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Friday, September 30, 2011

Leopardi on the Pity Party

Are you feeling down on yourself, and your ability to make art? Be cheered; according to Leopardi, this could be a good sign.

"If an artist, scientist, or intellectual of whatever discipline is in the habit of comparing himself not to other members of his discipline but rather to the discipline itself, then the more intelligent he is the lower will be his opinion of himself. For his sense of his own inferiority grows in direct proportion to his deepening knowledge of his discipline. That is why all great men are modest."

Giacomo Leopardi, in Pensieri

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

1 More Post-Pub. Book Award

Here's a post-publication book award that I missed in my post on the subject back in April.

This one is available in a rotation of three genres, one per year (and for 2012 it's poetry). It's for a first book, and part of the prize is to give a reading. See the details below (which I borrowed from the CRWOPPS-B Yahoo Group; follow the link to find out how to join this group if you don't already belong):

Drake University Emerging Writer Award

The Drake University Writers & Critics Series is accepting submissions for its third annual Drake University Emerging Writer Award. The faculty and students of Drake University's English Department select one outstanding first book from among the entries, and the author receives an honorarium of $1000 plus travel and lodging expenses to read at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.

Each year, the award rotates among genres (short fiction, literary nonfiction, and poetry). We are currently accepting submissions of first books of poetry for consideration for the Drake University Emerging Writer Reading, which will be held during the first week of April 2012. Entries may be submitted by the author or the publisher, and must include a copy of the book; a cover letter that includes a brief biography, contact information for the author, and a statement affirming that this is his/her first book-length publication; a self-addressed stamped envelope; and a $15.00 entry fee payable to "Drake University." Entries must be postmarked by November 15, 2011. Materials postmarked after November 15 will not be considered. Entries will not be returned and will become the property of the Drake University English Department.

The winner will be notified by February 1, 2011. All entrants will be notified of the results by February 15, 2011.

This year, the award is open to single-author first books of poetry only. Authors must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents and must agree to attend and participate in the reading at Drake University in April 2012 to receive the award. The following are ineligible for the awards: 1) authors who have published more than one book of poetry through independent, university, or commercial publishers; 2) entries from vanity presses and self-published books; 3) current students and employees of Drake University.

Send all materials to:

Drake University Emerging Writer Award
c/o Nancy Reincke, Writers and Critics Series
English Department, Howard Hall
Drake University
2507 University Ave
Des Moines, IA 50311

For questions about the award or the series, please e-mail:
<nancy.reincke( at)drake. edu> (replace (at) with @)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Tin House Podcasts

Tin House has podcasts available, both readings and talks on craft. While all the podcasts offered are entertaining and useful, the one I'd like especially to recommend is Steve Almond's lecture, which is followed with a reading by poet D. A. Powell.

Although Steve Almond is generally speaking about prose writing, his discussion of writing as a function of decision-making is useful for anyone who writes anything at all. He argues for the need to read the work of other unpublished writers, since reading published writers won't help you learn about mistakes -- they have already edited out all the bad decisions in their work, or they wouldn't be published. Since you don't  have clear vision about your own writing, to learn how to identify bad decision-making, you have to read and critique other people who are making the same mistakes as you are. You need a group of peers, or maybe just one peer. But you need other writers of your level. (I once read that you will learn it on your own without a writing group, but you can save 10 years by learning from others. I believe this.)

Later in the lecture Almond suggests about subject, "Write about what you can't get rid of by other means." He also discusses motives for writing, which he traces back to the silences in families.  He talks about the role of writers as moral actors in the world. There's something in this podcast for all writers.

(But you should listen to all these podcasts. Karen Russell on place and Dorothy Allison on dialogue give extremely colorful talks that you will find yourself nodding to, and laughing along with.) Thanks, Tin House, for sharing your programs with us all.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Name of This Blog

So I started this blog on a whim. I had just wanted to find out how difficult it was to set a blog up, so I went to and started an account on a rainy Saturday morning. In the setup mode, the first thing I was asked for was my blog name.

I did not have a blog name. I wasn't even completely committed to starting a blog, but suddenly in need of a name, I cast about for an interesting word, and I landed on 'abraxas.' I had read the word earlier in the week, had looked it up in my The Cassell Concise Dictionary, and had found the following definition:

1. a word used as a charm, denoting a power which presides over 365 others, and used by some Gnostics to denote their supreme god. 2. a gem with this word, or the corresponding mystical image, engraved upon it.

What I took from this definition was that an abraxas was a word used as a charm, and that pleased me. I thought it might even preside over 365 other words, although now I'm not sure what 365 things the definition refers to. But I loved the choice of 365, suggesting as it does the number of days of the year. In my mind, suddenly every day of the year had its own special word, and this was the word that held power over all of them.

I discounted the part about the Gnostic god named Abraxas, since the definition said "some people," as though it were not the consensus and not the main meaning of the word.

I liked the sound of 'abraxas' and what I perceived to be its meaning, so I paired it up with 'axis' because, to me, 'axis' suggests the X-Y axes used in the Cartesian coordinate system (axes being the plural of axis), or the X-Y-Z axes, or even an axes with more dimensions. In short, I wanted to suggest the intersection of language and math, two of my passions.

Meanwhile, it turns out that 'Abraxas' is the name of a god to many many more people than I ever would have supposed. I get emails from followers of the god Abraxas, so pleased to meet a fellow worshipper, and I hear from astrology buffs who do something with Abraxas. And I have to tell these people I have no idea what they are talking about. Or next-to-no idea, since I have looked some of this up in the meantime, to be able to respectfully respond to people kind enough and enthusiastic enough to write me.

I would not have called my blog "Axis of Abraxas" if I had known how much misunderstanding it would later create. Even now, I consider a name change.

But I thought I'd just explain it, write it out somewhere, in case anyone was wondering.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Sustainable Reminder

Just a quick reminder that the Sustainable Arts Foundation Winter Awards deadline is coming up at the end of the month. This foundation supports artists and writers who have families. See an old post of mine for more details, or just go to their website!

Thursday, September 22, 2011


After weeks of not being able to write anything worthwhile, I've finally got a poem going, really moving. But once again it's a smarty-pants "look-at-me-I'm-so-clever" poem. I really want to write airy stuff, full of leaps and layers and space, like Rusty Morrison, like Cole Swensen.

How do you get out of your own head?

Suggestions welcome.

Beginning a Poem

In a interview, poet Cate Marvin says the following in response to the question, "How do you begin a poem?"

I like to think of poets as moving through the world with their minds poised like nets, intent on capturing scraps of language, resonant images. Thinking as a poet means viewing the world as a poem; thus, the poet is prone to existing in real space and time in a most vulnerable manner. This means being super-observant wherever your physical self takes your mind, as it requires being terribly receptive to light, images, movement, conversations between others, oddities many might be inclined to overlook in newspaper headlines, heatedly intimate conflicts overheard in public places, disingenuous directions offered by advertisements and street signs, etc.

Sometimes a poem comes over me like weather, feels like an itch or impulse. It's a near physical sensation. At that moment, there is nothing else to do but move to the typewriter or computer to pound the thing out.

More often, the poem has lived in my head for a long while, and I've battled with the entire idea of it. It insists on being made. I resist. I try and will it away. It won't go away. This is the Real Poem. The poem not born simply out of anger, or from a fit of lyrical bliss—no, this kind of poem has a real agenda. And it happens to me. When I begin this poem, I must be humble. Because this kind of poem, which usually has a big idea in its back pocket, is prepared to duke it out with me for years until I get it right. (By which I mean, one has to write a great many very bad poems to get this kind of poem started.) This kind of poem takes a lot of time. Sitting down. Beginning it again and again. By the point you've started it, it's taken so long to get there, you can't honestly explain to anyone how you began it. It began with you. In you. And it won't quit until you've got it right, by which point it bears no resemblance to the poem you "began."

To read more of Marvin's interview, or to enjoy equally good interviews by with poets Gabrielle Calcorvessi and Matthew Dickman, check out the links.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Radiolab is Pure Genius

I've been meaning to blog about some of my favorite podcasts for a few weeks now, and today I have the perfect impetus to get started because...Jad Abumrad, one of the hosts and producers of my all-time favorite podcast Radiolab, has won a MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant (putting him in the good company of  poets Kay Ryan and A. E. Stallings, also winners this year). 

Jad Abumrad (along with Robert Krulwich) tackles topics weaving science, philosophy, and often sounds and music (Abumrad is a composer) in this fascinating show that teaches you something in each episode. If you don't like science, don't worry. This is for the thinking person, but not necessarily the tekkie. Everything is clearly explained, and the bigger questions behind them are explored in historical contexts.

For me, reading and listening to popular science books and shows generates new ideas. It was from a Radiolab episode about (among other things) the chemist Dmitri Mendelev (who organized, or invented, the correct verb is debated during the podcast, the periodic table) that I came up with the idea for a poem about Mendeleev.

Some other favorite Radiolab episodes are about symmetry,  a world without words, the edge of human limits, the relationship between music and language, how cities are fundamentally different, numbers, will power, memory and forgetting, the walls of Jericho, sperm, randomness...well, clearly I could go on and on.

There's pretty much nothing they don't discuss on Radiolab. For instance, here's an episode featuring poet Mark Doty. Krulwich even gave the commencement address at my alma mater.

Available only twice a month, each episode of this show is impatiently awaited by a growing audience. You should join us!

Monday, September 19, 2011

What It's Not

If you follow me on Facebook, you may recall  that I recently posted about how my husband, after 14 years of marriage to a native English speaker (me), still persists in calling the pharmaceutical reps that visit the hospital "drug dealers." Sometimes when my husband starts to tell me a story about what happened at work that day, he'll pause, remembering that he's been corrected in the past, and start the story with, "You know those guys who aren't drug dealers?"

That reminds me of another story from our family archives. My husband's high school friend was killed in a motorcycle accident, so my husband is vehemently anti-motorcycle (take it up with him, not me), and he has always told our sons he never wants to see them on a motorbike. When our boys were going through that transportation fascination stage (at about ages 3 to 5), motorcycles were naturally a part of it. One day we were walking down the street and we happened upon a hyper tricked-out bike. It was that sparkly fiberglass in purple, with a side car and lots of chrome everywhere. My older son walked all the way around it, clearly awed, and then said, "When I grow up, this is exactly the bike I'm not going to have."

Thinking about these stories got me considering the power of saying what isn't, rather than saying what is. The subtlety in that (sometimes), the blatancy (sometimes), the humor or the poignancy (again both sometimes). I predict I'll be employing that technique is some poetry soon.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

A Sacred Place

Since my last post bordered on the profane (and by that I mean, of course, failure to use the Oxford comma), I offer as an antidote something that reaches for the sacred, from Joseph Campbell.

You Must Have A Sacred Place

You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation. At first you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen.  



How I love that Campbell offers the option of "or a certain hour or so a day" for those of us who live in tiny Japanese homes and do not have a room of our own, and have no hope of getting a room of our own. I love that in this quote, time is space; he doesn't say you need a room and an hour, but that you need one or the other. Clearly having both is optimal, but a writer can make a private hour into a private space and carry on, and eventually something will happen.


Friday, September 16, 2011

Library Theft

And just in case anybody out there read my last post and thought I was the only upstanding citizen who has ever committed library theft, let me tell you that according to the StoryCorps podcast (scroll down to the story called "I spotted this book that looked rather risque..."), I'm in good company. Judge Olly Neal also stole books from his high school library long ago, when he discovered on its shelves the novels of African American author Frank Yerby. What Judge Neal didn't know was that the librarian observed his filching the novel, and figured out that he didn't want to check it out because of his classmates manning the circulation desk, who would tell and ruin his tough reputation. So Judge Neal stole the book to see what an African American author might write about (and also because of the steamy cover), read it, and returned it. When he returned it, there was a 2nd Yerby novel on the shelf, so he stole that one too. And then there was a third.

It was at a class reunion many years later that Judge Neal learned that the librarian had been going to a nearby city and scouring used bookstores for Yerby novels each week, hoping to keep him reading. She figured if he was willing to steal a book to read it, there was hope for him.

And  I rest my case.
(And I love librarians.)

Library Love

September is national library card sign-up month for students, according to the American Library Association. The New Letters on the Air podcast this week (see 9/11/11 on their schedule) hosted a program called American Sanctuaries, in which were interviewed writers such as E. L. Doctorow, Junot Diaz, and Anne Lamott about the importance of libraries in our communities and in their lives personally.

My mom was a big believer in librarires. Every three weeks to the day (three weeks being the maximum length of time our library allowed patrons to keep a book) she loaded my 7 siblings and me into our van and drove us to the library where I'm not even sure how many books we were technically allowed to pick out, because the librarians would always let us have as many as we wanted. "You're good patrons. You always bring them all back. Take whatever you want," they would say. And we would take over 200 most weeks. (When we went away for the summer, they would frown. "Our circulation numbers will plummet," they would say. "What day did you say you were coming back?")

My mom worried about getting all these books returned, so in that pre-computer time, I had the job of making a list of every single book we'd checked out before the kids were allowed to take them and disappear into their favorite reading nooks. You will probably recall that I love lists, so this task was pure pleasure for me. I got to examine each book before setting it free in our home.

When I first moved to Japan, it became clear to me that getting reading material was going to be one of my biggest obstacles to adjusting to expat life. (This was in pre-internet shopping days.) I quickly located the local library, discovered a single shelf of books in English, and with very little Japanese language ability, presented myself at the circulation desk and somehow made it clear I wanted a library card. It took a couple of visits to the library before I could get one, since I needed documentation proving my address, but I did get one, and then systematically read every English book they had, including the biology textbook. Who doesn't need a refresher course on the Krebs cycle, I reasoned.

Then I was out of books again. Soon I found out that the local YMCA had a book attached to its language school, so I presented myself there and asked for borrowing priveleges. Not a student? they asked. Then absolutely not. Mournfully I stood in front of their forbidden shelves, salivating over the books I was not to borrow, when a change in classes filled the hallways up with students, and without thinking about it, I grabbed a handful of books, shoved them into the pockets of my down-filled parka and joined the throng headed for the door.

I did this again and again, getting good at knowing when the classes changed, and eventually I had some 80 books in my apartment. A visiting friend was aghast. "You're stealing from the YMCA?" she said. "You have to take these back!"

And so I did. I loaded up two giant shopping bags full of books (not all 80, that would take several trips) and went to the gym area of the YMCA, entered a bathroom, and left the shopping bags there, figuring they would be found and eventually make their way up to the library. Which is what happened. I always wondered whether anyone knew I was the book thief. I was there so often with no official capacity, and always was in such a hurry to get out. (A different stint in Japan would find me an employee of the YMCA, with legitimate access to the library, ironically enough.)

When my kids were little we lived in Florida, about 5 minutes from the library by car, and we went there weekly, sometimes three times a week. If we had nothing to do and the weather wasn't good, off to the library it was. In Japan, we have gone to libraries on the far side of the city, for their children's section in English, and we have gone to the local one for the Japanese books.

I have so many more stories about libraries because I have spent so very much time in them. But I guess that's enough for today. And all you who don't have a current library card, now's the time to sign up for one, and get some stories of your own, in more ways than one.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Ira Glass on the Creative Process

Ira Glass, of the extremely popular (and deservedly so) podcast This American Life, has some words for you about creativity.

In less than two minutes, Ira Glass will inspire you to do volumes of work, especially if you constantly feel disappointed in the work you are turning out.

So give yourself two minutes for a quick pep talk called "Comforting Words On The Creative Process from Ira Glass" here.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Mysterious Paper Sculptures

For some months now, mysterious paper sculptures such as the one below have been appearing in libraries around Edinburgh, bearing gifts tags with greetings such as "A gift in support of libraries, books, works, ideas..... Once upon a time there was a book and in the book was a nest and in the nest was an egg and in the egg was a dragon and in the dragon was a story....." (That specific tag accompanied a sculpture of a dragon hatching out of an egg, the whole thing made out of an Ian Rankin novel.) All the sculptures come with notes indicating a gratefulness to libraries, book festivals, and all organizations that support literature.

Mysterious paper sculptures at the Book Festival

To see all of the sculptures discovered thus far, visit this article at This Central Station. As of yet, the creator of all these intricate paper inventions has not yet been identified. Isn't it lovely to imagine someone at work in their own private space making these unique gifts?

What a wonderful way to celebrate the libraries that make reading accessible to all of us. (See the "poetree" below.)

The mysterious paper tree

An Uprising of Fables

Recently I have read a number of reviews of books of modern fables, including Jesse Ball's The Village on Horseback and one by a writer with a really ordinary name but really extraordinary writing (not that that description helps you--darn! what was his name?). Anyway, it seems that fables as a genre are coming into their own. Now why is that, in this time of moral vicissitude, I wonder? Or is that why? And how obliquely the modern fable addresses its subject, its audience.

Now I'm reading Helen Phillips' And Yet They Were Happy (Leapfrog Books) and I for one couldn't be happier. This book of 2-page fables comes grouped by title: "flood #1,"flood #2,"flood #3," all the way up to "flood #6." Other series include: the far-flung families, the weddings, the monsters, the regimes, the failures...everything you need to describe this world so painful to describe. (I love repetition. Have I ever told you how much I love repetition? If there's anything I cannot get enough of, it's repetition.)

Consider the beginning of "mother #4": "In this version, I like my mother and my mother likes me." Could you stop reading at this point? I submit that you could not. Especially if you've already read "mother #1" through "mother #3."

And here's the amazing thing.  The fables in the book somehow suggest a whole while standing utterly apart from one another. The characters from one fable may or may not be the characters in other fables, archetypical as they are. (Phillips' own website indicates that this book is the unfolding tale of a couple). But the sensibility remains true throughout, so that the effect is of telling the story of a couple weathering not only the problems of life as we know it, but also wading hip-deep through the unfamiliar (and yet familiar) circumstances of apocalyptic life.The stories seem to be a throwback to a time when natural disasters threatened constantly and there was no relief. But wait, that's not a throwback anymore, now is it? And it never really was; that has always been a particularly human illusion we have carefully cultivated, though it is getting increasingly harder and harder to remain oblivious. And yet in this book is found relief, and it is in each other.

These stories are wry yet sweet, terrifying yet comforting. According to Kirkus as quoted on the back cover, "The story of the world unfolds in bursts of imagination...."  And that's exactly what these linked fables are, small pulses of brilliance that make up a pointillistic view of an disturbingly familiar apocalyptic world.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Poems on 9/11

Here is what you will read if you visit the Poetry Daily Website today, 9/11/11 (with visual imagery of the New York skyline in light gray, the missing towers in shadow gray).



Poetry Daily is dark today
as we join our friends around
the world in remembering those
who died as a result of the
events of September 11, 2001.


I understand this impulse to silence. But I also understand why so many people turned to poety right after the devastation, and still do today. After all, poetry is  heightened language, and sometimes it is the best that we can do. Sometimes it is the only thing we can do.

The Poetry Foundation discusses some of the poems that address that horrific day or have comforted us in its aftermath in these two podcasts:

Two 9/11 Poems
The Mutilated World (after the poem title containing that phrase by Adam Zagajewski)

Interestingly, many of the poems cited in the second (and longer podcast) are from Polish poets, and they capture the mood and contemplation of post-9/11, even though they were written prior to the event in response to something else entirely.

If you want to reference the Jenny Holzer project mentioned in the first podcast, click here for an article by Shelley Jackson. Holzer's project is based on the idea that all of us with our fragmented impressions together make up the whole that not one of us alone can ever embody.

It ends with these haunting lines:


but whose

but whose full

but whose full meaning

but whose full meaning will

but whose full meaning will always

but whose full meaning will always remain

but whose full meaning will always remain elusive.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

How to Pick Up a Forklift

So the Summer 2011 edition (Issue #23) of Forklift, Ohio: A Journal of Poetry, Cooking, & Light Industrial Safety is available for pre-order. In addition to poetry from G. C. Waldrep, Dean Young, Matthew Zapruder, Matthew Guenette, Elizabeth Arnold and so many others (including yours truly), the journal features an interesting 100 different possible covers, with hand-drawn cover art by Tanner Bowden, the theme being (what else?) forklifts. Contributors actually receive an original piece of artwork with their contributor's copy. How exciting is that?

Forklift, Ohio: A Journal of Poetry, Cooking & Light Industrial Safety

In a side note, in the listing on the website my name takes up two lines, which is distracting and hard to read. I'm not the only one with such a dilemma, but it's making me seriously consider switching to my married name, which would bring my letter-count down to 11 from the present 17. Hmmmmm...

Anyway, thanks to Matt Hart and Eric Appleby, publisher and editor of Forklift. I'm really looking forward to reading it!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Nudge This!

So I went yesterday with my husband to look at office furniture for the new clinic he is opening (office furniture and examining room furniture, and all that). We were overwhelmed (and I cannot stress that enough, OVERWHELMED!!!!) with all the choices we had to make for each and every piece of equipment and furniture we had to order. Desks come in a myriad of sizes, shapes (including the newest kidney-bean shape which is supposed to promote consultation with others), colors, and finishes, and then you have to choose details including number of drawers (keyed or not, hanging files or not), size and arrangment of drawers, whether to include a backboard that balances screens and hides cord holes, number of cord holes, casters or not, rounded edges or square edges, and on and on. Don't get me started on desk chairs or filing cabinets or medicine cabinets either. Or lockers for the staff. Or couches for the waiting room. Or examining tables (I mean, how hard could choosing  examining tables be, you wonder. Don't even ask!)

As it happens I have recently finished reading Thaler & Sunstein's Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth and Happiness (Penguin), and I hated it (and not just because they didn't use the Oxford comma in their subtitle). Basically what T&S argue is that since research clearly shows that decision-making is affected by variables such as the number of choices, order  in which they are presented, and context in they are offered, choice engineers should exercise "libertarian paternalism" and put choices in the context that nudges the decision makers towards results that are "good" for them (and the "paternalism" comes in with someone else knowing what is good for you.)

Now, actually the arguments presented by T&S make sense, but I still have a difficult time swallowing their policy suggestions because of the word "paternalism" and all it implies. It makes me wonder why the authors didn't follow their own advice, and label their theory with words that nudge the decision maker (such as me) towards deciding to agree with them rather than disagree with them, or like them rather than dislike them. By leaving such loaded, ugly words in the name of their theory, I suggest that T&S are actually violating their own recommendations. If they don't know what's good for their own book, how could they know what's good for me? Aaaaargh. (Although the elephant silhouettes are rather cute...)

And who's to say choice engineers won't read their book and decide to offer choices in contexts that nudges us towards maximizing their profit and/or power? I mean, have T&S looked around recently? How many entities in a position of power to engineer choices are thinking of what's good for the choice maker, rather than what's good for themselves? (And yes, I do know what libertarianism is: I even spent a couple of weeks at the Institute for Humane Studies, a libertarian research center at George Mason University, when I was a grad student, but even that can't overcome the nausea I feel when I encounter the word paternalism.)

Okay, to be fair, the part of this book I most enjoyed was about default options. I mean, if there has to be a default option, then the choice engineer might as well think it through rather than apply a random one...which logic can extend to every part of choice engineering, I know (if there has to be an order of presentation, etc etc etc). I'm just saying, change the name!

Okay, rant over. Go back to your lives. I'm going back to the furniture catalogues myself...

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

More MFA Alternatives

My goodness, yet another author weighs in on alternatives to MFA programs for those of us whose real lives simply don't allow registering for formal study.

This time it's Julianna Baggott, poet, novelist, and YA author (also writing under the names Bridget Asher and N. E. Bode) who offers advice in her blog post How to Build Your Own MFA Experience. What I love about Baggott is that when she makes a suggestion, she gives you specifics. For example, she names conferences she trusts and gives criteria for ruling out other conferences from consideration. She lists editors who take on clients for manuscript reads and tutorials, and she gives you their links so you can contact them immediately. She also tells you about how she designed groups she put together in her own dining room that served almost as well (or as well as) a degreed program.

I have before discussed Baggott's blog, in my own post Stop Reading this Blog, in which I encourage to writers to take Baggott's suggestions and blog more seriously than my own, as I tend to ask questions, whereas she answers them. And she has the publishing history success to back her ideas up. We are lucky she is generous enough to share.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

100,000 Poets For Change

100 Thousand Poets for Change is an global event happening on September 24 in 95 countries, in 400 cities, and  consisting of 500 events. Poets worldwide will gather to express their desire for social, political, and environmental change. Check this website if you want to find an event near you.

For those in Japan, there are events in Tokyo, but I cannot figure out what they are. Click on the link, find Japan, and then Tokyo, in the country list on the left, and there are two email addresses of organizers you can contact to find out.

For those in Nagoya, events are described in the comments section of the Nagoya listing, and I have also pasted them below:

English haiku event

English haiku workshop and poetry reading
September 24   9 am – 2 pm
Public invited to participate.

At 9 am, participants will gather in front of Osu Kannon Temple for a brief introduction to Osu and to writing haiku in English. Groups of ten participants will be formed. From 9 -11 am, the groups will explore the Osu Kannon shopping arcade and neighborhood, notebooks in hand.

At 11 am, all will gather at Osu Maneki-neko, and then walk together to Kamimaezu to Mondo Books. From 11:30-12:30 or so, there will be a writing workshop followed by a reading of haiku from the ginko walk.

The reading will begin in a circle as each participant expresses his or her wishes for change in the world.

Participants’ best haiku will be published on the website: 100Thousand Poets for Change.

The writing workshop and reading at Mondo Books will be web-cast on the internet.

Though the event will be documented throughout the day, photography and videography will be limited to participants only to encourage a contemplative atmosphere for writers.

Bring a notebook, pen, snacks and water.
Maps and English autumn kigo lists will be supplied.
Info: or Leah Ann Sullivan at

Haiku Topical Dictionary

From my friend Leah I just learned about the Japanese Haiku topical dictionary at the University of Virginia Library Japanese Text Initiative, a program making classical Japanese texts available online.

Choose your season, choose your season word, and a screen pops up and defines the season word (and closely related season words) for you, and then displays several haiku employing them, both in Japanese and translated into English.

For example, the weather here has changed almost overnight from unbearably hot to refreshingly cool, so Leah looked under the season autumn for the word sawayaka, which the dictionary defines as "fresh refreshing, crisp (of weather)". Below the definition are five haiku using this word or a related word to describe the beginning of autumn.

Enjoy browsing haiku using this handy topical dictionary.

Monday, September 5, 2011

More MFA Brouhaha

Thanks to Mari for sending me the link to this article about the pitfalls of MFAs (or rather the pitfalls of having an unrealistic expectation of what having an MFA can do for you in the job market) at The Missouri Review blog, in an article by Michael Nye entitled The MFA Degree: A Bad Decision?.

Nye cites Seth Abramson's annual ranking of MFA programs, and is later engaged in discussion with Abramson in the comments section. I would strongly recommend that anyone considering an MFA or MA or PhD in creative writing or literature read this article through the comments to get a look at the prospects in the job market, and also get an understanding of what an MFA can provide you, if not a job. It's not that the degree doesn't have value; it does buy the writer time to write, and it does extend validity to the writer (in his own mind as well as in others). Having a reasonable expectation of what you can get from an MFA will only make the decision to pursue such a degree a better one, both for those who decide in favor and those who decide against.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

More MFA Debate

Poet John Gallagher at his blog, Nothing to Say and Saying It, has posted two questions about MFA programs and solicited responses from MFA grads, in his post, The Top 20 MFA Research Q: What is it like there?

The questions Gallagher entertains are:

1. Is there an reigning, asserted aesthetic where you feel forced or seduced into writing in a “camp”? Is there a two-camp model being talked about, and do you feel you are being indoctrinated into one side or the other? What are your reading lists like? Who is ignored?

2. Is there talk of the “real world” in your MFA program? Is there conversation about this notion of the “professional artist”? How does the faculty talk about this? How do students talk about this?

So far he's had plenty of responses. So if you are interested (and judging from the number of "views" of my posts on DIY MFAs, many of you are), check it out.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

One for the Notebook (One Against)

I subscribe on Twitter to AdviceToWriters, which generally yields several pieces of "advice" per day. Today they provided this quotation from Will Self (really, there's a person named Will Self? yes, just Googled him, he's a British novelist):

"Always carry a notebook. And I mean always. The short-term memory only retains information for three minutes; unless it is committed to paper you can lose an idea forever."

Which immediately reminded me of the following quote from Kay Ryan:

"I do not carry a notebook in my pocket. That would be the ruination of me because it would make my two worlds connect. I can’t say it strongly enough."

There is no right way to be a writer. There is only the way that works for you for now, which may not be the way that works for you later (see post on Troy Jollimore).

This is, like all the best things, both a blessing and a curse. As is, apparently, a notebook.

Update: Japan Writers Conference

The Japan Writers Conference website has been updated. The event, scheduled for October 15 and 16 in Kobe, now has a tentative schedule and a tentative list of presentations. They will be finalized on or about October 1, it appears.

On the homepage are announcements of three events that should be pre-registered for, including Australian poet David Gilbey's popular poetry seminar and a few social outings/open reading.

Venue map and directions to Kobe Shoin Women's University have not been provided yet, but I'm sure they will appear on the website on or before October 1.

Hope to see some of you there!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Socially-Conscious Women, Submit!

From the Magnolia Journal website:

The Institute welcomes submissions for Volume II of a new series dedicated to socially engaged fiction, creative non-fiction, and poetry by women.

What to submit: Socially engaged works of fiction, creative non-fiction, and poetry that interact with and challenge social injustices of our time.
Length: 5,000 word maximum for fiction and creative non-fiction; poetry up to 5 pages.
Fees: We do not charge reading fees.
Compensation and copyright: Each successful submission will receive 2 paperback copies of the anthology as payment. The Institute of Arts & Social Engagement (IASE) requests Non-exclusive Anthology and Electronic rights. IASE retains the right to continue selling back issues of the journal in print and electronic format.
How to submit: Send your manuscript as an attachment (.doc or .rtf only, please do not submit .DOCX files) to Submissions must be typed, double spaced, using standard Arial or Times 12pt. font. Include your last name and title of the work in the email subject line (EX. Smith – Title of the work).
Response time: All submissions will receive a written confirmation upon receipt, with a final decision in 1-3 months. While we will accept simultaneous submissions, we ask that you make us aware at the time of submission and communicate any changes regarding your manuscript as a matter of urgency.
Deadline for submissions is December 31, 2011.

Guest editor is Karen Connelly.

Thanks to novelist and expat in Japan, Suzanne Kamata, for making me aware of this opportunity.

Conversations with the Dead and Others

Never am I more aware that as a writer I am engaged in a conversation with all the other writers I have ever read than when I am involved in the act of putting together my notes to poems, as I was this week when assembling a short manuscript for another poet to look over. Then I am overwhelmed with the influences that have lead me to write and think as I do, and I feel grateful.

This week one of you wrote to me to tell me about how many Moby Dick references there are in Louise Erdrich's work, and I realized I am going to have to reread Erdrich now that I have read Moby Dick, so that I too can join in that conversation I hadn't even know was going on.

Yesterday I was listening to podcasts on the bus as I was on my way to a meeting, and during my hour commute, I heard two different podcasts about artists responding to other artists' work. First was a KUOW podcast, "Pessimism, Optimism and the Songs In Between," about a project in Seattle in which bands were assigned books and had to write and perform original songs in response. The books chosen included Nabokov's Pale Fire, Maggie Nelson's book of poetry Bluets, and Houellebecq's The Possibility of an Island. The songs are assembled by Levi Fuller on the CD Ball of Wax.

The other podcast I listened to yesterday on the subject of artist-on-artist influence was an interview with best-selling author Arthur Phillips about his new book, The Tragedy of Arthur, at New Letters on the Air. Phillips does a number of interesting things in this novel (one of which is to blur the lines between fiction and memoir, something I have a fascination with, but that's for another post another time), one of which is that he writes a play that in the novel may or may not be an authentic work of Shakespeare.

So it's on my mind this week not only how much I owe to other writers, but also how much I owe it to myself to be selective in what I read, especially as I age and have less time to indulge in books. I used to read everything that came my way, start to finish, but lately I look at the stack of over 50 to-be-read books in my home, and don't feel motivated to open most of them. I am craving a new conversation, or a different one than the ones I have been having in the last few years, and I think it is the writer in me more than the reader that is craving inspiration. While I do read for escape, these days escape-reading bores me, and instead I want to be astounded by the creativity in what I read.

I read a lot of popular science, poetry, and short stories for ideas and stimulation. I also have been reading essays a lot in the past decade. And, I am a bit loathe to admit, some spiritual reading. But clearly I am in need of something new, something different, these days. I wonder what it will be.