Thursday, May 28, 2009

Turning off the OCD.

Anyone have any advice? I'm thinking about the June 1 start date of the brainwork, and I realize that I have a really, really hard time leaving the dishes, or the laundry, or the bathtub, or the clutter, or the yardwork, to fend for itself while I concentrate on work. I feel like I have to get everything ELSE organized before I can tune it out. Anyone have any advice about how to just reconcile oneself to disorder and work?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Some pop-music titles I envy,

and wish I could use for poems:

* I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass (Yo La Tengo)

* Man Called Aerodynamics (Guided by Voices)

* We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank (Modest Mouse)

* Hotel Vast Horizon (Chris Whitley)

* When My Plane Finally Goes Down (Mark Eitzel)

* Another Bag of Bricks (Flogging Molly)

* You and Me and the Ten Thousand Things (Peter Mulvey)

* Me, My Yoke, and I (Damien Rice)

* All the Trees of the Field Will Clap Their Hands (Sufjan Stevens)

This is not an exhaustive list. What's on your list?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Time to buckle down.

I'm three weeks away from the end of the short spring term I'm teaching right now. I've decided that I'll give myself until the end of that semester to get my head in the book-writing game.

A couple of months ago, I mentioned that a well-known scholar in another field was visiting my institution to provide a sort of workshop for faculty with projects in progress. The idea was that all the participants (7 of us, maybe?) would submit a chapter, ideally an introductory chapter, and we'd all hammer on it together, with the main of the hammering coming from this visiting scholar. I submitted what I think is a pretty complete chapter on Crashaw, because (as I explained in an accompanying email) I don't HAVE an introductory chapter yet, and if I DID have an introductory chapter, I wouldn't need the damned workshop.

But I was having a hard time figuring out what that introductory chapter would SAY. Was it supposed to be a long historical survey of exegetical commentary on my topic? That's sort of how I had been proceeding: accumulating lots and lots of cool quotations from Antenicene fathers, from freaky scholastics, from the Gospels, to lay out a historical foundation for this thing that happens in the 17th century. And I can, in fact, explain why all the issues come to a head in the 17th century, as opposed to irrupting into lyric before then. So why couldn't I work up ANY enthusiasm for an introductory chapter that did the work of establishing the historical development of an idea? I could write that chapter, but I couldn't imagine wanting to READ that chapter, and it seemed increasingly to look like a case of an introduction followed by a few chapters of "readings," in which I explained how the idea introduced in the introduction plays out in 4-5 writers. Not exciting. Not sexy. Too dissertationesque.

No wonder I couldn't get myself to write that introduction.

What turned out to be the cool thing about having someone NOT in my field read this pretty solid chapter of mine (and this relates to the conversation going on over in the comments at Flavia's about readers in other fields) is that he wasn't encumbered by a sense of the historical place of my argument, which allowed him to observe (as no readers in my own field have) that my project's priorities aren't historical. That is to say, the energy that drives the Crashaw chapter, and all the other chapters I've written for this book, has less to do with the historical development of a theological principle than it does with representation, the literal, language and its capacity to signify.

Bong! rings the giant gong in my head. Duh.

For years I've been saying, in response to folks who ask whether I'm primarily a poet or a scholar, that the two activities aren't really separable: that my poetry and scholarship work at the same issues in two formally dissimilar literary modes. And, of course, my obsession in the poetry thing is with language and representation and reading and its inherent difficulties. And I knew, vaguely, that the project I was working on involved representation and reading-anxiety, but I let myself get persuaded that a corollary issue about erotics WAS the main issue. I AM interested in erotics, but only insofar as it stands as a function of reading-anxiety, which is an argument I'm TOTALLY prepared to make, excited to make.

(I realize that I'm giving bizarre half-summaries of ideas, in my conflicting desires to both explain my great epiphany and maintain some degree of scholarly anonymity/prepublication proprietariness.)

So now I think I've found my direction, though it will require reading in a field other than the one in which I've focused my reading in the last 5 years. (Upside: the new reading'll be in English!) I feel like I've got this little bonfire starting to burn and churn in my guts, which is a good sign.

Now if I could only carve out some time to read and write.

When I had Thing 1, I gave myself a non-negotiable start-date for my diss, four months after his birth. This time, I'm picking June 1, which will give me time to get the last plants into the garden and paint the kitchen ceiling. After that date, on days when the Things are with their dad, don't even try to call or email me. I'll be working.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


* One yucky revision:

Just boiled down my RSA paper for next year into a 150 word abstract (from a 300 word abstract). I'm not sure what it says at this point: not much, and most of it in dense, narcotic academese.

* One cool revision:

Assistant Make that ASSOCIATE Professor, baby.

Friday, May 8, 2009

The absent-minded something-or-other.

I spent half an hour today trying to find my iPod. I remembered distinctly unhooking its earphones, trying to get the hardware out of the way when I was cleaning the kitchen. But where'd I put it? No idea. I had a vague recollection of sliding it inside something, out of sight, and of thinking at that moment, "I'm going to forget that I put this thing here." Sure enough.

I spend an inordinate amount of time looking for things I've "cleaned up." My keys. The bill that was sitting on the counter so that I'd remember to pay it (but then I was irritated because it was on the counter, and I moved the offending paper out of the way by sliding it in between two cookbooks). My wallet spends more time missing than found. The book I was reading just a few minutes ago, the one I set down right over here somewhere....

I tell myself that my brain doesn't have space for this kind of information, because it's too occupied with the date of Donne's first sermon or the difference between "sedge" and "furze." But this may be merely an excuse, justification for the day-planner without which I panic knowing that unless I note in its pages "Take your ass today," I'll leave it home. Probably between a pair of dictionaries.

In case you're wondering: the iPod was in the cupboard, naturally, between two boxes of cereal.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


I have a friend who is editing an anthology of contemporary poetry. Here follows the actual response, with some identifying details altered, of one of the folks whose work was not included in the anthology. I'm almost tempted to identify the poet, but I will refrain...

Dear Editor who rejected me:

Well, I am surprised that you haven't found room for a few poems. I don't know the exact parameters of your project, but given the critical reception of my work--where such diverse critics/poets as [influential editor], who reviewed with enthusiasm my first book for [high profile journal], and [well-known Language poet], who also singled out the book for praise on his blog--I find it hard to understand your editorial decision.

It seems important to note that I didn't know any of these reviewers personally or professionally; when my first book won [a first book prize] it took the judge two months to track down my contact info. This kind of genuine and "clean" critical recognition has, in some small but essential way, given me great hope as writer and confirmed my conviction that rich and intelligent and risk-taking poems can, amidst the increasingly fractured and professionalized bog of contemporary American poetry, rise to the surface.

I mention this because it's also precisely why I was heartened by your initial invitation to share work with you. I don't know you. We have no professional strings to navigate. I don't know how you came to my work. But if the anthology proposes an overview of the most promising young poets currently writing in the US, I don't see how, given how my work has been received both here in the US and abroad (it has been translated into seven languages), you could fail to include it. Had I published a few books which slipped quietly down stream and into oblivion, or had been slapped down as unoriginal and flawed, I would understand.

But this is not the case, has not been the case. I realize that when it comes to anthologies, principles of exclusion can be manifold--limitations from the publishing house, hard-nosed aesthetic differences, a desire to not repeat other anthologies, etc. At some level I don't doubt your reasons, but the poems do. I would point you toward "[one of my poems]," to how it navigates questions of gender, border crossings, and nationalism without ever being a poem that is singularly "about" these things, or to "[another of my poems]," which [high profile contemporary poet] said was the single most beautiful poem on Emily Dickinson (and on the act of reading), he'd ever read. As an editor, and (even more importantly) as a poet, can you really say that these poems don't make the cut?

But the poems do...

Ultimately I wonder if our poems are even our poems--Celan said something to the effect that poems don't belong to poets, only to readers and to other poems--and this is partly why I feel comfortable writing you back, and asking you to reconsider. It strikes me as a fair request. Hope you agree, will agree.

All best,

Rejected Poet