Saturday, December 01, 2007

your thanksgiving annogram

Thanksgiving greetings
I am grateful for every one of you who faithfully reads your annograms. My gratitude extends to Scott Howard, who has published my work in his new online journal, Reconfigurations. These two poems emerged after translating the daring French poet Hélène Sanguinetti.

For a more traditional poem about one of my favorite pastimes, see my updated web site with new blog link:

Ann at Hudson Valley Writers Center
Make your calendars for Friday, December 14 at 7:30 if you’d like to hear selections from my new book Sugaring and translation Hence this cradle. I will be reading at the Hudson Valley Writers Center, 300 Riverside Drive in Sleepy Hollow (914-332-5953), and would love to see you there.

NEA Big Read: Zora Neale Hurston
What a pleasure to be on the October 28 panel at the Greenburgh Town Hall! The event, part of the NEA’s Big Read, focused on Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. Panelists included writers Angela Batchelor, Terry Dugan and Linda Simone. Sarah Bracey White, director of Greenburgh Arts and Culture, read her Huston-inspired fable, “Wanderlust,” and then moderated a lively discussion. Half the audience had read the book and shared fascinating feedback for a rewarding literary “town hall” experience.

Stop the presses for Mavis
One of the most striking CDs I have heard in ages is Mavis Staples’ We’ll Never Turn Back (Anti, 2007). Mavis returns to vintage 60s civil rights and timeless gospel songs to evoke social protest appropriate—and sorely needed—for today. Produced by Ry Cooder, the CD includes background vocals by Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Once you hear the haunting first cut, “Down in Mississippi,” you’ll be hooked. I also loved “99 and ½” and “I’ll Be Rested.”

Holiday biscotti
Congratulations to Linda Simone, whose poetry appears in the Pushcart-nominated Alternatives to Surrender (Plainview Press, 2007). You can enjoy Linda’s “delicious” essay on her grandmother’s biscotti that appears in Foods of Affection at:

The genuine article
Congratulations also to Laura Morelli, who has a new column, The Genuine Article: In Pursuit of Authentic Crafts, on the National Geographic web site. If you love beautiful things, Laura is your guide to best choices the world over.

Four poets, one book
If you’re starting your holiday shopping, consider buying Edge by Edge (Toadlily Press, 2007), a unique “quartet” of poets’ chapbooks, as a gift for poetry lovers.

Book reviews
Faulkner, William. As I Lay Dying (Vintage, 1991). Thanks to fiction writer Cathy Chung for giving me this book and challenging me to revisit Faulkner. I had read him in high school, thanks to my professor-like Humanities teacher, Carl Ladensack. Going back to Faulkner, I am amazed at his dense and poetic language—successfully ascribed to rural and uneducated characters—that sounds almost Biblical. While I missed many plot subtleties and it pained me to see characters so devoid of human tenderness, I could grasp greatness at work.

Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God (Harper, 2006). When this book first appeared in the 1930s, it was panned by the literary leaders of the Harlem Renaissance for lack of social protest. As agreed in our Greenburgh Town Hall discussion, the story transcends race: It is one woman’s journey to live life on her own terms. To get to that place, she married three men, each one abusive in their own right, whom she eventually left, cursed or killed. Did Hurston believe it was possible to find wholeness with an intimate partner? This book evokes fascinating questions around gender, relationships and race.

Proulx, E. Annie. The Shipping News (Touchstone, 1994). This book won the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award for good reason: It is a very American tale—although it takes place in Newfoundland—of a character recovering his soul. Quoyle, after a bad start in love, and two toddlers in tow, follows his aunt to the old family homestead to start anew. Annie Proulx creates believable and complex characters in almost poetic language. The plot has humorous turns that—like a good line in poetry—surprise and yet seem entirely appropriate. It’s great when a well-crafted and enjoyable read receives its due.

Digital books
Has anyone out there bought the Amazon Kindle? It’s the wireless device which allows readers to download up to 200 books from Amazon’s 90,000 digital volumes. While nothing can replace a good paper book, I like the idea of being able to look up a word with a built-in dictionary.

That’s all for now. Wishing you good reading and writing!


Thursday, November 22, 2007

your fall annogram

Hello everyone, I am back from the great southwest! Glad to be home where so many wonderful readings, exhibits and events are taking place. Read on and I will fill you in on my writing residency in Santa Fe.

Positive reviews
Thanks to Julie Enzser for her review of Sugaring (Dancing Girl Press, 2007) in Gallatea Resurrects, and to Lucas Klein for his review of Hence this cradle (Seismicity Editions, 2007) in the current hard-copy version of Rain Taxi.

The Big Read
The NEA’s Big Read program is sponsoring Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neal Hurston (1891-1960). The idea: Everyone in Westchester picks up the book this month, reads and discusses it. Pretty cool, huh? To help the conversation, two events will take place:

• Westchesters Arts Council workshop and lecture
Saturday, October 20, 2007, at the Westchester Arts Council, 31 Mamaroneck Ave., White Plains, Thomasenia Myers will lecture on the literary, historic and social significance of Their Eyes Were Watching God from 1:00-2:30 pm, and then, from 2:45 – 5:00 pm, Brenda Connor-Bey will lead a writing workshop exploring the poetic realism present in Their Eyes Were Watching God. Lecture is free; workshop $25 (HVWC members $20).

• Multicultural writers’ panel at Greenburgh Town Hall
Sunday, October 28, from 2-4 pm, journalist and novelist Angela Batchelor, poet and novelist Terry Dugan, poet and fiction writer Linda Simone, essayist and novelist Sarah Bracey White and I will discuss Their Eyes Were Watching God. Free; call 682-1574 for more information.

Hadad honored by HVWC
Long-time and beloved workshop instructor and journalist Herb Hadad will be honored at the 2007 Autumn Celebration at the Sleepy Hollow Country Club, Scarborough, NY, by the Hudson Valley Writers Center (HVWC). The November 7th affair, which starts at 7 pm, will also pay tribute to Janet Langsam, Westchester Arts Council executive director. Many of us, including yours truly, began our writing lives under Herb’s generous guidance. Congratulations on an honor richly deserved!

Writers on War and Peace
Slapering Hol Press will sponsor a reading, Writers on War & Peace, on Friday, November 9th, at 7:30 pm at the Hudson Valley Writers' Center. Award-winning poet Terry Dugan will read with Reggie Marra, Mimi Moriarty, Pui Ying Wong, Amelia Winkler, Nancy Connors, and Irene O'Garden.

Book review
Edge by Edge, Poems by Gladys Justin Carr, Heidi Hart, Emma Bolder and Vivian Teter (Toadlily Press, 2007). Congratulations to Toadlily on generating another beautiful volume—their inventive quartet of chapbooks. The cover, an eye-catching photograph of smeared crayons, opens to a variety of work readers can pick over like a delicious box of chocolates. I love Emma Bolden’s How to Recognize a Lady, which picks on Amy Vanderbilt etiquette and twists its benign suggestions in the edgy title poem:

She is whipped to walk a straight line. She never eats unless
Hungry, never eats until full. She knows the front desk is no place
To comb her hair. In public, she keeps finger, pencils from her mouth.

Bolden feels as pissed off as Plath and I love that! Get the book and choose your favorites.

Shigeki Yoshida photographs
Shigeki's Yoshida’s strikingly beautiful black-and-white photos are on display in an elegant townhouse off Central Park West, home of gallery-owner Susan Eley. His work enjoys an entire, light-filled gallery downstairs. At the October 4 opening, a classic upper West Side crowd squeezed around one another to view artwork and sip chilled wine. I spotted Ron Livingston, star of the movie "Office Space" and who played a writer in "Sex and the City."

Shigeki is exhibiting a dozen photos, each with haunting use of shadow, light and form. Silver gelatin, he explained, deepens the black yet makes detail startling clear. Inanimate objects gain a brooding liveliness, and human figures seem to float. Close up, the eye is drawn to the subject matter's detail, while farther away, one notices the play of shadow and light. It's this layering that makes each photo truly engaging. Shigeki says taking photos is his spiritual practice, and this exhibit demonstrates his mastery. I highly recommend seeing this jewel of an exhibit.

Art and money
I was fascinated by a recent interview by Bill Moyers with John Bogle, founder of Vanguard Funds and index fund inventor. Bogle summed up the country’s current financial status—and, in talking about value, mentions art and literature:

Just think about the country for a minute: We were a 80-90 percent agricultural economy when we came into existence and by 1850, half agricultural. Now we've moved from an agricultural economy to a manufacutring economy to a service eeconomy andnd now to a financial service economy.

The financial services economy is what troubles me: The financial services economy is diverting resources from the investors to the capitalists, the entrepreneurs, to Wall Street, to the investment bankers, the Hedge fund managers, to mutual fund mgrs and that is that is a negative to our societal values where agricultural and manufacturing and services [added value].

I am perfectly willing to give a high value, for example, to art and poetry and literature. They add value to our society. It may not be easy to measure [them] in a society that measures too much of what that is not important and not enough of what is important. As the sign in Einstein's offices said, "There are some things that count that can't be counted and some things that can be counted that don't count.

A Santa Fe photo journal
Finally, you can read a photo journal of my time in Santa Fe at my blog entry below.

Til next time,

Monday, October 08, 2007

your annogram - southwest edition

Thanks to a Poetry Translation Residency from the Witter Bynner Poetry Foundation and the Santa Fe Art Institute, I spent a few spectacular weeks in September in New Mexico:

Located on the College of Santa Fe campus, the Institute is designed by Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta. Centered around a courtyard, the offices, galleries, studios, resident rooms and living areas are light-filled and airy. Residents’ rooms open on a private patio, and I was fortunate to face a rock garden full of lavender and blue grama. Most days, I would sit outside early in the morning as the sun rose and write.

Artists in community
What was extraordinary about the residency was the high caliber and creativity of the artists—as committed to their craft as they were generous to each other:

Zelda Alpern, fiction writer and recipient of an Individual Woman’s Artist Grant from the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, whose work has appeared in Chain.

Cathy Chung, fiction writer and 2007 MacDowell resident, whose work will soon appear in The Journal.

Rachel Cohen, dancer and artistic director of Racoco Productions—a movement theater whose production “If the Shoe Fits,” won raves reviews from The New York Times’ John Rockwell.

Jillian Conrad, sculptor, who had just completed one show in Hartford, “Name”, and will give the visiting artist lecture at Rhodes College in Memphis this month.

Patty Rosenblatt, ceramist, whose prints, sculptures and installations grace places such as the Jimmy Fund Clinic at the Dana Farber Cancer Center. Patty and Rachel are collaborating on innovative work involving dance and clay.

Marguerite Kahrl, visual artist, whose industrial hemp installation is getting rave reviews at the “Weather Report: Art and Climate Change” Exhibit at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art.

Julie Anne Pieri, visual artist, whose performance-based videos have been screened at the New Orleans and New York International Independent Film & Video Festivals.

Michael Sandoval, cinematographer and novelist, whose work “Ariana” appeared in the Berlin Film Festival, teaches film directing at the New York Film Academy.

Shigeki Yoshida, photographer, whose mesmerizing silver gelatin prints are exhibited this month at Susan Eley Gallery, 46 West 90th Street, in New York.

First impressions

When I flew into Albuquerque, I watched the midwest’s green circles and tan squares give way to mountains whose dotted greenery looked like Chinese dragons against the desert. Landing at Sunport International, a pink adobe building surrounded by mountains, I could practically hear the “wah-wah WAH” and rattlesnake opening of “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”

Artist Lorraine Serra said that New Mexico is “like being on another planet.” During the ride to Santa Fe, I believed her: I saw inactive volcanoes and wild horses. I watched a thunderstorm, hundreds of miles wide, pound mountains while the rest of the vast sky remained a vacuum blue. Relentless sun exposed mustard, pink and clay colored sand. Native American animal images and pueblo names adorned pink and turquoise highway overpasses.

My van driver insisted I attend the Zozobro burning the following night, and called his mother to ask when the Sunday candlelight procession would begin. His accent, a monotone clipped with something neither Spanish nor Native American, was a combination of two cultures I would often hear. Like him, everyone I met in Santa Fe would be welcoming: I would have guides on this new planet.

Santa Fe’s 300-year-old Fiesta, which celebrates Santa Fe’s Spanish re-occupation, begins with the burning of Zozobro, a 65-foot paper marionette at dusk.
For weeks the local newspaper collects Santa Feans’ bad karma in form of parking tickets and divorce papers—to be burned in Zozobro, aka Old Man Gloom.

Julie Pieri, Michael Sandoval, Shigeki Yoshida and I caught a bus to the Plaza to join hundreds making their way to Fort Marcy Park.
Valerie Cordova, a Santa Fean whose ancestry goes back 400 years, fell in with us, pointing out her family’s coat of arms on the Governor’s Palace. “Two dogs,” she said, “facing opposite directions.” She taught us to shout, “¡Que viva la fiesta!” to elicit “¡Que viva!” from the crowd.
When Valerie bought us day-glow necklaces, we pronounced her the unofficial Fiesta Queen—although we later met and bowed to Teresa Rodriquez, the real title holder.

Rock bands played as Zozobro groaned over the audio, opened and closed his mouth, and pointed gruesome fingers at the crowd. As night fell, an elaborate choreography unfurled around the puppet’s base with children dressed as angels and dancers tauntingly bearing torches.
Fireworks exploded on lines inching towards Zozobro. Finally, Old Man Gloom’s eyes and mouth ignited, fireworks exploding out of his head, until he collapsed into a burning heap. Many believe that this ritual cleanses participants of gloom, as one man assured his granddaughter, “Now we’ll have a good year.”

¡Que viva!

Over the weekend, the Fiesta continued in the Plaza with mariachi bands, vendors selling enchiladas, and craftspeople displaying weavings and jewelry. Sunday night, Marguerite Kahrl, Rachel Cohen, Julie, Michael, Shigeki and I attended the candlelight procession that commemorates the martyrdom of eight Franciscan priests.

Julie and Michael first attended the mass at the Cathedral of St. Francis. While we waited for them, we met a woman whose father had built most of Los Alamos during WWII. Her parents were concerned about spies and her safety, so they taught her—then five years old—to say that she lived in “Santa Fe” and later “Arizona.” She seemed like a living piece of history, and we listened, fascinated.

With a church group singing Spanish softly behind, and mariachis ahead, we wound our way up cobblestone streets to the Cross of the Martyrs. Two Spanish musicians lounged in a restaurant window, one holding a guitar and another an accordion. Many women wore traditional long dresses and shawls. If I had dropped there, I would’ve thought I was in another country.

The hilltop offered a bird’s eye view of the city, where breezes blew out flames and strangers dipped candles toward each other’s to re-light them. A priest celebrated Santa Fe’s unity and a chorus sang hymns. When it was over, in contrast to the solemn procession, everyone sped downhill—one banner bearer tripping over a curb and mariachis practically running down the street toward the Plaza.

Father Sky, Mother Earth

Another treat was attending an evening of Native American storytelling at the College of Santa Fe. I was privileged to hear Hoskie Benally, a Diné (Navajo) who told a moving story warning children about the impact of alcohol. Hoskie, who became blind at 22, overcame alcoholism and depression to find his true path as a spiritual leader. In New Mexico, it's easy to see why indigenous peoples deify the landscape--it is so vibrant and alive.
Even the prairie dogs and jackrabbits seem livelier. As Carl Jung once said to a Native New Mexican about his beliefs, "Everyone knows it to be so." Awed by the great and changing landscape, I became a believer too.

The Plaza

Santa Fe's centuries-old plaza is lined with stores full of striking jewelery, clothing, rugs and crafts.
Just beyond it, vendors display wares outdoors--near the Loretto Chapel. The Chapel looked familiar and then I found out it was based on La Sainte Chapelle in Paris.
Inside, a winding staircase to the choir loft is said to have been built by a mysterious carpenter who appeared, built it without any nails, and disappeared. The sisters there at the time believed him to be Saint Joseph.

Reluctant weaver
Chimayo is a village famous for its centuries-old tradition of weavers. Heading north for a day, novelist Zelda Alpern and I stopped at Trujillo Weavers, where the third-generation owner demonstrated weaving on his grandfather’s loom. “Where in New York are you from,” he asked me. “This rug,” he said, “is going to New York.” His family taught him to weave when he was a boy. “I didn’t want to learn,” he said, smiling. The shop, full of wool rugs and throws, featured the Chimayo pattern, a diamond bordered by two stripes.

Healing clay
We entered the Sanctuario de Chimayo, known for its curative dirt and primitive paintings more Native than Spanish colonial.
An elderly woman, helped by her daughter, approached the altar on her knees, as did a teary young mother carrying a disabled toddler. Left of the altar was a door to a narrow hut full of crutches, letters, needlepoint and paintings bearing witness to Chimayo’s red earth. “His cancer has not gone away,” wrote one, “but the dirt has given him peace.”

A low entryway led to a square room, a hole at center with fresh dirt and a spade. Each day, the priest goes to the hillside, digs out soil and refills the hole each day. I knelt to shovel some earth, silvery with minerals, into a plastic bag. An old woman, extending a tiny box, asked me to fill hers too.

As urged earlier by Julie, Zelda and I took the high road to Taos—where the desert landscape turned surprisingly green and mountainous. “I could live here,” Zelda, a Vermonter, said approvingly. At a scenic lookout, we were startled by a long-crested jay.
In Taos, we enjoyed a garden lunch at Orlando’s New Mexican Café. Fortified, we ventured across a dramatic desert stretch to seek out D.H. Lawrence.

D.H. Lawrence Ranch
I had read Sons and Lovers in high school, and more recently, an essay by Lawrence on New Mexico shared by poet Mary Ladd. Lawrence, who had come to Taos in his last years, adored the “uncivilized” environment:

New Mexico was the greatest experience from the outside world that I have ever had. It certainly changed me forever… The moment I saw the brilliant, proud morning shine high up over the deserts of Santa Fe, something stood still in my soul…

A long dusty drive led to the Lawrence Ranch, owned by the University of New Mexico, where a sign pointed to a concrete walk. After a five-minute walk zigzagging uphill, we found the grave of Frieda, Lawrence’s wife, in front of the crypt. In a deft Nancy Drew move, Zelda unlocked the narrow door which creaked open a few inches.

We gasped: Inside was the altar where Frieda is said to have mixed Lawrence’s ashes. Mabel Dodge Sterne had threatened to take them, so Frieda is rumored to have said, “Let her try now!” as she poured them into the altar’s wet concrete. A framed certificate revealed Lawrence’s body had been shipped from Europe—as if we too might question the ashes’ whereabouts. A book also revealed signatures from visitors worldwide and we added ours too.

Art in Santa Fe
No one told me how beautiful Museum Hill is in Santa Fe: The spectacular location features three museums, respectively devoted to international folk, Spanish colonial and Indian arts.
I visited the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, an intriguing journey in the Plains Indians’ art, culture and spirituality.

Canyon Road was another discovery—a winding residential road with dozens of galleries. I enjoyed the “Once There Was, Once There Wasn't: Fairy Tales Retold” exhibit at Eight Modern, which featured drawings from Jim Dine’s Pinocchio series and harrowing images of the Furies by Fay Ku, and works by David Hockney, Peregrine Honig, Elizabeth "Grandma" Layton, Adela Leibowitz, David Levinthal, Paula Rego, Kiki Smith, and Richard Tuttle.

Patty Rosenthal, Jillian Conrad and I also took in the opening of Judy Tuwaletstiwa’s “Traces” at Linda Durham Contemporary Art on Paseo de Peralta where I spied actor Judge Reinhold (Beverly Hills Cop, Stripes, Fast Times at Ridgemont High).

We attended a performance outside of one gallery to celebrate the opening of a pottery exhibit. It featured a young Asian woman performing a tea ceremony within a chalk circle, while another woman read a poetic narrative, and the potter himself, draped under a sheet, crawled slowly toward the gallery. Patty or Jillian, do you recall the artist’s or gallery’s name? Anyway, it was well-crafted poetry and a thought-provoking experience. Amidst our tour, two young Hasidic men blew a shofar to welcome in the year 5768. Surrounded by all that art, and the sun hitting Canyon Road’s adobe-colored walls, it felt like the year ahead would be wonderful.

Art as action
The Santa Fe Art Institute (SFAI) views art as the most powerful force for change on the planet today. And SFAI is doing its part: In response to 9/11, Executive Director Diane Karp initiated Emergency Relief Residencies. To date, more than 130 artists from Lower Manhattan and the New Orleans area have been given time and space at SFAI to recover their lives and work from the effects of 9/ll and Katrina.

Armajani’s “Fallujah”
In this spirit, SFAI hosted “Fallujah,” an installation by architect and sculptor Siah Armajani—artwork declined by US museums for its controversial subject matter. The piece, a huge glass rectangle, tilts perilously backward, revealing crushed mattresses and a child’s rocking horse. The work is witness against war and, in particular, the bombing of Fallujah.

Rewarding talks
“Fallujah: Revealing War,” an SFAI-sponsored panel discussion, also featured journalists Dahr Jamail and Jeremy Scahill, and artist Siah Armajani. The next evening, SFAI residents also enjoyed the artist’s private slide-lecture of his work—including well-known space such as Battery Park in Lower Manhattan. Armajani, who often integrates poetry into his work, called upon good friend John Ashbery for help with the Irene Hixon Whitney Bridge (Minneapolis, 1988). To top this off, Diane Karp took the sculptor and residents to dinner so we could get to know him.

Southwestern skies
My amateur-astronomer husband, Michael, joined me in the last week of the residency. His first night there, we drove to the top of the Santa Fe Ski Basin, almost 10,000 feet above sea level, to see the Milky Way arcing from one horizon to another. On the way up, we saw a male elk and a coyote. Another night, we enjoyed a tour of the night sky at a private ranch given by a local astronomer. On a daylight adventure, we drove to Los Alamos and savored the highway scenery.

Buena comida
People not only associate Santa Fe with art, but food. And there’s good reason: I discovered delicacies such as watermelon drink and Mexican wedding cookies—fat butter cookies with chopped nuts rolled in confectioners’ sugar. At Ecco near the Plaza, I tasted strawberry habañero—strawberry gelato with a chile kick. Everything was prepared with fresh vegetables from local farms or agricultural states in Mexico—so avocado in a salad at the Buddhist Cloud Cliff Bakery truly was a religious experience, as were steak-sized cinnamon rolls at Counter Culture. Michael and I, on a tip from a local, went to Los Potrillos for mind-altering chile relenos and home-made tortillas, an experience that will forever ruin our primitive concept of Mexican food back home.

I appreciate everyone’s good wishes, suggestions and prayers that made this trip so memorable. Thanks also to SFAI Director Diane Karp, and her dog, Bea,
who both made SFAI seem like home; to the Barretts for hosting a lovely cocktail party that made us feel a valued part of the Santa Fe arts community. For their kindness and hard work,
I salute SFAI Residency Director Gabe Gomez, Administrative Director Michele LaFlamme-Childs, Assistant Residency Director Peter Willig, and staff members Jennie, Joanna and Ammo.

Bottom line
And to answer the burning question: Did you write? Yes, I did. Poetry, I discovered, takes more time and needs to sit on the psyche’s back-burner. But being in Santa Fe added to my vocabulary of imagery, and in my work I expect to see its ancient cultures, beautiful colors and savory aromas erupt.

¡Que viva la fiesta!


Monday, July 30, 2007

a midsummer's annogram

Happy mid-summer, everyone! The air is fragrant and moist and trees laden with green. Cygnus flies overhead so take a look at her beautiful wings at night. This eclectic annogram combines everything from Robert Frost to ZZ Top, so let’s get started:

Cleve Gray at Neuberger
What an honor it was to read with top Westchester poets such as Suzanne Cleary, Brenda Connor-Bey, Ann Lauinger, Linda Simone and Meredith Trede at “Inspired by Nature,” a literary tribute to Cleve Gray (1918-2004) at the Neuberger Museum of Art. Gray’s arresting artwork combines vivid color fields under Zen-like calligraphic strokes. His masterpiece, “Threnody,” a meditation on the Vietnam War, which includes 28 larger-than-life red and black panels, produces a chapel-like reflection on the costs of war. This amazing exhibit closes the first week of September.

Hence this cradle reviewed in Pedestal
Thanks to editor John Amen for arranging a review of my translation, Hence this cradle (Seismicity Editions) by noted poet-translator Eric Greinke:

Salute to Jackie Sheeler
As the metro area’s poetry impresario for the past decade, Jackie hosted the Pink Pony West Poetry Series at the Cornelia Street Café in the Village, and created a local poetry calendar,, that linked to others from Vermont to Texas. As Poet Laureate of Riker’s Island, she received a wonderful write-up about her work there in the New York Times. Jackie, author of The Memory Factory (Buttonwood Press, 2002) and to[o] long (Three Rooms Press, 2007), is leaving her website and reading series to focus on her poetry, music and spoken-word recordings. Jackie, thanks for blessing many poets far and wide with encouragement, venues and opportunities!

Sugaring recommended reading
Thanks to Valparaiso Poetry Review for listing Sugaring (Dancing Girl Press, 2007) as “recommended reading”! I am still looking for reviewers. Anyone interested in reviewing my chapbook, please contact me.

Robert Frost Stone House
In early 2000, a group of business people got together and raised funds to buy Robert Frost’s home in South Shaftsbury, Vermont. There, Frost had lived in the 1920s and written “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” While the house affords access to a bare first floor, the rooms are filled with a fascinating collage of family photos, literary criticism, and poems. I always thought of Frost as a cantankerous loner—but, in reality, he lived with his adult children and their children in this small house. I loved discovering his phrase, “the pleasures of ulteriority,” that is—saying one thing and meaning another. His grave is not far away, at the Old First Church, on a shaded hill.

Lucy’s Eggs big winner
Congratulations to Rick Henry, editor of Blueline: His book, Lucy’s Eggs (Syracuse University Press, 2006), won the Adirondack Center for Writing's Best Fiction Award for books published in 2006. The Adirondack Center for Writing, a non-profit, supports literary arts throughout the Adirondacks.

Setzer, Hynde and ZZ sizzle
I hope Frost does not turn over in his grave if I jump to a fabulous rock concert held last night at the Jones Beach Theater. Brian Setzer returned to his native Long Island for the first time in 15 years—bursting on stage like a firecracker in a red-fringe shirt and matching red guitar. His wild Stray Cat cohorts, Slim Jim Phantom on drums and Lee Rocker on stand-up bass, flailed like wind-mills as Setzer wrung each awesome note out of his guitar. They seemed unaffected by a theater two-thirds full—but, as the Bible says, a prophet is never respected in his hometown. In this case, that means Massapequa.

How long have I adored Chrissie Hynde’s soulful rock intonations? Probably since her band, the Pretenders, emerged on MTV in the mid-80s. Wearing her classic shag haircut, knee-high white boots, jeans with a silver-chain belt and sleeveless hot pink shirt, Hynde is the quintessential rock diva. Strutting across the stage, she sang and played her Fender Telecaster to hits such as “Back on the Chain Gang”, “Middle of the Road", and “Don’t Get Me Wrong.” Hynde, who had left her Ohio home in 1973 to go to London, endured five years of false starts before forming the Pretenders. Today, she is the only remaining band member thanks to the original band’s drug-related deaths—but this crew translates their magic perfectly.

I saw ZZ Top more than 15 years ago at the Garden—and they haven’t aged a bit! Okay, that’s a joke: ZZ Top’s two guitarists, Texans Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill, wear foot-long beards, sunglasses and hats that the FBI might use for witness protection. All the absent tailgaters filled the theater to hear ZZ standards such as “Pearl Necklace", “Sharp-Dressed Man,” and “Gimme All Your Lovin.” I had no idea that Gibbons, Hill and drummer Frank Beard—ironically, no beard—got together in 1969 and also opened for Hendrix in Texas. After admitting that Hendrix taught him “stuff,” Gibbons and co. did an outrageous interpretation of “Foxy Lady.” ZZ performed a generous hour, accompanied by digital light show, smoke and their famous fuzzy guitars: More proof of southern hospitality.

Book reviews
Collins, Martha. Blue Front: Poems (Graywolf, 2006) recalls a lynching that the poet’s father witnessed in Cairo, Illinois. Collins spent years researching the actual event and pulls news clippings, photos and journal entries in a documentary-like free verse. Both Collins and Trethewey—reviewed below—use these resources to create poems like collage. They incorporate materials without losing the driving narrative or emotional voice. Collins often repeats phrases, lending an eerie urgency to the re-telling of this horrid tale; and examines common words used to describe it:

as a mirror on a wall, or the fall
of a dress. a dress, a shirt on a line
to fasten to dry. on the rack, or back
in the closet again, a sweet curse
on it all, sliver of nail, delayed
attack. shamed creature, a curse
on itself, so the act of doing it
changes the verb, tense with not
quite right. with rope, like a swing
from a tree. from a pole, like a flag,
or holidays, from an arch lit bright
with lights. in the night, in the air
like a shirt. without, or with only
a shirt. without, like an empty sleeve.

Blue Front is important—not only for its creative and visual lyricism, but for its truer reckoning of American history.

Taylor, Mervyn. Gone Away (Junction Press, 2006) is a collection of poems that focuses on the cultural tension of islanders who leave their birthplace to come live in the United States. Taylor, whose first home was Trinidad, produces affectionate portraits of friends and family members, and the choices they face. Like Collins and Trethewey, he also examines broader race issues, such as Amadou Diallo in “A Well-Bred Woman,” or Iraq war in “Entering the City.” In “Hard of Hearing”, his heart is back home:

They tell me it’s raining hard
in the island now. This is good,
you would think, after such a dry spell,
people would stand and drink.

But they complain it’s too much,
umbrellas are useless, shoes are soaked,
and there’s not enough camphor
to still the wheezing.

And when the sun comes out
so hot it scorches the skin it
plays a crazy song
on the galvanize.

Fowls swoon, and the blood
feels like it’s turning to steam.
They are waiting for Sunday, when
the light grows softer, the radio

plays hymns all day, and converts
tilt bravely backward into the font,
risking deafness, like Audrey ever since
going “Eh? Eh?” And still no answer.

Thanks to Meredith Trede for lending me this engaging book.

Trethewey, Natasha. Native Guard (Houghton Mifflin, 2007) won this year’s Pulitzer Prize for poetry. This book looks at race relations—starting with the Civil War and continuing with the poet’s experience growing up in Mississippi as the daughter of a biracial couple. Trethewey uses form easily—and perhaps needs it to recall memories such as a cross burning on her front yard. She taps into photographs, Civil War journals and related histories to shape her multi-layered topic. The effect is one of a fascinating collage. Also that her mother was a domestic violence victim--Trethewey's step-father murdered her--amplifies the ulteriority of her poems. In “Providence,” she recalls the devastation after Hurricane Camille:

The next day, our house—
on its cinderblocks—seemed to float

in the flooded yard: no foundation

beneath us, nothing I could see
tying us to the land.
In the water, our reflection
when I bent to touch it.

This wonderfully brave and well-crafted book deserves the Pulitzer.

That’s all for now. I leave you with my admiration for the rockers I saw last night and their long journey to recognition. Their experience tells me that if you love your art, the journey is your destination.

Til next time,

Sunday, June 10, 2007

your june annogram

God, it’s spring—beautiful out. At night I smell invisible honeysuckle floating out of dark trees and nameless bushes. It’s time to write poetry or dive into your chosen art. Hope you are as intoxicated as I am.

Call for submissions
Big City Lit is calling for themed submissions for Fall 2007: epigrams, moving/motion, dust, corridors, insects, cemeteries, smoking, infanticide, surrealism, timepieces, kites, suicide, ‘lovesick,’ hands and gloves, wells, windmills and small town wherewithal. Kinda a poem in itself! You can read my poem, “Anthem", in the spring issue at

Translation into French
In a kind gesture celebrating our work together, poet Hélène Sanguinetti and linguist Claire Barre have translated my poem, “Amphibious” into French. Thanks to Cipher Journal’s editor Lucas Klein, you can read the original and translation, as well as a translation from Hélène’s De la main gauche, exploratrice (Flammarion, 1999) at

Reviewers needed
If you’d like a byline in a literary journal, consider reviewing my chapbook, Sugaring (Dancing Girl Press, 2007). I have a couple of journals willing to publish a review if someone will submit one. Contact me if you’re interested.

Hence this cradle available online
My translation of Hélène Sanguinetti’s D’ici, de ce berceau (Flammarion, 2005), is now available at Small Press Distributors for $12.95. Blending the fairytale world of childhood with the sensual world of the adult, this sequence of poetic fragments fuse the innocent and the intimate in a single lyric voice.

Poets celebrate Cleve Gray
I will be joining some of the area’s best poets this Wednesday, June 13, at the Neuberger Museum for a reading celebrating artist Cleve Gray (1918-2004). A tour of his works starts at 6:15 pm, followed by the reading featuring poets from Manhattanville’s Inkwell and the Hudson Valley Writers Center, at 7:00pm. Harpist Sherry Robinson will also perform. Admission $6; $3 for Museum and Hudson Valley Writers’ Center members; free to Purchase and Manhattanville College faculty, staff and students. For directions, see

‘Ode to Coal’ inspires symphony
Sherry Fairchok’s “Ode to Coal,” from Palace of Ashes (Cavankerry, 2002) inspired a commissioned orchestral piece celebrating the Northeastern Pennsylvania Philharmonic’s 25th anniversary. Composer N. Lincoln Hanks says the poem brought up “the images I wanted to convey.” “Reverie: through a mountain of buried night,” made its orchestral debut April 24. Congratulations to Sherry on this wonderful honor!

Publishers read their poetry
Some well-known publishers will be reading locally in the next few weeks: Toadlily editor Meredith Trede will join the June 13 Cleve Gray (above). Camber Press editor Ron Egatz will be reading Sunday evening, June 24, to launch the Sarah Lawrence Summer Seminar for Writers; and John Amen, founder and editor-in-chief of The Pedestal Magazine, will be at Cornelia Street Café in New York City on June 22, 6:00pm, $6 admission.

Camber Press Poetry Competition
Stephen Dobyns will judge the third annual Camber Press Poetry Competition. The winner will receive $1,000 and have his or her manuscript published by Camber Press, Inc. Typed manuscripts of up to 24-pages must include a cover page listing author’s name, address, phone number, e-mail address, and manuscript title. A title page with no biographical information and table of contents should follow. Simultaneous submissions okay. A $15 entry fee payable to Camber Press must accompany submissions postmarked no later than July 15, 2007. For more info, see

Book review
Bolano, Robert. The Savage Detectives (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007), translated by Natasha Wimmer.
Dickinson may recognize poetry when the top of her head blows off—when I read amazing fiction, I feel like I’ve entered an electrical field. The Savage Detectives, roman-à-clef about the late Robert Bolano’s life as a young poet in Mexico City, is such a book. It opens with the diary of 17-year-old Juan Garcia Madero, who has joined a poetry gang called the Visceral Realists. Then it shifts into first-person recollections of encounters with Visceral Realism’s founders as they alternately bless or damage everyone they meet on three continents. Bolano’s over-the-top passion for poetry, hilarious and riveting, is a must-read for poets: There’s never been anything like it that celebrates what we do—and how some of us live.

“Today I didn't go to class. I spent the whole day in my room writing poems.” [Juan Garcia Madero in The Savage Detectives]

Wishing you similar rebellion,

Monday, May 14, 2007

your may annogram

Yes, I am back from my big trip to LA: The readings at USC and Otis College of Art and Design were wonderful. Thanks to our hosts, poet/professor David Lloyd and biographer/lecturer Béatrice Mousli-Bennett, and of course my publisher, Guy Bennett, for making this journey possible. What a gift to see Hélène Sanguinetti, the French poet I’ve been translating, as well as her friend Claire Barre, again. Ah mes amies, quelle joie!

Your Annogram – Hollywood Edition
My husband Michael and I made a point to stay in Hollywood, and you can read about our adventures below this blog entry.

Poetry this month
I am thrilled to have two favorite poems, “Boys of Iona Prep” and “St. Agnes, Pink-Slipped” appearing in Relief Journal, a Christian literary magazine.

Connor-Bey and Hightower at Center for Book Arts
Brenda Connor-Bey, Greenburgh’s poet laureate and author of Thoughts of An Everyday Woman/An Unfinished Urban Folktale (Blind Beggar Press, 1995), and Scott Hightower, author of Part of the Bargain (Copper Canyon Press, 2005), will read Friday, May 11, at 6:30 pm, introduced by Patricia Spears Jones. Suggested donation: $5 for CBA members and $10 non-members; first 40 entrants receive one free letterpress printed broadside. CBA is located at 28 W. 27th St. 3rd floor, New York, NY 10001, (212) 481-0295.

NYT columnist to read this week
New York Times columnist, author and Westchester mom Lisa Belkin will read in the Meeting of the Minds series, this Thursday, May 10, at 7:30pm. Reading and conversation, followed by refreshments. Free admission. Chappaqua Friends House, 420 Quaker Road, Chappaqua, (914) 238-3170.

Gigi and Lend-Me-A-Hand at Bronx Zoo
Wondering what to do this weekend? Come to the Bronx Zoo to hear the Gigi on vocals, her mom, Granny Franny, on keyboards; spouse Larry on bass guitar, and Larry’s best friend—my husband Michael—on lead guitar. Guy Elluzzi and Paul Rokowski round out the sound on drums and sax respectively. Shows Saturday and Sunday at noon, 2pm and 4pm in the Dancing Crane Pavillion.

Manhattanville Summer Writers Week
Don’t miss this amazing opportunity to study with and hear leading writers share their experience, knowledge and insights. Manhattanville offers a nurturing community of teachers and students perfect for new writers or those motivated to go to the next level. The Summer Writers Week takes place June 25-29 this year. For info and to register, see

New England Writers Literary Contests
I won this poetry contest years ago, so give it a shot. Enter as often as you like in all categories: Robert Penn Warren Poetry Awards: $300, $200, $100; Marjory Bartlett Sanger Fiction Award: $300; Frank Anthony Creative Nonfiction Award: $200. Send three 10-30 line poems; 1,000 words fiction or nonfiction; $5 entry fee; 3x5 card with name, address and titles of work; manuscript w/o contact info and mail by June 15, 2007 to New England Writers Contests, P.O. Box 5, Windsor, VT 05089.

New England Writers Conference
This well-organized and attended writers conference includes a writers panel, award ceremony, open readings, book sales, and refreshments. This year’s conference will be held Saturday, July 21, 2007 at Old South Church in Windsor, Vermont, which is easily accessible up I-91 from the tri-state area. Featured guests will be posted on web:

Toadlily sings
Our friends at Toadlily Press have just added audio to their book offerings—so now you can sample some poems before you purchase the books:

Laura Morelli, your guide to beautiful things
If you’d like to learn more about shopping for authentic handmade crafts around the world, sign up for Laura Morelli’s The Real Deal. The e-newsletter highlights the world’s best artisans and most time-honored traditions—from Murano glass to Navajo rugs, Baccarat crystal, Neopolitan cameos, Limoges porcelain, and more. See a sample here:

Brush with greatness
About 20 years ago, Michael and I were walking through mid-town. We passed a man on the steps of his townhouse, enjoying an evening smoke—hair all over the place, clothes casually professorish. “Is that…?” Michael asked. “Yes, it is,” I said, knowing he meant Kurt Vonnegut. That week, I would read that his apartment was being renovated—hence a good reason to be outside. Annogram salutes Vonnegut’s lifelong achievement in literature, and the critical thinking he engaged in the last decades that issued from a great love of our country: Well done, good and faithful servant.

Until next time,

Monday, May 07, 2007

your annogram - hollywood edition

Michael and I woke our first day in California hearing a woman screaming into her cell phone “I’m in Hollywood! I’m in Hollywood!” And who could blame her? This corner of Los Angeles represents decades of American dreams—a mythology about stardom and possibility that is part of our cultural identity.

At the Best Western Hollywood Hills, we shared our room with the Rat Pack and gangsters such as George Raft and Robert DeNiro: Framed photos and engraved signatures adorned our room. A tribute to the “I Love Lucy Show” sat, appropriately, above our TV while Gable looked loving at Lombard in another.

Populated by rockers, tourists and “Let’s Make a Deal” contestants, the motel’s 101 Coffee Shop offered savory diner fare such as malteds and burgers as well as sophisticated veggie meals. There was nothing like eating breakfast at 7:30 a.m. to “Rebel Yell” blaring over the loudspeaker and being served by Ashlee Simpson look-a-likes.

Around us, people in hushed tones promoted deals from recordings and auditions to screenplays and potential TV programs. And that was the creative energy of LA—this belief that you can make something happen, possibly something big happen—maybe something as looming as the Hollywood sign.

We took off up Beachwood Drive for our own pilgrimage to view it. Small apartment buildings gave way to more impressive cottages in every architectural style tucked close to one another on the winding upward path. The big white letters loomed larger and larger until we took a turn and found ourselves at a dead end. Something about the closer you get to Hollywood, the more it disappears.

A friend says he knows a big producer whose terrace overlooks the “O”.

On Hollywood Boulevard, small tanning, massage and other tired storefronts dot the street with huge movie theaters now boarded over.

Nevertheless, crowds cluster at Grauman’s Chinese Theater with its squares of celebrity signatures, hand- and foot-prints.

The Walk of Fame features familiar and not-so-familiar names in the sidewalk up and down the Boulevard. We just missed seeing Forest Whitaker receive his star....

At the Capitol Records building, built to look like a stack of 45s, we couldn’t enter the lobby but peered through the glass windows at walls of solid gold and platinum records.

The doorman recommended lunch at Joseph’s Café, a middle-eastern restaurant at Yucca and Ivar Streets, “where all the industry people go,” and we did see the singer Brandy there.

With Capitol the Beatles’ first label, John Lennon’s star is outside the building.
We drove the Sunset Strip, noting Whiskey-a-Go-Go, the Cat Club and the Viper Room, where River Phoenix overdosed—and Chateau Marmont where Belushi met his end. Given the murals and paintings of dead stars under bridges and on walls—paintings always slightly inexact—Hollywood has a bit of a mortuary feel to it.

At Venice Beach, we found there really is a “Muscle Beach” where people work out beside the shore on large weight machines. And friends introduced us to the Venice Canals, an idealized community of tiny homes edging beautiful canals. I noticed no one seemed to be home—and that’s probably because everyone was out driving the freeways which always seemed to be crowded—even on Sundays.

In LA, people are always seeing celebrities and talking about those experiences. Joseph Campbell once said that movie stars are like gods—they assume huge proportions on the screen, and then when we see them in real life, it’s as if we see Venus shopping at a local market, or Zeus going into a bistro. Such divine visitation in this city is an everyday occurrence, this magic that fuels creative ambition—in hushed tones—at the 101 and seemingly everywhere.

photos: michael cefola