Friday, May 30, 2008

Techno Tango

Well, talk about confirmation of belief! I just finished my usual two paragraphs, this time about the ways that on-line messages and submissions may or may not work. And when I hit post, the whole thing disappeared! Now I have other things on the list, kids, so I'll just make my point and move on: faith is the belief in things unseen. Have faith that I did blog today and will likely do so tomorrow. You just cannot see it. Yet. Keep the faith, KD

Thursday, May 29, 2008

A Good Day

Yesterday and today (so far) are good days. Last evening I went to a meeting of my fiction group. Our usual fearless leader was away, so we were a little loose in getting organized, but we managed. Of the seven people at the table, four had new work, written in response to that ET prompt I mentioned last week. As always, I was amazed at how varied were the responses to the same prompt. In one story the ET's were Flatlanders, with a twist, of course; in the next the astronomer presented the ET, modeled on the Roswell NM descriptions; the third twisted the original prompt so that the ET was the astronomer's brother, a green, foul smelling creature, and then there was my stunned priest coping with ET's who took sanctuary in his sanctuary. We had a great time.

This was on top of finally making myself send out a query to yet another agent for a book that has been in the making for years. I have not had much success with writing a synopsis, a task that goes against the grain because it requires telling, rather than showing. But the book sure won't get read sitting in my file box. So off it went. And today I will mail the ms for the poetry contest. Then do some work for The Cafe Review, and that will clear the decks before I start Novel Boot Camp a little over a week from now. I still have to force myself to do these business letters and submissions. They are not nearly as satisfying as composing a new poem or story. But I know that they may lead to readers, and I want readers.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


This is a dry time of year for poets. Many of the lit mags are off for the summer, as would we all if that were possible. The end of May signals shut down for submissions to many of my favorites, so I feel pressured to put a few packets of poems into the mail this week, one last push to publish. While Sunday and Memorial Day were days off, sort of, I spent a few hours poking around on line for venues that might remain open. I'm settling into the idea of on-line publication, and found some reasonable places to try. And I opened my e-mail to find that a wonderful chapbook contest had extended its deadline into June. Just right! If I send twenty-four pages to them, that's like sending out four or five individual submissions. Just what I need in this last week of May.

For those who are not writers, a chapbook is a small collection, usually not more than 24-28 pages. A non-writer friend recently read one of mine, Sostenuto, and referred to it as a pamphlet. Not far off. And thinking of that title, which I got from a former patient of mine, an unusual word, well, more synchronicity! I've been reading Ted Hughes' Birthday Letters, poems to and about the late Sylvia Plath, and there was that word! What a delight to share even that much with Hughes, long one of my most admired poets. Tiny connections such as these buoy my spirits when I feel like I'm operating in a vacuum. Circumstance reaches in and taps my arm, "Hey, you share language and goals with the greater world. Buck up, girl."

One more: I have had a sprig of an idea about a story centered on a tiny man, though I sometimes doubt my ability to pull it off. And there on the TV was a trailer for a movie about a character who sneezes out a tiny man! Weird, right? But if TV-land can pull it off, who's to say I can't? In fiction, we have all the special effects we need. So I think I'll take that little idea with me to Novel Boot Camp next month. Keep your antennae tuned. See how often the world talks back to you. Let me know.

Saturday, May 24, 2008


Rollow May, in The Courage to Create, writes about the guilt that artists (including writers) feel about their creativity. We rebel, he says, against the gods, and he cites Genesis and Greek myth to illustrate this idea. Yahweh banished Adam and Eve once they tasted the tree of knowledge, Zeus punished Prometheus for bring fire (and light) to humankind. So when we dare to dip our toes into the great pond of creativity, it scares us. That fright leads to courage, which is not, says May, the same as brashness. Courage, as Frost said, is grace under pressure, whether the pressure of a clear and present physical threat or pressure from the gods to keep to our little place and not change how we or others see the world, which is the deeper purpose of writing. And how about the double message in which Old Testament God first invited Adam to name the animals, then kicked him out when he tasted knowledge, when he saw that he was naked. Sort of the Emperor's New Clothes in reverse, eh?

Whatever the cause of this feeling, this need for courage, writing is a big deal. Editing and revising poems from my notebook, I am more honest about the work as I go along, more willing to put aside the trivial, the merely clever, and go for the gut. If it's not good--by which I've come to mean deep and fresh--then why would anyone want to read it? True, there are still favorite poems which I avoid, afraid I'll see excess and frivolity, but I'll always fight those creeping demons. I'll never get there. As G. Stein said, "There is no there there." No final exam to pass, no tape at the end of the marathon. Unless I sink into pure egoism and become a dilettante, resting on past accomplishments and hollow praise. No thanks, this work is hard and I don't mean to throw it into the sink. Later--write well, love long, live honestly.

Friday, May 23, 2008

More about Frogs

Pressing on with Tom Robbins' novel Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas, I finally got it. My idea of a novel or story is usually character based, but HAFP is a novel of ideas based on class distinction and distain. Gwen, the protag, looks down her perfect little nose at everyone! She sneers and snarls, grasps and grabs, all in the name of Porsche, Amalfi, and Dow Jones. Larry Diamond (in the rough!) is the foil meant to lead her into a nirvana of sorts peopled by outsiders and amphibians. (I saw a bumper sticker recently, "Reptile Humane Society"--Diamond would approve.) Through him, Robbins pulls Gwen down from her lofty, solid-gold ambition, with the help of a market crash--Gwen is a broker--and flings her into a swampy, marginalized world of rectal cancer, bowling alley noise, and a rusty Vespa.

All the flash and filigree of her materialistic life is a sweet-and-sour coating on a sermon against materialism. Robbins even invokes the images of Gary Snyder, Diane di Prima, and Carlos Castenada! Fun stuff, and for a character-development junkie like me, a walk on the wet side. Robbins has his own gig here, playing an instrument bent skywards like the horn of Dizzie Gillespie, whom he also tucks into the narrative. He trumpets ideas in a new way. The book crawled out of the swamp in 1994, so I'm way late getting to it, but a few others out there may have missed it too. It's instructive and entertaining, the basic requirements of literature. Need to know about buying oil futures on the margin or ancient astronomy? The bowel regimen of an ancient Chinese empress? Call Robbins.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Point of view does matter

Quite often in our fiction group we tell each other when there is a glitch in the point of view, some shift of attention that pulls us out of what John Gardner calls the fictive dream. This might be an intrusion by the author's voice, filling in a bit of exposition, or musing philosophically about content (rare in our group), or--more often--summarizing the action, not something the pov character would likely do. All of this attention to point of view has made me a more attentive reader, as in reading like a writer. I question the fiction that I read, asking the absent author why he or she did it this way, what's the advantage, what's the risk. Two of my most curious questions center on Amy Tan's Saving Fish from Drowning and now Tom Robbins' Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas. Hmm, maybe I only question books with cold-blooded creatures in the title.

Tan uses the voice of a dead woman to tell her story. The risk here is believability. We've all been warned about the improbability of a dead man talking. However, once the fictive dream is established, the story goes on apace. The voice of the dead woman is lively! She's a character as well as a narrator. So, kudos, Amy Tan, for risking the immediate loss of the purist, the cynic, the cranky critics. Who wants them to read our work anyway? More recently I picked up Robbins' book and dove right in. He uses another unusual tactic, second person, hard to sustain over 382 pages. The book is laugh-out-loud funny, certainly. But, I feel distanced from his main character, a woman with one friend (with whom she prefers not to be seen in public) and a dorky lover whom she alternately manipulates and reviles. Maybe it's not the pov that makes her unsympathetic, but I wonder if the author were not forced to constantly talk to her from across the room, would he have found more warmth and vulnerability in Gwen, the shady stock broker, stewing in a juice of her own making? Maybe things will change. In all fairness, I'm only half way through and I'll stick with it in the hope that she will redeem herself. KD

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Done! Or not

Those queries I mentioned yesterday went into the mail, along with a submission of a new short story. Then I went to the bookstore and checked out a handful of literary magazines, sort of doing things backwards, but that's how the day went. I'm comfortable with the submission after seeing the stories that mag chooses to publish. And wonder of wonders, I had cut out 400 words that looked like so much fodder. Amazing what letting a ms rest for a week or two will do for your perspective. Now I wait.

And while I wait I write. In my fiction group we often challenge ourselves to work from a prompt, which might be an idea or a quote one of us stumbles on with an AHA! The current prompt is from a news item, a quote from the Vatican's chief astronomer: "The extraterrestrial is my brother." Now that just sets my writing bells aringing! And sure enough, I see a short-short in my future because of it. I went to a coffee shop yesterday and drafted the first four pages sitting at an outside table in the shade. The tire store next door and the highway behind me were not the ideal setting, but the story was compelling enough to keep my pen moving. Now I have that beginning piece on Toshi, my laptop, and another bit of the story in my journal. With a good beginning I can finish the piece and still let it rest a few days before my group meets again next week. If anyone out there tries this prompt, I'd love to see what you make of it. You can use the comment link to tell me about it. Happy days!

Monday, May 19, 2008


So, the rejections keep coming, and I keep going. I will get this work out somehow, but some days it takes a lot of courage. Yesterday I felt like running away, just taking a long drive and looking at anything but another page of printed words. I thought about taking music lessons, or a course in line drawing. Hopping a plane for anywhere--well, probably Ireland in my case. The fear of one more futile attempt at placing a difficult manuscript just about knocked me out of my chair. What really mattered, though, was not disappointing myself. I've worked hard at seeing myself as a writer, and writers, to complete the process, need readers. So I flung myself into the desk chair, punched on the computer and set up two queries for finished manuscripts. They go into the mail today. It's worth the postage to get them out of my hands and to tell myself that I'm doing my part in this process.

Then I got an upsetting e-mail from a colleague about a project that grew while I was looking in the other direction, at my creative work. Again, my impulse was to run, just say, hey, I'm out of this mess. But I pulled in my horns, pushed back with my objections, and tried to let the dust settle, so that if I do leave the project it will be a considered decision and not a blast of anger propelling me into the stratosphere. Meanwhile, I have this whole book of markets for that tough ms., so I'll be right here at my keyboard where I belong, trying to find a home for a character who needs to enter the fray. I've protected her long enough. Time to leave the nest, girl. I know I'm making a big mess of metaphor here, but gee, I'm still angry. Maybe I can put this anger to work for me. I'll show them all that I've got the energy to do my chosen work. Then I'll go for that drive.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Books about Books

I've mentioned before that I like the Brenda Ueland book If You Want to Write. She's encouraging and energetic, and reading her book is like having coffee with a friend who happens to know a lot about writers. Now I'm reading another venerable book on writing, John Gardner's The Art of Fiction. His style is more academic, which makes sense because he taught writing for years. He amazes me with his ability to break apart the process and offer suggestions about each step and how to put it all back together. He talks about basic facets of writing, like vocabulary and sentence structure, and more challenging things, like "profluence," which I understand to be the forward motion of the story, plot basically, though not all plot moves forward, as in some experimental, surrealistic stories where the stasis is the plot, thinking here of Gardner's description of Waiting for Godot, a classic drama built on the idea of stasis. As I read, I think often, gee, I must remember that bit of advice as I'm constructing the next story--the one in my notebook that has come to me in pieces as I'm drifting off to sleep.

Reading about writing entertains and educates me. However, when I sit in my big chair with the notebook in my lap, I don't think about the lessons from other, more adept writers. I think about my characters and how they got into the fix they're in and how they will get out of it. I hope that the new techniques I learn will seep in, creep in, find a niche and take root, but I don't want to write by checklist. That would interfere with the discovery of what a particular poem or story might be. For instance, the one I'm working on has a comedic tone, but a serious undercurrent to it. The challenge of allowing both elements to survive fascinates me, as do the two main characters and the bizarre situation they are grappling with. I am holding back a little before I commit the story to print, because I figure that with one more night's sleep, I'll have all I need to start fleshing out the bones, to take Mike and Lou out of the notebook and put them in the computer. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Quotations & Lit Biz

I collect quotations from other writers, and I now have a growing stack of them on index cards. I used to put them in my journal, but they disappeared into the page and then into the closet when a journal was retired. So now I have them at hand. I leaf through them now and again, looking for fun, wisdom, a kick to get me started. That's what I did this morning, because it's one of those foggy mornings--not outside. Out there it's all blue sky and white clouds. Inside, it's foggy. I know I'm putting off some of the business of writing--sending out queries, submitting work that has come crawling home, filling out forms, all that stuff. I feel good after I catch up on the business of writing, but I dread it.

As Julia Cameron says, ". . . the Censor is out to get you." My censor gets gnarly over my right to tell the world I'm a writer, no matter how often I say that out loud, no matter how often I publish, or put together a successful writing project. I'm safe when I'm composing, editing, or noodling around with words, but when I get serious about sending those words out to the public, well, all damnation descends. It has to do with money, I'm pretty sure. Too many people I have respected said that real writers earn their keep by writing. That's a big, fat lie. More writers than not write in obscurity, make little or no money at it, never get to sit on Oprah's couch or tour every Border's in North America. Real writers stare out windows and write. They can't help it. I can't help it. Not that I don't welcome money or recognition. I really like money and recognition, but they don't feed the secret genie who writes stories and poems. That magic cannot be bought or sold.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Of Rain, Dentists, and Poetry

After a wonderful, warm weekend, it's now cold and wet out there. Thankfully, I am inside with Duncan Dog curled up on the carpet beside my desk, the washer gurgling in the back ground and nothing pressing until after supper. So this rain is not a bad thing. It will keep us green a little longer. The visit to the dentist yesterday, well, it was not epic or tragic, but not good news either. Seems I need some rather expensive work done to keep my choppers chopping. I have more teeth than most people, as all four wisdom teeth are fully functional, but Dr. Brown still wants to add one more , to fill in where I had one pulled a few years ago. Seems that teeth lean on each other, sort of like soldiers keeping equidistant apart in a parade. So, I called my former dentist, just to chat about this, and he agrees that it's "not unreasonable."

And what, you're asking has any of this to do with poetry? Exactly nothing. That's my point for the day. Not everything that happens in life will rise to the mark that reads poetry. Rain, for instance, is not a cause for poems, nor is dental work, however present these factors are to me this morning. Poetry cannot be forced out of the mundane, though it might be discovered underneath or off to the side. We have to be vigilant, sniff out poems where they do live, but not force them into situations that don't warrant the ink or the paper. Hemingway said that a writer needs a good built-in c--p detector. John Gardner says, "The writer who can't distinguish truth from a peanut-butter sandwich can never write good fiction." The same holds true for poets. We are not commissioned to immortalize flash and filigree. We are charged with noticing the truth that passes before us. And truth is not the same as fact. So the fact of rain, the fact of getting bad news from a dentist, these are not the truth we're after. Ego leads us to think that anything we feel strongly is poetic. Not so, but what we discover as truth might be a poem. Excuse me, I have to move the wet clothes into the dryer. I promise not to write a poem about laundry. Richard Wilbur already did that. And it was true.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Fear, Size, Imagination

What a delight to see green grass, green leaves, green spring in Colorado! It won't last. This is by nature a dry place, though I am fortunate to have a duck pond in my front yard, a little wild spot draws plenty of birds, squirrels, and rabbits. And one night it drew some creature that I could not detect, but that scared my little dog silly. He would not go out without me, and then he hovered by my feet. Back in the house he hid in the bathroom, under the dining room table, in his bed way before time to retire. I put him in my lap and counted his breaths--way too fast. He seemed not to be in pain, so I think he was having a severe anxiety attack. The vet agreed when I described the incident on our next visit.

This small terrier thinks he's the size of a Newfie! Usually nothing scares him, but whatever was there on the verge of our suburban yard that night shrunk his courage to the size of a pea. I can only imagine what critter lurked out there. My guess is a coyote, looking for a small pet to snack on. Reality hit Duncan Dog like a freight train: "I'm a little dog in a big world, and something out there wants to eat me." I've felt like that a time or two, but usually I am happily insensitive to danger. I know it's there, but I don't feel it. Certain stories, though, can make me aware of reality, even when they deal with imagined evil. That's one function of literature, to educate our senses to the dangers of life. All hail the Steven Kings, the Harlan Ellisons, and the Melanie Tems of this world. Take a good look at Melanie's book, co-written with her husband Steve, The Man on the Ceiling. I love this book, even when it scares me. (Disclosure: Melanie leads my fiction-writing group, but I would love this book even if I had never met her.) Happy reading!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Keeping On

It came to me this morning that writing a blog is quite a bit like publishing. Words go out into the world without me, and I cannot tell if anyone reads them or not. I'd love comments, reassurance that someone out there in cyberland reads what I post, but there is no guarantee and it's not reasonable to expect one. So, I'll keep writing and sending work out, because that's my part of the scene. Lao Tzu says, "Do your work; then step aside." That advice carried me through many tense days in my former work place, and now I have to apply it to the writing life.

Yesterday I had a momentary pause when I opened my documents folder, clicked on Fiction, then on Short Stories, and could not find the story I started this week. Oh, no, some gremlin got into my computer and ate my story! And I had not made a hard copy. Well, two lessons there--print out the work so I have a back up, and title the file correctly. The computer grabbed what looked to it like the file name, my name at the top of the first page. Mystery solved. And I did make progress with the piece, so much so that I dreamed/thought about the story all night. That's a good sign, meaning that I do have something real going on in this piece. I'm not going to talk about the details here, because it's never good to saw off the limb you're sitting on. Better to put that energy into the composition. KD

Friday, May 9, 2008

Making Lists

A list is a wonderful thing. A list is an ogre, a sulphurous, devilish nag sitting on the desk, reminding me of what a mean putter-off I am. Today's list runs the lenth of an 8 1/2 sheet. I'll be lucky to get to half of it today. My list mixes writerly tasks, domestic chores and errands, long-range things, like plane tickets for a summer trip. It's all me.

People make poems from lists, use lists for bookmarks, flopsam in the bottom of a briefcase, bludgeons to beat themselves up and make sure they feel bad about their life: "Look at all the things I have not done."

The evil list can, however, be a good friend. It reminds me of who I am, a writer, a mom, a grandma, active citizen, etc. All the things I am show up on that plastic clip board. It reassures me that I have a busy, full life. And it keeps me focused, most of the time. I tend to get lost in my writing and "research" and lose sight of far off goals. Losing track makes for a scramble when I find a deadline sitting right in front of my face, when I could have anticipated better.

So, I'm off to tackle today's chores. It includes work on a new short story, submitting poems, and cleaning up my "collected" poems notebook. (It's great to have one.) I'll vacuum, and I'll edit a letter for The Cafe Review, and email my son and daughter-in-law. In other words, I'll be me, all day, right to the end of the list.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Less is More

In time of cyclone

and rice riots, I sleep with

one dog, two pillows.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

More techno stuff

The need for a computer is obvious. I have two. Neither one really loves me. The little old one runs on Windows XP, a generally useful and uncomplicated system which I prefer. The new one runs Vista Basic, one of the truly evil inventions of this millenium. It's slow, stubborn, does things I don't need or want it to do. But this machine is stable and the old one tends to lose its grip on a page or a command. What to do? I could trade both and get a Mac, but that won't come with a word processor, and what's the good of that? So, sigh, I've just upped my anti-virus on the current newest laptop and promised that I will be patient with it.

I was browsing a thrift shop yesterday and patted, longingly, an old portable typewriter. Remember typewriters? But I don't see that happening. I don't even see the possibility of buying ribbons for one, nor the need to drive off to the post office to do business. And more and more of the markets to which I submit work are asking for electronic submission. So, instead of carting home yet one more device for putting words on paper, I bought a two-volume Norton--a truly wonderful find for three dollars!

The sun is brilliant today, the swallows are clearing the air of bugs, trees are leafing out almost before my eyes, and Dog is freshly clipped for summer. I think I'll take a walk and then get back to work on my submissions folder. KD

Monday, May 5, 2008

Thinking things up

I read somewhere that there are three kinds of people: beginners, middlers, and enders. I am definitely not an ender. Getting to the end of a story, a poem, a letter, I feel that little knot in my brain that says, this isn't right, and I quit. Or I often do. Obviously, as a writer, I need to discipline my instincts and find a graceful exit. But this is the part of writing I dislike and I'm not sure why. Ending means it's time to push the baby out of the nest, and maybe it will crash in the bushes, never soar high enough to be seen. Maybe that's it. Or I'm so inmeshed with characters that I just don't know how to say goodbye. This too. Maybe I'm lazy or unimaginative.

No, my imagination is always on. I can start projects at the fall of a leaf. As we speak, I am in the midst of designing a short writing course for adult religious education at my fellowship. And I have scads of poems that live in the notebook but which are really drafts in need of revision. If I sieved through my old journals, who knows how much stuff I've thought about writing and never completed. No, ideas abound. Endings wither. Is this true for anyone else out there?

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Where have all my readers gone?

I like blogging, just wandering through my writing life, flashing a light on whatever thought seems most urgent or interesting as I start my day. But I do seem to be talking to myself. As my friend Ben says, we are in the communication arts, so what am I communicating? To whom?

According to Alison Hawthorne Deming (Writing the Sacred into the Real, Milkweed, 2001), " . . . a struggling writer needs not austere self-reliance but recognition and the companionship of like-minded others" (p. 49). I've copied that idea, like many others, onto an index card and put it in my growing collection of helpful quotes from other writers. If I don't have readers, I can be a reader for others, and keep their best thoughts close. The internet gives us the illusion of contact, but we need face-to-face contact with other writers.

For many years I have dreamed of a writing center where we could work and gather, casually, to talk about books, poems, writing projects, ideas and issues. Many years ago, friends in Shreveport took a good shot at this, creating for a time, McNeil Street Studios, a cavernous, dusty warehouse, in which we created space for writers, musicians, visual artists, and anyone else who needed "a room of one's own" and comradeship. It was backbreaking, frustrating, and wonderful to turn commercial space into artistic space. I wish we had worked harder, had more time and money, had more organization. But I leaned a lot there, and with a little luck (which we now call synchronicity) I can dream this center into reality. Stay tuned.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Prairie Dogs

A wonderful Colorado morning so Dog and I went for a long walk in the land of the prairie dogs. Cheeky rodents, they chitter and warn, heads poking out of the holes until we get within a few feet of them. They all look alike, though some seem a little battered around the head. If I spent my days digging head-first in this dry, high planes clay, I'd look rough too. In fact, I look rough without the digging. I like little everyday critters, crows, red-winged blackbirds, gulls, prairie dogs, squirrels, the commoners.

This week my daughter and I visited a wild animal rescue site near Ft. Lupton, CO. The place does an amazing job of providing shelter for large, exotic, dangerous animals who cannot return to the wild--tigers, leopards, bears, lions, wolves, and an emu. The emu gets no note in the guidebook, but both of us saw it, so I didn't hallucinate. Seeing huge tigers sleeping in the sun, lions sprawled on their backs, napping under the shade of a cement overhang, wonderful. A noble endeavor to take these animals from the tiny, cruel cages where they lived, often without a good meal, prisoners of their own nature. What started as a cute, small, exotic pet, soon became a dangerous mistake. So these folks promise a life-long haven for the animals.

I'm not exotic, no one needs to rescue me, and I think that's why I like the prairie dogs. They go about their business in complete privacy, except when Dog and I wander through their neighborhood and they scold us. They keep their own society.

Prairie Dogs

Fat, brown busybodies
snacking on sunshine—
I’d be one,
hovering at the burrow,
gossiping. Maybe
I was once,
munching prairie grass.

And what ate me,
coyote, crow, beetle?
I was once lunch,
will be again,
molecule by molecule
spreading into the next form.

I’ll feed on sunlight
as we always do,
mind nibbling on dawn
over the lake, loving
a clatter of geese, ducks,
red-wing blackbirds,
feast for the senses
in a candyland of houses,
cars, yellow roses, yellow wasps.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Cruising along on momentum

The most recent book of poems by a famous, well-regarded poet does not impress me. I plan to attend a reading by this eminence in the near future, and I hope that the living voice will give life to these words. Why am I not amused? Let me count the ways: the poems are filled with unneeded adjectives pulling me along like a kid resisting the dentist. I don't want to be pulled. I can walk perfectly well, thanks. I have the feet of a poet. The nouns are vague, general, and mostly plural. (Robert Bly warned us years ago about the weakness of plurals.) All of which give a cold, distant aura to the whole book. Poems feed on specifics, no matter how much we want to reach that Grand Unification Theory envied by poets and physicists alike. Please do not tell me over and over about the sea, the moon, the clouds, the wind, the stars. Tell me about Casco Bay and Venus rising, at least. Let the sea be Mediterranean, Atlantic, Sargasso--some real place, not one pretending to be the ultimate symbol of whatever. Some of these poems depend on repetition for their effect. For a line to deserve repeating, it had better be a killer line: "And I have miles to go before I sleep. / And miles to go before I sleep." Or, "Do not go gentle into that good night." Sometimes the great moderns were great.

Was the early work by this poet was always so much like pablum, a sticky consistency meant to nourish but offensive to my palate? Is he resting on his reputation, a grand poo bah of poems?

Well, I feel a little better. Of course, I may relapse after hearing the eminent poet read. Maybe there will be cookies and punch. That won't quite explain the cost of the event, but I will gladly put my money, when I have any, in service to poetry. Funding weak poetry is better than buying guns and grenades. And at least I've said, in reverse, what I want in a poem. Oh, look, that Mallard drake is landing on the pond in front of my window. He's making a wake. I'll go look at him. He's a poet of the best kind.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Have you seen?

This morning brings some weirdness in the book world. A story in the LA Times says that scam artists have called bookstores, claiming to be authors scheduled to read in said stores, then telling sad, urgent tales of loss and asking for money to get to the gig! Good plot lines, bad characterization, because the real authors do object to being used for nefarious purposes. Great word nefarious. All of which relates to the ethics of writing and how we treat actual people who serve as springboards for the characters we create.

Recently, I sent a copy of a poem I had written about her to my aunt. And I held my breath a little. Not because I lied or intentionally misconstrued her character. But I did mention family business and wasn't sure she would approve of "airing our laundry." Notice I did not say dirty laundry. It wasn't risque or illegal or immoral, just private. She certainly rose to the occasion and plans to copy the poem and send it to her sister and all her children. Now that's what we hope for. But in a recent workshop, the leader, Shari Caudron, told of a writer who used one physical trait of a long-time friend. The friend was furious and broke off contact with the writer. And there is no guaranteed way to avoid using our own lives in real writing. I believe that most fictional characters rise out of a stew of familiar people. But that's not to say they are those people. As a writer, I have to tell the truth, but "tell it slant" as E. Dickinson says. I have to take the chance that someone with thin skin will object, will see her/himself in my work.

My current reading is Mark Doty's Dog Days. I've met Mark, met his late partner Wally, and I respect him. He tells us in this memoir about Wally's final days, his own reactions, his new relationship, and the history of his beloved dogs. He has a light touch, an honest touch. And I don't think Wally would object at all. Surely the dogs don't care. Mark is, himself, the key character and he doesn't object. So maybe good memoir has much to teach us about good characterization. Help is where you find it.