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Friday, March 29, 2013

Take This Quiz

At Length Magazine's blog is asking you to "Take This Quiz." They also asked artists/writers such as Allen Peterson and Terry Witek to take their quiz, so you'll have a cheat sheet if you look at those artists' answers before you formulate your own. And I say formulate because visual images, video links, and other such media are welcome as well as written answers.

So what is the quiz about? Well, At Length has borrowed 10 questions from contemporary poems, and those are the questions. Such as "What is more distracting than clouds?" which  is the title of a poem in Matthew Rohrer’s Destroyer and Preserver. The multimedia answers are mind-bending.

For the sources of all 10 questions, scroll to the bottom of their screen. Enjoy.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

First Poems

My mother saved some of my first poems. When I was too small to write them down myself, I commanded her to pen my reworkings of nursery rhymes, including this one:

Hickory Dickory Dock
A chicken says Cluck Cluck.
So if you meet a chicken,
Say Cluck Cluck.

Did you like the surprise ending?

The family favorite, one that is still thrown at me mockingly, is:

In the meadow
In the breeze
That is where
I caught my sneeze.

And one of my personal favorites, from the advanced age of nine, begins, "The boat of testimony is coming round the bend / But I cannot see it for eternity will never end." Yes, I lost the cadence there (among other things!).

Well, I'm not alone in having my early verse recorded. Emily Temple at Flavorwire has collected the first known poems of ten poets, including Plath, Proust, and Poe. As well as e. e. cummings, Emily Dickinson, Edgar Allen Poe, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. And at this point I run out of alliterative (or assonic or whatever the adjective for assonance is) names, so go look for who the others are yourself, at the link.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Happy Birthday, Agnes Martin!

This week was artist Agnes Martin's Birthday. She would have been 101 years old. Celebrate over at Maria Popova's Brain Pickings with quotes and an interview with Martin.

On a side note, I've been trying to get a copy of Martin's Writings, but it's priced at $75 used and $150 and up new....I found it on Scribd, but am not sure how I feel about the ethics of downloading form Scribd. If anybody has an opinion on that they want to share, please do....

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

What's Neat on the Net V

Authors being catty (with their cats, I mean) at the blog Writers and Kitties.

Also, David Cameron at The Review Review does an experiment with the result that The New Yorker ends up rejecting itself. Very funny, and oddly satisfying.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Pi (in the Sky) Day

Happy Pi Day. (Yes, I'm repeating last year's cartoon because there isn't anything better out there, IMHO).

from EpicLOL blog

This is also from last year:

pi cartoon
from Science Humor blog


And of course, the Pi Song (this is the short version; if there is a demand for the 5-minute full-length version, let me know and I'll link to it):

Happy Pi Day! Have some pie!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Watch Your Calendar

Today (in Japan at least) is 3/13/13.

And tomorrow is Pi Day. How much excitement can we stand in one week!?!?!?!?!


Though I took myself off of Facebook until I finish the masters degree I'm working on, I am still on Twitter (@jessdragonfly in case you are interested). However, I haven't taken the time to figure out how to use this social medium effectively. Hashtags, for one thing, I understand conceptually but cannot figure out how to use to any effect or advantage.

Now help is at hand. Writer Susan Noble, at her blog Into Another World, has explained hashtags and made a list of ones that will help writers find one another. Check it our if you have been as clueless as I've been concerning hashtag mania.


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Insomnia & Writing

So it's probably not a surprise, given that my first full-length book is entitled The Insomniac's Weather Report, that I suffer from insomnia. Funnily enough, I wasn't suffering from it during the time I worked on that book but was instead using my powers of recall (which are sharper when I've been sleeping well, in case you are wondering). However since finishing that book, I have once again had my bouts of the dreaded sleeplessness.

So I was interested in poet Lisa Russ Spaar's essay on insomnia and the poet in a recent edition of the New York Times. Spaar points out that while poets may or may not be more prone to insomnia than the general population is, certainly poets are more inclined to write about it, which may be why writing and insomnia are so strongly linked in our minds. Or it may be that poets, writers, and artists are bigger insomniacs after all.

Considering the purported sources of insomnia, the romantic hyperstimulation versus the corporeal breathing disorder, Spaar wonders whether an insomniac poet (or a poetic insomniac) would want to cure her own insomnia were it possible, giving up the "liminal hours between dark and dawn" in favor of health and sanity?

For me, the answer is yes, yes I would, given a choice, get cured of my insomnia. I am perfectly capable of waking up in the middle of the night to write down a good line or word and then going soundly back to sleep, all without venturing onto the desert island of insomnia. On the other hand I have written poems in the insomniac's suspended state, poems that wouldn't have been written otherwise. But they weren't better than ones written without suffering from sleeplessness, and I may even have missed other poems on days after which my nocturnal hyperactivity has rendered me too exhausted to string together a coherent sentence, let alone write. But who said that poetry had to be coherent anyway?

So I'm interested to hear from you writers out there. Insomnia: yes or no? And if yes, cure: yes or no?

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Fire & Ice: My Time as a Poetry Bully

I recently heard that the best predictor of which children will be emotionally healthy are the ones who have been raised hearing stories of family, relatives and ancestors. (This was the most statistically significant variable in an econometric model, for those of you who are interested in statistics).  Stories like these give children two things: 1) a sense of belonging to something bigger than themselves; and 2) a sense that people that they know or are related to have dealt with adversities, and  that those bad times eventually pass and furthermore the stories suggests ways to deal with pain.

So I decided that my husband and I should each tell one story from our side of the family when we are all together for dinner (about 5 times a week). Actually, my kids know lots of stories from my mother's family and from my family, because my grandmother told plenty of stories, and my mother told some, and I have seven brothers and sisters, so I have lots of stories from my growing-up years. My dad was quite silent about his family so I don't have many stories, but I have a few. My husband's family is very taciturn about their past, so it's harder for him to come up with material.

Tonight my husband told about something amusing that happened when he shared a room with his little brother, so I decided to tell something about when I shared a room with my sister who was six years younger than me, from the time I was 13-18 years old and she was 7-12. We had just moved to a new house and my parents assigned us to a bedroom together, and though I liked my little sister, I was resentful that I was down the hall from my sisters who were one year old and one year younger than me. I wanted to be down there, talking about teenager topics, not stuck with a 2nd grader. So my reaction to this was that when I would go to bed and my sister would either wake up or already be awake and want to talk, I decided to make her memorize a poem. And the poem I chose was Robert Frost's "Fire and Ice."

Every night I we would lie in the dark and I would drill her on her lines. When she made an error, I told her to start over. Imagine a 2nd grader speaking into the night, "Some say the world will end in fire. Some say ice." It took a couple of months for her to get  the entire poem memorized, and once she did, she had to recite it every night. We never spoke of it during the daytime and we never mentioned to anyone else in our family that this is what we did when waiting for sleep to come. I remember myself being a gentle coach, but it would be interesting to hear her recollections of this time.

Years later when my sister was in college, she was assigned to pick a poem that was meaningful to her, and to write an essay about it. So naturally she picked that poem and told the story. When she got her graded paper back, her professor had written that she wanted to see her, and when my sister went to talk to the professor, she was asked if this had actually happened. When my sister said that it had, her professor told her how lucky she was.

I'm not sure that my sister thought she was lucky; I'm not sure she was lucky. But it made a great story at dinner tonight.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Journal of the Month

I got my mom a subscription to a  mystery-novel-of-the-month club when she was caring for my grandmother during my grandmother's last year of life. My sister got her an assorted-nuts-of-the-month club subscription. I've tried to sign my husband up for a wine-of-the-month club, only to find out they wouldn't accept overseas subscriptions. That's the extent of my experience with x-of-the-month clubs.

Certainly I'd never heard of the Journal of the Month until now, but now I'm telling you about this service that offers the delivery of a different literary journal once a month. It's a great way to sample literary magazines you've only heard of or read samples from online. It's a good idea especially for people just beginning to publish, who don't have a lot experience with the many good journals out there. A six-month subscription will set you back $48 (and there are shorter and longer subscriptions available, with increasing discounts for longer commitments), which isn't bad if you consider price per journal. Participating magazines include The Believer, A Public Space, Ploughshares, Iowa Review and more.

If you know what you like, this may not be for you, but if you are open to trying new things or are new to publishing, this could be fun.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Wanted: Women over 40

Check out this interesting opportunity for the woman poet over 40 who has yet to publish a full-length book in any genre: The Patricia Dobler Poetry Award from Carlow University. This prize pays for the winner's travel and lodging in order to allow her to participate in the school's MFA low-residency program for 10 or 11 days. The author will also get to publish in the school's annual anthology and have a reading with one of the competition judges, Patricia Smith. (The other judge is Jan Beatty--what great company!)

Great idea, to reward and encourage a woman poet beginning her career, a time when there is precious little encouragement to be had and only intrinsic rewards. But hurry it you are interested: the deadline is April 1.

Repeating Geography

My Japanese isn't good enough to understand the details in the news broadcast, though I can usually follow the story. However, I have to be studiously watching the news, not overhearing it, to manage that much. So yesterday I wasn't paying attention to the news, but perked up when I heard mention of Futatabi, the name of the mountain we live at the base of. When I looked at the screen, it was a story about North Korea. Across the bottom of the screen ran the ubiquitous transcription of what was being said (I don't know why they do this for the Japanese news, but it's one of the ways I learn kanji (the characters used in Japanese), by matching up what I hear with what I see on the screen). Sure enough, there was the kanji for Futatabi, our mountain, but it wasn't written as Futatabi-san, with the kanji for mountain, pronounced 'san', following it. In fact, it was used to begin a sentence and came just before the subject of the sentence, sort of like an adverb might be, (i.e. Finally,.....).

This is the kanji for futatabi. Actually, the kanji is the left part, and it is read "futata" with the hiragana syllable "bi" on the right.
I asked my husband why the newscaster had said Futatabi. He said it meant "again, or a second time, or once again." He said they were emphasizing that it was the second time that North Korea had performed some objectional action. Now I know how to express "again" or "a second time" other ways, but I'd never heard "futatabi" used that way. I pointed out that it was the same kanji as our mountain, to which my husband agreed. I'd never thought about the meaning of our mountain's name before but suddenly it occurred to me that we live in the shadow of "Once Again Mountain" or "Second Time Mountain" .... or "Repeated Again Mountain." I pointed that out to my husband, and he admitted that he had also never really considered the literal meaning of out mountain's name, but that my observation was true.

Imagine that. For the past few years I have been thinking about and talking about and writing poems using the notion of repetition, and wondering why we repeat certain things in our thoughts and our speech and our writing and actions. I've been obsessed with repetition as a theme, a trope, and a device, and all this time I've been living at the bottom of "Once Again Mountain." Unknowingly echoing my geography as its shadow looms above.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Skylight Books Podcast

Here's a good podcast series I recently discovered. It's authors talking about their works and their craft, and giving readings at the bookstore Skylight Books in Los Angeles. I've listened to and have downloaded (to listen) authors such as Mark L. Danielewski, Panio Gianopolous, Susan Straight, Ben Marcus, TC Boyle, Kate Zambreno, and Charles Yu, and poets Amanda Auchter, Nathalie Handal, Eileen Myles, and Carol Moldaw. And more.

Here's their website. The podcast is also available on iTunes.