Tuesday, June 30, 2009

In which I do a little dance

Just got offered a class in Mystery Writing and the Detective Story at Hesser College in Concord, NH. Tuesday/Thursday evenings. I have to reschedule my featured poet gigs in Portland and Providence, but both venues are being cool about it, you know, recession and all.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Wall

Since my last post advocated multiple points of entry into a book, I figured it made the most sense to put up a less-than-forthcoming freewrite (i.e. a wall):

growling & muzzled, grizzled & feckless
composed of right angles behaving obtusely
lie dreaming or convey simply falsehoods goldenlocks
nightblack in the fountain we drew on our intestines
jack ketch caught hell and headless drowned
decomposing Mozart flackjacketed sonatas
last notes for meal and missive the lines bid goodbye
guitar strings unstrung themselves & bestial lit the cosmos

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Accessible like a Building

First off, go read the post and conversation called "Accessibilty or Crass Commercialism?" over at John Gallaher's blog.

Second, go check out Christopher Alexander's A Pattern Language. It's a book on architecture, and it will cause you to adjust your expectations for collections of poetry. How?

Alexander and his team studied the way in which buildings are constructed in various cultures and came up with a set of guidelines, patterns, that best captured things we culturally need. There are patterns like "light on two sides of a room" that reveal why apartments with one small window (or even one medium window that only casts light from one direction) are disturbing to us, creating deep shadows that prevent the reading of faces. There is an admonishment to connect town centers by walkable streets that curve or fork rather than long straight lines, as the former keep the mind occupied on possibility rather than give the impression of interminable length.

A Pattern Language has been adopted by computer programmers for its metaphorical applications to coding and design, and I attempt to follow it, to a certain extent, regarding the construction of a collection of poetry. I specifically refer to the idea of layered entrances into a home or other building. To immediately go from the street to a bedroom or the office of a president of a company is jarring - too quickly we have to shift our expectations from public to private, in all connotations thereof. Instead, the most comforting homes and businesses are the ones that provide a covered entry, a foyer, a general gathering space, and a series of more private spaces.

This advice is rarely followed in collections of poetry. We are thrown headlong into a volume with only a cover (which, if done well, does provide a good entry) and a block of poems that are very much like each other. It is rare to find an introduction, unless said introduction is made (briefly) by a judge in a prizewinning volume. These introductions rarely do the work of decoding, either, instead taking their time to offer more praise for the poet, acting as an extended blurb rather than a place to clean off one's shoes and prepare for the type of poetry to be encountered. It is even more rare to have poems ramp up in difficulty/expectations on the reader, offering an easier/more accessible first portion (the public gathering space) before leading off into more complex/personal/experimental/whatever spaces later in the volume.

The handful of works I pointed out to John as examples of volumes/performances that do provide an accessible-like-a-building structure, at least to some extent: Ed Dorn's Languedoc Variorum, the Collected Poems of EE Cummings, the performances of Flying Words. I'd also add, in hindsight, Shakepeare's plays to that list. My list is sadly short of female poets and poets of color at the moment. Some of that is due to my own reading discrepancy (which is not to say I lack for examples of good writing from these categories, but of writing that specifically addresses the topic of the post). Suggestions are more than welcome.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Time to Pre-order

I just got the proof copy of The Icarus Sketches / The Icarus Series in the mail yesterday. This volume is going to rock. It's accordion-fold, so if you open it from one side, it's my poems. If you open it from the other, it's Crystal's poems. There's a huge variety of material despite everything being about Icarus, so you should consider assigning it to your class if you're teaching Intro to Creative Writing in the Fall (hint hint).

I'll add photos of the actual construction and cover image once those get sorted out in a working copy. In the meantime, here are sample poems from Crystal and me - if you like what you read even a little bit, head over to Seven Kitchens and tell Ron you'd like to be on the pre-order list (instructions in his sidebar). It's going to be an absolute steal at only $7.

2 poems from JeFF:

Icarus Comes in First

Ten years old and quick as light,
Icarus races downhill to victory
in the annual soapbox derby, the result
of late nights in his father's workshop,
but not his work. He decides the next year
to dabble in physics, something about gravity,
and gives up science after winning
the Fair. He develops and discards
interest in woodworking, car repair,
loses patience when the lines he produces
for sophomore Art are not the perfect
proportions of an engineer, sputters
excuses for undone math assignments,
Ariadne's panties, and the picture of a white
bull in his dresser drawer, wrecks
the car, steals from Minos, spends
a night in jail. Atop the school,
he spreads the wings his father made,
steps to the edge and leaps -
racing gravity and Daedalus downhil,
all on his own, quick as light,
and winning.

Icarus Interviews Orville

I: Were you close?
O: Wilbur and me? Closer than any brothers you'd ever meet. We even married sisters.
I: I mean to the sun.
O: Well, I was only ten feet off the ground that first time.
I: Did you feel the heat?
O: It was December.
I: ...
O: Wilbur had the most controlled flight - 853 feet.
I: ...
O: Of course, it wasn't our only attempt.
I: ...
O: ...
[Interviewer leaves]
O: Yes, in all my veins, I felt it.

A poem from Crystal:

III : : Hubris

the boy was of boxsprings
born of a lighthouse he knows
that you live not by birds alone
that watching is a tongue that flies

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

One clear note

You may or may not have noticed the weeklong break. Been productive. Here's a rare share, two central poems from diluvium. These are part of a conversation that represents a pivoting moment. Noah's wife has begun to leave her depression, having realized that she can take control of her own life. Noah is still in the doldrums, and these two poems are the part of the conversation where she says something that finally gets him to realize that he, too, has the power to endure.

It's the hitting,
not the bottom,
that hurts, mistakes
cause for symptom.

I was wrong.
Go below.
Put your pain
in one clear note.

This moment, incidentally, contradicts an earlier, snarkier note from her that said nobody goes into the underbelly of the ark in order to create art, but to shovel shit. She then spends her own alone time down there and does in fact come to a realization (for which you'll have to wait for the book). Now she can both apologize and stand over Noah on real terms.

Been singin' Blues all this time.
Yes, I been singin' Blues all this time.
Baby, I been singin' Blues all this time
and it never crossed my mind

that the Blues ain't all
about lack.
Singin' blue means you
ain't faded to black.

I've been working on various song lyrics in my head over the past few months, and it's really unfortunate that I'm tone deaf. Some of them are funny ("We said we'd just get a little stoned... / Next thing you're wakin' up next to me, / and I'm wakin' up in Mexico"), some are not. I've been listening to a lot of Blues, which is a useful lyrical format for diluvium, tight-packed with witty wordplay in the best of it. I'm not sure if I'll have to go back now and make Noah more of a Bluesman throughout.

Monday, June 8, 2009

"The difference between the font of 20% more

and the font of... Teriyaki / You tell me / How does it make you feel?"

Opening with an Ani DiFranco quote makes me feel better about asking a favor of you, dear readers. I'm making good progress on diluvium, and I've been reading the Sandman comics by Neil Gaiman for inspiration. Not for the mythic quality, but because the lettering is really, really well done. Each character has a font and a word bubble that really expresses the qualities of that character well. The Endless in particular just match well with their fonts (not that it's quite a font, since everything is hand-lettered, but you get the idea).

The major characters/concepts in diluvium are to have their own types. Making the decisions on which ones to use is both a matter of economy (I can't afford to go buying fonts just for this) and theme. I don't want to have to label each page with the name of the speaker, and using different fonts for each voice seems the best way to go about that. With that in mind, I'm asking for suggested fonts for the following qualities:

1. Someone who is uncertain of and rightly offended by the place given her in the world, therefore she laughs a little too meanly and too readily at that world. This character will eventually find a new place for herself, one that is self-directed instead of handed down.

2. Someone who charges ahead, at first in terms of a vision that means ignoring what's around, later in terms of immediate feelings at the expense of a lost vision. This character will eventually slow down enough to really observe both immediate surroundings and long-term vision.

3. A tentative pairing or compromise between 1 and 2.

4. An inhuman view of the world, translated for our benefit but ultimately on its own terms.

5. An all-too-human view of the world, translated for our benefit but ultimately on its own terms.

Suggestions? Should I show you fonts I have available to me for free?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Why the 1856 Leaves of Grass is a better value than Wii Fit Plus

Wii Fit Plus: 6 more yoga/strength exercises, 15 new minigames, for a total of 21 new items
Leaves of Grass: 20 more poems than 1855 edition, total number of new pages difficult to ascertain due to smaller size
Winner: Wii Fit Plus

Wii Fit Plus: Requires Nintendo Balance Board, which can be stowed neatly under a seat or leaned against a wall
Leaves of Grass: Fits in a large pocket, definitely in a purse, briefcase, or backpack
Winner: Leaves of Grass

Wii Fit Plus: Lets you imagine yourself Mario
Leaves of Grass: Lets you imagine yourself a kosmos
Winner: Leaves of Grass

Wii Fit Plus: Rowing, squats, downward dog, jackknife crunches, sun salutation, skateboarding, others
Leaves of Grass:
The swimmer naked in the swimming-bath, seen
as he swims through the transparent green-
shine, or lies with his face up, and rolls
silently in the heave of the water,
The bending forward and backward of rowers in
row-boats, the horseman in his saddle,
Girls, mothers, house-keepers, in all their per-
The young fellow hoeing corn, the sleigh-driver
guiding his six horses through the crowd,
The wrestle of wrestlers, two apprentice-boys,
quite grown, lusty, good-natured, native-born,
out on the vacant lot at sun-down, after work,
The coats and caps thrown down, the embrace of
love and resistance,
The upper-hold and under-hold, the hair rumpled
over and blinding the eyes;
The march of firemen in their own costumes, the
play of masculine muscle through clean-set-
ting trowsers and waist-straps...

Winner: Leaves of Grass

Wii Fit Plus: Allows you to create exercise routines of 20, 30, or even 60 minutes
Leaves of Grass: Contains poetic sequences which can take well over an hour to read
Winner: Tie

Wii Fit Plus: No jumping on the Balance Board. No sex. Ever.
Leaves of Grass: Jump in the grass. "Jump" in the grass. "Jump" the grass itself, if that's your thing.
Winner: Leaves of Grass

Overall winner: Leaves of Grass