Thursday, December 28, 2006

december annogram

Hi everyone, hope you are having a wonderful Hanukkah, Christmas or Kwanzaa season. I am celebrating two poems in, a special issue that focuses happily on artists. Take a look and let me know what you think.

Poetry at the Hudson River Museum
While at the monthly Westchester Amateur Astronomers meeting, I stumbled into a November 10 reading by poet Kathleen Ossip. Kathleen won the 2002 American Poetry Review/Honickman First Book Award for The Search Engine (The American Poetry Review, 2002). Kathleen models many poems after work by greats such as Eliot and Bishop. I particularly enjoyed her local color (“Geese on the Median of the Saw Mill Parkway”) and in lines such as “Let us go to Tuckahoe. Let us meet at the duck pond…” (“The Pleasure of Your Company”). A tough critic, I found myself engaged by Kathleen’s unusual wordplay and strong metaphors.

Discovering the new Hudson River Museum
Walking around the museum gave me a chance to appreciate its improved appearance—the dramatic rectangular entrance and improved interior lighting gives it a more comfortable feel. I enjoyed photographs by Yonkers native and professional photographer Guy Gillette—classic pictures of Audrey Hepburn and others dating back to the 1940s. I also welcomed paintings and prints of the stark Maine landscape by late artist Neil Welliver. With both exhibits up until January 7, you can shake your winter doldrums by taking them in.

French poet at Sarah Lawrence
Thanks to Meredith Trede for dragging me out of my winter stupor to attend a reading by French poet Marie Borel at Sarah Lawrence College. Marie, accompanied by translators Sarah Riggs and Omar Berrada, read from her book Trompe-Loup and its translation, Wolftrot (Fence Books, 2006). Like a performance, all three wove an intriguing narrative in English and French. Reappearing characters and themes connect the poems. Congratulations to Marie, Sarah and Omar on their joint translation project!

Hip bone’s connected to….
Bodies: The Exhibit at South Street Seaport features human bodies preserved in acrylic and then sliced to expose bones, muscles, blood vessels, nerves and organs. Although it sounds grizzly, the exhibit is an extraordinary experience for lay people—and there were lots of EMS workers and physical therapists on hand to relish the opportunity. I developed a new appreciation for our delicate innards—and the impact upon them of what we consume and breathe. While grateful for the experience, I felt sad for the bodies—rumored to be prisoners in Asia—that they ended up this way.

French Film Festival
My Francophile-neighbor Susan lent me three French DVDs recently: “The Child” (Sony Pictures Classics, 2005), by Jean Pierre and Luc Dardenne, follows two adolescent lovers who give birth to an infant. While the young mother takes to her new role, her petty-thief partner promptly sells their baby. The plot spirals from there—and I wondered who is the real “child”? The baby, unsuspecting mother or misguided father?

“A Very Long Engagement” (Warner Independent Pictures, 2003) takes place in World War I France. Audrey Tatou (“Amelie”) sets out to find her soldier lover, supposedly executed for his attempt to desert. This film vividly portrays the horrors of war and tenacity of one woman who believes against all odds that her soul mate is alive. “A Very Long Engagement” achieves the feel of a detective story as Tatou inches closer to answers.

The best was “Ridicule” (Buena Vista Home Entertainment, 1996), a film by Patric LeConte set in the pre-revolutionary court of Louis XVI. An aristocrat farmer heads to Paris to beg the king to drain the swamps that are causing pestilence and death in his region. To get the king’s attention, he must play into the hands of the court and often violate his own values. While a fascinating story, the film also affords what feels like an accurate glimpse into that era’s unmerciful court culture.

Toadlily Press open reading
Toadlily is considering manuscripts for its yearly book during January. Each book incorporates chapbooks for four different poets. The books are beautifully designed and thoughtfully marketed by Toadlily editors who are themselves poets passionate about their craft. See the web site for more details.

The Westchester Review
This new literary journal includes fiction, non-fiction, and poetry by 45 Westchester writers. Buy the journal for $8 at Bronxville Books/Womrath Bookshop in Bronxville, Elaine S. Feiden Rare Books in Mamaronneck, Reading Writing & Wrapping in Scarsdale, and The Village Bookstore in Pleasantville. To order a copy send your check to: Stanley Sokol, 10 Stewart Place, 6GW, White Plains, NY 10603.

The greats, one morsel at a time
Poet Linda Simone alerts us to DailyLit, a free daily e-mail service that delivers under-five-minute bites of classics from Aristotle and Austen to Shakespeare and Sinclair.

UN redux
So many people were intrigued by my reading at the United Nations. Here is a good summary:

CD Wright on publishing
Poet Myrna Goodman sent me this wonderful commentary, by one of my favorite poets, on publishing—often an angst-ridden path for us poets:

It depends upon how you count books. There are chapbooks, book books, and then there are just early, if not premature, books of a dubious class, that need to be released so that the other book, the one you intended to write, can be written.
Poet Frank Stanford read my poems and accepted them on behalf of Irving Broughton, his own publisher at the time. I was a third-year graduate student. The press, Mill Mountain, was based in Seattle at the time and is now defunct. It was a perfect-bound chapbook on ivory, laid paper, titled Alla Breve Loving. The title (and the paper, Warren Olde Style) had to be its strongest features. The next two chapbooks, Room Rented by a Single Woman and Terrorism came out from Lost Roads Publishers which was initially Frank Stanford’s press. I shared the purchase of equipment with him, but he was the sole editor. The reason he provided for starting the press was that he knew a lot of talented poets who had no ready access to publication. At least in my case he could have added ‘no wherewithal with respect to publication.’ After Stanford’s death I was the sole editor for a time.
My first full-length collection came out from SUNY Albany. It was chosen by Paul Zweig and C.K. Williams. Paul Zweig died before the book came out, and I don’t think C.K. continued the editorship after his friend’s death. The managing editor Nancy Sharlett (now also deceased) shepherded the book through the process, and though she was in charge of the administrative details and I was living in Mexico, she stayed in close contact with me, and I felt I had made bona fide contact with the somewhat larger publishing world. It was beautifully produced. The title itself remains one of my favorites, Translations of the Gospel Back into Tongues. And I had by that time learned a couple of things about writing I hadn’t learned before. I would come to include about half of the poems from Translations in Steal Away, my selected poems.
It’s an ongoing challenge and chore—the reading, writing, editing, and publishing process. The beginning doesn’t need to be perfect. I started locally and would not have known how to do otherwise. My standards grew more demanding regarding my own work over time, as I began to apprehend what I could and could not make happen with twenty- six letters and a limited skill set. I’ve never stopped seeing my first job as the one that requires my own development as a writer without respect to a promising publishing outcome. This view has not spared me some intense disappointments, but it has been my only reliable barometer. With respect to publishing in magazines, I aim for company I want to keep. With respect to publishing with presses, I put a premium on mutual respect, high production values, a various and ever-evolving list, and a serious endeavor toward distribution— would that I had managed all of the same for the poets who published with Lost Roads.
I know things have changed. I know the proliferation of writing programs and contests have rewarded some and embittered others. I know my experience holds only a partial example up to today’s conditions. One aspect of that example is to start where you are. That’s the geographical part. The internet’s addendum to that option is, start on-line. And in tandem with both options, start the publishing mechanism yourself—a journal, a book press, a reading series, a book club, a web-mag, a blog. The beginning will not likely be perfect. Not only do I see these as legitimate starting points, but I see the core action and much of the most astonishing and enduring writing through the history of the whole literary project as having come out of such initiatives. So there.

Wishing us all imperfect and legitimate starting points!