Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Another food victory.


Five-course tasting menu, baby. High points: salt-roasted golden beets with smoked eggplant mousse; grilled tofu with truffled creamy leeks and spinach and wild mushroom crepe; the chocolate-stuffed beignet. Low points: the cauliflower soup was on the cold side (perhaps it had stepped outside into the ASS COLDNESS of Philadelphia!); the grilled seitan was SO EXACTLY LIKE a tender grilled steak in both taste and texture that I...was unnerved, and asked for confirmation that it wasn't made from animals. I'm glad I ate it, and it was a mindblowing food experience, but I wouldn't order it again. I'm not one of those vegetarians who misses meat. Still, I would definitely go back to that joint, and steer toward the vegetables and the tofu. I'm stuffed to popping.

And oh, yeah, MLA is on in the background.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Eye of the tiger.

Snowy day + Things with dad = 5 pages of MLA paper done. Grrrrr!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Good/bad news: 35K' edition

Good news: I'm on an airplane. Onboard wifi is cool.

Bad news: The commute across the country to Neruda is getting old. The hours are especially heinous. The red-eye sucks.

Good news: I'm halfway through grading!

Bad news: Halfway.

Good news: I have a couple of meetings with publisher-types at MLA, and plan to talk with others.

Bad news: Is this really going to be my SECOND conference paper this year written on the plane en route to the conference? Really? (Doesn't MLA ask for pre-printed large font paper handouts, anyway? Can't really do that if I'm presenting from my laptop screen....)

Good news: I'm heading toward snow.

Bad news: ---.
Nope, can't come up with any corresponding bad news for that one.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Kale smoothies.

At the end of a semester teaching a senior research seminar on Donne, I've been surprised to realize how hard Donne is. Of course I know that Donne's work presents certain interpretive challenges, and makes a complex set of sometimes contradictory claims. But I've been surprised by how hard he is at the level of the sentence--much more so than Milton. Milton has a reputation for being difficult, largely because of his Latinate syntax and the grandeur of his concerns. Still, students get into Milton's groove in a couple of weeks....they learn to "speak Milton," and then the reading is much less overt in its demands.

Donne, perhaps because we tend to read him in small, lyric-sized chunks, has the reputation for being perhaps more confrontational than challenging to readers. But I've taught courses on Milton, and now I've taught Donne, and I can report that Donne remains much more difficult than Milton--to parse syntactically, to pin down argumentatively--even at the term's end. My students are still struggling, and I frankly don't blame them because I have to work, and read the poems and prose out loud a time or two, in order to "get" them, insofar as I can be said to "get" them.

I made kale smoothies for our breakfast this morning. (Don't gag: kale, soaked almonds, soy milk, and frozen peaches--it's actually pretty fantastic, though it's better with frozen blueberries, whose taste and color more nearly resembles the kale, and so it camouflages that wince-inducingly healthy ingredient a little bit.) The Things drank them, and even enjoyed them. But there was never a point at which they forgot they were drinking something aggressively Good For Them, never a point where they stopped being aware of the daunting material particularity of each element of the smoothie. I think that's what it's been like for my students to read a semester of Donne. And, at times, for me too.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Dear Mother Nature--

I give thanks for the bounteous harvest &c, but enough already. To quote John Berryman, "I can can no longer." Plum jam, plum chutney, prunes, dried tomatoes, dried apples, dill pickles, marinara sauce, enchilada sauce, salsa, grape juice, apple cider, and the apples are still coming. And, since I am the kind of person who cannot let food go to waste, I compulsively put the food into one kind of preserved state or another. I have to grade. Enough with the apples.

Bottled so far up I'm out,


Monday, November 2, 2009

Ten negatives

Inspired by Donne's "Negative Love":

"If that be simply perfectest,
Which can by no way be express'd
But negatives, my love is so."

Here are ten things I'm not, for better or worse. Feel free to try this at home. Or in my comments section.

1) A morning person.

2) A summer person.

3) A sweet tooth.

4) A grudge-carrier, or slow to forgive others (but forgiving myself: another story).

5) Introspective.

6) Someone who pays any attention at all to clothes, hair, accessories, etc.

7) Patient.

8) Able to keep dates in my head. Of any kind. Birthdays. Civil wars. Monarchies. The invention of the printing press.

9) Relaxation-prone.

10) Discourageable.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


forget that last post. I'm full of baloney. I mean, I am unnaturally, unhealthily invested in The Book, but exhaustion sometimes brings out the self-pity in long and whiny screeds. I get paid to do what I love. How cool is that?

Friday, October 30, 2009

Next Things.

As opposed to Last Things, which is what one's attention SHOULD be focused on, at least according to St. Alphonsus. But, true heretic that I am, I seem only to be able to keep my sights fixed on the Next Thing.

It's a quality that was pointed out to me by a therapist who, though he eventually reinforced my distrust of all things psychoanalytical, helpfully remarked one day that he had talked to many professionals in a variety of fields, and had found that while they register accomplishments for about 30 seconds, their sense of their own shortcomings surges back and will not be assuaged until they accomplish something else. I probably didn't need a therapist to tell me that I fall into that psychological profile, but it was nice to hear that there are others out there who have the same skewed sense of accomplishment.

But this Book, the book project that will not end, seems to be the trump-card in my self-worth, the sine qua non.

I don't stress about writing poetry. It will happen, and then I will have a next book, and so on. I don't stress about translation, either: I've got this little project lined up for the next time I have free time (!) and I've already done a few lines, and it's no big deal whether I finish or not so it's all fun. I don't even stress about the NEXT scholarly book: I know more or less what I'm interested in investigating, and I find the topic intriguing and underresearched, and exciting in a far-off kind of way, like having plans to visit a friend in another state a year or so down the road.

But this stupid Book That Haunts Me is standing between me and that pleasant visit. It's not that the topic is proving to be such an obstacle. The argument is actually becoming more and more crystallized as I work, and I'm more interested in it now than I was when I started years ago.

It's that when I started my PhD program, my randomly-assigned first-year advisor advised me never to put my creative stuff on my c.v., because I'd be seen as a "dilettante scholar and facile thinker."

It's that I can't call myself a "poet" because that feels presumptuous, because literary history may disagree. But I don't yet have the street cred to call myself a "Renaissance scholar."

It's that I MUST be able to call myself a scholar, because I'm not Neruda, I'm not winning every big poetry award out there, so I have to have another sphere of validation, obviously.

It's that I have all these lovely formal and informal mentors whose efforts and good faith need to be JUSTIFIED by me.

It's that you can't write a second book until you write a first book.

So. It feels like the stakes are very high for this book. I may be (!) loading the project up with more significance than it can bear, or that I can bear in writing it. I'm just scared that I can't finish it, and that fear has been getting in the way. (The fear, and also the grading and the kids and the housework and the commuter marriage and the grading again.)

But. I've got at least 9 months without teaching in my future, and if I get this fellowship I'm applying for, I'll have 15 months in a row with nothing else required of me. That would be a good thing.

And perhaps, if I can finish this Book, instead of feeling like I have to do the Next Thing to prove myself, I can just rest for a while.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Just the endorphins talking. In prospectus.

My brother invited me (is that the right verb?) to do a triathlon with him in January.

On one hand, I'm considering it, because it's a WINTER triathlon: running, biking, XCskiing. I'm all over 1 and 3 anyway.

On the other hand, as even occasional visitors to this blog may know, I lack that thing called "free time." Sure, I run every day, pretty far, and I XCski as soon as the snow flies. But I haven't biked since high school middle school. And I'd have to step up my XCskiing to hit a competitive speed. And, you know, if I'm not in it to compete, why bother? I can run and ski for pleasure every day.

Am I actually considering it? Or is it just my challenge-gland firing up?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Things I love

1) Andre Braugher.

2) Running now that nights are cooler (40F is a lot more energetic than 90F at 11pm).

3) My approved leave for next academic year.

4) Everyone in the world. Yes, everyone.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Hey Medievalists! And also Ren peeps!

The scholarly organization of which I am an officer is updating its conference organizers' handbook, and I want to include in the revision a list of major Medieval and Renaissance listservs, to ensure that we can get our CFPs out there to as many eyes as possible. I've got the UPenn site, obviously, and then also FICINO, Milton-L, Shaksper, COURT, ROLAND, and AAIS. Any others I don't know about?

Monday, October 5, 2009

A question of ethics. Or politics.

I'd like to apply for this fellowship, which would provide funds and a humanities center community to support the completion of my book. Not surprisingly, the application asks for letters of recommendation from scholars in the applicant's field, scholars who know something about the project and can speak to its merits.

I have a couple of scholars in mind, folks I know who would--I think--be willing to help out. (GOOD GRIEF but I do hate asking folks for letters!)

There's one particular scholar I'd love to ask. S/he's a big shot in my field, wildly influential. But we've never met, at least not formally. I happen to know that this scholar served as an outsider reviewer on my tenure file. And I happen to know that s/he wrote an enthusiastically and excitedly positive review of my file, praising sections from my book project as making significant contributions to the field. Obviously, I'd love to have this person write on behalf of me and my project in this application.

But here's the tricky part: the tenure-review process at my institution is supposed to be confidential. I'm not supposed to know that this person has responded so positively and so particularly to my project.


The ethics question: Can I ask hir?

The politics question: If yes, how?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Women.

When I was younger, and really ever since I'm conscious of having been socially participatory in any way, my friends were guys. Guy friends in elementary school, because I liked to play kickball rather than imagination games during recess. Guy friends in high school,--friends who still matter to me, in truth, and with whom I'm still in touch, but in that "we're guys; we don't need to open up on the phone every day" way. Guy friends in college: my playmates for much high-altitude hijinks. And buddies in graduate school, one of whom I recently married.

At some point along the way, someone wise (who, incidentally, reads this blog) said to me, "Wait and see. When you're in your thirties, women will be the people who matter most to you." I scoffed at her. (Internally. I'm not rude.) I couldn't imagine ever developing a deep and trusting friendship with a woman. Women are...you know, so complex, and subtle, and uninterpretable. And catty. And petty. And all the stereotypes that society attaches to the feminine.

Well, bless her, she was right. Beyond my mom and my aunt and my sister, with whom I have been very close (some might say pathologically close) for my whole life, I now find myself happily connected to a whole, well, matrix of women who are brilliant and funny and caring and impressive all around, and who make me feel bloody lucky to have them in my life. Last night, one such impressive woman, who'd read my little self-sorrowing skirl of a last post, came over with her first home-baked loaf of home-ground wheat-flax bread to share, and we sat in my disarticulated kitchen for well over an hour and laughed ourselves silly. Another woman has transcended colleague status to become like a sister. (Me, not long ago, to her: "You're my sister from another mister!" She: "Sounds like we had a loose mother." Me: "Damn. Men get all the good lines.")

Indeed, I can't think of a single male friend who registers in any significant way for me these days. (Neruda no longer counts as a "male friend," much less as "a single male friend.") All my go-to guys are women. I had leisure to reflect on this development in my life this summer, when I and six others had a Chicks' Campout and spent a couple of nights getting muddy and hiking and sweating and singing blues songs about our vaginas. I felt this rush of gratitude for the presence in my life of those women, and for my sense of, yes, sisterhood with them. And most of the readers of this here blog are women whose lives matter to me, whether I've met you in real life or not.

So, thanks to all the women who rock my world. I'm so glad I finally grew up enough to appreciate you.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Depressed? Who the hell knows. Who the hell cares.

Some bits of evidence to consider:

1) I cannot work up any grading mojo. Which is to say that I have to kick my ass, on the very last evening before I turn them back, to respond to 20 short pieces from my intro to creative writing class.

2) I cannot work up any reading mojo. That is, I read for my SENIOR RESEARCH SEMINAR ON DONNE on the bus, on the way to school.

3) My tendency to stand in the kitchen and look around, without doing any of the things that really need doing.

4) 5 out of 7 running excursions this week felt like running through molasses.

5) Counting down desperately to the end of the term, already, and to the end of the academic year.

6) Missing the Things, many nights with tears, when they're with their dad.

Possible causes (all that Donne provokes casuistry!):

1) The start of a new school year when I hadn't really recovered from the last one.

2) Husband lives 2000 miles away.

3) Weird mental/ hormonal side-effects of pointless birth-control pill (see #2).

4) Due to rodent impasse (I can't kill them without feeling horrible and they can't live in my food) I must rebuild kitchen and am hemorrhaging money.

5) Fall means that the wolf spiders come inside, and wolf spiders are, honestly, my one true full-blown pathological phobia. I've included below a photo of the one I found last week ON MY BED: about 4 inches toe-to-toe. I managed, after 15 minutes of high-volume screaming and pleading with the universe, to dare to maneuver it into the vacuum hose, sideways and with much bottlenecking, and then spent 15 more minute jumping hysterically around the room wondering how to get it out of the vacuum.

6) Book in continued stall. Hoping to take a leave next fall, but budgets are such that leaves are scarce.

7) The hateful, exhausting sociopolitical climate.

I keep saying to myself that I have a good job in which I get paid to talk about my passions and cultivate similar passions in others, happy kids, a lovely and safe and weather-worthy home, the support of family and friends, a good relationship with my ex, and fresh produce coming out my ears. Why is that mantra not getting me out the door in the morning? Where is my eye of the tiger?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A banner day.

1) Thing 2 learned to ride a bike, sans training wheels.

2) Neruda, continuing his streak and maintaining his position as Mr. Hot Young American Poet, won a Very Big Prize.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Not witty.

That's me. I am funny, I can concede, able to make people laugh, though most often my method is self-mockery, which is the opposite of witty. I'm teaching a senior capstone on Donne this term. Who is witty, in both the metaphysical way and the way that would make him easy and magnetic at a cocktail party with urbane and sophisticated academics. I reflect on wit and its movements, its rhythms, and I must acknowledge that I don't have it. But my kids think I'm a riot, and so do the kids I hang out with, outside, during the cocktail parties.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Music and poetry

I have this ongoing conversation with my students about how pop music, my great love, doesn't contain many lyrics that stand on their own as poetry. I try to explain how song lyrics sometimes seem more persuasive or more artful than they actually are, because they have the communicative scaffolding of the music to supplement the lack of precision etc in their words.

Still, I aspire to the transportive expressivities of music.

Tonight I listened to two songs whose effects I covet completely. "This Tornado Loves You" by Neko Case (whose strategies of perspective would fit very nicely in the collection I'm working on now) and "Soft Dangerous Shores" by Chris Whitley. In the case of Case, the lyrics actually achieve moments of poetic clarity and precision: "Smashed every transformer with every trailer," as a line of poetry, offers a model of balance and variation, cadence and detail, and compressed force. But these moments cannot be sustained over the entirety of the song, nor should we expect them to be, because the music is there to guide our response, to ensure that we attend to the right beats, the right emphases, the right nuances of tone.

The lyrics of the Whitley song are largely impressionistic, and would make for a disappointing and disjointed read as a poem. But that wave of sound that rises up on both sides of the head above Whitley's murmur-growl....Sheesh! I know exactly what my body is supposed to feel about those lyrics even if I don't know what, exactly, they denote.

I would give all ten fingernails to be able to reproduce in language alone what these songs manage to communicate in four bars. Poetry, poetry, you are such a frustrating gig: all compensation and recuperation, all the time.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

An informal poll.

Does the phrase "raw foodist" suggest:

a) dietary extremism?
b) activism?
c) health-consciousness?
d) something else?

I've been thinking about this phrase, and how my responses to it are all positive, probably because the raw foodists I know are all decent, gentle people who cook really well and passionately and variously. But I have a sense that, in the larger cultural conversation, the term smacks of the wacky.

I'm feeling blah, physically, and have been for a few weeks. I'm revamping my diet for a couple of weeks to come, eating mostly vegan and mostly raw (easy because I'm eating mostly from gardens, mine and neighbors' and folks') to see whether it gets me back on kilter. But while I'm enjoying my experiment so far, and while I've been eating really, really good stuff, I feel weird about saying (esp. to people with whom I chance to eat), "Hey, I'm doing the raw foods thing for a while," because I think it comes across as preachy, or aggressive, or fringe, or judgmental. (Like my being a teetotaling vegetarian localvore food snob doesn't communicate enough judgment about how others consume.) (Just for the record, I don't care what you eat.) (Unless you're my kid, and then I try merely to model making healthy choices, and to instill a sense of values but let you make your own decision.) (Even if that means I buy you the occasional chain restaurant hamburger, which, you know, is fine because you're eating SOMETHING besides cereal for a change.) (Even so, I'm glad you prefer the burgers from the local take-out, and call the burgers from SOME chains "chemical sandwiches.") (But, again, I don't judge.)

Anyway, I don't know how long this little experiment will last. I like cheese. And cooked food. But I feel pretty great today, and that's a nice change.

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Year of "Piss Off."

Early last spring, I passed a colleague in the hall, who spun around after I'd passed by and said, "Listen, I'm putting together this conference on Not Your Field, and I'd really like you to present on A Poet You've Never Heard Of. Would you mind?" I responded by saying, "Well, you know, I'm really a Renaissance Girl, and I don't know anything about Not My Field, don't know what the issues are, and especially not in the identity politics that the poet in question seems to have engaged moderately with." My colleague said, "Yes, but you're a poet, and I know you'll do a good job. Just do a fairly informal and slightly flattering paper on this poet, because the poet's family may be in attendance. Thanks!"

So, I agreed, after a fashion.

As you know, I've been beating my head against a book this summer. Forgot about the conference until a couple of days ago. Hadn't hear from my colleague again about it, so dropped hir an email this week asking when it was and what, exactly, was it that s/he wanted from me again...?

The conference is next week. They hope I'll have an eventually-publishable 20-minute paper.

I won't.

I'll have a decent and not remotely fawning 15-minute paper, which I will not be later revising, because I'm writing a book on my field.

I'll have a real thesis but it will be textually based, practically devoid of secondary research (in my defense, there hasn't been anything written on this poet), myopically unaware of whatever cultural forces may be at work because, as I may have said, it's Not My Field.

I'll have verve and style, and that may obscure any lacunae in my knowledge, or at least redirect from them.

And then I will follow the example of a similarly book-focused girlfriend of mine: I will make this The Year of "Piss Off."

The best cookies I've ever eaten (Received As Gift subcategory)


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

For a limited time only....

And mostly, because I've been working on it so long that it needs airing out.

[time's up.]

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Friday, August 14, 2009

Anachronism shmanachronism.

Can I really not use the phrase "for thy" in a poem, in 2009? As in "on that account"? As in:

The dapper ditties, that I wont devise,
To feede youthes fancie, and the flocking fry,
Delighten much: what I the bett for thy?


But if that any aske thy name,
Say thou wert base begot with blame :
For thy thereof thou takest shame.

No? Crap. It scans really well.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The new plan.

Throw in the towel, embrace that I am a crap scholar with no staying power and a fundamental inability to frame, in introductory fashion, the various threads of my arguments, and write poems about pretty flowers for the rest of my life.

UPDATE (four hours later...)

Okay. Scratch that.

I actually had a pretty good day, productivity-wise. If I can pull another couple of those before school, I may have enough Mo (as in -mentum) to push me through the year on this chapter.

The output today: four pages on antenicene theology--just for you, Moria. I realized that I really do have to lay the historical groundwork for the argument I'm going to make, even if I depart from prior critical approaches to the issue. So that means: repeat some stuff that other scholars have said. But I'm also adding some other cool stuff (most of the antenicene material, frinstance) and making sure that the material that DOES retread is colored by the present project's concerns rather than just offering a "here's how this little corner of theology evolved in the Reformation" summary.

So. I guess the flower poems will have to wait a year or two.

(Actually, I am also working on a flower poem. But it's not so much pretty as creepy and pornographic and grotesque and, you know, secretly about representation. 'Cause that's how I roll.)

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Are you keeping track? Or is it just me?

Summer productivity so far, by the numbers:

20: pages of marginally coherent thinking on paper about my introduction chapter.

3: paragraphs of that introduction chapter written.

5: days this summer I've actually had to devote to writing said chapter.

2: poems written this summer.

1: number of those poems that's worth reading.

2: courses to teach this fall.

0: number of syllabi completed.

30: days until school starts.

Damn-da-damn damn damn.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

More research blogging.

Okay. Illiterate scholar can have his introduction. In the course of wrestling with his over the last three days, I've been able to articulate much more forcefully what my own project concerns. I think I'm over my envy of his brief survey of our small corner of theological history, because my project might not require that same kind of survey. Because I'm doing something else. But I sometimes think that the general educated reader would be happy to have a quick course in theology. I really have no sense of how much of the stuff that I think about every day is just common knowledge for folks who work in Renaissance studies.

What about you, reader? Are you someone who likes to have the historical situation established at the outset of a book? Or do you get impatient reading the same set-up at the beginning of every text in your field?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Damn that illiterate scholar.

I'm making my way through my introduction, and find that I covet the argumentative arc of the introduction in that book I keep complaining about. I really need to touch many of the same bases, in fewer pages, as a sort of scene-setting, before I explain how he's failed to do what I plan to do. I HATE that guy for having finished his PhD before I did, for having finished his bad book before I could get there.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Calling all unsatisfied readers:

A brilliant former student of mine is considering this program at Boston University. This program's dissertation is a scholarly edition of some text or texts, complete with all the requisite scholarly apparatus. As my student ponders this career path, she has started to think about what KIND of project she'd be interested in doing, reflecting on a number of early-moderny writings that need good editing or re-editing.

I quote from my brilliant former student:

"They don't necessarily have to be literary folks--they can be historical figures, theologians, etc., etc. Is there a collection of Renaissance documents that doesn't exist that you wish did? Or some work that is currently presented in an edition that is crummy or incomplete or really out of date or unsatisfactory in some other significant way?"

And so, on her behalf, I turn the question over to you, reliable and smart readers: is there an edition/collection that you wish existed?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

More research blogging.

So I've been rereading this scholarly book published a few years ago--or rather, reading beyond its introduction and first chapter, which I read some time ago, and which caused me to fling the book across the room in disgust. Then, I thought that it was a book of competent (if, to my work, irrelevant) scholarship written in really awkward prose. Really, such inelegant prose that it obscures some of the book's ideas. Now I've had to revisit the book, because half of it bears on what I'm doing, and I find that I'm absolutely infuriated by it. Because the scholar is actually making an interesting argument (though it's more and more clear, I'm happy to say, that the author only verges perilously close to my own argument on one page, and that may work in my favor as I demonstrate how he reaches all the wrong conclusions).* But he is making it in SUCH DEPLORABLE PROSE that I have to read without a pen so that I won't line-edit my library book. Seriously: sentences that are not only untangle-able but also ungrammatical. A pervasive lack of referential clarity. Reliance on the same 2 words throughout the book to do all the heavy argumentative lifting, even when their appropriateness to the point at hand requires much expansion. I wonder if the press had laid off its editorial staff when his book went through. On the (de)merits of this book alone, even though it's come to be, in its way, an influential book, I'd never submit to that press.

* Yes, I know I've identified the scholar by gender. It's all I can do not to name the book, and I would except that I'll have a book out there, with any luck, in a couple of years, and I'd rather not pre-cultivate scholarly enemies in this forum.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Splitting nerves.

I'm writing a chapter on George Herbert. It makes an argument that--it is undeniable--relates to a (smart but very poorly written) book written by another scholar a few years ago. But I'm actually making a different set of claims. Very different--having to do with representation rather than religious history. But it's taking a lot of effort on my part to explain how what I'm arguing is distinct from what's been said because so much of religious history is bound up in issues of representation in the early modern period. I feel like I'm back in the anatomy lab, hunched over a section of forearm, working really, really meticulously and painstakingly and exhaustingly to separate out one strand of nerves from another. My early training in science TOTALLY prepared me for my scholarly career.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

What I did on my summer vacation.

Just got back from several days in the tropics with the Things and Neruda. Surf. Sun. Sand. Good food. Dogs. In other words: all the great ingredients for much-needed total relaxation.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Not a bad gig, all things considered: Office Space edition

Here's where I spent most of the last two days reading and freewriting, enjoying the fruits of my labors.



Thursday, June 18, 2009

More on time-management, parenthood, and the life of the mind

Here's what I meant my last post to say:

I love, love, love to spend time with my kids. We have all sorts of adventures, which include such things as planting beans and camping and cleaning the floors and going to the library and catching potato bugs etc.

I love, love, love teaching. It jazzes me up every time I walk into the classroom. I can't believe I get paid to enthuse about poetry from 400 years ago and poetry from 4 minutes ago. I can't believe I get paid to crank up other folks' brains about the stuff I love.

Between these two adored occupations, I write.

I write poems. They happen all the time, whether I set aside time to work on them or not. (In fact, if I set aside time to sit down and Write Poems, the poems suck: heavy-handed, forced, rushed things.) Poems take time to write, but the time is snatched piecemeal. I write while I'm running, when my body is engaged fully in rhythm. I write in the car. I write while I'm reading. I write poems really, really slowly and all the time. Poems are brutally hard for me to write, but I don't need to block out hours of time to work on them. More to the point, I can work on them when I'm teaching or parenting without taking time out from either teaching or parenting.

I write criticism. And unlike poems, criticism requires blocks of time. I need to sit down and devote sustained attention to the stuff I'm reading. I need to mull without interruption, to pace the house talking aloud to myself about a concept until I hear myself find the words that best articulate the principles. I need to wrestle with a paragraph for four hours without having anyone call me to play or to wipe a butt or to feed them. It's less torturous to write criticism than poetry, but it requires scheduling. And frustratingly, three weeks past my self-imposed June 1 serious resume-criticism-writing date, between teaching and kids and various other little responsibilities that I didn't see coming, I haven't had a free hour, let alone 4, let alone an afternoon or (!) day in isolation with books and computer.

If I don't have defined time, I can't produce criticism. And I don't know where I'm supposed to find that time, given that I'm finished teaching just when my kids are finished with school. That imagined "free time" that nonacademics begrudge us academics so much--you know, the time that we're supposed to use to write the stuff that keeps us our jobs and is therefore absolutely a part of our jobs--is pretty hard to come by.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Quick checklist.

Short summer term taught: DONE.

Vegetables growing: DONE.

Kitchen ceiling painted: DONE.

Poem written in the voice of a medieval weapon of war: DONE.

Thing 1 nursed through swine flu gastro-intestinal virus: DONE.

Proofs of forthcoming article reviewed: DONE.

Two very useful works of scholarship read: DONE.

Now can I PLEASE have TEN MINUTES to MYSELF so that I can try to do some writing on this *&$%! book?!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Let me introduce you to the library.

A student is working on a final research paper for the class I'm teaching this term. S/he emailed me hir thesis, and asked if I knew any relevant articles. I suggested a couple, and then mentioned one that I thought was particularly helpful and to the point. S/he then emailed me back to say, "Okay, great--just send that article along to me, and I'll check it out."

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

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Also, this.

There's a decent guy, and a friend of mine, missing. Have no idea what I'm supposed to do, other than email my congressman, which I've done. And post about it here.

The last poem of poetry month 2009

My years-ago teacher, Allen Grossman, won the Bollingen Prize this year. His most recent book, Descartes' Loneliness is heartbreaking, in part because it's clear it will be the last book of an incredible career of the mind. I know no one smarter about what poetry does, how it works--if you haven't read it, check out his "Summa Lyrica," which is published as the second section of The Sighted Singer (JHU Press). It's a dense read, but richly rewarding. Grossman is dwindling quickly in Alzheimer's now. I am influenced by him every day.

"The Caedmon Room"

Upstairs, one floor below the Opera House
on top of the building, was the Caedmon room –
a library of sorts. The Caedmon room
was empty of readers most of the time.
When the last reader left and closed the door,
I locked it and moved in for life. Right now,
I am writing this in the Caedmon room.
Caedmon was an illiterate, 7th century
British peasant to whom one night a lady
appeared in a dream. She said to him, speaking
in her own language, “Caedmon! Sing me something!”
And he did just that. What he sang, in his
own language, was consequential – because
he did not learn the art of poetry
from men, but from God. For that reason,
he could not compose a trivial poem,
but what is right and fitting for a lady
who wants a song. These are the words he sang:
“Now praise the empty sky where no words are.”
This was Caedmon’s song. Caedmon’s voice is sweet.
In the Caedmon room shelves groan under the
weight of eloquent blank pages, histories
of a sweet world in which we are not found.
Caedmon turned each page, page after page
until the last page – on which was written:
“To the one who conquers, I give the morning star.”

--Allen Grossman

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Rate this, butthead.

Dear Disgruntled Grad Student—

I was sorry to discover, in my packet of course evaluations today, that you hated my class. And, it’s clear, hated me. I’m especially sorry to learn that you felt I was unresponsive to student concerns and unavailable to provide guidance—and a bit surprised, since every time I handed back a paper, or handed out a paper assignment, I urged you to come and visit with me in my office. Indeed, beyond my regular office hours, I was usually in my office on class days from morning until after sunset, and on the days when I wasn’t on campus, I checked my email frequently, responding as soon as my responsibilities would allow to all queries.

I understand that you felt that I only gave comments “after grades, which wasn’t very helpful”….but I’m not quite sure when I would have had the opportunity to give comments before I had work to comment on. And while it’s true that I spend more time assessing papers after they’ve been turned in than I can during a brief office visit in which you float a vaguely-defined impulse of an idea for your paper, I did try to explain to you what might be problematic as you proceeded on your course of research.

You seem to be particularly angry about the grades you received on your papers. I can only say, without apologizing, that I made clear in the case of every assignment that I expected only two things: make an argumentative claim and prove it. All my comments on all your papers indicated the ways in which you failed to do one or both of those things. I don’t have allegiance to a particular theoretical school; I don’t care whether I agree with your ideas; it’s all about your argument. That is, after all, what you will be measured by if you choose to pursue this profession.

Finally, as to your complaint that the course didn’t feel like a grad class but rather like “An undergrad course on steroids,” I sincerely wonder what you felt the course didn’t ask of you: you did a long research paper, a conference paper, read a massive amount of primary material and a significant amount of secondary material, and had to teach two sessions of the class. If (and this is the only cause I can come up with for your complaint) you’re upset that I talked a lot during the course of our class meetings, I would remind you that your class was unusually quiet, shy, recalcitrant, and if I didn’t fill up the air, no one did.

Ordinarily, DGS, I would read your evaluation with a smirk, knowing in advance that you were going to let me have it (your paper grades predicted that response) and then move on with my life, thinking of your comments from time to time as I think of all the ones that haunt me, the single poor remarks in an otherwise well-received class: with some regret, and with soul-searching, but in perspective. But because your class was so small, your comments and the accompanying bubble-number scores really screwed up my course average, and pushed me well below my usual threshold. So to you I say, since you wouldn’t go to my office to talk at length about what you could have done to improve your experience in the class, since you refused to tell me to my face what issues you were having with the class as it progressed, you can go to hell. Where, I have no doubt, you will find things to complain about.

With love,
Dr. Girl

It occurs to me

that one of these days, when I'm famous, I should publish the collected Renaissance Girl poetry-month blogpoems as an anthology. I'd enjoy reading them over again... (But then, my biases are really what this project is all about, yes?)


Love's the boy stood on the burning deck
trying to recite 'The boy stood on
the burning deck.' Love's the son
stood stammering elocution
while the poor ship in flames went down.

Love's the obstinate boy, the ship,
even the swimming sailors, who
would like a schoolroom platform, too,
or an excuse to stay
on deck. And love's the burning boy.

--Elizabeth Bishop

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

from Letters to Wendy's, a series of unlineated poems written, over the course of a year or so, on Wendy's restaurant's comments cards.

September 5, 1996

Naturally I think about smashing the skulls and the ribcages of the other customers. They stand in line so smug--like they were safe, outside the desires of or for an other. It's as if, for them, there is no other's desire--as if desire was one thing, and was ours. Restraining myself is not dishonest. It's a way of maintaining a keen sense of the unforeseeable injuries which shall reunite us.

--Joe Wenderoth

Monday, April 27, 2009

Today's poem

Lord, I have left all and myself behind,
My state, my hopes, my strength, and present ease,
My unprovoked studies' sweet disease,
And touch of nature and engrafted kind,
Whose cleaving twist doth distant tempers bind,
And gentle sense of kindness that doth praise
The earnest judgments, others' wills to please:
All and myself I leave thy love to find.
O strike my heart with lightning from above,
That from one wound both fire and blood may spring,
Fire to transelement my soul to love,
And blood as oil to keep the fire burning,
That fire may draw forth blood, blood extend fire,
Desire possession, possession desire.

--William Alabaster

Sunday, April 26, 2009

A great day.

Spent this way: with Things 1 and 2; mostly, in bed; watching it precipitate or threaten to do so; reading book after book after book--I think somewhere around 50 in all. In celebration, one of my childhood faves:

"The Goops"

The Goops they lick their fingers.
The Goops they lick their knives.
They spill their broth on the tablecloth
And lead untidy lives.
The Goops they talk while eating,
And loud and fast they chew;
And that is why I'm glad that I
Am not a Goop. Are you?

--Gillette Burgess

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Lovely little thing.

Even in Kyoto--
hearing the cuckoo's cry--
I long for Kyoto.

--Matsuo Bashō

Friday, April 24, 2009

It doesn't ALWAYS have to be desolate, yearning.

This one has always tickled me.

"Very Like a Whale"

One thing that literature would be greatly the better for

Would be a more restricted employment by the authors of simile and

Authors of all races, be they Greeks, Romans, Teutons or Celts,

Can't seem just to say that anything is the thing it is but have to
go out of their way to say that it is like something else.

What does it mean when we are told

That that Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold?

In the first place, George Gordon Byron had enough experience

To know that it probably wasn't just one Assyrian, it was a lot of

However, as too many arguments are apt to induce apoplexy and
thus hinder longevity,

We'll let it pass as one Assyrian for the sake of brevity.

Now then, this particular Assyrian, the one whose cohorts were
gleaming in purple and gold,

Just what does the poet mean when he says he came down like a
wolf on the fold?

In heaven and earth more than is dreamed of in our philosophy
there are great many things.

But I don't imagine that among them there is a wolf with purple
and gold cohorts or purple and gold anythings.

No, no, Lord Byron, before I'll believe that this Assyrian was
actually like a wolf I must have some kind of proof;

Did he run on all fours and did he have a hairy tail and a big red
mouth and big white teeth and did he say Woof Woof?

Frankly I think it is very unlikely, and all you were entitled to say,
at the very most,

Was that the Assyrian cohorts came down like a lot of Assyrian
cohorts about to destroy the Hebrew host.

But that wasn't fancy enough for Lord Byron, oh dear me no, he
had to invent a lot of figures of speech and then interpolate them,

With the result that whenever you mention Old Testament soldiers
to people they say Oh yes, they're the ones that a lot of
wolves dressed up in gold and purple ate them.

That's the kind of thing that's being done all the time by poets,
from Homer to Tennyson;

They're always comparing ladies to lilies and veal to venison,

And they always say things like that the snow is a white blanket
after a winter storm.

Oh it is, is it, all right then, you sleep under a six-inch blanket of
snow and I'll sleep under a half-inch blanket of unpoetical
blanket material and we'll see which one keeps warm,

And after that maybe you'll begin to comprehend dimly

What I mean by too much metaphor and simile.

--Ogden Nash

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Correcting the gender inequity

that I described a few days ago, a good translation of a freaky psalm:

Psalm 58

And call ye this to utter what is just,
You that of justice hold the sovereign throne?
And call ye this to yield, O sons of dust,
To wronged brethren every man his own?
O no: it is your long malicious will
Now to the world to make by practice known,
With whose oppression you the balance fill,
Just to yourselves, indifferent else to none.

But what could they, who even in birth declined,
From truth and right to lies and injuries?
To show the venom of their cancered mind
The adder's image scarcely can suffice;
Nay scarce the aspic may with them contend,
On whom the charmer all in vain applies
His skilful'st spells: ay missing of his end,
While she self-deaf and unaffected lies.

Lord, crack their teeth; Lord, crush these lions' jaws,
So let them sink as water in the sand.
When deadly bow their aiming fury draws,
Shiver the shaft ere past the shooter's hand.
So make them melt as the dis-housed snail
Or as the embryo, whose vital band
Breaks ere it holds, and formless eyes do fail
To see the sun, though brought to lightful land.

O let their brood, a brood of springing thorns,
Be by untimely rooting overthrown,
Ere bushes waxed they push with pricking horns,
As fruits yet green are oft by tempest blown.
The good with gladness this revenge shall see,
And bathe his feet in blood of wicked one;
While all shall say: the just rewarded be;
There is a God that carves to each his own.

--Mary (Sidney) Herbert

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The problem with spring

Is that there's just too damned much to do outside. How does a yard get so utterly dilapidated over 5 months?--covered in a protective layer of snow, no less.

"Love Song (Smelt)"

When I say 'you' in my poems, I mean you.
I know it's weird: we barely met.
You must hear this all the time, being you.

That night we were at opposite ends of
the long table, after the pungent
Russian condiments, the carafes of tarragon vodka,

the chafing dishes full of boiled smelts
I was a little drunk: after you left,
I ate the last smelt off your dirty plate.

--Dan Chiasson

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Today's poem

I've noticed something odd as I've been thinking of poems to put up this year for Po Month: before 1900, I prefer male poets; after 1900, I prefer female. No categorical declarations here, just an acknowledgment of the bias that has emerged as I've posted poems.

Today, I excerpt from "Paradise Lost," because it's good for you. The invocation to Book Three, where Milton has to call upon divine inspiration again after his descent into Hell, kills me. I find it so desolate, and it slaps down all those critics who fault Milton for his arrogance and unerring self-confidence. It makes me weep almost every time I read it, and I feel filled with tenderness for this guy whose vast knowledge and effort doesn't result in assurance. How frustrating, and terrifying, and human.

from Paradise Lost

Hail holy light, ofspring of Heav'n first-born,
Or of th' Eternal Coeternal beam
May I express thee unblam'd? since God is light,
And never but in unapproached light
Dwelt from Eternitie, dwelt then in thee, [ 5 ]
Bright effluence of bright essence increate.
Or hear'st thou rather pure Ethereal stream,
Whose Fountain who shall tell? before the Sun,
Before the Heavens thou wert, and at the voice
Of God, as with a Mantle didst invest [ 10 ]
The rising world of waters dark and deep,
Won from the void and formless infinite.
Thee I re-visit now with bolder wing,
Escap't the Stygian Pool, though long detain'd
In that obscure sojourn, while in my flight [ 15 ]
Through utter and through middle darkness borne
With other notes then to th' Orphean Lyre
I sung of Chaos and Eternal Night,
Taught by the heav'nly Muse to venture down
The dark descent, and up to reascend, [ 20 ]
Though hard and rare: thee I revisit safe,
And feel thy sovran vital Lamp; but thou
Revisit'st not these eyes, that rowle in vain
To find thy piercing ray, and find no dawn;
So thick a drop serene hath quencht thir Orbs, [ 25 ]
Or dim suffusion veild. Yet not the more
Cease I to wander where the Muses haunt
Cleer Spring, or shadie Grove, or Sunnie Hill,
Smit with the love of sacred Song; but chief
Thee Sion and the flowrie Brooks beneath [ 30 ]
That wash thy hallowd feet, and warbling flow,
Nightly I visit: nor somtimes forget
Those other two equal'd with me in Fate,
So were I equal'd with them in renown,
Blind Thamyris and blind Mæonides, [ 35 ]
And Tiresias and Phineus Prophets old.
Then feed on thoughts, that voluntarie move
Harmonious numbers; as the wakeful Bird
Sings darkling, and in shadiest Covert hid
Tunes her nocturnal Note. Thus with the Year [ 40 ]
Seasons return, but not to me returns
Day, or the sweet approach of Ev'n or Morn,
Or sight of vernal bloom, or Summers Rose,
Or flocks, or heards, or human face divine;
But cloud in stead, and ever-during dark [ 45 ]
Surrounds me, from the chearful wayes of men
Cut off, and for the Book of knowledg fair
Presented with a Universal blanc
Of Nature's works to mee expung'd and ras'd,
And wisdome at one entrance quite shut out. [ 50 ]
So much the rather thou Celestial light
Shine inward, and the mind through all her powers
Irradiate, there plant eyes, all mist from thence
Purge and disperse, that I may see and tell
Of things invisible to mortal sight. [ 55 ]

--John Milton

Monday, April 20, 2009


You think I'm going to out Neruda when I'm trying so hard to maintain my thin pseudonymity? People....

"I'm Over the Moon"

I don't like what the moon is supposed to do.
Confuse me, ovulate me,

spoon-feed me longing. A kind of ancient
date-rape drug. So I'll howl at you, moon,

I'm angry. I'll take back the night. Using me to
swoon at your questionable light,

you had me chasing you,
the world's worst lover, over and over

hoping for a mirror, a whisper, insight.
But you disappear for nights on end

with all my erotic mysteries
and my entire unconscious mind.

How long do I try to get water from a stone?
It's like having a bad boyfriend in a good band.

Better off alone. I'm going to write hard
and fast into you moon, face-fucking.

Something you wouldn't understand.
You with no swampy sexual

promise but what we glue onto you.
That's not real. You have no begging

cunt. No panties ripped off and the crotch
sucked. No lacerating spasms

sending electrical sparks through the toes.
Stars have those.

What do you have? You're a tool, moon.
Now, noon. There's a hero.

The obvious sun, no bulls hit, the enemy
of poets and lovers, sleepers and creatures.

But my lovers have never been able to read
my mind. I've had to learn to be direct.

It's hard to learn that, hard to do.
The sun is worth ten of you.

You don't hold a candle
to that complexity, that solid craze.

Like an animal carcass on the road at night,
picked at by crows,

haunting walkers and drivers. Your face
regularly sliced up by the moving

frames of car windows. Your light is drawn,
quartered, your dreams are stolen.

You change shape and turn away,
letting night solve all night's problems alone.

--Brenda Shaughnessy

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A poem by my boyfriend.

"The Will"

Before I sigh my last gasp, let me breathe,
Great Love, some legacies ; I here bequeath
Mine eyes to Argus, if mine eyes can see ;
If they be blind, then, Love, I give them thee ;
My tongue to Fame ; to ambassadors mine ears ;
To women, or the sea, my tears ;
Thou, Love, hast taught me heretofore
By making me serve her who had twenty more,
That I should give to none, but such as had too much before.

My constancy I to the planets give ;
My truth to them who at the court do live ;
My ingenuity and openness,
To Jesuits ; to buffoons my pensiveness ;
My silence to any, who abroad hath been ;
My money to a Capuchin :
Thou, Love, taught'st me, by appointing me
To love there, where no love received can be,
Only to give to such as have an incapacity.

My faith I give to Roman Catholics ;
All my good works unto the Schismatics
Of Amsterdam ; my best civility
And courtship to an University ;
My modesty I give to soldiers bare ;
My patience let gamesters share :
Thou, Love, taught'st me, by making me
Love her that holds my love disparity,
Only to give to those that count my gifts indignity.

I give my reputation to those
Which were my friends ; mine industry to foes ;
To schoolmen I bequeath my doubtfulness ;
My sickness to physicians, or excess ;
To nature all that I in rhyme have writ ;
And to my company my wit :
Thou, Love, by making me adore
Her, who begot this love in me before,
Taught'st me to make, as though I gave, when I do but restore.

To him for whom the passing-bell next tolls,
I give my physic books ; my written rolls
Of moral counsels I to Bedlam give ;
My brazen medals unto them which live
In want of bread ; to them which pass among
All foreigners, mine English tongue :
Though, Love, by making me love one
Who thinks her friendship a fit portion
For younger lovers, dost my gifts thus disproportion.

Therefore I'll give no more, but I'll undo
The world by dying, because love dies too.
Then all your beauties will be no more worth
Than gold in mines, where none doth draw it forth ;
And all your graces no more use shall have,
Than a sun-dial in a grave :
Thou, Love, taught'st me by making me
Love her who doth neglect both me and thee,
To invent, and practise this one way, to annihilate all three.

--John Donne

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Something blue.

"Bad News Blues"

When Bad News comes to town, hold on to your heart.
When Bad News comes to town, the troubles start.
He’s a hit, marked with a bullet, climbing the chart.

His smile swings open like a pocketknife.
He smiles like he could slice right through a life.
Nobody’s daughter is safe. Nobody’s wife.

He plays the odds. He needs just half a chance.
Sooner or later he’ll ask you to dance.
He gets his own way like an ambulance.

He’s got your number, and he dials direct.
He’s calling you long distance and collect.
You gasp—something is wrong, somebody’s wrecked.

He’s standing outside your door. It’s quarter to three.
You know he’s out there, and it’s quarter to three.
There is no knock. He’s got the skeleton key.

--A.E. Stallings

Friday, April 17, 2009

Something borrowed.

"Variations on a Text by Vallejo"

Me moriré en París con aguacero...

I will die in Miami in the sun,
On a day when the sun is very bright,
A day like the days I remember, a day like other days,
A day that nobody knows or remembers yet,
And the sun will be bright then on the dark glasses of strangers
And in the eyes of a few friends from my childhood
And of the surviving cousins by the graveside,
While the diggers, standing apart, in the still shade of the palms,
Rest on their shovels, and smoke,
Speaking in Spanish softly, out of respect.

I think it will be on a Sunday like today,
Except that the sun will be out, the rain will have stopped,
And the wind that today made all the little shrubs kneel down;
And I think it will be a Sunday because today,
When I took out this paper and began to write,
Never before had anything looked so blank,
My life, these words, the paper, the grey Sunday;
And my dog, quivering under a table because of the storm,
Looked up at me, not understanding,
And my son read on without speaking, and my wife slept.

Donald Justice is dead. One Sunday the sun came out,
It shone on the bay, it shone on the white buildings,
The cars moved down the street slowly as always, so many,
Some with their headlights on in spite of the sun,
And after a while the diggers with their shovels
Walked back to the graveside through the sunlight,
And one of them put his blade into the earth
To lift a few clods of dirt, the black marl of Miami,
And scattered the dirt, and spat,
Turning away abruptly, out of respect.

--Donald Justice

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Something new.


Not green as new weeds or crushed juniper,
but a toxic and unearthly green, meet
for inking angel-wings, made from copper sheets
treated with vapors of wine or vinegar,
left to oxidize for the calligrapher.
When it’s done, he’ll cover calf-skin with a fleet
of knotted beasts in caustic green that eats
the page and grieves the paleographer.
There’s copper in my brain, my heart of hearts;
in my blood, an essential mineral.
Too much is poison. Too much air imparts
sickness to the script—once begun, eternal,
its words forever grass in drought. Nor departs
my grief, green and corrosive as a gospel.

--Melissa Range

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Something old.

The Georgics 3.349-383
(Barbarians of the North)

It's different there, where Scythian tribes, where Lake Maeotis lies,
and tousled the Danube spins its golden sands,
where Rhodope bends stretching toward the central pole.
There penned in stalls they keep their herds, and no
green shows upon the steppe nor leaves in the trees,
but wide the earth slumps lumpen under mounds of snow
and mounts in deep ice seven cubits high.
Always winter, always the frosty wheezings of the northwind.
And the sun never dissipates the pale haze,
not when borne behind his steeds he steers for heaven's zenith, nor
when he splashes his breakneck chariot into Ocean's reddened scape.
Sudden ice crusts cluster upon the brisk beck
and soon the water hefts the iron-clad wheel on its back-
once ships, now bulky wagons welcoming.
Brass buckles everywhere, clothes freeze
upon the back, they chop with hatchets their liquid wine,
whole ponds into solid ice transform,
and the jagged icicle glazes upon the uncombed beard.
Meanwhile, no less, the sky entire is snowing:
the cattle perish, shrouded in frost
the bulls in their massive girth stock-still, and in a packed herd the deer
numb beneath the unaccustomed flurry and barely poke antler-tips out.
These the Scythians hunt not with hounds unleashed, nor any snares,
nor spooking with the red-feathered bogey,
but as they strive vainly to breast the mountain front
men butcher them with short-axes, hack them down
amid heavy bawlings, and with great whoops exultant bear them home.
The men themselves, in dug-out caves carefree and deep in earth
enjoy peace, rolling to the firepit whole elms,
heaped-up trunks, committing them to the blaze.
Here they spool out the night with play, and merry they pretend
cups of wine by barming sour service-berries.
Such is this race of men unbridled, Hyperborean, pitched
beneath the Bear's seven stars, buffeted by Rhipean easterlies,
their bodies bundled in the tawny pelts of beasts.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Back to basics.

Insofar as anyone could ever dare to call this poem "basic."

Sonnet 55

Not marble, nor the gilded monuments
Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rime;
But you shall shine more bright in these contents
Than unswept stone, besmear'd with sluttish time.
When wasteful war shall statues overturn,
And broils root out the work of masonry,
Nor Mars his sword nor war's quick fire shall burn
The living record of your memory.
Gainst death and all-oblivious enmity
Shall you pace forth; your praise shall still find room,
Even in the eyes of all posterity
That wear this world out to the ending doom.
So, till the judgement that yourself arise,
You live in this, and dwell in lovers' eyes.

--William Shakespeare

Monday, April 13, 2009

To make up for Berryman's long-windedness yesterday....

Mine by the right of the white election!
Mine by the royal seal!
Mine by the sign in the scarlet prison
Bars cannot conceal!

Mine, here in vision and in veto!
Mine, by the grave’s repeal
Titled, confirmed,—-delirious charter!
Mine, while the ages steal!

--Emily Dickinson

Sunday, April 12, 2009

A long one.

I know. I feel your beleaguered slouch. It's drawing on the end of the semester. But you don't have those giant stacks of papers to grade QUITE YET, or you've just returned from shaking your ass, or you're spending a meditative Easter night, enjoying the peace that is perfect in every way save for the lack of poetry. Whatever reason you can give yourself to justify a worthy expenditure of time, cling to it now. Tonight's poem is a long one, but (in my always humblish opinion) it's the poetic achievement of the 20th century. And possibly, of the 17th too.

It's John Berryman's "Homage to Mistress Bradstreet," and it's here.

Saturday, April 11, 2009


"Hermit crab"

A drifter, or a permanent house-guest,
he scrabbles through the stones, and can even scale
the flaked palm-bark, towing along his latest
lodging, a cast-off periwinkle shell.
Isn’t he weighed down? Does his house not pinch?
The sea urchin, a distant relative,
must haul his spiny armor each slow inch
by tooth only — sometimes, it’s best to live
nowhere, and yet be anywhere at home.

That’s the riddle of his weird housekeeping
– does he remember how he wears each welcome
out in its turn, and turns himself out creeping
unbodied through the sand, grinding and rude,
and does he feel a kind of gratitude?

--Craig Arnold

Friday, April 10, 2009

A poem appropriate to the day

I was going to put up Donne's poem, but that seemed too obvious.


It is true: the thunderhead hoists its wet anvil aloft.
Swifts buckshot out before the downdraft.
The basin gasps, sage exhales, smelling of iron.

Westbound, the hightop two-lane wavers
under early-season heat, asphalt takes
the thinnest shine, first drops hiss.

My truck blows a white wake through roadside
weeds, radio snaps electrically. It is true.
But it is a horror. It is a viper fanged, this verb

that forward thrusts the moment eternal, nails
each thing to its present. Truer still
I should write the thunderhead converges, lifts, rides

the steep low, butts the front range, bunches like shoved
fabric, blisters, throws up lightning thirteen miles,
lets down rain in ribs, bubbles under the afternoon...

An endless poem of thunder. But who can dwell
with thunder? The moment’s span
would whelm the longest page, its magnitude

of too much weight for me. (The leader forks, drops,
attracts the charge from earthward, the molten air
expands, chills, slams shut, a riot of electrons...

But God, I love the verb. I verb impenitent,
luxuriant, altaring up truth for immortality, for
the pleasure of unlikeness, the prick

of unlikeness! O happy deformation,
spunky verb, I embrace you in my
degradation, my shoddy embodiment

making thunder endless: impossible: sublime.

--Kimberly Johnson

Thursday, April 9, 2009

I hate faculty meetings.

I fear I offended a colleague tonight--or, at least hir response LOOKED a lot like offense: rolled eyes, sharp snort of breath, pen thrown down on the table. I made a comment that I think could have been construed as dismissive, though it wasn't intended that way....I was merely trying to draw a distinction using hir own words, spoken years ago, to define one of the terms. I'd rather not think about this all night. My kids are visiting their grandparents on the opposite side of the country, Neruda is in his own faraway place, and the ass-end of the semester is crashing down. I have a slight cold and couldn't go see my prematurely newborn first nephew this week while the boys are gone, and haven't slept well for weeks. Too much traveling, too many commitments, no time to act on the intellectual momentum that came out of that scholarship workshop of a couple of weeks ago. (More on that later.) As writers, maybe we should remember that language is too unstable for us to let it give us much offense.

"Our Despised and Unhistoric West"

Taxidermy could make an animal less desirable than right before the bullet, but wanting is like that, reflective fruit. For instance, if you arrive at the Occidental Hotel without baggage, you must pay first. Where else is lack worth ponying up for, and does that place have such heaviness to its curtains? Above the sticky radio, in the dust the ceiling fan threshes, a calligraphic constellation: Oh Oh Oh. Miss Petticoats, her lace as fine as lead in a decanter, pines on the fainting couch that velvetly begets the posture and sound of pining, each carnivorous syllable as small as a chapel in a town near a town named Buffalo. So much ardor in this interior, and though the hotel hallways may be narrow and dark, they are nothing if not long.

--Cecily Parks

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

In honor of Squatratomagico,

who gave me occasion to remember this poem.


The night is quiet
as a kettle drum
the bullfrog basses
tuning up. After
swimming, after sup-
per, a Tarzan movie,
dishes, a smoke. One
planet and I
wish. No need
of words. Just
you, or rather,
us. The stars tonight
in pale dark space
are clover flowers
in a lawn the expanding
universe in which
we love it is
our home. So many
galaxies and you my
bright particular,
my star, my sun, my
other self, my bet-
ter half, my one.

--James Schuyler

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Today's poem.

Because you KNOW how I dig the Renaissance references. Plus, the cadavers.

"The Flayed Man"
after Juan de Valverde’s 1560 anatomy text, Anatomia del corpo umano

He has flayed himself for our inspection, pressed
his knife through the dermis of his large right toe,
run its tip along the base of his foot, splitting left
from right, up the back of his calf and thigh, carefully,
the way a woman runs the seam of her stockings
up the midline of each leg, and slipped his muscled
and gelatinous body from its casing. As one slices
the skin from an apple in a long spiraling similitude,
he has kept, where possible, his ghostly likeness
intact. In one hand he holds it out to us, a testament
to what he’s done, and in the other he holds
the knife. Martyr for science, he stands, each muscle
overdeveloped, numbered for the anatomist’s study
as if it were possible to slit this human casing, slip
from one’s integument and go on living
in the delicate inner flesh. What then is beauty
when the skin has been shucked? A marbling of muscle
and fat, the patterning of veins and arteries, tenderness
of disease? Complicit, a participant in his own dissection,
the Flayed Man brandishes his life: without regard
for his soul, he offers this oblation, his own decorticated
corpus, to Medicine and Anatomy. For over a thousand
years, for fear that to dissect the body impedes
the soul’s chrysalis, its incorporeal unfurling, the study
of anatomy had virtually stopped, but now
the Flayed Man, his jaunty disregard, his terrible
theatrical privation, the outstretched offering
of his own skin as if to say, all this, I have done for you.

--Nadine Sabra Meyer

Monday, April 6, 2009

Gardening day

Thing 2 and I are spending this glorious sunny spring day digging up dirt, and putting down seeds. All the dead stuff from last year coming up (wanwood leafmeal) to air, fertilizing the new stuff. Which, naturally, made me think of today's poem.

"Spring and Fall"

to a Young Child

Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow's springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What héart héard of, ghóst guéssed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

--Gerard Manley Hopkins

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Today's poem

"Death by My Son"

Dominic and I are playing
with a bow and arrow in the backyard.

It's not a regular-sized bow,
but it's big enough. The sticker says

Not for children under 12 years of age.
I have ignored signs like this before.

He is doing well, considering
his initial frustration,

fingering the arrow to stay on the guide
while he pulls the string back.

We shoot to hell a cardboard box
on which I have drawn a picture of a kitty

using his street chalk (nothing against cats,
it's just that I can't really draw anything else.)

I show how you can shoot
way up into the air.

He is impressed, wants to do it.
But I grow bored

chasing his arrows,
find myself moving

firewood. He shoots one way up high,
says Look, Dad. I've lost sight of it.

It's going to land on his head.
I yell at him, Run!

But he's not listening to me.
I run toward him. The arrow finds

my crown, my skull.
I am dying slowly,

dizzily walking toward the house,
slurring, Get Mommy.

He asks if I'm okay-—I am, I manage.
So he gets another arrow, aims at my heart, shoots.

--Frank Giampietro

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Poetry month day 4

"Ash Grove of Ash"

Shriver, shadow, shade for good and ill,
you bend divulging branches. You stand clear
with narrow waist, clean-shirted. You nod, hearing.
You shelter me, too. You gather crossed blond quills
of saplings into fists, binding their violent
crouch and spring. You bathe taut knots, embalmer.
Now cool prevails on your pale green leaves, and calm
steeps your roots, quenching their crooked silence.
I see you are not mine, but reservoir
beneath the grove, distiller of rot, bog, bracken,
broken trees, the clear-cut past, its dying
brush that scudded like cut hair at your drying
channels, your wandering arms — come back, come back,
my root voice creaks of thirst, like a long shut door.

--Julie Sheehan

Friday, April 3, 2009

Conference blogging, abbreviated version

Delivered Herbert paper, which I'd finished during the 25-minute flight from Detour City to Conference City. It turned out to pursue a completely different--some might say "opposite"--argument to the abstract featured in the program. It's still pretty loose, but I think I delivered with aforementioned verve, and projected well...as if I were completely confident in its points. Plus, I wore these (which I only mention because LisaB. asked).

And in honor of the paper and the text of its primary interest, I give you today's poem:

"The Agonie"

Philosophers have measur’d mountains,
Fathom’d the depths of seas, of states, and kings,
Walk’d with a staffe to heav’n, and traced fountains:
But there are two vast, spacious things,
The which to measure it doth more behove:
Yet few there are that sound them; Sinne and Love.

Who would know Sinne, let him repair
Unto mount Olivet; there shall he see
A man so wrung with pains, that all his hair,
His skinne, his garments bloudie be.
Sinne is that presse and vice, which forceth pain
To hunt his cruell food through ev’ry vein.

Who knows not Love, let him assay
And taste that juice, which on the crosse a pike
Did set again abroach; then let him say
If ever he did taste the like.
Love is that liquour sweet and most divine,
Which my God feels as bloud; but I, as wine.

--George Herbert

Thursday, April 2, 2009

April Fool!

See how nutty a fool I am? I'm celebrating April 1 a day late (or so, depending on your time zone)! My plan was to post a poem a day during April, since folks seemed to dig that last year, but I'm traveling right now and my location last night had no internet connection. Tonight, I planned to do a little conference-blogging, but between my appearance in the middle of the country last night and my destination at this conference, there was some airplane trouble, and I'm being put up at a hotel in an unanticipated destination. April Fools' on me, yes?

Updates: in case you're wondering, I did write the Herbert paper for tomorrow's presentation on the plane tonight. I have one sentence left. I hope to write it on my replacement flight early tomorrow morning. It feels to me like it's stuck together with gum and hope, but I can deliver it with verve and that may look like authority. That's my big plan, anyway.

Two poems, then, today, to make up for the one I missed last night. Last year on the way to RSA at around this time, I read this first poem, and it colluded with my rough patch of life right then, and I started sobbing uncontrollably on the airplane, trying to smash my face into the window so that no one would notice. My seatmates didn't ask for a recitation. (FYI: The speaker is God.)



My great happiness
is the sound your voice makes
calling to me even in despair; my sorrow
that I cannot answer you
in speech you accept as mine.

You have no faith in your own language.
So you invest
authority in signs
you cannot read with any accuracy.

And yet your voice reaches me always.
And I answer constantly,
my anger passing
as winter passes. My tenderness
should be apparent to you
in the breeze of summer evening
and in the words that become
your own response.

--Louise Gluck

And here's yesterday's poem--just to be clear which one I consider to be "first."

"Feast of the Ascension, 2004. Planting Hibiscus"

From being to being an idea, nothing comes through that intact.
Look at the garden: dew-swooned and with fat blooms swollen,
With shade leaf-laced beneath the lemon trees —

It is hard to believe beauty is the new ugliness.
But it must be, why else would so many of my contemporaries mock it so?

I guess it is true what they say —
That once a man falls he never again puts faith in the ground
On which he walks.

Putting faith in the ground — , is that what I am doing?
Is that what these blooms have been trying to tell me?
Is that what all their swooning
Has been about?

The shade grows long. The shade grows long
Upon the lawns and the fat green leaves of these lemon trees
Are still in the early evening.

I could be buried here. That is,
I am — . I am buried.

--Jay Hopler

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

That damned book again.

This week, I'm set to participate in a workshop for a few faculty at my institution, led by a scholar of some large stature and reputation and voluminous publication history, with the goal of helping us move toward the publication of some in-progress book projects. It's a very nice idea, and I have to admire my institution for setting it up--my chair, rather, who does a lot to encourage and support those who want to be productive scholars.

I'm actually pretty happy with the chapter we'll be workshopping from my project. It's a good solid chapter, perhaps my only fully realized and complete one, with no lingering loose ends. But I have a knot in my stomach about the workshop nevertheless, and I'm just realizing that I may have a problem with this book that no amount of workshopping with whatever famous scholars want to drop by might help.

I've just recently understood that I haven't really managed to do any real work on this book since my ex and I divided up property. I was going great guns on it while my marriage was faltering (obviously: scholarly work a place to get AWAY from real life), and wrote with fabulous energy a couple of good chapters and a book proposal during the long separation. But I haven't really been able to do anything on it since our split became more formalized.

My fear is that this book has become inexorably linked in my mind with a really painful period in my life, and that I am loath to revisit that mental space. "Loath to"? Maybe (cue the nausea) "unable": I'm supposed to present a paper on Herbert at a conference NEXT WEEK, and not only have I NOT started the paper, I don't even know what it's going to be on. No idea. Not even a poem or issue in my head. I feel paralyzed every time I think about starting it. I'm hoping I can surmount that paralysis on the airplane on the way to the conference and bang SOMETHING out.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Faerie Queene Book 4

Okay. I've hit a little bump in my happy revisit of FQ. Book 4 is, I'm afraid, just unspeakably dull to me. Yes, there's the humor of the tournement/ beauty pageant, and the satisfaction of Britomart's conquest of Arthegall (though it disturbs me greatly that she becomes a mewling stereotype of womanhood at the end of canto 6, after all her deeds of derring-do). But there's just not all that much BEYOND plot going on in Book 4, and there's so very much of the plot.... I just can't find much to sink my teeth into. I can say, "Ah! The text's two most vital friendships are those between Spenser and Chaucer (who ride linked in lovely wise) and Spenser and the reader (who need to learn to be)." But I fear it's just not all that interesting, and I'm frankly glad to be back in troubled-allegory territory with Book 5.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Old red-eyes is back.

(Five bucks if you can name the band who recorded that song by the end of this post.)

Since long-distance relationships have been the subject of some blog-conversation, I thought I'd mention that I have to leave tomorrow night/Wednesday morning at one a.m. to go "present" at a "symposium" at Neruda's college on Wednesday afternoon. (Translation: what can we scheme up to get our institutions to cover our travel costs to see one another?)

It sucks being across the country, but I have to say that it sucks more how I have to work like mad BETWEEN our visits, to make up for all the stuff (grading, prep-reading, writing a conference paper that I have to present in 3 weeks) I don't do when we're blissfully together and devoting all our mooney eyes to one another.

Does anyone have love-time-efficiency advice? Does anyone think it's pathetic that such a question must be asked?

(The Beautiful South, from 0898 Beautiful South, 1992).

(And did you know that Fatboy Slim used to be in the Housemartins, with PD Heaton, who went on to form the Beautiful South?)

(I've just moved into the "F"s, in my endless upload-the-CDs-to-iTunes project.)

Friday, March 6, 2009

Shrinking violet.

That'd be me. Some who know me might be surprised at that admission, because I have--shall we say--quite a large personality. I may have mentioned in some previous post that I couldn't play guitar well enough to be a rock star so I became a professor instead. I am tall, loud, aggressive, assertive, and (I'm told) project confidence in all my interactions.

Why is it, then, that when a lovely friend invites me to get involved in the scholarly organization with which she does a lot of work, my first response is to quail, inwardly, and feel the chill of terror, and wonder whether anyone would want me there besides the lovely friend?

Why is it that I feel so awkward introducing myself to other scholars in my field, and often become a graceless babbler when I should be mustering up my most impressive behavior?

Why, with some decent publications and a good degree, do I think I am completely without worth in my field--an imposter, an interloper, a presumptuous fraud?...and will that feeling go away if I ever (and I think this is the root of it right here) can write that rat-fracking-sonuvabitchen book?

(On one hand, I hope it goes away if I by some miracle get my shit together and publish that book. On the other hand, it'd be nice if it'd just go away...you know, as if I had some value independent of my cv.)

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The key to Spenser.

Perhaps not THE key, but MY key. I remember reading The Faerie Queene twice during gradaute school, and while I enjoyed Books 1 and 3, the rest of it got a little tedious. Around the middest of the race, maybe a couple of cantos into Book 4, I'd think, "My lordy, when will this sucker END?!!" And, as time went on, the constant grad-school early British survey teaching rotation of Books 1 and 3 flattened those out a little bit for me as well.

So it was with some curiosity, not to say trepidation, that I proposed my current All-FQ-All-the-Time grad course. Would I grow bored halfway through? Would I run out of energy, and resent having to read all those inevitable papers on Redcrosse's flaws or Britomart's gender negotiations?

I'm happy to report that I'm enjoying the text very much this time around, and I think it's because I've decided to ignore the plot, to stop waiting for the resolution of this or that subnarrative, to stop caring whether Florimell is rescued from Proteus or whether Timias ends up with Belphoebe. (For the record: it's been enough years that I don't really remember the answer to those questions.)

Instead, I'm reading it as a text about poetry, and I have to say, I'm enthralled. I am in the Bower of Bliss, this space of artistic production which reflects on the nature of both nature and art. I am Grylle, and I like being a pig. And I think the text wants me to feel that way, which is why it's constantly subverting its allegories. I'm thinking the text doesn't care about its allegories as much as it cares about poetic pleasure. And I can do THAT, baby.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

I couldn't take the pressure.

I broke up with Facebook.

All those gift eggs! All those invitations to imaginary events! People flinging food and shite gifts from the AWP I didn't want to attend anyway! All those people from high school wanting to catch up! Plus, the uncomfortable intersection of people from my private and professional life: do I really want former students to have access to the pictures OTHER PEOPLE POST OF ME from who knows what embarrassing past moment of indiscretion?

You may call me a Luddite. Honey, in the period where I live, there wouldn't be Luddites for two centuries.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Two things poetic

1) Finished a poem today. First time since.....May 08, I think. Long process, that one. But it feels tight, so rock on. A friend of mine, a poet, once said that in writing poems I "whittled jolly ranchers." That's about right: slippery and unyielding little suckers they are in progress, but they seem to sit solid after they're done.

2) Have I mentioned how much I am amused--and not in the good way but in the condescending and dismissive way--by the dramatic, eyerolling, stalking-around-the-front-of-the-room, tossing-finished-pages-with-a-flourish-onto-the-floor, white-guy-rap, and to my mind fundamentally insecure brand of poetry reading? No? Well I won't here.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Good news/ bad news. (Together = just "news"?)

Just discovered today that the publication date of my Old Poem in Translation has been pushed back to 2010, a year later than I'd expected. Not that big a deal, I guess...not as if I'm expecting to buy a Ferrari once the royalties start rolling in. But the anticlimax of publication gets a little more anticlimactic.

The reason?: Major American Painter, upon reading the text, agreed to paint the cover. I wonder if he'll give me the original after the book is published. You know, as a little token of our shared affection for Old Poem. Hey, I'd be HAPPY to give him a copy of the book in exchange: it's only fair...

So! The 2010 publication date is for the paperback, I'm told. The hardcover will be released in April!