Thursday, March 27, 2008

Curling Up ... 3/27/08

Well, my student papers are finally graded. And while I have a little bit of work left to do for my classes, I am pretty much free from my never-ending job this weekend. It has been a rough couple of weeks so I am rewarding myself with an easy weekend of going to the park (weather permitted), having lunch with my wife and one of our old friends, and laying on the couch reading some of my favorite books of poetry. Here are the books that are waiting for me at home:

Rane Arroyo's Home Movies of Narcissus

Rane Arroyo's fourth book is probably my favorite of his many books (though Pale Ramón is close). They're all great, but this was the first of his I read and it is the one that got me to fall in love with how he writes. It also includes two of my favorite poems, "Death of a Poet's Cat" and "Papo Auditions for the Role of Romeo."

Rane is also a former teacher (as if anyone is ever a former teacher) of mine and he remains a constant mentor and friend. It is never a bad day when you get to check out out of his books.

Sharon Olds' Satan Says

Sharon Olds' The Father may have a special place in my heart because of its importance in my own development as a writer, but for my money, poetry doesn't get much better than her debut, Satan Says. Dark, disturbing, haunting, and beautiful, this is an incerdible book. And it merges those qualities, which we expect from Olds' poetry, with a softness and a sweetness that I absolutely admire.

In my opinion, it is her best book (though all her books are phenomenal) because it is the most complex, emotionally.

Allison Adelle Hedge Coke's Dog Road Woman

Allison is another former teacher, current mentor and friend of mine. She is also a killer poet, a master of narrative with a smart ear/eye for imagery and white space.

Her latest collection, Blood Run, is on my must-read list, but for now I am returning to fond memories of her workshop and literature class by revisiting Dog Road Woman. If you get a chance, pick it up, if only for the beautiful and astonishing "Year of the Rat" - twenty pages of the best poetry you'll ever read.

Tony Hoagland's Sweet Ruin

I fell in love with Tony Hoagland's Donkey Gospel before I ever read his first book, Sweet Ruin. And while Donkey Gospel is the book people tend to talk about, I love Sweet Ruin more. Much like Old's Satan Says, Sweet Ruin, to me, presents a much more complicated picture of Hoagland's subject matter (here, as with most of his work, it is men and masculinity).

I don't know. The characters here feel more real. And, more importantly, the poet loves the characters more in this book. They aren't asses (as in Donkey Gospel) or narcissists (as in What Narcissism Means to Me). In Sweet Ruin, he acknowledges the problems within these characters, the ruins, but also acknowledges the greatness of these people, the sweetness. I appreaciate that about this book.

Yehuda Amichai's The Selected Poetry Of Yehuda Amichai

Hands down, probably the best political poet of the twentieth century, Amichai's selected poems are incredible.

Buy this book. Now!

Read this book, especially "God Has Pity on Kindergarten Children" and "First Rain on a Burned Car."

What are you waiting for? Go get the book!

And Allen Ginsburg's Collected Poems 1947-1980

And that just leaves Ginsberg. My poetic father (Whitman is my poetic grandfather and Olds is my poetic mother, in my views).

I won't be reading this whole collection this weekend, but I will be happily curling up, cat on my lap, blanket snug around my shoulders, reading the Howl and Kaddish sections.

At that seems appropriate. As I near the end of another semester, another year, of teaching, Ginsberg reminds me of the dangers of madness. And I use Ginsberg to inspire my students against madness, writing on the last day of classes in large, crazy letters across the board, "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness."

Happy reading!

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Monday, March 17, 2008

Sharon Olds to Read at The University of Toledo, Aril 18th, 2008

Sharon Olds is coming to my alma mater, The University of Toledo, next month. Here's the info about the event:

"Sharon Olds, award-winning author of 8 volumes of poetry, will deliver the annual Summers Lecture on Friday, April 18th at 4PM. Reception to follow!"

And here's some info about Sharon Olds, for those of you who don't know about her, taken from the The Academy of American Poets website:

"Born in San Francisco on November 19, 1942, Sharon Olds earned a B.A. at Stanford University and a Ph.D. at Columbia University.

Her first collection of poems, Satan Says (1980), received the inaugural San Francisco Poetry Center Award. Olds's following collection, The Dead & the Living (1983), received the Lamont Poetry Selection in 1983 and the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Her other collections include Strike Sparks: Selected Poems (2004, Knopf), The Unswept Room (2002), Blood, Tin, Straw (1999), The Gold Cell (1997), The Wellspring (1995), and The Father (1992), which was shortlisted for the T. S. Eliot Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.

About Olds's poetry, one reviewer for the New York Times said, 'Her work has a robust sensuality, a delight in the physical that is almost Whitmanesque. She has made the minutiae of a woman's everyday life as valid a subject for poetry as the grand abstract themes that have preoccupied other poets.'

Olds's numerous honors include a National Endowment for the Arts grant and a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship. Her poetry has appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and Ploughshares, and has been anthologized in more than a hundred collections.

Olds held the position of New York State Poet from 1998 to 2000. She currently teaches poetry workshops at New York University's Graduate Creative Writing Program as well as a workshop at Goldwater Hospital on Roosevelt Island in New York. She was elected an Academy Chancellor in 2006. She lives in New York City."

This is a huge deal for me for a few reasons. First, because UT is my alma mater and one of the schools I am currently teaching at, I am incredibly proud of my connection to that school. Second, since I live in Toledo, I am excited about hearing Olds read. Lastly, as noted in my review of Justin Kaplan's Walt Whitman: A Life, Olds is one of the three American poets from whom I trace the main subject matter of my work (her The Father has been incredibly important in my poetic development, as have all of her books).

To celebrate this news, here are some Olds related items:

"Open Letter to Laura Bush"
by Sharon Olds

Laura Bush
First Lady
The White House

Dear Mrs. Bush,

I am writing to let you know why I am not able to accept your kind invitation to give a presentation at the National Book Festival on September 24, or to attend your dinner at the Library of Congress or the breakfast at the White House.

In one way, it's a very appealing invitation. The idea of speaking at a festival attended by 85,000 people is inspiring! The possibility of finding new readers is exciting for a poet in personal terms, and in terms of the desire that poetry serve its constituents--all of us who need the pleasure, and the inner and outer news, it delivers.

And the concept of a community of readers and writers has long been dear to my heart. As a professor of creative writing in the graduate school of a major university, I have had the chance to be a part of some magnificent outreach writing workshops in which our students have become teachers. Over the years, they have taught in a variety of settings: a women's prison, several New York City public high schools, an oncology ward for children. Our initial program, at a 900-bed state hospital for the severely physically challenged, has been running now for twenty years, creating along the way lasting friendships between young MFA candidates and their students--long-term residents at the hospital who, in their humor, courage and wisdom, become our teachers.

When you have witnessed someone nonspeaking and almost nonmoving spell out, with a toe, on a big plastic alphabet chart, letter by letter, his new poem, you have experienced, close up, the passion and essentialness of writing. When you have held up a small cardboard alphabet card for a writer who is completely nonspeaking and nonmoving (except for the eyes), and pointed first to the A, then the B, then C, then D, until you get to the first letter of the first word of the first line of the poem she has been composing in her head all week, and she lifts her eyes when that letter is touched to say yes, you feel with a fresh immediacy the human drive for creation, self-expression, accuracy, honesty and wit--and the importance of writing, which celebrates the value of each person's unique story and song.

So the prospect of a festival of books seemed wonderful to me. I thought of the opportunity to talk about how to start up an outreach program. I thought of the chance to sell some books, sign some books and meet some of the citizens of Washington, DC. I thought that I could try to find a way, even as your guest, with respect, to speak about my deep feeling that we should not have invaded Iraq, and to declare my belief that the wish to invade another culture and another country--with the resultant loss of life and limb for our brave soldiers, and for the noncombatants in their home terrain--did not come out of our democracy but was instead a decision made "at the top" and forced on the people by distorted language, and by untruths. I hoped to express the fear that we have begun to live in the shadows of tyranny and religious chauvinism--the opposites of the liberty, tolerance and diversity our nation aspires to.
I tried to see my way clear to attend the festival in order to bear witness--as an American who loves her country and its principles and its writing--against this undeclared and devastating war.

But I could not face the idea of breaking bread with you. I knew that if I sat down to eat with you, it would feel to me as if I were condoning what I see to be the wild, highhanded actions of the Bush Administration.

What kept coming to the fore of my mind was that I would be taking food from the hand of the First Lady who represents the Administration that unleashed this war and that wills its continuation, even to the extent of permitting "extraordinary rendition": flying people to other countries where they will be tortured for us.

So many Americans who had felt pride in our country now feel anguish and shame, for the current regime of blood, wounds and fire. I thought of the clean linens at your table, the shining knives and the flames of the candles, and I could not stomach it.


And here's one of her poems, from The Poetry Foundation's Website:


Brushing out our daughter’s brown
silken hair before the mirror
I see the grey gleaming on my head,
the silver-haired servant behind her. Why is it
just as we begin to go
they begin to arrive, the fold in my neck
clarifying as the fine bones of her
hips sharpen? As my skin shows
its dry pitting, she opens like a moist
precise flower on the tip of a cactus;
as my last chances to bear a child
are falling through my body, the duds among them,
her full purse of eggs, round and
firm as hard-boiled yolks, is about
to snap its clasp. I brush her tangled
fragrant hair at bedtime. It’s an old
story—the oldest we have on our planet—
the story of replacement.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Curling Up ... 3/8/08

It's the end of Spring Break and I've been curling up on the couch with a number of different books and journals. A little while ago, I began rereading Heavier Than Heaven: A Biography of Kurt Cobain by Charles R. Cross. I've been doing an exercise in my class where I ask my students to think about "Smells Like Teen Spirit" in light of its cultural context in order to understand the song. Ever since, I've been on a big Nirvana kick. This culminated in a recent visit to the library where I found a copy of Kurt Cobain's Journals. I have to admit that I feel a little weird reading Cobain's journals. The book is a compilation of photographs of his actually journal pages. I feel like I'm prying into something very, very personal. And I imagine if someone were reading my journal like this. A very strange experience. And yet, I can't put either book down.

At the same time, I got a nice surprise this week. I thought my subscription of Poetry Magazine had ended. Apparently, it hasn't because I received another issue in the mail this week and I've been reading through it. The editors have added a new twist to the journal: they've included a short Q & A for every poet published in the issue.

And to complete my week, my new subscription to Black Warrior Review started yesterday. I haven't had a lot of time to read through either journal but I have managed a quick glance at some of the poems. And it amazes me how completely different they are. Poetry is very traditional: full of rhyme and meter and form. BWR seems much more avante-guarde, more postmodern, more diverse. It is fascinating to put these two journals, which are two of the most prominent American poetry journals, next to each other and to see their wild differences. From what I've read so far, I have to admit that I like BWR more than Poetry. I don't know. BWR seems to be more of my scene than Poetry.

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Wednesday, March 5, 2008

... So Goes the Nation

I'm taking a time out from poetry to celebrate with my fellow Hillary Clinton supporters, especially here in Ohio. Because I'm proud of my state. Because I'm proud that Ohio for electing a woman. Because I'm proud my state picked the right candidate.

For a county by county map, which shows my county, Lucas County, going Clinton, click here:

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Saturday, March 1, 2008

Glass: A Journal of Poetry Volume One Issue One Now Available!

Glass: A Journal of Poetry Volume One Issue One is now available. Head over to and check out all the wonderful poems.

The issue includes 35 poems by Rane Arroyo, Anne Baldo, Tom Carson, Lisa Fay Coutley, Jeff Crouch, Lightsey Darst, Taylor Graham, John Grey, Peter Gunn, Adam Houle, Joseph Hutchison, Jackson Lassiter, Frederick Lord, David McCoy, Ryan McLellan, Amanda McQuade, Sally O'Quinn, Adam Penna, Kenneth Pobo, Joseph Reich, Celeste Snowber, Ray Succre, Daria Tavana, Allison Tobey, Carine Topal, Davide Trame, JR Walsh, Lenore Weiss, and Martin Willitts, Jr.

Here's looking forward to Volume One Issue Two, due out on June 1, 2008!

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