Tuesday, December 30, 2008


Grrr. For three nights running now. Am I taking too much thyroid hormone? Not bloody likely, given my post-Christmas bloating. Am I stressed? I've just completed the semester from hell, so I'd imagine I should be collapsing about now, sleeping 10 hours a night. Perhaps it's sympathy anxiety, on behalf of all y'all, for whatever ails you.

Friday, December 26, 2008

A clenched-teeth high-five of support for you job-marketers

As a member of my institution's hiring committee, I have been set for months to hit the MLA this year. But I received an email a couple of days ago indicating that my institution, like so many, has been ordered to cancel its searches and comply with a hiring freeze. So I ain't going. I've canceled my flight and my hotel and my dining reservations, and will not be packing a bag today.

I'm not a big fan of the MLA, I confess, in part because of the inconvenience of its scheduling--which I resent more and more as my kids get older and have more limited free time (but that problem will be remedied in 2 years, thank goodness!)--and in part because the MLA atmosphere is generally high-strung, even if one isn't there to interview for a job. The charge in every hotel lobby is high and fretful, and every face has is pinched and tired, if you can be both at once. So I'm not sorry I'm not going, though I'll very much miss my peeps. It being my old stomping grounds, I was looking forward to re-un-ing with a number of beloved mentors and restaurants (at the same time, in some cases). But there's more than a foot of fresh powder out my door, and several feet more than that above 9K, so I'm not going to mourn my lack of travel.

Still, I feel TERRIBLE for the job-marketers this year. It's so grim, and I know that so many jobs are evaporating before applicants' eyes. (I myself applied for one job nearer to home than the job I currently have, just to see whether I'd have options, and it was canceled a month ago.) Such a scary situation, and demoralizing.

To all who are on the market: please know that the people who would have loved to interview you, who would have loved to hear about your scholarship and who were interested in listening to you talk about your intellectual life and pedagogical excitements for an hour, know that we are upset on your behalf, and hope that you don't take our institutional crises as a lack of affirmation for what you do. Hang in there.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry, merry, merry....

Christmas to all. This year, I'm mostly just feeling grateful. What a fantastic world of miracles and endless opportunities to learn this is. Rock on, everyone.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Cue the hallelujah chorus!

I have just finished grading the very last paper from my fall classes, and I can honestly say I’ve never been so happy in my life to see the end of a semester. I’m having a hard time understanding why. I was stressed, of course—but that’s no departure from the norm. Teaching takes up a tremendous amount of time and energy for me, and though I’ve tried to come up with shortcuts to make it less of a time-sucker, I end up feeling unsatisfied myself, and revert to my old ways before too long. As far as I can figure it, there were three problems.

One is just pathetic and revealing of my laziness: I had a class that began at 930 in the morning. Yes, I understand that many people are at work well before 930 am. But in my (meager) defense, I live an hour from school—longer if I take the bus—and have to get up before 7 to make it to campus by that 930 class. The early hour was compounded by my night-owlness, certainly, but also by the unfortunate scheduling of one of my classes for a long block one night each week. So I would get to school exhausted and be there long, long after sundown, and drive an hour home in literal and figurative gloom.

The second problem is that the night course in question was Shakespeare. I like Shakespeare, and I like rereading plays every time I teach the course. But I’m not a Shakespearean. I’m not even a drama person. And I can’t actually spend 15 weeks on the sonnets. I have a few insights about Shakespeare, and can offer some intriguing readings of this play or that, and I think my discussions interest the students, but it’s not really where I live, intellectually. It’s not like teaching Milton, which I could do every semester until doomsday. It doesn’t help that at my institution Shakespeare is (or has been—this may be changing) a required course for English majors, so the students tend to be grudging in higher numbers than I normally see in my classes. So I end up being ON much more ferociously to keep their interest, and it seems more of a performance on my part because, as I said, Shakespeare isn’t my primary honey. It takes a lot out of me. And in a three-hour post-sunset block, it proved to be a little too much.

The third problem is that the course that was SUPPOSED to be my oasis, that has been my oasis when I’ve taught it in the past, flopped. By “oasis” I mean stimulating, exciting, intellectually rigorous—the kind of class where I could be eagerly learning something new every day. But the particular combo of students in that class just wasn’t conducive to that effect: they were shy, retiring, quiet, resistant to my every effort to charge them up, even my overt addressing of the situation. And it drained me. It ended up being another serious performance on my part, but (in contrast with the Shakespeare class) this time to unresponsive students. I don’t know if they got anything out of it at all, and that’s a shame, because it’s a class that tackles very cool issues close to my heart.

In any case, I now need to turn my attention to Spenser, since I’m teaching all of the FQ next term to a grad class. I’m curious: this could either fall totally flat or turn out to be the most fun and quirky class of the year. I’ll keep you posted.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Great solution? Or just laziness? Not sure I care....

For years, I found myself enraged as the weeks following the end of a term spooled out. Why were the students not coming to pick up their papers from me? After all, I had spent so much effort making good comments on each one, spending an hour, sometimes more, to read thoughtfully and carefully and critically, and to write comments that would provide good direction for future writing. But every term, in every class, a large portion--a horrifyingly, frustratingly large portion--of the students didn't ever come to pick up these monuments of my investment in their continuing education. I routinely watched my goodwill evaporate, to be replaced with resentment.

But no more!

Starting last spring, I began to make an announcement in class the final day, as they were rummaging through their backpacks to produce and turn in their papers. "Listen," I now say, "If you know yourself, and know that you in all honesty, being totally realistic, aren't going to come pick this up when next term gets under way, please write me a little note at the top of your paper indicating that you're not going to pick it up, so that I don't waste all that time and energy writing comments you're never going to read."

And they do. Between a quarter and a third of them admit that they're probably not going to come near my office again. Which saves me the work, and keeps me happy about the kind of feedback I give to the ones who DO come pick up the papers.

I read JW's recent post on the troubling morality of his recent experiment on a final exam. And though I confess that I feel a twinge of conscience about actively trying to get out of student-oriented work, it's ameliorated by my knowledge that those little poops would've stuck me with it if I hadn't asked them to tell me in advance.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Walk: iPod protocol

LisaB. did this sucker over at Facebook, and somehow implicated me (I'm unclear as to how all that works. I may not actually belong in the 21st century.) But I'm putting off cleaning my house, which task is so overwhelming and monumental that I may hire in someone out of desperation. Or ask my mommy to help me.

1.Put your iPod/iTunes on shuffle to get the first answer.
2. For each subsequent question, press the next button to get your answer.
4. Tag 10 friends who might enjoy doing the game as well as the person you got the note from.

Now I Can't Find the Door (Sam Phillips)
Stable Song (Death Cab for Cutie)
Turn Your Face to the Sound (David Garza)
Shoe Box (Barenaked Ladies)
Don't Answer the Door (B.B. King)
Bring It On Home (Chris Whitley and the Bastard Club)
Angels' Candles (Maire Breathnach)
Danny Says (The Ramones)
My Life in the Suicide Ranks (Tears for Fears)
Baby Britain (Elliot Smith)
Music (Madonna)
A Free Man in Paris (Joni Mitchell)
Serenade in Blue (Glenn Miller)
Just a Test (Beastie Boys)
Discotheque (U2)
Wide Eyes and Full (Matt Nathanson)
What will you do when your suntan fades? (Beulah)
Kid A (Radiohead)
Who's Your Baby Now? (Mark Knopfler)
Please Return It (The Posies)
Take A Ride (Luscious Jackson)
Golden Age of Radio (Josh Ritter)
Fire (U2)
No One Said It Would Be Easy (Sheryl Crow)
Love Henry (Bob Dylan)
Mayfair (Nick Drake)
I Hear the Bells (Mike Doughty)
Has Anybody Here Seen Hank? (The Waterboys)
The Walk (The Cure)

Okay, people. Mostly because I'm intrigued by what folks listen to, I'm going to tag some people. In fact, I want to tag you. Yes you, and you know who you are. You can choose not to accept, and I won't be hurt. But I'm really curious and I need the distraction.

Monday, December 8, 2008

You know you want to see the Grand Canyon in the spring....

Rocky Mountain Medieval and Renaissance Association

CALL FOR PAPERS: Extended deadline --Abstracts due January 31st 2008.

Join us in Beautiful Flagstaff Arizona -- in April. Conference dates:
April 2-4, 2009

“Natural and Constructed Spaces in the Middle Ages and Renaissance”

Once your abstracts are accepted, and if you are interested in participating in the proposed creation of a volume of proceedings, your completed conference paper submissions would be appreciated by March 31st 2009.

The RMMRA seeks to provide an interdisciplinary forum for the discussion of all aspects of European medieval and Renaissance studies. We welcome abstracts addressing, among other topics, the literary, historical, scientific, religious and cultural representations of space in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. However, as in previous years, abstracts, papers, and sessions on all aspects of the study of the European Middle Ages and Renaissance are also welcome. The 2009 Conference of the RMMRA will be hosted by Anne Scott and Cynthia Kosso on the campus of Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Arizona, nestled within the stunning scenery of Northern Arizona near the south rim of the Grand Canyon. For more information check the website http://www.cal.nau.edu/english/ or please email Anne.scott@nau.edu or Cynthia.kosso@nau.edu.

Please send abstracts of 250 words to Dr. Anne Scott, Department of English, PO Box 6032, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, AZ 86011-6032. Submissions via email attachments (using Microsoft Word) are also welcome. Please do not forget to include your contact information.

Friday, December 5, 2008

You could live in a soapbox this big. (Wait,...I do!)

I got into a discussion about Danielson’s “translation” of Paradise Lost with a colleague the other day, who remarked that s/he was in favor of it, in principle, and sympathetic to the enterprise of popularizing or making accessible a text perceived by so many to be formidable or intimidating. S/he expressed surprise that I would be against such an accommodated text.

Let me expand, then—just a little—on my comments from the last post on this subject. Though the poem is written in English, I do understand that its English takes a style that seems daunting. The sentences of the poem are complex, their syntax smacking more of ancient languages than any familiar or conversational idiom. They take work. Sometimes, as I tell my students, they take reading aloud: indeed, Paradise Lost often reveals its most compelling dramas when it is read aloud. (And three cheers to that good man Rich DuRocher at St. Olaf College, who knows it. Wish I were there to participate!)

But I’d suggest that the complexity of Milton’s sentences is PART OF THE POINT OF THE POEM. The poem’s drama revolves around, among other things, acts of interpretation. Satan may make for an intriguing spectacle as a talking snake, but it is only after he is figured as a rhetor that he is able to accomplish Eve’s seduction. And it happens that the serpent reports to Eve more or less what Raphael has already suggested to the edenic pair over lunch: that by means of eating they may sublimate into divinity. Eve’s problem isn’t that she’s vain, it’s that she’s an inexperienced reader. Adam, for his part, repeatedly engages in acts of profound misreading, as when he dries Eve’s tears following her dream “as the gracious signs of sweet remorse/ And pious awe,” though nothing in her breathless and thrilled narration of the dream suggests that she’s feeling sorry to have had it. Paradise Lost aims at every turn to activate our sense of the burden of interpretation, conceived in this text as an ethical burden—an argument close to Milton’s heart. Recall his argument in the Areopagitica, that heart-stopping tract against censorship:

The worthy man (St. Paul), loath to give offence, fell into a new debate with himself what was to be thought; when suddenly a vision sent from God (it is his own epistle that so avers it) confirmed him in these words: Read any books whatever come to thy hands, for thou art sufficient both to judge aright and to examine each matter. To this revelation he assented the sooner, as he confesses, because it was answerable to that of the Apostle to the Thessalonians, Prove all things, hold fast that which is good.

For Milton, interpretation is an ennobling activity, bound up with the fundamental human task of choosing, of discernment. To put it reductively, reading—especially challenging reading—builds character, in Milton’s view. Reading carefully and attentively, and against the easy interpretation, and choosing according to what you’ve read, is really one of the central concerns of Paradise Lost. To smooth over the difficulty of Milton’s sentences is to evacuate the text of its careful correspondence between style and content.

And, speaking of choosing, Milton’s weird epic similes, which are unnecessarily cluttered and complex and surely ripe for simplification in “translation,” also tend to present the reader with moments of interpretive crisis. Think of the passage at the beginning of Book 4, which describes Satan leaping over the wall into Eden for the first time. The text tells us that Satan enters the garden like a wolf into a sheepcote OR like a thief into a rich burgher’s hoard. The first simile diminishes the malice of Satan, since wolves raven for hunger, but the second one problematizes the character of God, who becomes this miserly gold-stasher to whom Satan plays Robin Hood. The choice before us in this set of similes presents two unsettling and contradictory options---but again, reading and reasoning and their interconnectedness is part of the point of the poem. {Sidenote: A couple of years ago I heard Peter C. Herman give a paper at GEMCS on the function of “or” in PL; he’s recently published an article whose title is something like “The Miltonic ‘Or,’” which I assume arose from that talk. Check it out if you’re interested. He’s smart and funny.)

Moreover, to update Milton’s language threatens to lose the interpretive choices that the poem constantly puts before the reader in its diction. When Milton uses “savor,” for example, to describe the fruit, he means not only to evoke its gustatory allurement but also to activate that word’s etymological connection to “sapience,” or wisdom. Of course, it’s Satan’s argument that both qualities are simultaneous in the fruit. But you’d lose that sly bit of linguistic seduction if you read, in “translation,” that the fruit looked tasty, or even sensual or alluring or some other description lifted from food-porn magazines.

Finally, Milton’s blank verse, which positions itself against rhymed verse, repudiates the formal conclusiveness, the judgments, of rhymed verse, but maintains the tension between the headlong progress of the syntax and the arrestive properties of the line. To put it simply, the poem wants to fall down the page, but the form keeps it suspended in that progress. The form enacts a version of the drama we see performed in the poem: a tendency to fall in tension with the resistance to falling offered by adherence to rules. Obedience.

Paradise Lost is a poem, and that means that its argument IS, at the end of the day, its style. If you wanted to read Paradise Lost for its plot, you wouldn’t need to go any further than its title. But its priorities aren’t argumentatively hypotactic, they’re paratactic, completely bound up in the act/performance of saying. Which is to say, the substance IS the style.

And you can’t get that shit from a modern American prose version.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

But I'm LOVING the frequent flier miles....

Off I go again, to the frozen north, to talk until people faint about Richard Crashaw (and considering that it's Crashaw, and my own topics of interest, the fainting could come early on in the program) and then to do the poetry reading thing. I've never been to the frozen north, and I hear there is good food to be had there, so I'm looking forward to it. And to the frozenness, since my winter so far has been disappointingly tepid. I want to KNOW it's December, baby. I'm excited to explore the area, and to see a dear former student who is now in grad school there, but I feel a little traveled out. And my kids need me right now, especially Thing 1, who (unlike his zen dude of a little brother) was always complex but is now beginning to deal with the complexities of life more deeply and seems to crave the security of mom more fervently. My bright side in all these travels: I intend to take Thing 1 to RSA in Italy next year. I just have to get off my ass and write a paper or panel proposal. Actually, I have to get off my ass and THINK of something that someone might write a paper on. My well is a little dry. Are there brain miles out there somewhere I should be redeeming?

Monday, December 1, 2008

Are you freaking kidding me?

Somebody felt the need to "translate" Paradise Lost into modernized ENGLISH prose, apparently. Because ordinary speakers of English just aren't smart enough to read it in lines, or to parse those Latinate sentences. Contrary to what I teach my students every term. Shame on you, Dennis Danielson; you should know better. And shame on any teacher who assigns this condescension.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Wherein another figure is introduced.

Okay, dear reader. It seems like a good time to add another pseudonym to the population of this blog's world. Not for nothing have I extended by work trip into a vacation trip in the sultry tropics. There is, I confess, a motivation beyond coconuts, one who stands about 6'2". Of the male persuasion. Blue-eyed subcategory. I've been casting about for a pseudonym which is illuminating without being unduly revelatory, and I've had a hard time. I've realized that coming up with pseudonyms is one of the hardest parts of maintaining a blog, for me. I am no Charles Dickens, apparently. Indeed, naming Thing 1 and Thing 2 (not for this blog--in real life) I found to be a tremendous responsibility, one that took two really word-centered people the greater part of nine months to accomplish. How to determine the signifier for a person?

So I ask you, fellow bloggers, how have you settled on the perfect moniker for the important figures in your lives?


Seriously, I'm absolutely nuts about this guy, and I have a feeling he'll be showing up here from time to time. So he needs a name. I'm thinking Neruda. Si?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Jet lag.

And I haven't even left yet. Here's my Tues-Thurs:

Tues 9am: teach and race to get stuff done all day so that I can blow this taco stand for a while

Tues 730pm: leave school

Tues 830: go running

Tues 1030: head to airport

Tues 1159pm(!): flight leaves to hub city on east coast

Wed 5am: arrive hub city, 2.5 hour layover

Wed 730: flight to midwest city

Wed 930: arr midwest city, check into hotel

Wed 1pm: 2 hour talk on Renaissance

Wed 6pm: poetry reading

Wed 8pm: festive dinner

Thurs 9am-noon: private poetry workshops with midwest grad students

Thurs midday: lunch w/ grad students

Thurs 5pm: flight out of midwest city, to a week of well-deserved vacation in the US tropics

Thurs 10pm: arrive in tropical destination, take bubble bath, sleep hard for many, many hours

We who are about to travel (frantically) salute you.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

I wrote a joke.

I'm not a professional, not by any means. And this isn't professional-grade comedy. But I think it's a worthy effort, certainly popsicle-stick quality. By the way, I have a strange mental disorder: I can never remember jokes. So I'll probably forget this within the week. On the upside? It will remain ever fresh, ever surprising. Try telling it to me next time you see me, and amuse yourself with the look of searching and bewildered concentration on my face.

Q: Why don't vultures ever check luggage?
A: They prefer carry-on.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Thank God.

"...The blaze of promise everywhere."
----Mark Strand

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Heart-thumping-pulse-racing addlepated distracted and above all HOPEFUL yearning.

When the hell will those polls close?

Please. Please.

I think that I may actually burst into tears of joy.



Friday, October 24, 2008

Pied Beauty

Several months ago, I posted an extended complaint about a senior scholar in my field who was behaving, I thought, less generously than someone of his/her considerable stature ought to behave. (I am reluctant to link back to that post now, for reasons which will become clear in this post.)

I just returned from a conference at which I spent a good deal of extracurricular time with this scholar. I admit that I went to the conference steeling myself to meet him/her, as I knew I must, and fully prepared to loathe this person from the top of the head right down to the shoes. I continued (and frankly, continue) to carry a grudge about one particular act of professional discourtesy and self-aggrandizement that this person committed. But, owing to the high academic stature of the scholar in question and to our having some professional reason to spend time together, now and probably in the future too, I knew I'd have to fake some graciousness and good nature.

To my surprise, this person turns out to be a delightful, engaging, and charming individual. We consumed a meal or two together, during which this person proved to be a lively and selfless conversationalist, reached out to members of the dining party who might have felt less "authorized" to be there, spoke on a wide and interesting variety of subjects, and was gracious and generous to the junior scholars at the table. In email conversations since the conference, these same qualities have been abundantly in evidence.

Now, I don't usually need to learn the lesson that people are complicated, that no one is really totally angelic or totally rotten. I'm grateful to have had the chance to get to know this person better, to have tempered my earlier impressions, but I wonder if I'd be so appreciative of this scholar's comportment if s/he hadn't been such a jerk in the past. Perhaps I'm thinking this way because I'm teaching 1 Henry 4, and because I had a historically, epically bad day yesterday in which I yelled at my classes and threw a full-blown tantrum once I'd left school, but maybe we'd all be wise to behave really badly from time to time, so that folks can appreciate in the contrast how great we can be when we decide to behave well.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Blogoversary bullets.

[Blogaversary? Blogiversary? Whatever.]

What's happened in one year? What have I done, during the many, many hours that I seem to have so much to do (--too much, it seems, to blog with any degree of responsibility/ regularity)?

* Guided Thing 1 successfully through first grade and into second; supported Thing 2 through the successive traumas of peeing AND pooping in the toilet.

* Reclaimed house of my own, painted many walls in orange, blue, melon.

* Reclaimed neglected garden, ripped out grass, prepared former lawny backyard nook for Sunset-magazinesque entertainment palazzo makeover.

* Wrote a fantastic and--I have faith!--persuasive scholarly book proposal, only half of which is speculation about a book not yet written.

* Saw the publication of festschrift I co-edited with two superstars, and had the opportunity to present it to the honoree at a surprise event with all sorts of Renaissancey bigshot scholars in attendance, and goofball me.

* Published a very orange book of poetry.

* Completed about half of next poetry book [qualifier: 26 pages of it is one very long poem, so I haven't actually written that many poems].

* Placed and contracted and proofed a translation of something very old, and secured the same press's interest in my translation-in-progress of something very much older.

* Completed at least a quarter of my quixotic project of uploading all CDs onto a hard drive, for use with iTunes.

* Filed tenure bullshit.

* Attended something like 12 conferences of one kind or another, either to do readings or present papers.

* Staged bloodless coup on Regional Scholarly Organization, of which I am now president and of which my brilliant mentee is now secretary.

* Filed divorce, only 2.5 years after separating.

* Flirted with Facebook, found it too intrusive and self-revelatory, remade Facebook page into a sort of professional self-promotion site instead, and beat a retreat.

* Got custom running shoes, whose backsides are embroidered in bright yellow, "CATCH THIS."

* Figured out a way to go running when I have Thing 1 and Thing 2 with me (one option involves two bikes and a high school track; the other involves a lot of pushing uphill--of stroller and weary bike--but is nevertheless or even therefore a great workout).

* Grew sensual Brandywine tomatoes in obscene volumes; bottled lots of homemade marinara.

* Found myself happy, if overwhelmed, with my life. Some days the emphasis is on the overwhelm. Some days it's on the happy. Discovered that the two are not mutually exclusive.

* Was repeatedly grateful for my blog-buddies, who continue to inspire me, and who've given me the camaraderie I hoped to find when I started this thing.

Saturday, October 4, 2008


Did you see the SNL satire on the VP debate? If not, go to the SNL/NBC website and look at it right now. The funniest thing I've seen in weeks.

I think I have a blogoversary coming up. I need to locate my brain before I commemorate that date, though---I believe it fell out when I graded that one paper claiming that As You Like It was written to teach lower-class people of the sixteenth century to overthrow their superiors.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Not waving, drowning.

Oh. My. Hell.

I am so swamped. What sadist suggested that one could be a full-throttle mother, teacher, writer, researcher, keep house, tend plants, have a life? I'm as committed a feminist as anyone, but it's possible that we can't do everything--and by "we" I don't mean "women" but "people."

Friday, August 29, 2008

Fall term checklist:

School begins the day after Labor Day. Time to reflect on my labors, methinks.

* syllabi prepared? CHECK

* assignments rewritten/ updated? CHECK

* house clean? Livable, and new carpet now in, and just one wall left to paint. But the yard has suffered with some extended out-of-town junkets of late. my tomato plants are enormous and productive, and I'll be savoring brandywines all through september. But this might actually be its own bullet....

* yard? So-so. I've done a lot of patio furniture spray-painting on the grass in the last couple of weeks, so I have these artful patches of blue and orange, which continue in part because I've been lax about mowing and watering. The plum tree is laden--I think I'll probably harvest and share the little fruits with my students when class begins on Tuesday. Nothing like plums to butter up a bunch of undergraduates.

* prestigious money application packet? Almost done. Really just the "statement of what you plan to do with our enormous wad of cash" essay to bang out.

* tenure file? FILED, as of today, baby. Woot. It's out of my hands now.

* summer intellectual tasks?:

- proofed and submitted all translation-related materials? CHECK.

- new poetry book out and readings across the country drummed up? CHECK.

- poems in progress? Not so much. Not really even more than a couple of lines since May. But I'm determined to stick to my belief that not-writing is a vital part of writing. Right? It lets ideas percolate and language accrue. I tell myself.

- scholarly book? BLECH. Nothing. Not a damn thing to show for a whole summer off. Not a word. Not even a focused thought. I carried a book of Carew's complete with me everywhere I went and read ONE LOUSY POEM. ALL SUMMER. I think my brain just shut down. Maybe the structure of school, with all the extra reading and the time demands of teaching and the lack of sleep and the doing of homework with kids, will present new and exciting opportunities for scholarly productivity.

- personal life? Actually, getting pretty freaking interesting.

And with that, coquette that I am, I conclude this inventory.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Money-grubbing so-and-so...

I'm trying to prepare the application paperwork for a fellowship (read: prestigious money). Is there anyone who loves doing this stuff? Does it exist to weed out the sissies?

Today, I suffered the indignity of writing the "narrative of my career." Isn't it too early for one to know how one's narrative goes? Isn't that why I want the fellowship: so as to produce enough further career-material to arrive at a narrative? And haven't we discussed (last post) how I feel about narrative?

Tomorrow's torture: to describe what I want the fellowship for. In under three pages. I wonder if "For the prestigious money" is too far under three pages to satisfy. I suppose I'll have to bulk it up with my spectacular, fellowship-quality rhetoric.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Terrible mother.

Okay. I don't beat them, or withhold food, or affection, and I read to them daily, and take them to do fun things like ride roller coasters and hang out at the water park and hike and fish and camp and picnic at the arboretum.


* I don't love to play cars and trucks. In fact, I hate it. I chalk it up to my aesthetic, really--not a girly aesthetic, mind you, because I have always preferred vehicles to dolls, and as a child drove my mother mad by refusing to touch the lovingly-made babydoll with its custom wardrobe and demanding a Tyco Night-Glo race set instead. No, it's a matter of my limited literary abilities. I can't come up with plots. I can play games, and love to participate in any play that has a narrative predetermined. But when those cars start talking to one another, and their small vehicular drama begins to unfold, I'm flummoxed. I have no idea why one car would behave differently than another might, and no idea how to respond when one of my cars gets attacked by aliens. I don't do fiction. Not at all. The period of my academic specialization is sparse in narrative fiction, and I don't really work in those texts anyway BECAUSE I'M A LYRIC GIRL.

* After a week of single-mothering, particularly an end-of-summer week when Thing 1 is getting bored, and Things 1 and 2 are beginning to get on each other's nerves, I'm ready for a night to myself. I feel awful about this. Shouldn't I be desolate when my children are not in my arms? But I'm not--on the contrary, I'm glad to have a few minutes to, say, go running without pushing a stroller and a reluctant kid on a bike, or poop without being barged in on three times. I'm not sorry to wake up when my body wakes me and not at the whim of a three-year-old alarm clock, even though my little ticker wakes me, when he's here, by singing "Fifteen Miles on the Erie Canal," or "It's the End of the World As We Know It."

* I hate to cook for them. Don't get me wrong: I love to cook. A bit of a freak about it, really. But it's no fun when your audience, aged 7 and 3, respond by saying, "This cilantro tastes terrible, like I might throw up" and "I only want cereal," respectively. I recognize that I must plug away, condition their palates for more advanced eating, but gah.

* I yell at them. I get frustrated having to give an instruction six times, over the course of which repetition it becomes more and more a command, and then a holler. I get frustrated with their lapses in, it seems to me, totally self-evident logic. My frustrations get compounded by the fact that I'm up all night trying to do the work I don't do during the day because I'm dragging them on outings that somehow fail to live up to staying home and playing cars and trucks.

Shouldn't a mother who doesn't have her kids every night devote herself in Donna Reed sweetness to them when they ARE around? Shouldn't she be playing cars and trucks and speaking in dulcet tones and sneakily healthifying mac-and-cheese? Shouldn't she be maternal perfection itself, to make up for their less-than-perfect, no-longer-Beaveresque-and-nuclear family?

For the record, I know the answer. But I reserve the right to occasional hysteria.

I'm going running.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Change partners.

Okay. So the chapter on Herbert is not going anywhere this summer. I know that now. I embrace it, even. But I still have hope that I might emerge from August with something to show for my non-teaching months.

So here's the big plan: forget Herbert. He's too huge, too daunting a subject for me to handle in my current brainspace. And, frankly, I'm really not sure what I have to argue about him yet. Which is, I'm sure, why I haven't produced the brilliant Herbert chapter this summer. So he can hang out for a while, like a wallflower at the prom.

I'm going to try to dance with the bad boy at school for a while. I always preferred the bad boys anyway. For the next four weeks, I'm all Thomas Carew, all the time. Maybe I'll find him stimulating enough to produce something more than sighs when I sit down at the computer.

And yes, I'm aware that my figuration of this book is trending more and more to the erotic. Clearly, as Dr. Write's comment hinted, I may need to pursue other forms of dating as well....


Squadratomagico has honored me--and deeply honored I am--with this very shiny thing:

It's a pretty little award, though I'm still wishing it came, somehow, with that bony corset Squad got her lucky little mitts on.

Many of my must-read blogs have already been pinned with the mark of brilliance, so I'll follow Squad's suit and award a few, with commentary:

1) hightouchmegastore: thoughtful, witty, and filled with excellent food, lisa b.'s blog always makes me want to turn off the computer and do something, which is, I think, a good thing.

2) mouse: I love mouse. I miss her Notes of a Neophyte, but I empathize, and I await her full-blogolicious return from the abyss of scholarizing.

3) the rebel lettriste: as if the name of this blog alone didn't merit a prize. But wait! There's more!: smart, self-reflective, and unusually brave mini-essays on language and what it means to be a person in the world.

I would name more, and trumpet the genius of so many other bloggers out there, but I have a pillow with Thomas Carew's name all over it.

Friday, August 1, 2008

These awkward blind dates.

Okay. So I've heard, as of this morning, from the second of two presses that are high on my priority list for this book project, and the good news is that they're both interested in the project. The bad news is that they want it to be more fully complete before they move to the contract stage--which is fine, makes total sense to me, and raises no objection in my paranoid psyche.

But what I DO find confusing is the strange rush that academics are made to feel in this process. I've articulated before, somewhere earlier on this blog, my discomfort with shopping a MS that's only half-done. In all the other publishing I've done/ I do, I've accounted for every freaking comma before I send the sucker out. It feels wrong to me, and half-assed, to submit something so speculative for publication: Yes, I have this really great idea that I haven't fully worked through, and I hope you'll just trust me that it will be fantastic. But the counsel I received from other academics is that the speculative submission is the way it's done.

So I guess I'm saying that I'm relieved that I'm being encouraged to write more of the damned book before someone leaps to publish it. And I'm glad that these two presses, my first choices really, are being preliminarily encouraging. I suppose it's a good thing that they know I'm out there. But I wish I'd gone out with more strength, had waited until I had a MS with every idea nailed down and every comma in place before I started shopping around. I feel like I've shown up on a blind date with stockings bagging around my ankles and toilet paper trailing from my waistband.


And have I mentioned that I really need to get my shit together and write something this summer? I'm a mess. So much for my rigorous timetable.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Virtual infidelity

Okay. I've bowed to peer pressure. I've started a page on Facebook. It takes up all the time in the world, doesn't it? I'm feeling a little bit guilty that I have been blogging so infrequently yet I find myself distracted all day with this new piece of technology. New to me, anyway. And it's not like I can link the one with the other, since my superhero secret identity would be revealed and all my Renaissance Girl snarkiness would be exposed to my professional colleagues/ tenure committees/ hiring committees, etc. So, I'm fooling around on you, Blogspot. But when I'm with you, I'll try to make it worth your while.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Things are different down here

And by "here" I mean "the south," as in the deep one, where I'm doing an extended conference gig. Here are some things to report about this neck of the woods:

1) it's awfully humid.
2) there are itch-producing bugs.
3) people here favor more traditional poetic styles.

#3 is fine by me, of course, but 1 and 2 are taxing me a bit.

This gig I'm doing is also the site of a kind of reunion with an old mentor. We fell out for a while, over personal matters, but we both seem to have grown up a bit in the past several years. I've also met a few folks, some of whom I've known electronically for some time and who've turned out to be even more delightful than I could have hoped.

This post is boring, but I've realized too late that I can't gossip on the blog, and it's not really that narratively interesting to say that I'm having a good time. So keep yourselves cool, and pray for me now in the hour of my devouring.

Monday, July 7, 2008

19th nervous breakdown

So everything is painted, put away, weeded, and/or cleaned, and I have nothing to excuse my not working on The Book. I've been reading around in the relevant scholarship, and rereading the poetry itself, and I have dim inklings of what I might be getting around to arguing...

But I swear, I cannot seem to remember how to write a scholarly essay. How does one begin? I sit down at the computer and my brain goes blank. I know that in the past I have written them, and I know that I have begun just by beginning, and that I have written my way into a clear argument. I know all that, but somehow, the mental and even the kinetic memory of how to go about this whole enterprise has gone away. Writing this chapter seems not to be anything at all like riding a bike--and I can't figure out why, since it's only been about 6 months since I was working daily on scholarly writing. What! the! hell!!!?

My darkest fears are coming true: I *will* be revealed as a fraud.

(clench. grrrr.)

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Working all the angles.

So I was told recently that a complete panel is more likely to get accepted at RSA than a paper proposal.

This is relevant to my life because RSA 2010 is in Venice, Italy, and I am determined, by any means necessary, to be there (on my institution's dime). I really, really want to take Thing 1 and make an experience of it. So with these noble goals in mind, I have been casting about for some proposal, a real seller, an offer they can't refuse. And I'm not sure I have one yet, but I HAVE come up with....something. An idea with potential. And it could be your ticket to Venice, too.

Every year, RSA has 4 or 5 panels devoted to Renaissance Studies and New Technologies (or something like that). They're always eager to fill those panels, and they're organized by a really nice Canadian guy. (Somehow, that detail makes my scheme more likely, in my imaginary world.)

So how about a panel on: RENAISSANCE BLOGGING: How Blogging Influences/Facilitates My Work in Renaissance Studies (or something punchier, but you get the point).

Consider this post my

C'mon, Renaissance peeps: you know you want to go to Venice. Let's collaborate on some glorious and possibly also intellectually illuminating panel proposal, and get our asses to Italy. What say you?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Plugged in again.

And I feel like I need to reacquaint myself with the blogosphere. Any big news I've missed in the last month?

The news here: cleaning. Painting. Cleaning. Painting. Gardening. Shopping. Spending too much money. Not doing much reading/ work/ writing/ research/ anything professionally productive in any way. But I have been playing with kids, and have managed to camp a time or two.

I'm boring. Boring and sleepless and covered with paint of various hues. But my house is freaking cute.

Monday, June 16, 2008


I have no internet connectivity at my house, yet. There's something both weirdly isolating and weirdly liberating about it.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Worth every penny

Some may recall that during my last professional trip to Chicago, I had a mind-blowing dish at The Green Zebra, a burrata cheese slab melting over basil pappardele and drizzled with lemon oil, with roasted pine nuts and beet shavings sprinkled all over. I've been on a quest ever since for burrata cheese, which proves difficult to find. The cheesemonger at my local upscale foodstore told me he doesn't usually order it until the good tomatoes begin to come in. This last week, he called to say that he had burrata. I raced over and bought a little pouch of it for $15. Now, that's not really all that much for good cheese, but I'm feeling particularly frugal these days, what with supporting two households and all. But, reader, I bought it. Or should I say, reader, I married it, because I totally would if cheese could take human form, and eating it is practically an erotic experience. It's like a smooth wet cloud of creamy cheeseness in every bite. Last night: a toasted sandwich of burrata, arugula, tomatos, and roasted piquanté peppers. Today, I've plopped a couple of spoonsful on my leftover rhubarb risotto experiment, which I hope to heat and eat shortly. And tonight? Who knows?.... It may sound like cheese overkill, but it has a very short shelf-life (about 4 days), and if you look at it that way, I have a financial obligation to eat as much of it as I can very quickly.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Report from the chain-gang.

One of the courses I teach is a graduate poetry workshop (I'm teaching it now). The convention is that students submit poems they've written, and class time is spent reading and discussing the students' work, identifying its strengths and weaknesses with an eye toward improving the work as it is revised. It's a good model—the whole sounding-board thing provides a (more or less) impartial response, so that the writer can discover what's getting communicated well, and what's not making it to the reader.

Because I think you can't write well without reading much, I make them read much. I teach a couple of poetry collections at the start of the term, and then I make the students each teach one book of poems at some point as the semester continues, so that we usually discuss one book per class session all term.

The upside is that we get to read a lot of poetry—and not the choppy and random selection found in anthologies, but whole collections, arranged (one hopes) deliberately by the writer, with an argumentative arc and some stylistic/thematic/technical unity. It’s like listening to a good album rather than having the iPod on shuffle (and less and less they understand that distinction, I’m sorry to say). And we read a variety, since the students each pick the text they teach and their tastes tend to be wildly disparate; it opens the door to conversation on a wide range of topics in poetic theory and craft.

But here’s the downside, which is playing out with consistency and vigor this term: sometimes I just LOATHE the books they choose to teach. For a variety of reasons, this term's students have—by sheer chance—decided upon books of poetry that have a particular and shared axe to grind. Now, because THEY’RE doing the teaching, I don’t have to come to class having tunneled into the criticism on these texts. But I do have to read them, and read them thoroughly and responsibly, and at least come up with some craft-related insight...which isn’t easy when the poems seem lazy, predictable, and/or downright propaganda. And I don’t want to spend all my comments talking about the books as if they were negative examples, because someone in the room picked that book out of some sense of aesthetic sympathy, and I’m not looking to say to them, “Clearly, your poetic sensibilities are juvenile.”

And again, I have to read them. Closely. And it’s killing my writing to have so much plodding and artless language filling up my life these days.


***Just for the record: I am aware that if my big complaint is that I have to read bad poetry, I should probably not bitch about my job. It's a pretty good gig, all things considered.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Useful skills.

Today, in anticipation of my taking possession and his moving out, Kids'FabDad and I went through the entire house, so that he could show me how to work and maintain all the things I'd never taken apart myself. We summer-ized the swamp cooler, replacing filtration pads and hose-bib washers and waterproofing the reservoir; we replaced the furnace air filter; we disassembled the gas heater and put it back together; we shut off the water to the house at the main line....etc.

It made me realize how much I have managed not to learn to do, how much I relied on him to take care of the mechanical and maintenance stuff. I'm pretty capable in that handy sort of way, but I've never had the time or need to learn to do these things myself. He repeatedly said that he'd come over and help out anytime I had a problem or needed help, but he wanted me to feel ownership over all the machines.

I'm a little nervous to have sole responsibility over all that can go wrong in a house. But after all that tinkering and handymanning today, I actually do feel better able to handle it. I like the sense of independence--or maybe it's an expanded sense of self-confidence--that follows from playing around with tools.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Take 2.

Hey! My book is in print! It's oranger than I expected it would be, but now the several folks I've really wanted to share it with can give it a look-see. That's pretty cool.

Plus, it stole its cover art from George Wither's 1644 Emblemes, because THAT, baby, is precisely the kind of geek I am.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Slow turning.

The wheels of publishing move very, very slowly.

Yesterday, I received, without any warning, a big box in the mail. Inside: hard copies of my most recent book. (Poetry, folks; not the scholarly book that's going to be the death of me.) Amazon has it listed as coming out late June/early July, so I didn't expect to see it until then, but for some reason, it shipped to me before it will be available to ship to anyone else. So that's cool--like I have an inside track on something in this little instance. (Except that, having written it, my track was already pretty much inside.)

But I find myself experiencing this strange disconnect, a detachment from this moment of publication. It's interesting to see the material artifact, to hold it in my hand, to see what the font looks like on paper as opposed to on the computer screen..... But I don't get any sense of jubilation, triumph, satisfaction, or whatever I used to imagine I would feel on handling a book with my name on the cover. (The same thing has happened before, and with all the periodical publications along the way.) My theory is that so much time elapses between when the contract gets signed and when the book is produced that all sense of accomplishment has been well and thoroughly overtaken by, you know, life. I did, after all, do a little jig and treat myself to a decent meal when the contract got signed, and that moment did look toward/ encompass this one.

On one hand, I suppose it's good and healthy not to fetishize one's little productions. But on the other hand, I keep thinking that I ought to be able to muster up more than a blase' shrug.


Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Academic kindness

There's this Big Famous Scholar in my Field, at another university halfway across the country, and he and I have become friendly, mostly by email. He just emailed me to offer encouragement on my book proposal (he kindly asked to look it over a couple of months ago and gave helpful suggestions), and offered to be identified as a reference for its quality, and encouraged me to drop his name when I contact publishers.

I find myself a little bit teary with gratitude at this communication. Not because it's a guarantee of any publishing success, because c'mon; and not so much because of his much-respected intellectual validation of the project. But really, I'm so totally moved by the kind gesture of his unprompted note of encouragement.

So much of academia is characterized by mental insularity and self-absorption--or at least, that's certainly been the default atmosphere as I've jumped the various hurdles of the academic life. (Weirdly? no perspective on whether it's weird... Anyone out there have a different kind of experience?) I remember when I was studying for my phd qualifying exam, and had to prepare a couple of lengthy reading lists in my historical field and another in an additional field of specialization: not a single person who'd gone through the process before would let me look at their lists for guidance. Same stone wall when I asked to see people's job application letters. And, post-PhD, it continued with the third-year review file. And now, tenure file. And book proposal documents (prospectus etc.). In each case, a template would have been useful--not because I need to plagiarize, but so that I could get a sense of what that particular document looks like, what its protocols and conventions are. Now, I've made it my tiny little mission to share my completed documents to anyone who asks, in part because I was so frustrated (and, in truth, a little tiny bit hurt) in my efforts to find models for my own documents.

It's in this context that I feel so grateful for the support of BFS, who seems to regard his great success as an opportunity to mentor and guide those coming up after him. I heart him.

Friday, May 2, 2008

"Break" is over.

I had ten days between the end of last term and the beginning of the short spring term I'm teaching. During those ten days, I graded. And graded. And went to a conference. And proofread a tremendous amount of text in a foreign language in preparation of its going to press. And added elegant BS to the tenure file. And tried to devote all waking hours of attention to the kids. And proofed divorce documents.

So, not really so much a break.

And I'm beginning to suspect that the schedule for completing my MS, which I've articulated and distributed to a couple of presses in my book proposal, is perhaps overly ambitious, not to say impossible. (But then, why not to say it, since it seems to be true?) I'm hoping I can get at least a little work done on it during this short spring term, and then eat and breathe 17c poetry this summer. (Except, of course, when I'm hiking, camping, and so forth with kids, and trying to remember that being a human being is more important, in the long run, than producing a book that no one is panting to read.)

In other news:

* A particular, and particularly soulful, Irish singer-songwriter is playing tonight at a club in town, opening (if you can believe that) for a couple of musicians whose recent film work has given them a high profile. It's sold out. I'm trying to plot a way to talk my way in just for the opening act, perhaps promising the bouncer that I'll leave and make room for the ticketholders when his set finishes, perhaps by contacting the opening act himself; I have a strong history of talking my way into concerts, so I'm feeling confident about that...but what to do with the kids if I can pull it off....? If I do, I'll be happy to count tonight as my "break."

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Ending where I begunne...


After reading John Berryman’s 63rd Dream Song

Dogs pass no laws against you and knock not they your daughters up and do not to Manhattan go with your last two hundred dollars so, in general,

Dogs are A-OK with me. It’s people should be neutered and kept off the grass. People

And cats. People—like cats—are mean and always breeding and make your teeth hurt.

Plus, they’re sneaky—which is a lousy, fucking rotten thing to be.

No dog caught dead would sneaking be

And anyone says otherwise is a bullshit,

Cat-loving liar. A dog can’t

Lie, by the way—and a cat can’t tell the truth and people, at least the ones I’ve known,

Can’t tell the difference. That’s why I

Live alone—one of the reasons—with

My two dogs, that and because no one

Else will have me.

---Jay Hopler

Happy Poetry Month, everyone.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A heartbreaker

Cherry Blossoms Blowing In Wet, Blowing Snow

In all the farewells in all the airports in all the profane dawns.

In the Fiat with no documents on the road to Madrid. At the

Corrida. In the Lope de Vega, the Annalena, the Jerome. In time

past, time lost, time yet to pass. In poetry. In watery deserts, on

arid seas, between desserts and seas. In sickness and in health. In

pain and in the celebration of pain. In the delivery room. In the

garden. In the hammock under the aspen. In all the emergencies. In

the waterfall. In toleration. In retaliation. In rhyme. Among cherry

blossoms blowing in wet, blowing snow, weren’t we something?

--James Galvin

(The lineation here got screwed up in the conversion to HTML, but the sense is there.)

Monday, April 28, 2008

Another long one tonight,

too long to post here. So look here instead, and enjoy the snarly grandeur of Joshua Bell.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Spring and its attendant prognostications.

Courtesy Vergil (Georgics 1.187-203)

Take note when in the woods many a walnut tree

pranks herself in blossom, droops her fragrant branches.

If nuts flourish, grain will follow,

and great threshing come with great heats.

But if shade thrives, an extravagance of leaves,

for naught your threshing-floor will thresh stalks thick with chaff.

I’ve known many sowers to minister to seeds,

to sprinkle with saltpeter, steep in black oil-dregs,

that beans might plump within the pod’s deceptive bulk,

and, though the fire be small, hastily stew.

I’ve seen seeds long chosen and attended with much labor

still degenerate if human sinew culled not

the fattest out by hand each year. So by decree

all things incline to worse, and foundering backslide, back

like one whose oar can scarcely thrust his skiff upstream;

if perchance he slack his arms, sternward

the coursing water drags him down the rapids.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Conferencing again

With RSA fresh in my mind, I realize (or re-realize) that there are some conferences that I just enjoy more than others, because the atmosphere seems truly collegial, with folks gathered in mutual interest and with mutual care for one another's work. These tend to be smaller conferences, like the one I'm writing from now. Probably 50 or 60 people here, if that, but all of them interested in having conversations that will improve/ advance/ stimulate good work among all parties rather than in showing off or posturing or some academic version of social climbing. Does it make me a bad academic that I prefer these smaller, less showboaty comings together?


Today's poem, a section of Eunoia, by Christian Bok:

Lightning blinks, striking things in its midst with blinding light. Whirlwinds whirl; driftwinds drift. Spindrift is spinning in thrilling whirligigs. Which blind spirit is whining in this whistling din? Is it this grim lich, which is writhing in its pit, lifting its lid with whitish limbs, rising, vivific, with ill will in its mind, victimizing kids timid with fright? If it is – which blind witch is midwifing its misbirth, binding this hissing djinni with witching spiritism? Is it this thin, sickish girl, twisting in fits, whilst writing things in spirit-writing? If it isn’t – it is I; it is I...

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Mo Po Again.

The Lushness of It

It’s not that the octopus wouldn’t love you—
not that it wouldn’t reach for you
with each of its tapering arms:

you’d be as good as anyone, I think,
to an octopus. But the creatures of the sea,
like the sea, don’t think

about themselves, or you. Keep on floating there,
cradled, unable to burn. Abandon
yourself to the sway, the ruffled eddies, abandon

your heavy legs to the floating meadows
of seaweed and feel
the bloom of phytoplankton, spindrift, sea-
spray, barnacles. In the dark benthic realm, the slippery neckton glide over
the abyssal plains: as you float, feel
that upwelling of cold, deep water touch
the skin stretched over
your spine. Feel
fished for and slapped. No, it’s not that the octopus
wouldn’t love you. If it touched,

if it tasted you, each of its three
hearts would turn red.

Will theologians of any confession refute me?
Not the bluecap salmon. Not its dotted head.

---Mary Szybist

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A Churchy Nutter, for Mouse (Neophyte)

Preparatory Meditation 1.1

What Love is this of thine, that Cannot bee
In thine Infinity, O Lord, Confinde,
Unless it in thy very Person see,
Infinity, and Finity Conjoyn'd?
What hath thy Godhead, as not satisfide
Marri'de our Manhood, making it its Bride?

Oh, Matchless Love! filling Heaven to the brim!
O're running it: all running o're beside
This World! Nay Overflowing Hell; wherein
For thine Elect, there rose a mighty Tide!
That there our Veans might through thy Person bleed,
To quench those flames, that else would on us feed.

Oh! that thy Love might overflow my Heart!
To fire the same with Love: for Love I would.
But oh! my streight'ned Breast! my Lifeless Sparke!
My Fireless Flame! What Chilly Love, and Cold?
In measure small! In Manner Chilly! See.
Lord blow the Coal: Thy Love Enflame in mee.

---Edward Taylor

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Mo Po.

A Sort of a Song

Let the snake wait under
his weed
and the writing
be of words, slow and quick, sharp
to strike, quiet to wait,
– through metaphor to reconcile
the people and the stones.
Compose. (No ideas
but in things) Invent!
Saxifrage is my flower that splits
the rocks.

---William Carlos Williams

Monday, April 21, 2008

Not enough poems out there from a sheep's perspective.

Dream Song 28:  Snow Line

It was wet & white & swift and where I am
we don't know. It was dark and then
it isn't.
I wish the barker would come. There seems to be to eat
nothing. I am usually tired.
I'm alone too.

If only the strange one with so few legs would come,
I'd say my prayers out of my mouth, as usual.
Where are his notes I loved?
There may be horribles; it's hard to tell.
The barker nips me but somehow I feel
he too is on my side.

I'm too alone. I see no end. If we could all
run, even that would be better. I am hungry.
The sun is not hot.
It's not a good position I am in.
If I had to do the whole thing over again
I wouldn't.

---John Berryman

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Late April: snow forcast today, again, can you believe it!?

Those Winter Sundays

Sundays too my father got up early
And put his clothes on in the blueback cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I'd wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he'd call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love's austere and lonely offices?

--Robert Hayden

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Another poetry post, because when you're in grading hell, nothing else worth discussing happens.

My Great Great Etc. Uncle Patrick Henry

There's a fortune to be made in just about everything

in this country, somebody's father had to invent

everything--baby food, tractors, rat poisoning.

My family's obviously done nothing since the beginning

of time. They invented poverty and bad taste

and getting by and taking it from the boss.

O my mother goes around chewing her nails and

spitting them in a jar: You shouldn't be ashamed

of yourself she says, think of your family.

My family I say what have they ever done but
paint by numbers the most absurd and disgusting scenes 
of plastic squalor and human degradation.

Well then think of your great great etc. Uncle

Patrick Henry.

---James Tate

Friday, April 18, 2008

A poem about writing poetry. (But aren't they all?)

The Sandpiper

The roaring alongside he takes for granted,
and that every so often the world is bound to shake.
He runs, he runs to the south, finical, awkward,
in a state of controlled panic, a student of Blake.

The beach hisses like fat. On his left, a sheet
of interrupting water comes and goes
and glazes over his dark and brittle feet.
He runs, he runs straight through it, watching his toes.

--Watching, rather, the spaces of sand between them
where (no detail too small) the Atlantic drains
rapidly backwards and downwards. As he runs,
he stares at the dragging grains.

The world is a mist. And then the world is
minute and vast and clear. The tide
is higher or lower. He couldn't tell you which.
His beak is focussed; he is preoccupied,

looking for something, something, something.
Poor bird, he is obsessed!
The millions of grains are black, white, tan, and gray
mixed with quartz grains, rose and amethyst.

--Elizabeth Bishop

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Beyond compare

Things I cooked today for my awesome devotional lyric class, to whom I must bid farewell as the term ends and they--most of them, anyway--graduate:

Thai beet soup
tofu larb
cucumber and red pepper salad with sesame and rice-wine vinegar
keffir lime cookies

I would tell you how good it was, but I learn from Donne that I must not try.

Elegy 8: The Comparison

As the sweet sweat of roses in a still,
As that which from chafed musk cat's pores doth trill,
As the almighty balm of th' early east,
Such are the sweat drops of my mistress' breast,
And on her neck her skin such lustre sets,
They seem no sweat drops, but pearl carcanets.
Rank sweaty froth thy mistress' brow defiles,
Like spermatic issue of ripe menstruous boils,
Or like the scum, which, by need's lawless law
Enforced, Sanserra's starved men did draw
From parboiled shoes, and boots, and all the rest
Which were with any sovereign fatness blessed,
And like vile lying stones in saffroned tin,
Or warts, or weals, they hang upon her skin.
Round as the world's her head, on every side,
Like to the fatal ball which fell on Ide,
Or that whereof God had such jealousy,
As, for the ravishing thereof we die.
Thy head is like a rough-hewn statue of jet,
Where marks for eyes, nose, mouth, are yet scarce set;
Like the first Chaos, or flat seeming face
Of Cynthia, when th' earth's shadows her embrace.
Like Proserpine's white beauty-keeping chest,
Or Jove's best fortune's urn, is her fair breast.
Thine's like worm-eaten trunks, clothed in seal's skin,
Or grave, that's dust without, and stink within.
And like that slender stalk, at whose end stands
The woodbine quivering, are her arms and hands.
Like rough-barked elmboughs, or the russet skin
Of men late scourged for madness, or for sin,
Like sun-parched quarters on the city gate,
Such is thy tanned skin's lamentable state.
And like a bunch of ragged carrots stand
The short swoll'n fingers of thy gouty hand.
Then like the chemic's masculine equal fire,
Which in the limbeck's warm womb doth inspire
Into th' earth's worthless dirt a soul of gold,
Such cherishing heat her best loved part doth hold.
Thine's like the dread mouth of a fired gun,
Or like hot liquid metals newly run
Into clay moulds, or like to that Etna
Where round about the grass is burnt away.
Are not your kisses then as filthy, and more,
As a worm sucking an envenomed sore?
Doth not thy feareful hand in feeling quake,
As one which gathering flowers, still fears a snake?
Is not your last act harsh, and violent,
As when a plough a stony ground doth rent?
So kiss good turtles, so devoutly nice
Are priests in handling reverent sacrifice,
And such in searching wounds the surgeon is
As we, when we embrace, or touch, or kiss.
Leave her, and I will leave comparing thus,
She, and comparisons are odious.

---John Donne

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Po-Month Hump Day


`In our time the destiny of man presents its meanings in
political terms' - Thomas Mann

HOW can I, that girl standing there,
My attention fix
On Roman or on Russian
Or on Spanish politics?
Yet here's a travelled man that knows
What he talks about,
And there's a politician
That has read and thought,
And maybe what they say is true
Of war and war's alarms,
But O that I were young again
And held her in my arms!

W. B. Yeats

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


Today's poem, by Matthea Harvey, is fantastic, but a little too long to post on this blog. So I'll link to it instead: do yourself a favor and click here.

Monday, April 14, 2008

A bit of a downer, but in the lovely way.

On My First Son

Farewell, thou child of my right hand, and joy ;
My sin was too much hope of thee, lov'd boy.
Seven years thou wert lent to me, and I thee pay,
Exacted by thy fate, on the just day.
Oh, could I lose all father now ! For why
Will man lament the state he should envy?
To have so soon 'scaped world's and flesh's rage,
And if no other misery, yet age !
Rest in soft peace, and, asked, say, Here doth lie
Ben Jonson his best piece of poetry.
For whose sake henceforth all his vows be such
As what he loves may never like too much.

---Ben Jonson

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Haiku time!

Even in Kyoto
when I hear the cuckoo
I long for Kyoto.


Saturday, April 12, 2008


Sir Philip Sidney, Astrophel and Stella

Sonnet XLV

Stella oft sees the very face of woe
Painted in my beclouded stormy face,
But cannot skill to pity my disgrace,
Not though thereof the cause herself she know;
Yet hearing late a fable, which did show
Of lovers never known a grievous case,
Pity thereof gat in her breast such place
That, from that sea derived, tears' spring did flow.
Alas, if fancy, drawn by imaged things,
Though false, yet with free scope, more grace doth breed
Than servant's wrack, where new doubts honor brings;
Then think, my dear, that you in me do read
Of lovers' ruin some sad tragedy.
I am not I; pity the tale of me.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Blues and more blues

Can you think of anything funnier than this?:
being roused from grading by noise from the
room where the kids are supposed to be asleep,
way past bedtime, and, upon investigation,
finding them, one earphone apiece, hooked up
to their mother's iPod and singing "Folsom
Prison Blues" at the top of their lungs...

Two little voices, aged 7 and 3, belting out

But I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die
When I hear that whistle blowin', I hang my head and cry

And following Johnny Cash's voice all the way down
to the depths of regret:

But I know I had it coming, I know I can't be free
But that train keeps rollin', and that's what
(big grave finish)



I am lazy, the laziest
girl in the world. I sleep during
the day when I want to, 'til
my face is creased and swollen,
'til my lips are dry and hot. I
eat as I please: cookies and milk
after lunch, butter and sour cream
on my baked potato, foods that
slothful people eat, that turn
yellow and opaque beneath the skin.
Sometimes come dinnertime Sunday
I am still in my nightgown, the one
with the lace trim listing because
I have not mended it. Many days
I do not exercise, only
consider it, then rub my curdy
belly and lie down. Even
my poems are lazy. I use
syllabics instead of iambs,
prefer slant to the gong of full rhyme,
write briefly while others go
for pages. And yesterday,
for example, I did not work at all!
I got in my car and I drove
to factory outlet stores, purchased
stockings and panties and socks
with my father's money.

To think, in childhood I missed only
one day of school per year. I went
to ballet class four days a week
at four-forty-five and on
Saturdays, beginning always
with plie, ending with curtsy.
To think, I knew only industry,
the industry of my race
and of immigrants, the radio
tuned always to the station
that said, Line up your summer
job months in advance. Work hard
and do not shame your family,
who worked hard to give you what you have.
There is no sin but sloth. Burn
to a wick and keep moving.

I avoided sleep for years,
up at night replaying
evening news stories about
nearby jailbreaks, fat people
who ate fried chicken and woke up
dead. In sleep I am looking
for poems in the shape of open
V's of birds flying in formation,
or open arms saying, I forgive you, all.

---Elizabeth Alexander

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

I'm enjoying these poems-for-poetry's-sake posts!

Death by Water (section IV of The Waste Land)

Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead,
Forgot the cries of gulls, and deep sea swell
and the profit and loss.
A current under sea
Picked his bones in whispers. As he rose and fell
He passes the stages of his age and youth
Entering the whirlpool.
Gentile or Jew
O you who turn the wheel and look to windward,
Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you.

--T.S. Eliot

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Today's poem

A Sympathy, A Welcome

Feel for your bad fall how could I fail,
poor Paul, who had it so good.
I can offer you only: this world like a knife.
Yet you'll get to know your mother
and humourless as you do look you will laugh
and all the others
will NOT be fierce to you, and loverhood
will swing your soul like a broken bell
deep in a forsaken wood, poor Paul,
whose wild bad father loves you well.

---John Berryman

Monday, April 7, 2008

Today's poem (is even cooler if you read it as a devotional lyric)

Emily Dickinson

543 (1862)

I fear a Man of frugal Speech-
I fear a Silent Man-
Haranguer-I can overtake-
Or Babbler-entertain

But he who weigheth-While the Rest
Expend their furthest pound-
Of this-I am wary-
I fear that He is Grand-

Sunday, April 6, 2008

RSA report

First, today’s poem, by Gerard Manley Hopkins:

As king fishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell's
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves - goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying What I do is me: for that I came.

I say more: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God's eye what in God's eye he is--
Christ. For Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men's faces.

I missed a few days. No internet connectivity at RSA, and therefore no poem-a-day. I’ll try to get back on that game.


In my view, RSA is the most boring of conferences in my field. At no other conference are folks so deadly serious, so committed to academic showing-off and social climbing, so dedicated to black or charcoal gray suits and subdued color schemes.

Having said that, my panel’s session was actually pretty lively—attentive and engaged audience, smart papers from my panel-mates (a FANTASTIC ONE by a UNC-CH grad student), and a near-brawl afterward about Milton’s misogyny (or lack thereof, as I contended). It was truly helpful, since the paper I delivered is in its very infancy, and I was glad to realize how my argument opened up (or failed to) into larger issues.

The high points:

- getting to know El Teorico Alto, a colleague in another department with some overlapping interests

- meeting another nearby colleague, not yet pseudonymed

- eating here (corn tortillas soaked in ancho pepper salsa and layered with carrots, potatoes, wild mushrooms, and cotija, topped with a watercress salad!) and of course here with Miss K (too many items consumed to list individually, but the buratta cheese deserves special genuflection)

- watching Once on the plane. Very cute. The opening scene with the brother probably my fave: very Irish.

The low points:

- spending Thursday at a walk-in clinic after my sinus-infected eardrum ruptured on the flight to Chicago

- not being able to smell for Thursday and most of Friday, and the attendant fear of not being able to taste my long-awaited feasts (FYI, I did recover the olfactory function, just in time, thanks to hardcore antibiotics)

- no internet connectivity, which meant that I returned home to 120 emails.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Poetry month: day 2

The Man Who Wouldn't Plant Willow Trees

Willows are messy trees. Hair in their eyes,
They weep like women after too much wine
And not enough love. They litter a lawn with leaves
Like the butts of regrets smoked down to the filter.

They are always out of kilter. Thirsty as drunks,
They'll sink into a sewer with their roots.
They have no pride. There's never enough sorrow.
A breeze threatens and they shake with sobs.

Willows are slobs, and must be cleaned up after.
They'll bust up pipes just looking for a drink.
Their fingers tremble, but make wicked switches.
They claim they are sorry, but they whisper it.

--A.E. Stallings

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Poetry and pleasure.

To observe National Poetry Month, I've decided to post a poem a day (I hope) all through April. No commentary, no analysis, no screed about arguments or poetics or whatever. Just pleasure in the words that got me into this gig in the first place.

In the Garden

And the sky!
Nooned with the steadfast blue enthusiasm
Of an empty nursery.

Crooked lizards grassed in yellow shade.

The grass was lizarding,
Green and on a rampage.

Shade tenacious in the crook of a bent stem.

Noon. This noon—
Skyed, blue and full of hum, full of bloom.
The grass was lizarding.

--Jay Hopler, from Green Squall

RSA, anyone?

I'm heading out Thursday for a weekend in balmy Chicago. You may remember that I've been counting the days until I could eat here, again, which would make the trip worthwhile even without the heady days spent listening to papers on the Renaissance. If anyone's going and wants to meet up, I'd be delighted to drop all pretense that this is a serious professional trip....

Monday, March 31, 2008

That's DOCTOR Chump to you, buddy.

Yes, there's the honesty issue, the bald fact of intellectual theft. And yes, there's the display of contempt for the principles of learning, the point of humanistic study. But the thing I hate most about plagiarism is the insult of it: The student apparently thinks I'm an idiot, who either knows very little about the published scholarship in my field of specialization, or is unable to recognize the difference between material in SEL (or Sparknotes, for that matter) and student-level work.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Haul out the T-square, drop down the plumb.

I’m at the end of a poem I’ve been working on for nearly a year. I’ve been stuck at the same passage for months and months, and I spend all my days turning it over in the back of my mind. When I go running, I play around with the words in rhythm with my strides. Before I drop off to sleep, I freewrite for a few minutes. I even dream about the damned thing, my subconscious self typing away and deleting, typing and deleting all night long. I just can’t quite get it right. But I keep working. It’ll get there.

It’s not a great mystery to me why I ended up pursuing this career path. My natural inclination is to worry and harry and harrow things into perfection, which—as many of you who responded to my last post acknowledged—is perhaps not the healthiest way to go through the world. My sense is that the universe is so chaotic, so terrifyingly incomprehensible, that I seek to control my small sphere of it by nailing things down.

So I set myself the task of expressing something—doesn’t matter what: experience and ideas and emotions are, I think, equally ineffable, and equally resist our attempts at representation. And I work it, and work it, like my kid’s tongue works his loose tooth. But it’s not enough for me to get it right. I have to be validated in that verdict by someone else, an Authority. Editor at a journal. Editor at a publishing firm. Publishing becomes, for me, not a way of disseminating my ideas beyond my head, but the confirmation that I got it right, a pat on the head from the institutions of thought, from the Man.*

Because contained within the perfectionist urge, the more insidious face of it, is the conviction that one is never good enough.

I am what I like to call a recovering anorexic. I don’t actively participate in self-destructive behaviors anymore, but there are things I can’t do: I can’t shop for clothes, can’t look in a full-length mirror, can’t weigh myself, can’t miss a night of running. If I do any of these things, I spend days and days beating myself up for my failure to live up to what I have decided is my “perfect” version of myself. I’m a pretty smart girl, and I recognize the logical fallacies involved and the ways in which I am hostage to arbitrary designations and the illusions of a market culture, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t feel compelled to live up to them nevertheless. There’s some part of me that needs the pat on the head; and really, the validation I get from my own skewed determinations isn’t all that much different from the validation conferred by the (subjective, human) Authorities I want so much to impress. In both cases, I spend all my energies trying to produce something good enough. In practical terms, this impulse is very, very good for a life in the academy, because it impels me forward, keeps me working at a high rate of productivity.

But here’s the thing: there’s always the next tired night lacing up the shoes. The conference paper gets accepted, and then it must be written; the presentation must go well; the article must be written; well-placed; the article must be transformed into a book; the book must be published...and then there’s the next one. The poem gets finished and must be published; another poem nags at the mind; the book gets published...and then there’s the next one. At what point, I start to wonder, will the validation be sufficient? At what point will I feel like I’ve proven myself? And why do I seem to be the only one who thinks I need to?

I’m getting divorced. It’s been in the works for a couple of years, but now the legal part appears imminent, and I’m just devastated. There’s the grief you would expect, certainly, but there’s also the realization, especially hard for someone of my psychological profile, that no matter how much one tries, how hard one works to find the perfect words, the perfect behavior, the universe remains chaotic and incomprehensible and out of one’s control.

My response: devote myself to that book proposal, those chapters-in-progress, that recalcitrant poem. Because, damn it to hell, eventually they will be perfect.


*Yes, I’m aware that there’s a gender thing involved here. That’s a whole ‘nuther issue.