Book Juggling

In the background, Chris is listening to something that sounds suspiciously pop-ish, despite denouncing the genre most vociferously on many, many occasions.  Sometimes the music he listens to can be what he calls “down tempo” and sometimes it’s dance.   In any event, it’s never good. 😛

All of this is by way of saying, I was trying to do a little reading out here in the sunroom, which is my favorite room in the house.  Of course, being 9 at night, it’s not sunny at all, but that’s beside the point.  I’m reading Robin Kemp’s This Pagan Heaven, and I confess an affection for the book because she is from New Orleans, and several of the poems are New Orleans-y.  

I just finished reading “Pelican Sonnet,” and laughed out loud when I saw the epigraph:

Who the hell writes a sonnet about a pelican?

The answer, of course, to that question is ” someone from Louisiana.” Pelicans are not just our State Bird; they symbolize Louisiana in a really fundamental and profound way–when you see them in the swamps (even in Northwest Louisiana where I’m from), sitting on old cypress stumps, it’s as iconic an image for my home state as you can get (you know, without being a racist bigot waving the Stars and Bars).  Pelicans make me happy–there’s something unspoiled and old about them–maybe it’s their eyes, which always seem sad.  

But about  Robin’s poem specifically, the first several lines are hard, rhythmically, lots of staccato sounds and hard stresses:

a sky-hung V of brown with kite-webbed feet,

curved grave of neck, slick crest of gold-crown, neat

white mask, fish-crooking  beak, stretched-flesh-fold pouch. . .

which surprise me, because I would expect that kind of soundscape to be in a more jazzy, improvisational piece, not a very traditional sonnet about an animal and personal experience.  But I like the poem a lot, particularly because when the speaker begins speaking about her personal experience, the words speed up, and the rhythm is much different.  Here are the last three lines:

plotting their courses back to bayous cursed

with petrochemicals.  They did not fail:

behold the blessing of each brown wing’s sail.

I love, love, love that last line.

Anyway, I had to stop reading the poems because I agree with my blog-friend Benjamin Dodd who argues that reading poetry in the evening requires too much energy and engagement–which makes falling asleep hard.  If you want to read an excellent review of Robin’s book, check out Collin Kelley’s September 7th blog post.

The other books I’m reading concurrently include Warren St. John’s Outcast United,  Sherry Wolf’s Sexuality and Socialism:  History, Politics, and the Theory of LGBT Liberation, and–speaking of Collin Kelley–his new novel Conquering Venus.   I’m reading St. John’s book for my Freshman Seminar class; he’s coming to campus next week, and I plan to go hear him speak.  I like that book because it’s about immigrant issues here in Georgia, and he really focuses on what a horrible time refugees have, and your heart just breaks–the book is easy to read, but it’s also quite compelling.  

Wolf’s book is interesting, but I don’t feel like I need to say much about it because it’s pretty much “preaching to the choir” material.

Collin’s book is excellent to read before bed because I can lose myself in the characters and their stories–I can laugh at how abrupt and sarcastic Diane is; I can love Irène for being so mysterious; and I can feel CONSTANT SYMPATHY for poor Martin because of his doomed love affair with Peter the Prick and his ill-advised attraction to David the Dumbass.  (And yes, Bob, I did VERY MUCH need to use capitals there.)

But I also know, that when I close the cover and set the book on my bedside table (and watch it invariably fall off because I’ve piled it precariously on top of a plethora of crap), I can fall asleep, and sleep peacefully, because my mind isn’t chewing over the language and images evoked, like it does when I read poetry.

I haven’t juggled multiple books at once since grad school, probably. When I was studying for my comprehensive exams, I was probably reading 4 and 5 books at the same time, which, if you’re a bibliophile, seems a sacrilege, as books ought to be savored and read singly, so that you live with them in your mind.   In general, I believe reading more than one at a time is a kind of philandering.  But I find I rather like reading all these different books at once; the variety is engaging, and the different books are useful to suit different moods.

Anyway, it’s  about time for my nightly dose of Martin’s unending pain; I must read a few pages of Conquering Venus, and call it a night.

Decatur Book Fest Recap

I was going to write about the amazing reading at Java Monkey during the Decatur Book Festival–everyone’s, not just mine, heheh :-)–but then somehow I got distracted and the week got away from me.

And now it’s 9 days later, and everyone else has written about it in their blogs–and let’s be honest here, we’re all reading the same blogs, so I don’t know if it’s worth going into, but for the benefit of those who didn’t attend, and don’t read the same blogs I do, let me hit some highlights.

First of all, let me just say, Christine Swint is a born reader of poetry.   She mentioned that the DBF was her first-ever public reading, but I simply refuse to believe it.  She was so good–perfect pitch and delivery, her words smooth and even, and of course, wonderful.   It was a pleasure to hear her, and to be exposed to more of her poetry, which I am only a little familiar with.  I predict great things for her!  And I look forward to attending more of her readings, because I know there will be many, many.

Bob Wood was next.   He read poems from his Gorizia Notebook, and his explanations about the poems were as delightful as the poems themselves.  I was especially fond of his discussion surrounding “Night Train from Venice,” where he discussed how fascistic the train conductors are–who, as he describes in the poem, embody the “ghost of Mussolini.”

Blake Leland‘s poems were all bug-related.  He has what Bob calls the “voice of God,” and it’s true (if God were male, but everyone knows I believe in Goddess)–a basso profondo voice that makes every word resonate with import.  He read this one poem called “The Cicadas” which was a definite crowd-pleaser because it has a kind of James Brown-esque motif that punctuates the poem.  The audience loved it.  Even clapped mid-way (because it seemed as if the poem were over), but then when Blake actually finished it, it got a huge round of applause.

I was next–I read relatively recent poems, including several from the APPF.  Here’s the set list (although not in order, and not necessarily all of them, as I can’t find the pages where I had them written down):

  • Of a Diferent Color
  • You Never Listen
  • Horse Sense
  • St. Sebastian
  • St. Sebastian II
  • Ex Somnium
  • Breakup
  • Dystopic Love Poem
  • Besame Mucho

Several people came up to me afterward to talk about those Sebastian poems–among the comments I got was that they were “sly,” “sexy,” and “really cool.”  This amused me, and I was pleased.

I’ve been thinking of maybe doing a third St. Sebastian poem–one of the poems I need to write in the near future is a persona poem, which is not a form I’ve done in a while, so maybe I could write as him.  (Why do I need to write a persona poem, you may ask?  Because I will be attending the 3rd Annual Chattahoochee Valley Writer’s Conference, and that was Nick Norwood’s–who has 12 Hotness chilis on Rate My Professor–assignment.) 

I only read 11 minutes, according to Chris.  I guess I’m a poor judge of time, but I will say, I’m a firm believer in the “leave ’em wanting more” school of thought.  Better to end early than to bore people.

After me came Julie Bloemeke, who, like Christine, I hadn’t met in person before.  She read poems about derelict houses which were very interesting to me because I actually have a fondness for derelict buildings in general.  (I have often thought, if I had a lick of photographic talent, that I would like to shoot all the abandoned barns around Louisiana and make a book.)  I’m curious to hear more of her work–I should look online for it.

Karen Head read from Sassing, of course, and is always entertaining–quite the Southern raconteuse, but I confess to wishing she had read something newer.  And I know that she feels compelled to read “May Day Sermon,” which is a fine poem–don’t get me wrong, but I guess I’ve heard it so many times I just wish she’d give some of her other really solid, good poems a reading too.  She told me that she wasn’t planning on reading it, but I guess when your fans demand it… Not that I would understand these things, fanless as I am…

Finally Collin Kelley read the Preface to his novel, Conquering Venus (which I am currently reading, and am slightly in love with Irène Laureaux).  Listening to him read was amazing because you could swoon in the lyric quality of the words.  It was a pleasure hearing him, and I will have to make an effort to attend one of his readings so that I can hear him.  What is it about fiction always being more enjoyable when it is read to you?

There were others at the Java Monkey Stage I wish I had gone to hear–Kodac Harrison, Cleo Creech, Memye Curtis Tucker, Megan Volpert, Rupert Fike (who sent me one of my favorite APPF poems that I received), Robin Kemp (who signed her book This Pagan Heaven for me, but I haven’t read it yet, despite Collin’s superior review in his blog–I need to read it soon, by the way), and Ginger Murchison… Though several of them I’ve heard before, it would have been nice to hear them again.  Next year, I promise that I’ll spend more time at the DBF.  It’s just usually so hot, and parking is an issue, and I’m a crabby old curmudgeon, that 4 hours, plus a MARTA trip, is about my limit.

In other news, oh, never mind.  That can wait for another post.

Writing with a Weak Will

I needed to write a poem today for the APPF, but I didn’t.  I had a migraine for most of the day, and when I didn’t have a migraine, I didn’t feel like writing a poem.  And now it’s 20 after 11 and I don’t feel remotely like doing anything poetic.  Not that it matters, because the little book of postcards and the stamps for them are sitting in my office.  I’ll have to write a couple of poems to make up for it tomorrow, and then get them all in the mail on Monday.

It’s kind of bad that it’s only the first of August and I’m already behind with the postcard poems though.  The postcard that was for today I put in the mail yesterday or Thursday.  It’s going to Ottawa, but of course it won’t arrive there till probably sometime next week.  It costs 79 cents to mail a postcard to Canada.  That seems awfully pricey, when it’s only about $1 to send a card-card to England.  Oh well.  I hope the person I sent it to likes it.  The poem I sent was “Garden Variety,” the same one that Karen read yesterday on the Plinth.  Which, while I’m thinking of it, I need to send to Christine Swint, because she wanted to read it.

I’m really amazed at people who can write in multiple genres.  Right now I’m thinking of Collin Kelley, whose novel Conquering Venus, is coming out a little later in August, I think.  He writes in all kinds of genres–poetry, fiction, news.  Probably other genres I don’t know about.  How do people do that?  How do they have so much to say that they can say it in multiple genres?

I can’t write fiction.  I’ve tried.  It comes out dreadful.  And it’s too bad too, because clearly I have a narrative strain in my poetry, and I have the desire to write fiction (and memoir, for that matter), and flesh out characters who do interesting things.  Oh, maybe I don’t have The Great American Novel in me, but I might have an Entertaining Bit of Fluff in me.  Or I would if I had an attention span longer than a gnat’s.  

I suppose, like any writing, you have to work at it.  But poetry is hard enough for me as it is, and I’m not nearly as dedicated to it as I ought to be.  Can you imagine me trying to write a novel?  I’d probably write 20 pages, get bored, and tack on a “The End” before my main character even finished her Cheerios.