In Which the Author of this Post Expresses Her Deep and Abiding Admiration for Alexander Hamilton and Broadway Musicals about Our First Secretary of the Treasury

A little more than a month has passed since my last blog.  I’d like to say I’ve been using the time in a worthwhile way—writing new work, perhaps, or reading a bunch of new books of poetry to shore me up in preparation for teaching creative writing this summer.  But the fact is, I’ve gone crazy for Hamilton (the Broadway musical that was just nominated for a record-breaking 162016-05-11 17.34.28 Tony Awards—for those of you living under a rock).

It’s all I think about.  I stay up late watching YouTube videos about anything about the musical—I recommend Leslie Odom, Jr.’s video where he responds to comments and questions on Facebook, and Lin-Manuel Miranda on Jimmy Fallon for the Wheel of Freestyle bit, or any of the #HamforHam videos— just coast from video to video to your heart’s content.  (While I’m at it, I also suggest watching the video of “My Shot,” which was performed at the White House.)  I listen to the soundtrack constantly—I haven’t listened to NPR in my car since the beginning of April—I don’t have time, because I want to get in as many songs as I can on the trip back and forth to work (also, I don’t care to hear anything about stupid Donald Trump [or warmongering imperialist oligarch Hilary Clinton, while I’m at it], and I assume anything election-related will mention those worthies).  If I wake up in the middle of the night, some lines from somewhere in the musical are floating in my head.  Or, if someone says something to me, I can think of a perfect line from Hamilton in response—and I desperately want to sing it to them.  (Really, try me… post a comment below, and I’ll respond with the perfect line.) I also can’t help myself from thinking about writing Hamilton fanfic.  Not that I would… but sometimes I imagine writing it.  Like, I totally want to write some Hamilton/Laurens slash—I don’t know why.  I comb websites (especially tumblr) for anything Ham-related.  It’s insane.  Or, if I read anything in the “Hamiltome” (The Hamilton Revolution), I can’t just read the lyrics on the lyrics pages, I hear the songs sung in my brain… breaking only to read the notes on individual lines.

It’s also all I dream about.  Last night, for instance, I dreamed two separate Hamilton dreams.  In the first one, I dreamed that Lin-Manuel Miranda invited me to audition, and I was supposed to sing/rap any song from the second act.  While it’s true that I don’t know the words to the second act as well as I do to the first one, I know enough that I could totally have aced the audition—I would have chosen “Cabinet Battle #1” for the audition, by the way—which I know 100%.  Except when they gave me the list of songs from the second act to choose from, they weren’t anything I recognized.  (A variation on a “failing the test” dream, I guess?)  In the second dream, I was drawing fan art of Daveed Diggs as Thomas Jefferson. (I want to include an image, but they’re all copyrighted—just Google “Daveed Diggs as Thomas Jefferson”… if you see a man in a purple velvet/velour suit, you’ll know who I’m talking about).  I have never drawn a fan art of anything in my entire life.  (Mainly because I don’t draw.)  But it kind of makes me want to sit down and try.

Additionally, 2016-05-11 17.30.31-1I’ve been reading Ron Chernow’s Hamilton biography; I’m on p. 580 (out of 738 pages + notes), and I go around reporting on what Hamilton has done “the night before”—i.e. what I read the night before in the biography, I report on.  “Did you know… blah blah Hamilton blah blah?”  (Did you know that Hamilton got Yellow Fever?  Did you know Hamilton was made a General under Washington, who came back from retirement at 66, when it seemed that the U.S. was going to go to war with France?  Did you know that everyone in President John Adams’ cabinet supported Hamilton, and John Adams had no idea?  Etc., etc.)  If I haven’t reported a “Hamilfact” to you, it’s probably because you and I haven’t crossed paths any time recently.  And, if you know me at all, you know two things:  1) I don’t read biographies; and 2) I don’t read anything longer than like 300 pages (Harry Potter notwithstanding).  But I’m making good progress in Chernow.  And one of these days soon, I plan to catch up with the Hamilcast, which is a podcast about the musical and Chernow’s biography.  It’s on my list.

So, maybe you wonder why I’ve become obsessed with Hamilton—besides that it’s just a great musical and there are so many great lines in it (and it’s great hiphop with so many great rhymes in it) (all written by Lin-Manuel Miranda)—it’s because Hamilton was a copious, obsessed writer.  These lines from “Non-Stop” describing Hamilton say it all:  “Why do you write like you’re running out of time/ Write day and night like you’re running out of time/ Every day you fight like you’re running out of time…”  One of the things that Chernow goes on and on about is how Hamilton just couldn’t stop writing—when he could write one essay, he’d write ten—or more.  The Federalist Papers (essays that defended the Constitution to the public) were supposed to be 25 essays, with him having written like eight.  But indeed, there were 85 essays, and Hamilton wrote 59 of them in six months.  (I can barely write 3 poems in six months, it seems.  Ok, I’m being disingenuous—I’m a little more dedicated than that, but you take my point.)

Even his essay, the Reynolds Pamphlet (a.k.a. Observations on Certain Documents Contained in No. V & VI of the “History of the United States for 1796,” in Which the Charge of Speculation Against Alexander Hamilton, Late Secretary of the Treasury, Is Fully Refuted.  Written by Himself.) where he falls on his sword to assure the public that he only slept around, he did NOT engage in illegal speculation with the banks (he was overly scrupulous with American money and wanted people to know he never abused his position as Secretary of the Treasury), was 95 pages long.  95 pages!  95 pages to basically explain that he’s very sorry that he was a sex addict who stepped out on his wife (while also responding to other things in the pamphlet History…for 1796 by James Thompson Callender, like American Jacobism—but still) (see Chernow p. 533).  It blows my mind.  He wrote poems, letters, reports, dispatches, plans, essays on everything—as well as created things like our banking system and the Treasury, and coming up with the idea for West Point and the Coast Guard and starting the New York Post…and, and, and…  Hamilton was a genius, and the musical celebrates that he was writer and that he wrote just as soon as breathe, and that is something I admire.  I wish I could be that prolific—or maybe even a quarter as prolific.  Or a tenth. (A hundredth?)

(I think Chernow mentioned that there are 27 volumes of collected works by Hamilton—and of course there’s probably more than that that didn’t survive.  The collection, The Complete Works of Alexander Hamilton: The Federalist, The Continentalist, A Full Vindication, The Adams Controversy, The Jefferson Controversy, Military … (26 Books With Active Table of Contents) is available for Kindle for $1.99.  I might have to get that.  Except I hate reading books of any quality on the Kindle—because I can’t take notes.) (Seems to me I remember that excerpts from The Federalist [a.k.a. The Federalist Papers] appeared in the Norton Anthology of American Literature—back then, when the Norton was practically surgically attached to my hand, the thought of reading any kind of writing from the Revolutionary era sounded about as dry as dirt.  Now I’m like, gimme gimme.  I’ll read it all.)

I liken my love for all things Hamilton to a kind of crush.  I sort of fall in love with things for a while—like anime, or manga, or zentangles, or TV shows like Murdoch Mysteries and Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (remember when I burned through all of Kelly Greenwood’s Phryne books like I was in a race?), and then the interest doesn’t wane exactly, it just becomes more manageable.  I don’t see my Hamilton crush cooling any time soon, though.  I mean, I’m even considering watching the Tony Awards show… and I never watch Awards shows because they are full of bluster and balderdash…and commercials… but I will probably totally watch them on June 12th.  Anything for a glimpse of Hamilton… Since I won’t be going to New York any time soon.  (And even if I could, who can afford $756 for a shitty nosebleed seat?  Plus airfare and hotel and food for a weekend?  New York ain’t cheap.)

Anyway, join me in Hamilmania… Do not “throw away your shot” to download the soundtrack to the musical, watch some videos, and fall in love with Alexander Hamilton. (And then let’s hang out and we can wax effusive about Hamilton together!)

Some Thoughts on the Pecularities of Inspiration

Inspiration is a tricky, capricious thing.  Or is it?  There are those who’d argue that inspiration isn’t capricious at all–that it hovers “out there,” waiting to be actively courted, waiting for any of us as writers (or artists or musicians, etc.), to grab hold and begin to use it.  We just have to see that little sparkle that alerts us it’s there.

Sometimes, it eludes our notice.  Sometimes the sparkle hits us in the face like a baseball–though I can’t say I’ve taken too many baseballs to the face in my life, and certainly not lately.  (I’ve taken my share of tennis balls to the face–but that’s beside the point.  This is not a post about sports injuries.)

I’ve always said I’m not an ideas person.  I don’t see possibilities and connections the way I wish I did (the way geniuses seem to).  Inspiration might stare me in the face sometimes, and I’m off looking at a bird that’s soaring by, or a tree whose branches waver on the wind in some melody I can’t quite catch.  (Hello! Inspiration yells, why do you think I put that bird and tree in front of you? You dummy!) My point is, I’m not paying attention.

So inspiration, I think, is really about paying attention to your surroundings, getting caught in a rhythm, and adapting yourself to what that rhythm means.  How do we do that?  As poets and artists, we’re supposed to be hypersensitive to our surroundings anyway.  Aren’t we supposed to feel more deeply than the rest of society?  Aren’t we supposed to notice the certain play of light through the leaves on  the cherry tree outside our door and be moved to lyricism?  Well, maybe.

Maybe for some people, that actually works.  For myself, I think being in tune with that rhythm means to cut out a lot of extraneous noise from my life so I can actually hear that rhythm, see that sparkle.  Of course, everyone always says this.  And it’s hard.

For me, disconnecting with the world means disconnecting from the news, and Facebook, and stupid binge-a-thons on Netflix, and my Sudoku habit.  It means reading more–whether it’s new journals that have arrived in my mailbox, or reading the other authors’ works (fiction and nonfiction too, not just the poetry) in the journals that my own work appears in.  It means allowing myself the pleasure of reading a Phryne Fisher mystery (thank you, Kerry Greenwood, for giving us Phryne) so I can indulge in language used well, and fall in love with a place and characters who are real.

I know this is not new.  For heaven’s sakes, Wordsworth was saying the world was too much with us back in 1802.  But the world is hella more complicated in 2015, which makes it all the more essential to get away from it if we want to be true to our art.  (Or at least, if we want to recharge our flagging art.)

I’ve been thinking for a quite a while that I’ve needed to go to a writer’s residency somewhere.  I had actually even applied to one for the summer–and mistakenly believed I’d get in–and of course, everyone knows, throwing all your eggs into one basket is the surest way to making scrambled eggs.  But even if that didn’t work out, there are other residencies, other writers conferences that can help me to reconnect with writing.

I think a residency is one way to actively court inspiration.  Meeting with new writers, inhabiting a new space for a while, getting out of the routine of our daily existence–this is all about finding that new rhythm.  Certainly not everyone can afford the luxury of a writer’s residency (I mean, I can’t really either, but whatever)–but those rhythms are all around us.  We can hear them when we disconnect. We can hear them when we start reading one of our books from our never-ending “books to read” pile.  We can hear them when we sit on top of Stone Mountain, or if we’re taking a walk on a wooded path.  We can hear those rhythms everywhere if we give ourselves a chance.

Inspiration wants us to find it.  It does expect us to work a little, of course, to get outside ourselves a little, so we can see it, and benefit from what it has to show us.  Inspiration wants to include us.  It wants us to get into its rhythm.  We don’t have to be “ideas” people to get access–we just have to be a little more open-eared and flexible.

And maybe that seems harder than it really is because we’re too tied to our devices and routines.  But I for one am going to try to slip into that rhythm, because it’s calling me.

Today’s Zentangle… and a Thought

Zentangle 031815

Today I wasted over two good hours of my life that I’ll never get back dealing with people who didn’t want to be dealt with.  I got angsty and upset, and really, that just means they win.  So I came home and did this tangle to de-tangle my brain.  They call Zentangles meditative art, and they work.  If you haven’t tried doing them, you should. (You can get books about them at Amazon.)

Anyone can do them–I feel much calmer than I did earlier.  It doesn’t fix what still needs to be fixed, but I guess some things just happen in their own time.

If Not Talking Back to the Muse, At Least Listening to Her a Little More

I’ve  been reading a lot lately, and realizing how much in the last year since Chris and I have lived together that that hasn’t been the case.  When I was single, I read about hour before bed every night–it could be poetry, it could be history or some other non-fiction, it could be memoir, or a murder mystery.  Sometimes I’d read all day on a Saturday, and even if I hadn’t gotten the laundry done, I’d feel like I had accomplished something valuable.  But especially before bed, it was good to do because it has a sedative effect–and the lack of reading plus the incessant snoring (I’m sorry, honey, but you snore really bad) this past year has really frazzled me.  I’m stressed out a lot.

So I’ve been making a concerted effort to read.  And this is also helpful, because in my last post, I mentioned I was starting to stagnate and needed some fresh inspiration.  I’ve read some articles on Shreveport history, including the State Fair and Holiday-in-Dixie, and I also read Goodloe Stuck’s really fantastic (but unfortunately, not academically documented) biography of Annie McCune, who was an Irish immigrant who followed the Confederate soldiers from New Orleans up north to Shreveport, settled, and opened her own bordello.  He writes with humor, and a lot of the research is anonymous quotations from the men who used to go down to the Red Light District and see her or her girls, and some of it’s really funny.

McCune was a real entrepreneur as far as building business; she sold beer for instance, and was in good with the cops so never got harrassed, and she was quite the philanthropist, giving all kinds of monies to charities.  Her house on 900 Fannin Street was one of the three most elegant/ top tier places in the District, and she regularly got her girls checked for “venereal disease.”  Their health was McCune’s priority; men knew they could go there without worry of carrying something home to their wives.

Apparently Shreveport’s District was the largest in the country for a city its size–it was several blocks, and contained all manner of vice, from shotgun shack quickie whorehouses, to saloons, to places to get cocaine and other drugs, to the more palatial bordellos.  It was huge tourist attraction, with people coming in from all over the Ark-La-Tex–kind of, I suppose, the way the riverboats are now, which I wholeheartedly disapprove of.  (Of course, what does it say about me that I feel affection for a Red Light District where women are selling themselves for $3/ trick?  That seems very counter my women’s studies background…)

Shreveport Madam came out in 1981, and it was kind of fun to read the acknowledgments, especially because I knew several of the people in the LSUS Archives Stuck thanked for help.  As I said, I enjoyed it–it was really engaging and interesting, and I could tell that Stuck had a real affinity for McCune.  I just wish that it had demonstrated academic rigor, beyond a few mentions, in passing, of newspaper articles–although it did have some maps and photographs.  Of course, one of Stuck’s points was that there really isn’t much known about her, so he had to rely on eye-witness accounts.  But when there’s no name attached to a quote, it kind of mitigates the authority and veracity of the account.  At least, it does for me.

I actually think we have a copy of Shreveport Madam at our house back home; I want to say that I’ve seen it in my sister’s bedroom, although I can’t imagine how it got there.  I’m sure she’s never read it, and I wouldn’t have either, except that the Archives had multiple copies and sent it (and other books, like Chronicles of Shreveport [which had a print run in the 1890’s of 500, and mine is #470ish], Glimpses of Shreveport, Caddo 1000, and Caddo Was…) to assist me in my Sibley Sisters poems.  Anyway, I’m not sure how I will work Annie McCune or the Shreveport’s Red Light District into the poems, but it’s definitely good background.

And speaking (round-aboutly) of inspiration, tonight is PoetryAtlanta’s program, Talking Back to the Muse, in which poets are invited to read a favorite poem, and then read a response/ answer/ reflection/ something else poem we’ve written so the two, in proximity, can “dialogue.”  There will be a ton of poets there tonight–Karen, Bob, Collin Kelley, Christine Swint, Rupert Fike, Robin Kemp, Megan Volpert, Dan Veech,  Cleo Creech, Kodac Harrison, Ginger Murchison, many others.  And me, of course.  I’ll be reading a poem that was sparked by Jane Kenyon, who has always been one of my favorite poets.

I like to read Jane Kenyon because she is reflective and sees beauty in the smallest things; even though I have no point of reference for the farm life of New England, something about that way of life, as she presents it, comforts me and resonates with me…  I’ve also been reading good ol’ Anne Sexton, whose poems are the antithesis of Jane Kenyon–they burn me, skin me alive.  But I don’t read a lot of her work at one time–she wears me out.

Anyway… if you need something to do tonight at 8 p.m., come out to the Composition Gallery and enjoy poetry, wine, and good company:  1388 McClendon Avenue, Atlanta, 30307, not far from L5P.   Call them for details:  678 982-9764.

When Good Poems Go Bad

I’ve been working on this poem that just isn’t going well.   Going well?  Try, not going at all.

Well, let me back up.  As I said in my last post, this poem, called “The Art of Loss,” was to be the bridge poem between the real and the imaginary in this chapbook collection I’m trying to get together for a contest with a deadline on the 15th.  All of the poems in this collection have something to do with animals.

The speaker is addressing an artist whose beautiful, jungle art, populated with jaguars and orangutans, has been replaced with abstract, muddy-colored images that the speaker doesn’t understand.  And the artist herself is mute in the poem, with the exception of producing these images that are so contrary to her earlier works.

What I was trying to do was comment on how the loss of imagination affects artists, how something as personal and communicative as art can suddenly become unknowable, how, as I said in an e-mail to Bob, “the painting of things becomes the painting of no things.”  But in what I’ve written so far, it has become the “poem of no things.”  

It’s just not working.  I’m on revision 12, and I can’t seem to do anything to make it better.  Each time I work on it, it’s gets progressively worse–almost as muddy as the paintings that the artist does.  And it’s a pity, because I really liked the early drafts of the poem–or at least, I thought there was a good kernal of poetry in it.  After I gave it to Bob and he commented on it, I realized that it’s basically crap and I should just abandon it.  Maybe it’s one of those things I’ll come back to in 5 years and have some amazing epiphany about it.  But it’s frustrating because I REALLY needed this poem to work now.

Now, I’ll have to choose something else to replace it, which wouldn’t be as big a deal except for the pesky fact that the title of the collection came from a line in “The Art of Loss.”  So now I’m title-less, as well as a poem short.  

Maybe the real problem is that the collection desperately needs focus, and I thought this poem could provide it.   I don’t know.  I’m just really disheartened.

And, while I’m at it, I’m disheartened about the fact that I keep sending these various chapbooks out and no one wants them.  (Got another rejection today.)  Maybe my poems are just bad.  I’ve said to Karen and Bob both that none of my poems go together–they don’t resonate with each other or speak to each other or do any of the things that collections are supposed to do.  

I’m just really, really disheartened today.

About My Painting, I Guess You Could Say I’m a Decent Poet

nununu 2NuNu, Acryic on panel, 6″ x 6″

I painted that for Chris.  It is not, what you’d call, a “good likeness.” (Of NuNu, that is, not Chris.  If it were a painting of Chris, it would be horrid.  Being as he’s a husband, not a tuxedo cat.)poppies 2 

Poppies, Acrylic on panel, 5″ x 5″

Named Poppies in honor of The Wizard of Oz, this one I painted for Lisa Verigin, since we both like musicals.  But she doesn’t know I made this for her (yet).  The scan is kind of blurred, and I think that’s because the paint has a lot of texture (this thing took forever to dry).

redcatsmall

 

Firecat, Acrylic on Panel, 5″ x 5″

Chris compressed the file for me, so the picture was smaller. This one too has a lot of texture, so the image isn’t as clear as it could be.  I’m not sure who I’ll give this to.  Probably depends on if anyone wants it!

I was thinking I would maybe give it to Suzan Manuel, a friend from my first day in graduate school at Nazi State University.  She likes cats.  Even hideous ones.

You see, way back in March I had promised that I would “make something” for Suzan, Lisa, Chris, my sister Kirsten, and my FB friend Greg Butterfield.  So, these pictures are the result (although I don’t have anything yet for Greg).  

Here’s the last one:

sunsetsmallSunset Over Cross Lake, Acrylic on panel, 5″ x 5″.

This was the first painting I experimented with “liquid metal,” a kind of acrylic paint that is very beautiful, but doesn’t mix too well.  It has more of the consistency of tempera than acrylic, and it comes in a little pot, not a tube, which is inconvenient.  But I liked the effect, and I employed some of this liquid metal in the other pictures I’ve scanned (as well as some others that are drying).

Anyway….

In news poetic, I’m working on an ekphrastic poem that is kicking my ass, and except that one of the lines in the poem is the title of the collection I’m working on, and the poem is therefore pivotal to the collection, I’d just as soon toss it and come back to it much later.  I suppose I could still toss the poem, and come up with a new title for the collection, but I hate to do that, because I love the title… Oh well, it doesn’t have to be decided tonight.