If you’re interested in a little Friday night poetry, please check out one of these streams. Karen Head (Birthday Girl!) and I are reading tonight at 8 p.m. ET.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Atlanta Review, and so we were thrilled to be in Portland to help celebrate this milestone with everyone and debut our 25th Anniversary Anthology. Not only was Atlanta Review one of AWP’s sponsors this year, but Karen Head, our fearless Ed., had gotten us a primo spot at the entrance of the Book Fair, and we expected to blow through our swag. Additionally we had a great 25th anniversary reading lined up with Ilya Kaminsky, Sholeh Wolpe, Marty Lammon, and former editor, Dan Veach, which we knew would be packed to the gills. We were expecting to take Portland by storm. Reality was a little less impressive.
If you want to skip the details, suffice it to say that I’m glad I went, and that I love spending five days surrounded by writers and books in a city I’ve never been to. If you want the low-down, read on…
But I had a great time at AWP. While I missed some interesting panels (being married to the booth for the entire time), I made up for it by being excellent at getting people to subscribe to the Atlanta Review. Among the three of us—Dan Veach (now Editor Emeritus of AR), Karen (the new Editor), and me—we sold 42 or 43 subscriptions, sold out of all the journals that Dan brought with him (he brought 120 copies!), and met and encouraged lots of poets to send us their work. I expect we’ll have quite the slush pile once Karen and I take over! And that’s good because the more people who know about the Atlanta Review, the more we can spread our influence and get new readers and conquer the poetry world, Mwahahahah! (Ah, sorry, I lost my head for a minute. But you take my point.) We want to continue Dan’s success with the journal, and between Karen and me, I think we waded into this new endeavor with aplomb. And Collin Kelley was at the table off-and-on, and he is always one of my favorite people.
Of course, what I always forget about AWP is how much fun the Book Fair is. Especially when the swag is so good. And it was pretty good this year. The hot giveaway was buttons—everyone was giving away buttons, and so my AWP lanyard was bespangled with them from all manner of journals, the London Review of Books, PoetLore, Five Points, Sierra Nevada College’s “This Sh*t Is Lit,” “Poetry Changes Everything,” and nearly two dozen more. (I was all about the buttons—and even got several compliments from random peeps about my lanyard. The best one sported a picture of a catalope (cat with antlers)—of course I can’t remember what journal I picked that one up at—I really wanted to buy a tee shirt from them, but they were out.) (Also, we’re totally giving away buttons next year at the AR table—we totally need to swag it up.)
Other swag of note: Poetry gave away car air fresheners. I am totally mystified by this choice. It smells vaguely piney, and also like antiseptic. And ass. Not really the smell your car longs for. But on the back is the poem “Trees” by Joyce Kilmer, published in Poetry in August 1913, which is kind of nice. Permafrost gave away a squishy stress-ball in the shape of a polar bear (awesome) as well as free copies of their journal. There was one booth that as I was leaving the Book Fair for the day had some earbuds lying around. I’m pretty sure they were giving them away…they had several pairs sitting on the table… but if not—if I accidentally liberated them—then I can add kleptomania to my list of skills, along with poetry and sarcasm. (It’s good to diversify, you know.)
Then there was the booth with this one woman who apparently is a self-publishing machine. (I’m withholding her name in case my ridicule gets out of hand—but she shares a name with a famous early 20th century woman poet.) I mean, she was probably 80, wizened like the Southwest—she looked like New Mexico—and draped in scarves and flowing skirts, and had stacks of her books in front of her like a fortress—all published through Amazon. No matter how I tried to extricate myself from her clutches, she would not let me leave—she kept wanting me to purchase her books.
As soon as I’d inch away, she’d thrust another of her books into my hands, telling me how her life had been changed and how these poems represent her experience. She gave me one book to take with me—which I totally thought was a catalogue describing her various books, with a few poems in between ads for her other books—and when I got back to the hotel, it turns out she was actually selling that book—there was a price of $18.95 stamped on the back. (I was like, dafuq? Really? Who would buy that??) Anyway, when she saw she could not entice me to purchase her whole corpus of books, she foisted her most recent one on me—which actually, from a graphic design standpoint, seems really kind of nice—the cover is lovely, and it looks like a real book of poetry, not something from a vanity press. But I mean, how good can these poems be? The first line of copy on the back cover states, “These new poems were all written during the first two months of 2016…” and the pub date is March 5. I guess I am being a poetry snob. I haven’t read the book yet—it could be wonderful. But I’m not holding my breath.
Another book that was given to me for free was Jessie Carty’s Practicing Disaster (Kelsay Books/ Aldrich Press 2014). I have a bit more faith in this book, although its title on the cover is written in shitty Comic Sans. (Really? Like who thought that was a good idea?) The inside cover has the author’s name signed and the line “Not a joke—free poetry” with a smiley face. And the acknowledgements list at the front of the book is quite impressive—among the places that Carty has published work include Eye Socket Journal, The Dead Mule, Blue Fifth Review, and Poet’s Market 2013. So, I’ll try to read through it at some point.
As far as purchased books, I bought Parades by Sara Deniz Akant (OmniDawn 2014), and Hungry Moon by Henrietta Goodman (Colorado State 2013) (which kind of got banged up on the flight home—c’est la vie). And the stack of journals I picked up is impressive—Moon City Review, New South, Southern Indiana Review, Rock and Sling, Michigan Quarterly Review, Sugar House Review (which has a beautiful cover), the Laurel Review, and several others—all of which will be seeing submissions from me in the near future—hahah.
Of course one of the things people flock to AWP for is all the famous people, as well as catching up with old friends. I didn’t meet any famousy-famous people, though I did get to meet Kelli Russel Agodon, of Two Sylvias Press (a press that makes lovely little books), who is one of my heroes (I love her as a poet and as an editor), and who tweets great material always (follow her if you don’t: @KelliAgodon). So meeting her at the Two Sylvias table was so nice—I was fulsome enough in talking to her, I think she felt like she had to hug me. But we had a nice little convo. And I did get to see some old Nebraska alums—Liz Ahl, who I always forget how divine she is (we had drinks with her at Tom’s Urban, in L.A. Live, across from the Convention Center), and Darryl Farmer, who was here at Georgia Tech too for a little while, before moving off to the wilds of Alaska. But overall, not as many Nebraska folks as I expected to see. (I went over to the Prairie Schooner table, thinking there might be someone from the old days, but I didn’t know any of those people.) I would have liked to see a few more, at least. (I did see another UNL alum, who, as always, looked right through me, the putz. I refuse to mention him by name, but a pox on his head.)
Not at the conference, I met up with my old best friend/ enemy/ boyfriend-ish/ not boyfriend-ish/ “I’m gay” “No kidding” “Why didn’t you tell me?” “I thought you knew” / best friend again from back in my USC Trojan days. We spent late Friday afternoon and Friday evening walking all over Santa Monica—we walked from Wilshire Blvd. to the Pier, and up and down the Pier, and along the beach for a long stretch (geezus, the water was cold as fuck), and then up and down the Third Street Promenade about three or four times, tried finding a movie to watch (we went to the movies all the time when I lived out there), went out to dinner, ate liquid nitrogen ice cream at Creams & Dreams, and then hung out at his place in Venice to watch Brooklyn—a great (if slow-paced slice-of-lifey movie… about 10 minutes into it, I thought, “This is so my Mom’s kind of movie”). I didn’t get back to the hotel till well after midnight. But it was so good to see him… and fun to tool around L.A. like we did when we were younger.
Anyway, I’m glad to be back, I won’t lie. I need to recharge my introvert batteries which were sadly depleted while I was away. And mostly I need to…
…And so do you.
It’s chilly—44 degrees out, and blustery. There are few leaves on the trees, but they rattle as the wind blows, and somehow the weather is fooling me into believing it’s October. I want to believe Halloween is right around the corner…because it would mean that November was right around the corner too, and that would mean it’s time for another NaNoWriMo.
I’ve been missing the energy of NaNoWriMo. I’m still in the early stages of Hecate Applebough 3 (still untitled), and part of my lack of progress has to do with a weirdo persistent migrainey exhaustion I’ve been suffering for the last month (and which my Mom has nagged me about going to see a doctor for—ugh), and also not feeling that compulsion to write every day those 1,667 words because I have nowhere to chart the progress, no pep-talk e-mails from the NaNo people coming every few days encouraging me. It’s just me now, and it’s harder to write, without the community.
But, a couple of days ago, a fortuitous tweet put me on to an app called Writeometer, which exists only for Android (sorry iPhone folks) and which gamifies the writing process, kind of the way NaNo does—you can set a daily/ monthly/ word goal, use its timer, enter your daily word count, and get reminders about writing, and you can earn “guavas.” I don’t know all tricks of the app yet, so I’m not sure what earning the guavas can do for you, but I’m sure I’ll find out as I become more familiar with the app. I’m looking forward to using it—I need the motivation. So I’ll let you know how it goes. (If any of my Five Readers have tried the app, I’d be curious to know what you think about it—but I suspect most of you are Apple users.)
Other than working on Hecate, I’ve produced a few short pieces lately—a few honest-and-for-true prose poems—one of them came out so well that I’ve “given” it to Hecate, and shoehorned it into the second book…although if I can get it published on its own, I will—and a few bits of flash that I want desperately to be prose poems, but I knew they aren’t.
Prose poems have a certain surreal quality—and so does my flash, except that the surrealism of prose poems is its own little thing. When I try to do surreal flash, it just comes out as nutty. Like maybe I’m trying too hard. But hey, two pieces of just such flash were accepted by a journal on Monday, so I guess nutty works too. In general, I just have a little “heart on” for prose poems, because they’re hard to do well, and because I think, in my mind, I still privilege poetry over prose as being Important and Worthwhile… while fiction just seems like something you do for cash. (Not that I have received any cash for ANY bit of fiction I’ve produced—not ever—but you take my meaning, I’m sure.) And of course, even as I write that, I know that’s a false dichotomy—but there it is. The poet’s bias against fiction writers. Hmm.
How’s this for burying the lede? In other news, now that Dan Veach is passing the editorial reigns of The Atlanta Review over to Karen Head, she has asked me (WHAT????) to serve as the managing editor. OMG OMG OMG. This is an amazing opportunity, and I can’t wait to sit down with her and discuss all the ins-and-outs, and really sink my teeth into this project. Reading some brand-new poems (that aren’t mine—haha) that are searching for a home is exciting. It’s been a long time since I did any work on a literary journal, and The Atlanta Review is a Big Deal—this isn’t any dinky fly-by-night online journal, this is prize-winning print journal with an international following. The work that Dan Veach has done on the journal (founding it and running it) is amazing and impressive, and I’m so thrilled that I get to be involved…and so grateful to Karen for asking me to assist her. Read Collin Kelley’s article in Atlanta INtown, about the transition of editorship to Karen, because it’s interesting and offers some history about the journal. (As my first order of business as managing editor, I propose we update the website!)
What else is there to share? I’m still working on reading those three books of poems I mentioned in my last blog post—I got a little distracted by my manga habit, and my weirdo exhaustion that makes me want to fall asleep at 6 p.m.—but I hope to finish them this weekend (in and around the 85,000 tennis matches I’ve scheduled). And, I’ve gotten yet another rejection on my poetry manuscript, but I sent it out to two more places, and I’m crossing my fingers. At some point, SOMEONE is going to want it, right? Maybe I need to “attach a few more zeros” onto the contest fees I send off… maybe bribery would work? (You never know!)
I’m not sorry the Decatur Book Fest has been put to bed for another year. There, I’ve said it—excoriate me all you will, but after nearly ten years of participating in the Local Poet’s Stage, there’s really nothing new and energizing about it. It epitomizes the term de rigueur. Been there, done that, got the poetry chapbook.
Don’t get me wrong—I truly like listening to my fellow poets—I thought Tammy Foster Brewer’s work was especially good this time—and I know I have her book around here someplace and I really need to re-read it. Of course I enjoyed Robert Lee Brewer’s work too (I laughed out loud at the “Love Song of Lt. Commander Data”) and also Andrea Jurjević’s poetry—I like to hear them as writers and experience them as readers, which is why I always corral them for the 10 o’clock hour. I find something new every time I listen to them—and that’s great. And it’s amazing to listen to so many Atlanta poets just in general. There’s a wealth of poetry here, and we can all thank Kodac Harrison’s work with the Local Poet’s Stage for bringing it to such a lively audience.
I always want to stick around for the entire day, but it’s complicated by an uncooperative body. I did stay for the 11 o’clock hour, a medley of poets including Dan Veach and Karen Paul Holmes and Kodac (who, being a spoken-word/ performance poet recited both of his poems to the delight of the audience). One poet who read with whom I wasn’t familiar at all was Christopher Martin, who seemed like a good ol’ Georgia boy, but he had a real narrative sense to writing, which I always respond to. (I wish I had thought to buy one of his books. For once I was carrying cash.)
I started to linger for the 12 o’clock hour (with the goal of staying through at least 2 p.m., so I could hear Karen and Bob)… except suddenly I was feeling anxious and light-headed, and that spoon-scooping-out-my-eye pain (indicating an oncoming migraine) hit me, and I knew I had to leave.
After all these years, the post-DBF reading-migraine makes me think it’s like some kind of psychosomatic response…I know for sure I’ve gotten one the last 4 years I’ve done this. I don’t know what to attribute the migraine to—if it’s the venue, being outside on the patio, exposed to street noise (and let’s not forget Java Monkey has shitty coffee, though their frosted mint lemonade is terrific, I discovered), or if it’s the heat the longer the day gets (that’s always an issue, though the morning started cool enough), or if it’s just all the people who eventually fill in around me and I get antsy and hemmed in (actually, I’m almost sure that’s a main reason)—but SOMETHING kicks in, and makes me all Decatur Book Fest grrr-y/ angsty, and I have to GET OUT.
The problem with that DBF migraine is I missed a lot of local poets I’d have loved to hear. Of course, Collin and Karen are giving a reading on Sept. 30th (which, assuming I don’t have a tennis match on that day, I plan to attend), so missing them this past Saturday is less egregious than missing, say, Christine Swint, whom I generally only see at DBF. (And who I was so sorry to miss this time, because I’m sure she read poems that had to do with her Camino journey, and those I really wanted to hear.)
I suppose I should have taken a prophylactic Imitrex to head off the inevitable migraine (I get migraines ALOT, and I generally carry Imitrex with me just in case), but I didn’t think about it, and thus, just as all my friends were up to read, I had to go. But what can you do?
As far as my own reading went, I think it was fine. About eight people were in the audience when I went on—mostly friends of Tammy’s—though my former supervisor and now dear friend Shannon Dobranski showed up just to hear me (I know it was just to hear me, because she left right after I left the stage), and I can’t tell you how touched I was. It was so unexpected to see her in the audience, and it meant a lot that she showed up because at least I had someone to read to who wasn’t just there waiting in the queue to read after me. And Bob showed up half-way through, too, when before, he emailed that he wouldn’t be coming, so that was a nice surprise. I’m used to reading to an imaginary audience, so to have two friends there was two more than I’ve had before, and it was nice.
I’ll post the set list tomorrow, as well as some photos, as promised. I feel a lie-down calling to me now.
This weekend is the Decatur Book Festival, the “largest independent book festival in the country,” going on ten years strong. I have read at nearly all of them on the Local Poets Stage, which is located in the Java Monkey coffee house, and I am reading again this Saturday at 10 a.m.
That early there’s not much of a crowd. I’ve heard that Maureen Seaton and Denise Duhamel are also reading at the same time (their program is Caprice: Collected, Uncollected, and New Collaborations, being held in the First United Methodist Church), so I doubt that there will be anyone in the audience for me. I don’t mind so much for myself—after all, I’ve heard my own poems often enough, but I’m sorry for the three people I’ve lined up for this time slot: Tammy Foster Brewer, Robert Lee Brewer, and Andrea Jurjević, excellent poets, all, who deserve a good audience.
(It must be said, I wouldn’t mind hearing Denise Duhamel and Maureen Seaton either—but alas, I cannot.)
Because I am a tangential member of the group that puts the Local Poets Stage together, I have historically chosen the 10 a.m. slot to “get it over with.” Generally speaking, it’s disgustingly hot out, overcrowded, and crammed with people trying to persuade you to buy their books—and the most persistent of sales pitches seem to come from the self-published. (I know, that’s terrible of me to say.) The height of summer is also not the best time to crowd 50,000 people into Decatur Square (about 3 city blocks or so), so usually I read my poems, M.C. my hour, and hightail it the hell out of Decatur.
This year, though, I’ll stay at the festival at least a few more hours, although I might go wandering, because Karen’s hour isn’t until 1 p.m., when Emily Schulten, Bob, and Karen’s friend (and mentor from University of Tennessee) Marilyn Kallet will be reading, and afterward, Karen is throwing a little soiree for Marilyn. So, I’ll stick around for all of that. Of course, a lot of good people are reading on the Local Poets stage—people I always like hearing, like Christine Swint, Collin Kelley, Julie Bloemeke, Lisa Annette Alexander, Cleo Creech, Megan Volpert, Rupert Fike, Kodac Harrison, and Theresa Davis—but they’re all reading in the afternoon, and I just can’t give up my entire Saturday for them, sad to say… not on Labor Day weekend, the last hurrah of Summer.
Anyway, I’ve picked out the poems I think I’ll read, and will make a set list afterward so you can see. I could read poems from my manuscript, but honestly, it’s hard to pull out pieces from a narrative and have them make sense—and certainly, in 10-12 minutes of reading, it’s even harder to see a common thread—so instead, I’ll be reading a bunch of prose poems. I’m looking forward to it—I’ve never read them to an audience (at least, I don’t think I have) though many of them have been published (or will be soon). So that might be fun.
Well, I haven’t much more to say on this subject, though I will report back on Saturday (or Sunday). There might even be pictures.
A lot of my thinking has to do about why I write, and this blog looks at my writing process and elaborates on that thinking (as my five faithful readers are well aware). Everyone knows that writers write. And everyone also knows that sometimes writers don’t write—because they’re bored or they’re tired or they’ve just reached some kind of impasse.
I was going through a lot of crap in my office, preparing for the AC guys to come in and work on my AC unit (by the way, they still haven’t come, and my office is a disaster, though that’s beside the point), and in the process I was throwing out a lot of paper and other useless bits of detritus from my years teaching, and I came across a freewrite I scrawled on July 16, 2008. The topic was “Why Do I Write” and this is what I said:
I write sometimes it seems not because I love it like I used to, when writing was about loving words and not about worrying about a CV. I haven’t written like this [in other words, a freewrite—I was taking a continuing ed class at Emory on memoir writing] in a long time—I buy writing books but lack the discipline to doing it on my own. Actually, I lack the discipline in so many ways—
I was thinking earlier today that I should work on those poems for June and July [this was during the period our writing group, the DYPS, was working on the poems that would eventually become On Occasion: Four Poets, One Year]—it seems more fun to write when I have my friends to write for. But Karen and Bob are out of town, and again, their being gone is like a license for me not to write. And I need to write—after all, I want to be famous some day—that’s a really terrible reason, I know [well, come on, it’s a freewrite after all—you can say anything you want in a freewrite, even something ridiculous like that]—but I want to have something to pass on, something that matters. I probably will never have children, so my legacy needs to be another kind of creation. That’s why I write. Or, that’s why I want to write.
(Blah blah. Oh, JC from 2008, you are so tedious. But, on the other hand, if you need a reason to write, and the hope for fame is it, well, keep on hoping, and keep on writing. Whatever works, right?)
The fact is, I do write. Well, now I do. Maybe not with the frequency I should, but I’m at an ok point with my writing and my diligence and my publishing. What got me thinking about not writing was a recent email I got from my Brilliant Fiction Writer Friend™, the one who gave such amazing and useful advice on the two pieces of prose I brought him. I asked him whether he was still writing stories frequently, and he replied that since he defended his dissertation, he hadn’t written anything, that he was burnt out. (I can totally understand this—he also has a very time-consuming, draining job helping students work on their writing and communication. When you’re giving so much of your energy to helping others write, well, maybe you don’t have a lot left for yourself…which is why I feel greedy and guilty and burdensome and needy asking his advice…but whatever, that’s my pathology.) What he said resonates in a big way with me:
I’ve tried a couple of times in the past three years, but I forced it and nothing came of it. I’m waiting for inspiration to strike.
Damn that inspiration—it’s so flighty and capricious. Of course we want to write something that is meaningful, “something that matters,” as I said in 2008—and inspiration does give us that energy and excitement that we need, especially when we’re in a writing rut. After all, if we’re not writing something that matters, what’s the point? We’re just making the written equivalent of noise. (Wouldn’t it be great to feel inspired all the time? If I could figure out how to do that, I’d bottle inspiration and make my fortune. Ah, pipe dreams.)
I can’t make BFWF™ want to write, but I wish he would, because he’s wonderful and I know that his stories (even if they’re hiding in his subconscious right now) will be wonderful too, once he digs them out.
At the same time, as writers know, if you don’t feel it, you don’t feel it, and forcing yourself to write when you don’t feel like it is pretty much a one-way ticket to hell because you’re a) setting yourself up for failure, and b) tossing yourself deeper into the “I hate to write” abyss, which makes you less inclined to pick up a pen (or keyboard) later on, and c) basically pissing yourself (and probably anyone around you) off.
I know this from personal experience. When you’re at a dry spell in your writing life—if you’re a writer—it’s probably because lots of other things in your life are in a dry spell too. In those “I hate writing” times of my life—when the writing ennui is really incapacitating and insurmountable—it’s generally because my life is out-of-whack. (Everyday life and living can be such a bitch sometimes.)
I’m a weird point. In some ways, I have a completely out-of-whack life right now—I’m feeling extremely morose and demoralized about a number of things (I won’t bore you with details) but I guess I feel like I can retreat into my writing—and if I’m not writing, well, at least I’m sending things out so they’re being seen in the world.
Anyway, I’m glad and grateful that I’m not not writing—sometimes, writing is the only thing in my life that makes sense. I hope that continues to be the case. And I hope inspiration strikes soon for BFWF™, I really do. The world needs his words.
Summer is a drag. Especially this summer. All my friends seem to be gone. Karen is in Oxford, England; Bob is not on campus. There’s drama brewing in GPS; Chickenpinata is damn near defunct thanks to a mass exodus of my (admittedly paltry) staff. La Petite Mort is late by three weeks, tomorrow. Grumble, grumble, grumble.
And, if all that’s not bad enough, I haven’t been writing anything worth a flip. Oh, I’ve been trying–this is like the 6th time I’ve started a blog post, and have scribbles of lines here and there. But everything’s been a half-hearted effort, when I’ve tried, and most days I’m just not feeling it.
A lot of this malaise is directly related to summer itself, when my writing naturally seems to “estivate” (not hibernate–thanks, Bob), but a lot has to do with the ongoing drama in my own life which has been out of control for months. It is, perhaps, beginning to resolve itself, but I’m tired, tired, tired. The thought of actually writing any poem is just …vomitous… to me these days. It’s like it’s all too much; the world waaaaay too much with me–with my life as uncertain and enervating and heavy as it has been, I just can’t fit in the angst that struggling to find the right words brings too. I just can’t.
I can already hear Bob muttering under his breath, and telling me to grow up (or worse), and Grace (if she read this, which she doesn’t, fortunately) telling me to get off the pity pot and write something already. But it’s not that easy. “Writing through the pain” is just a BS sentiment. I know a lot of Great Writers (TM) write best when they are stressed or freaking out, but that has never worked for me. That creative wellspring just dries up, and I’m about as useful as a piece of lint. I hate feeling this way. I hate what’s going on my life right now, and I hate that I can’t control it–I just have to sit by and watch it implode.
I suppose, a creative, thoughtful person reframes negative feelings. I could, for instance, think of myself as being like the cicada, underground and resting in nymph stage, until my 17-year instar comes upon me, and I become this creative, energetic person who begins to sing (although, I promise I don’t have any timbals on my abdomen, because that would just be weird) –or in my case, write. But I don’t really want to wait 17 years, and I don’t really want to compare myself to an ugly, scary bug. Or maybe I do. At least when cicadas emerge from their burrows, they shed their skins and become brand new.
I wouldn’t mind being brand new.
I wouldn’t mind being able to find the words in poetry what I’ve just been tapdancing around in this post.
I just don’t know when that will be.
Though, actually, it will have to be soon-ish, because the August Poetry Postcard Fest is soon to gear up…
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.
Tuesday the 6th was Chris’s b-day, and instead of traditional birthday things, I dragged him to the DYPS’ reading at the Oglethorpe Museum (he was very amenable, all things considered). The reading was in tandem with their exhibit, Henri Matisse: a Celebration of French Poets and Poetry. (As opposed to French poets and what, hotdogs??? Like, duh, of course poetry).
I really enjoyed myself, even if the poems that Blake, Bob, and Karen read were mostly ekphrastic–and both Bob and Blake brought handouts to accompany their poems too, which was thoughtful. I knew that we, as a group, had discussed the appropriateness of this venue for ekphrastic poetry, and as you know, I’m not a) a huge fan of it, and b) worth a damn when it comes to writing it. So I had initially tried to get out of the reading, figuring that the few ekphrastic poems I’ve written (and they’re only pseudo-ek, because I think the convention of just describing what’s in the painting is kind of… well… dry) really ought not to be read–or hell, acknowledged–but my demurring went over like the proverbial lead balloon.
So, making my apologies to the audience (which was, surprisingly, not just the DYPS and their significant others), I read poems from La Petite Mort, and from my as-yet-unnamed collection about the Sibley Sisters. Here’s the set list:
- Dystopic Love Poem
- Besame Mucho
- It Took You Half an Hour to Remember the Words “Wine Cooler”
- Low Sunday
- Ex Somnium
- They Say
- Tallulah Brings Home News
Afterwards, there was an impromptu star party, as the director(?) of the Oglethorpe Museum invited us up on the roof to look at Venus and Mercury. Sirius was out, as was Orion, and I think I saw the Big Dipper. It was neat to be up there, although it went on a little longer than I would have liked, and Karen reminded me of the time we were at the observatory at the Sewanee Writers Conference (in 2002), and we saw the shooting star. (How can that be 8 years ago???)
Anyway… April is a busy month, poetry-wise, for me. There is PoetryAtlanta’s Talking Back to the Muse program on the 17th, a poetry workshop on the 24th, a reading on the 28th, and possibly another reading sometime at the end of the month. Well, I hope I can finagle some book orders out of all of this!
Oh, and buy my book already! 😉