we know they have depths behind them, even though they're all about surface.


























































































Liminal spaces are the best. That's what I call living at the edge.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

What My Mother Sent Me...


I need a small favor ... If it's not too much trouble.

I am going away on vacation, and I need a friend to come over to water my plants while I am gone. The plants are mostly geraniums and begonias. In the hot weather they'll probably only need water twice a day. I'll be gone only 21 days. I've attached a photo.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Confession Tuesday.

Okay, so I know it's Wednesday, but the unrelenting cloud cover is making me a bit bat-sh*t crazy at this point, so I'm a day late. I'll do better next week. Maybe.

Anyhoo, Confession Tuesday is a feature I've found on some of the poetry blogs I read regularly, and it's kind of fun. It is what it sounds like. Here goes.

Dear Reader,
  • I confess to having serious food co-op guilt. I joined the local food swap community online this year to get rid of our manic abundance of figs, which no one here likes, given their propensity to fall and splat on the patio, after which they start to resemble fetid little dog poops. There, I said it. But in exchange for the bags of figs I'm leaving out for folks to pick up, I'm receiving these amazing home-grown organic vegetables and other treats in return. Carrots, crookneck squash, swiss chard, herbs, goat's milk, and--this morning at breakfast--butterscotch blondies. I do NOTHING but collect the figs. I don't even OWN the tree--it's a rental like everything else here. And I feel a certain amount of guilt at taking people's hard-won goodies in exchange for what I can only describe as freeloader figs. Yes, I do.
  • I know I am supposed to love the rain and overcast skies known here as June Gloom, but I don't. I did my time in cloudy purgatory. I want the sun back. Preferably at a modest 75 degrees.
  • I confess I have weather standards.
  • I am a rapt patient of Dr. Google. I believe in pouring over symptoms online. What else am I going to do while I endure the Canadian wait until it's time for my next non-virtual appointment?
Okay, that'll do. Until next time.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Dream No More.

In October 2005, we took the honeymoon we'd put off for four years for lack of funds and time. We went to Rome, Florence, and Venice, shuttling through the lovely countryside between them on a train but choosing on this trip to keep company with culture rather than nature. In Venice, we practiced the fine art of getting lost, our pockets stuffed with maps we (mostly) happily ignored and simply following where the stone hallways that pass for streets there might lead.

As those of you who have been there know, labyrinthine does not even begin to describe it. One narrow alley shoots into another, spills into a corte--a small piazza with a stone fountain, or sometimes a church--that serves as a sort of joint between limbs, a connecting place, a flexible spot in which you might alter your course, picking a passageway that spokes off irregularly in a different direction from the one you entered by. At times, the streets are intersected by the canals, and you find yourself crossing quite the raised eyebrow of a bridge. Because these streets have walls, you are never quite sure what's coming, can never quite see what's ahead--which is, of course, the beauty of getting lost and the absolute beauty of Venice as an experience.

It was on one such trip out one evening, down some back streets of the Castello, one of the oldest sections of the city, that I rounded a corner and found myself looking down a few steps into a private courtyard. The whole place glowed with glass and lights. There were stone pillars and black wicker chairs around little tables, and I stopped in my tracks to gaze at the entry to this little boutique hotel that just looked so unlikely in that particular lost alleyway. I got wistful, in fact, wishing that I was coming back later that night to this particular oasis of peace and calm and glowing light, instead of the louder and darker and decidely chintzier hotel where we were staying.

I tried to remember its name, etched on the wall, but all I could gather of it later was that it began with an "L." I had dreams that took place in that courtyard. Oh, yes, I did. But, even though I ran various Go*gle searches on it several times over the years, its name remained a mystery. I thought maybe it was a "Locanda" (the Italian word for B&B), but none of the ones I found by searching online were right. I played with interactive maps of the area I thought I was when I rounded the corner into that courtyard, but I still couldn't be sure what streets we had wandered down when we found it.

Today, the mystery is solved. I found the place that sometimes appears as a mysterious backdrop in my dreams. And, now, in typical fashion, I'm not sure what to do with it. Yes, it's a lovely hotel. No, I won't be staying there any time soon. And, yes, that expectant, uncanny, SecretGardenesque feeling I had that night is no longer there when I look at the pictures of the place on the website. It's the right courtyard, I'm certain of it (although minus the flags and umbrellas and drapes and ferns--in my memory, it had cleaner lines). But context is missing. And perhaps context is everything.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Calling All Party-Goers...

FIREWORKS ! FUN ! FOOD ! FRIENDS !

Hey, we're having a party a couple days before July 4th, to celebrate Independence Day Weekend and to take advantage of the amazing fireworks that the nearby club sets off in the sky above our house. I know some local readers of this blog might want to come and hang out with some bloggy people they know, but I don't have your email addresses...so, if that's you, just comment on this post and leave me your email address, and I'll send you an invitation with all the details. My comments are moderated, so your email address and/or name won't appear here online; they'll just be deleted. Hope you can come!

Colorful Language.

According to one doctor, I probably have the beginnings of endometriosis. I'm at the right age (perimenopausal). I have the right history (screwed-up hormones). I have never given birth (confused organs). But it can only be confirmed by a surgery I'd rather avoid having.

According to another, my pelvic floor believes itself to be in distress, and I should see a physical therapist who specializes in neuropathologies.

He was the one who started off our meeting by asking, so, are you a real poet?

Later in our conversation, he glanced up from his notes to acknowledge my weight--my rather large weight in comparison to my stick-thin days of yore--his eyes never making it all the way up to meet mine but just sort of nodding in the direction of my mid-section: our bodies tend to trick themselves when all they do is sit in front of a computer all day, he said.

Yes, I said. Yes, of course.

I am sure the explanation for why I didn't come up with something a bit more colorful to say at that point is that my brain was having trouble getting past the term pelvic floor.

Yes, I'm sure that's it.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Quote of the Day.

To write poetry, one must waste a good deal of time, one must simply “be,” one must wander around with no particular aim, and it is precisely from such a lacuna that poetry arises. It is hard to explain, like most important things. But in today’s world it has become harder and harder to waste time. Artists are desperate for the simplest thing on earth: being.

— Mary Ruefle

I have finally tapped into the defense of all my bad habits. It is simply peculiar to my profession, this wasting of time. Not self-indulgent. Not self-justifying. Not slothful, lazy, or indolent. Not even divergent, distracting.

Not even slow.

Now, it is the point to be beside the point. I will now proceed to waste time. With impunity.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

conVersing on Mother's Day.

This just in. A link to the American Academy of Poets' suggestions for how to honor your mother through the gift of poetry (by medium of a handwritten card) on Mother's Day. Nice. Yes? I mean, I'm all for poetry, and I even buy their graphological argument about why your sentiments to Mom should be wrought by hand. If the eyes are the window to the soul, then one's composed letters are at least a tilted transom to the temperament.

However, a quick scan down the list of verses that they propose you borrow for the occasion, and I'm left wondering who actually put this public relations nightmare together? No one with an ounce of sensitivity to the nuance of metaphor or the vagaries of image, I would wager. For on close inspection, I find a rather startling majority of their suggested verses about Mom to encompass one of the following: indiscretion, passive aggressiveness (often in the form of condescension), plain old aggressiveness, or violence. Rank sentimentality seems to be the least of their worries.

Just to be clear: I'm not criticizing the poetry itself. There's some of my favorite stuff included here; for instance, I used to teach Sharon Olds's poem, "Why My Mother Made Me," that includes these lines that the AAP would have you write out and send to dear old Mom come Sunday:
I lie here now as I once lay
in the crook of her arm, her creature,
and I feel her looking down onto me the way the
maker of a sword gazes at his face in the
steel of the blade
Brilliant stuff, if not exactly...er...kind. If you're the mother in receipt of this verse, you should know you're in trouble by the time you reach the possessive term, "her creature," should sense the impending doom in the preposition "onto me," and run like hell away from the card itself by the time you reach the weaponry. A knife is a knife is a knife, whether it appears in the back or not. Again, it's a great poem, an utterly unsentimental and even ruthless poem, but this is not the stuff of holiday greeting.

Here's another dubious selection in the form of lines from the poem, "My Mother Would Be a Falconress," by Robert Duncan:
My mother would be a falconress,
and I her gerfalcon raised at her will,
from her wrist sent flying, as if I were her own
pride, as if her pride
knew no limits, as if her mind
sought in me flight beyond the horizon.
So, you say your Mom raised you, "at her will," to be her predatory pet, eh? Well, alrighty, then. No control issues there, I'm sure.

Or this one from "Harbor Lights" by Mark Doty:
It's like watching your mother sleep,
minutes after you have been conceived,

and her closed eyes say it's all right
to wake alone....
It's an absolutely lovely image of a recumbent mother, but, really, who wants to memorialize the moment of their parents' lovemaking in their Mother's Day card? Aren't we taught, rather, to fantasize our own immaculate conceptions from the time we're of any age to understand what that means?

They're not all completely awful suggestions. Nellie Wong's lines from "From a Heart of Rice Straw" are kind of nice:
Ma, hear me now, tell me your story
again and again.
I don't know this poem, but I suspect the mother may very well be dead, and the speaker is thus appealing ("hear me now") to her beyond the grave. I'm not sure my mom would appreciate that particular nuance.

I realize it's difficult stuff to turn emotions of any sort into decent poetry--let alone those meant to address such a significant figure in one's life--without veering off into saccharine sentiments and purple "prose." Good poetry (as these examples mostly are) is unsentimental. Hallmark holidays are not. I can only imagine, then, that the poor bloke given the task of compiling this feature for the AAP website was merely a techie, with no interest--and certainly with no feeling--for poetry itself, who just ran a database search of the words "Mother," "Mom," "Ma," and "mothers," and left us those results. Otherwise, I may be inclined to wonder whether he or she keeps arsenic, rather than saccharine, in their sugarbowl.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Two Sides to the Same Coin.

Was writing a line of poetry and needed a word that meant the opposite of outlaw. And I thought...in-law? Has our language really created the space where outlaw and in-law work as each other's inverse?

Of course, in terms of inclusion/exclusion from community in a broad sense, they do work that way.

But it's hard for me to imagine the other side of my mother-in-law's coin as Jesse James.

Or, maybe, that's right on the money.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Don't Mess With the Marching Band Girls.

Finally! Score for the bandos! Read the story here.

My favorite line? "'The moral to this story is don't mess with the marching band girls, or you just might get what you deserve. Final score: marching band 2, thugs 0'."

In case you didn't know, I was the drum major of my high school marching band. Oh, yes I was.














Also, Nancy Sinatra's biggest fan. Apparently.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Word's The Thing.

I love etymological poems (I should have studied linguistics rather than 16th-c. literature). I love the idea that poetry--the genre responsible for radicalizing and advancing language through metaphor and syntax and linguistic deviance--can study itself, can study where language has been. And why.

There is no bigger shiver for me--no greater sense of duende--than to read the etymological origin of a word I had no clue about before, especially when there's a connection rooted there to something I wouldn't have otherwise guessed. It's a way to carry language forward by carrying it back. We've "forgotten" the connection, the root; it's buried in and by cultural history. But, in the process of digging it up, we can actually make language move forward again, in new and surprising ways. Total turn on.

Yes, I am a word geek.

So. Anyway. Today's poem in the Poem-a-Day feature for celebrating National Poetry Month was this one, by Debra Nystrom, entitled "Floater," which has the following wonderfully etymological lines about the speaker's daughter playing her Bach mordents on the piano:

What does mordent mean,

her piano teacher asked—I was waiting in the kitchen
and overheard—I don't know, something about dying?

No; morire means to die, mordere means to take
a bite out of something—good mistake
, she said.
And so I looked up "mordent" (also, "mordant") in the online dictionary. It also includes a nifty little tool called a visual thesaurus, which informs me that "black" and "grim" are close relatives of "mordant"--who knew? But a noun, an adjective, that has as its root meaning, to take a bite out of something? Brilliant.

Have I mentioned I'm writing a series of poems called "Eve in L.A."?

Duende, baby. Pure duende.

UPDATED: So, I just needed to confirm the plural of avocado (is it avocados or avocadoes?) and, looking it up, came across this:

Word History: The history of avocado takes us back to the Aztecs and their language, Nahuatl, which contained the word ahuacatl meaning both "fruit of the avocado tree" and "testicle." The word ahuacatl was compounded with others, as in ahuacamolli, meaning "avocado soup or sauce," from which the Spanish-Mexican word guacamole derives. In trying to pronounce ahuacatl, the Spanish who found the fruit and its Nahuatl name in Mexico came up with aguacate, but other Spanish speakers substituted the form avocado for the Nahuatl word because ahuacatl sounded like the early Spanish word avocado (now abogado), meaning "lawyer." In borrowing the Spanish avocado, first recorded in English in 1697 in the compound avogato pear (with a spelling that probably reflects Spanish pronunciation), we have lost some traces of the more interesting Nahuatl word.
Anyone know that the fruit shares its etymological root with testicle? I knew this about the word orchid (from Greek orkhis, testicle, orchid [from the shape of its tubers]), but not avocado. Hmmmmm.

Kind of glad to learn that the plural is *not* avocadoes, which would have me thinking of antlerless deer.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Quote of the Festival.

I've been catching up on the LA Times Festival of Books, which happened this past weekend, and which I didn't attend. Carolyn Kellogg's updates have been keeping me informed, and her summary of the Publishing 3.0 panel, largely heralding the demise of traditional publishing outlets (not new news), contained the nugget I've been waiting for:
Nash noted that poetry micropresses are flourishing in this new, hectic publishing environment. With what may be the quote of the festival, he added, "Poetry, like porn, is a harbinger of culture."

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Going with the Flow.

Sometimes I think the researching is nearly as much fun as the writing. I'm working on my series of "Eve in L.A." poems and got to the section on the L.A. River and came across a great essay, written by a landscape architect. Am digging his writing as much as anything--now I just have to figure out how to steal--er, adapt--it to verse:
Though there is strong advocacy for the river's renewal and restoration, there is as yet little constituency for understanding the river as it is and as it will be in the future, for the infrastructural sublime, for the freakological, for the river as artifact. Certainly, it is unfair to compare our river to the popular Edenic conception of "river," with all its associated expectations and tidy bourgeois sentimentalities. Rather, we must reassess the very definition of "river," expanding our idea of "nature" to include the parrot, the shopping cart, the weed, the sludge mat, and the stormdrain apartment. We must develop new narratives and vocabularies for our vital urban freakologies for these are the ecologies of the future.
--David Fletcher, "Flood Control Freakology: Los Angles River Watershed" in The Infrastructural City: Networked Ecologies in Los Angeles

He had me at "river as artifact," although, man, that part about the parrot (which roost all over my poems right now) is amazing stuff.

Next, I get to read about the gravel pits of the San Gabriel Valley: "Irwindale's 9.5 square miles are a hodgepodge of margins, non-places, and land not wanted by the neighboring cities of Duarte, Azusa, Baldwin Park, and El Monte" (Matthew Coolidge, "Margins in Our Midst: Gravel"). Can't you just hear the poetry?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Both-brained.

Beauty and the brain, women use more than men

By RANDOLPH E. SCHMID (AP Science Writer)
From Associated Press
February 23, 2009 6:05 PM EST

WASHINGTON - Beauty is in the brain of the beholder. Go to any museum and there will be men and women admiring paintings and sculpture. But it turns out they are thinking about the sight differently. Men process beauty on the right side of their brains, while women use their whole brain to do the job, researchers report in Tuesday's electronic edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

They even explain it differently.

Novelist Margaret Wolfe Hungerford: "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder."


Essayist David Hume: "Beauty in things exist merely in the mind which contemplates them."

Researchers were surprised by the finding.

"It is well known that there are differences between brain activity in women and men in cognitive tasks," said researcher Camilo J. Cela-Conde of the University of Baleares in Palma de Mallorca, Spain. "However, why should this kind of difference appear in the case of appreciation of beauty?"

The answer seems to be that when women consider a visual object they link it to language while men concentrate on the spatial aspects of the object, Cela-Conde said in an interview by e-mail.

He noted, however, that this doesn't explain why - and how - the human capacity to appreciate beauty evolved.

"The differences that we have found might relate to the different social roles that, hypothetically, men and women had during human evolution." he said.

The researchers tested 10 men and 10 women, showing them paintings and photos of urban scenes and landscapes, asking them to rate each scene as either "beautiful" or "not beautiful."

At the same time the scientists looked at images of the magnetic fields produced by electrical currents in the brains of the men and women.

For the first 300 milliseconds, there was no difference between male and female brains, and from 300 to 700 milliseconds activity was greater for objects that were rated as beautiful than for those that were not beautiful.

For both sexes the most active region was the parietal lobe that deals with visual perception, spatial orientation and information processing, but it was focused on the right side of the brain in men while both sides participated in women.


While there are differences between people as to what is beautiful and what isn't, Cela-Conde said they did not find identifiable differences related to sex.

"Any person can find beautiful a landscape, a building or a canvas that some others will find awful. But sex has little to do with those differences. Perhaps they relate with other variables, such as age or education." he said.

"It is curious that, using different neural networks, the final result is very similar in women and men. But this seems to be the case," Cela-Conde said.

He added: "Human nature is complex and difficult to study and understand. Nevertheless, thanks to scientific tools we are starting to know a bit more about some very important aspects of our nature."

---

On the Net:

PNAS: http://www.pnas.org

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Off.

We've been fighting the creepy crud around here, in the cold rain no less. Who was it that said that southern California was a Mediterranean climate? Bah humbug.

Today we're headed back to Arizona. It's been nearly a year, and I'm a bit worried about how much I'll miss the high desert when I see it. We can't stay at the ranch because we have a caretaker living there now, but we need to be in town in any case, as my sister's arriving from Montana to open a show at a local Prescott gallery--the ostensible reason for our trip. For her show, she collected wishbones and wrapped them with her hair. They're then mounted on her "text dust"--dictionary cuttings. And then she does prints of the mixed media.



















As for entertainment, the hotel has an indoor pool, which should satisfy the little one. And we should get snow there, which means she gets to make her snowman this year.

Off.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Poetry as Cultural Touchstone?

Skimming the LA Times's "Calendar" section the other day at breakfast, I note that poetry has now become synonymous not with high art, per se, but with an even more amorphous cultural currency: authenticity. To be a poet--or, in the least, to appreciate poetry--is apparently to plumb the depths of one's authentic core. Despite having been relegated to the dusty half of bookshelves everywhere, poetry nonetheless acquires cultural valence as having--or, rather, as denoting--substance:
In the end, the big reveal of ["The Real Housewives of Orange County" (Bravo)] is that there is no big reveal, beyond the news flash that money does not make you happy or nice or even very interesting. This is 2009. There is no poetry in the suburbs, no art to be gleaned from the battle between society and the individual. Society won, pal, and what's wrong with that?
No one in these suburbs is secretly yearning to live in Paris or be a painter, and if there is any self-doubt, it's buried under the silt of professionally prescribed pharmaceuticals and the belief that looking straight at the camera makes you seem more serious. Hedda Gabler left the building years ago; these heroines are tragic only in their lack of conciousness . . .
It's hard not to worry, just a little, that given the tanking economy, the wives and their gated communities may soon be stormed by disgruntled O.C. peasants bearing pitchforks and tiki torches. But even if "Real Housewives" does make it through the lean times, these women will no doubt remain right where we all want them to be: trapped in the fabulous shabbiness of their lives, having conversations that run back and forth like trained rats along dim and narrow mazes of the mundane.
Which is precisely why we will always need our poets. Now more than ever, no one more so than those housewives down in the O.C.
("Decay at play in the O.C.," Critic's Notebook, Mary McNamara, 2-10-09)
While I appreciate the endorsement, I am suspicious. If what we've set up is a continuum of lived experience and of understanding that imagines rote laboratory experiments at one extreme and an appreciation of poetry at the other, haven't we just basically tapped the last nail into poetry's coffin?

By the way, I have been known to watch an episode or two of Real Housewives. Not that I'm in any way endorsing it.