Sunday, March 28, 2010

Wherein the Poet is told: Go to Burning Man, and responds, "Why?"

I understand Chicken Noodle Soup as the first food group in my mouth after 3 days of a flu which had me sleep and sweat. It feels safe and oddly sexy. But why it hit me: Now is the time to me to write the following, well, I'm not sure.

Thanksgiving I attended a sprawling meal served to many guests, delightful and all younger than I am. The food was fabulous, my hostess truly kind and generous. As the table was cleared, guests rambled and I got the opportunity to meet new people, an event always of anthropological interest.

Of greater anthropological interest to them is me, but I'm not going to cast myself in that light (negative) again. Let's talk about one couple. I met the husband and wife separately.

Nice people. Part of some Brooklyn couples-with-kids scene. With the husband I talked tech. He worked with a company that creates cell phone applications. Don't know if he knew I was a poet or assumed it was so because of our hostess, a poet, but he showed me one app--a mini-anthology, but not before talking with great enthusiasm about music and ring tones (I think music was his background).

I wasn't unaware that the poetry was the usual past-copyright--Tennyson and Longfellow and Donne--and so the tradition continues--but it looked nifty enough. I met up with his wife by the sink as I was helping stack dishes. She had been to Burning Man recently and planned on going back.

A weekend at Burning Man was her passion, and I questioned her, intrigued. I'm not a big crowd person, but it was Burning Man, man. I can't remember if she said Yes or No to drugs, but she dealt with the crowd, and beautiful desert and resultant exhiliration induced a sense of creativity.


Then she said: "You should go." "Why?" "To become creative." (Hadn't I mentioned my book?) And I responded: "I don't need much help with that."

I didn't allow her her moment. I've made this mistake before: It's the Sarah has to be right mistake--combined with integrity. What I currently do to lead out poems does involve other people but is so low key and sacred I keep mum. A storm on her face, she went to another level of the apt., one above me, I should say.

Campbell's Soup in. Suggestions from people who don't know me, or really care to get to know me, out. Back to health.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Nada lost; thank you, Dada; Kat Georges; Allison Joseph

Nothing is ever lost. The fact impresses on me more and more.

Last night while walking on Bleecker from the 6 train to the Cornelia St. Cafe, I decided I would sing a poem onstage. I was on my way to Kat Georges' 3rd annual dADa reading. Ms. Georges not only organizes the event—with featured sideshow acts, an appreciated feat on a night of foreign adventure—she publishes an accompanying journal through the offices of her Three Rooms Press.

MaiNteNant. Over 50 pages of purposefully meaningless echoes of arguments in favor of insanity. This year's journal included my poem "Ahead."

So, okay. My previous posting here was on my short story "The Devil Is Her Friend" which labored over twenty years to get in print (see issue #2, "Ahead" is not similar in scope and effort, but there is a parallel. I wrote version #1 of the poem fifteen years or so ago.

It was short and not quite there. Then in late 2009 poet, professor, supporter of poets, poetry ringmistress, Allison Joseph ( announced a triolet contest (triolets are one of the interlocked, rhyming, repeating forms). I don't write formal verse, in part because I don't think my brain is up to it, but the contest was free and I rose high as I could to the occasion.

"Ahead" turned into a triolet. The reincarnated poem was rejected, fine, that's part of the submission and, sometimes, writing process. Then a few months later, Kat Georges put out a DaDA call and holy cow.

In the spirit of Dada so-driven by furious frivolous intellect I conceived of the grand idea, as I walked Bleecker, to sing the poem. The crowd liked it but even better, I liked my improvised tune.

Here's "Ahead": the final (a triolet—or such was my hope) and the fragment from fifteen years ago


Dragged by lessons strapped to your waist
a snakeskin belt Bad Angel snatched

You long for light, a slower pace.
dragged by lessons strapped to your waist,

lessons you feared you couldn't face.
Could be grief only seems attached,

dragged by lessons strapped to your waist
that snakeskin belt Bad Angel snatched.


dragged by lessons strapped to your waist
like the snakeskin belt the bad angel snatched

you reach for anything willing to join you in
the blaze you become anything

Nothing is lost. It all can be used or reinvented.

*MaiNtEnaNt is published by Kat Georges' Three Room Press (, New York, NY. Last night's Dada event at the Cornelia Street Cafe was helped along by the lovely Peter Carloftes, poet and comic.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

It took 25+ years to get this story published

I wrote the first draft of "The Devil Is Her Friend," then "Half Death," in December 1984, which means in Seattle. (I'd moved there from L.A. in August, using extra money from an NEH fellowship for high school teachers to fund the adventure.) I don't have the earliest drafts--I don't hold onto much. I do, however, have my lovely blue cloth notebook--a gift from an L.A. friend. I recorded stories written and submitted until 1991 in that book.

Back then I had energy and like a Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney prototype, gumption. I submitted it to The New Yorker, Hudson Review, Kenyon Review. My notes indicate they scribbled encouraging replies on the rejection slips. I received a generous number of "send more" slips to little avail.

My impulse should have been to submit first to smaller reviews, absorb their suggestions, then try the most competitive journals, but I used to be afraid I was depriving myself of a chance to join the mystical fellowship of the self-affirming egotistical hierarchy. Now I laugh at my idiocy. My story is out there. I am mo-fo thrilled.

The obvious thing is, however, that it took circa twenty-five years to get this story published. On the one hand (as they say), well, I can see that I tinkered on the story for years. On the other (another comment of theirs), holy crap. I mean the story hasn't that significantly changed. I spruced up this and that by means of cheekier dialog.

I agreed, a few years ago, with some review editors who loved it (they said), wouldn't published it, but suggested I remove a section in which Pearl decides what book she'll read while other teachers are lip servicing the priest. I love that delted section, a meditation on favorite books, but realized they were right, that few readers if any readers were interested in that kind of decision.

About six months ago, editors at WON'T BE NAMED wrote me they like this story "very" much but wanted me to delete another section. It's 2,500-word story. What did they want? This was the third story of mine they'd read--the first was over-the-transom, the next two were requests--ever in search of the perfect Sarai story, I guess.

I didn't delete any more, impolitely told them to screw off, and sent the story to Stone's Throw. (Do you know how talented, intelligent, beautiful, insightful and Russell Rowland and Tami Haaland & co. are, not to mention Russell was figure skating champion in Minsk five years in a row and Tami has been coaching Gold's Gym weight lifters for forty years.)

And herein lies a tale in a tale in a riddle in an enigma in Stone's Throw.

GO TO (and spy on the fiction links until you unearth my covert link), or boldly clink on or cut and paste:

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Fiction: The Devil Is Her Friend

Yay! "The Devil Is Her Friend" is available for your reading pleasure.

Go to: Click on "fiction." Go to end of list (saving the best for last or so I tel myself). There I'll be. Click. OR:

I am very excited this story was accepted and out there, and here. Opening paragraph:
Pearl Miller can’t positive-think her way out of anything, not split ends, not adolescent obscurity, not her parents’ fights. Not even a flaming heat rash. Worse for the increasingly gloomy teenager is her observation that her mother Angelette’s religion, Christian Science, a New England concoction, makes her body seem like a detachable accessory to life, like there is the Real and Eternal, as Mary Baker Eddy wrote, and there is Pearl’s life. So Pearl takes a stand. “This isn’t making sense, I don’t want to go to Sunday School any more.”
What does Pearl do? Read on at the above url!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

More on books (not classy enough to be "On Books")

Aside from being signals of my disinclination to dislike sloth, the books that have been on my apartment floor for the past week or so are signals I've been working full time. This should not be unusual, but it is. I'm on the dole.

Occasionally, thank goodness, I get the call, literally. This time it was to join a group of people I've known for the past five years. We're all artists of one sort or another and we all copy edit and proofread financial statements as one of the ways we earn our living.

Generally we divide into twosomes, with one person reading out loud and the co-pilot marking the latest version of the 10-K or other SEC filing. The work isn't fascinating but it sure is eye-opening (as to what those filings really are about, hint: justification of business practices that don't favor the common person). When the justification is in high swing, the work is exhausting.

So I'm beat. So the books stay on the floor rather than getting dusted and returned to their shelves, old and new (new as in my rescue bookcase mentioned in my previous blog). Tonight I made another push to organize them. It's never over. I always think it will be, that I will have finally decided what stays and goes where.

As anyone sensible knows, books have a life of their own and it can be eerie, as in the case of Doug Anderson's poetry collection, The Moon Reflected Fire, which kept showing up in different parts of my apartment last month. It would loft itself off shelves, page across the floor, wait from this or that part of the room or kitchen or work area. Doug is a wonderful poet and The Moon Reflected Fire speaks of life (and war) through Goya and Homer in incredibly beautiful and disciplined anguish.

You know, what I planned on saying in this blog was the following:

* It sure is hard to have a life and work (big news there)
* Some books I will never reread, however much I loved them. Not writ in stone but I suspect that Conrad's The Secret Agent, which has fascinated me for the past thirty years, will have to wait (for me, not thousands of other readers and rereaders)
* Some books I might reread: Jane Eyre is always a possibility; I read A Confederacy of Dunces seven times in the year I read it (which began with my rereading Jane Eyre)
* Some books break open, literally, such as Anne Sexton's The Awful Rowing Toward God (splendid), and I will have to buy a new copy. My Babar books turned to dust. My King James Bible, which I thought was supposed to last forever--it's on what we called "Bible paper" in my Protestant Sunday School--is calling it a day and a night, in its Biblical manner

My final insight is this: pink lentils and fresh chard cook down beautifully. Add sauteed garlic and, to sweeten the soup, an apple. Spice as you will (I'm always up for Indian). Eat. You'll find the energy to at least put the last of the books on the shelves and, almost as good, delude yourself, as I have myself, that the ultimate reorganization will take place this coming weekend.


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Books: They look good on shelves, don't they

Books are in my purse, my backpack, on the floor, in the other room (or the bathroom). Books as dusty things are on my mind or more to the case before my eyes. I am organizing.

I have a new-to-me rescue bookcase in my little apartment. I found it about two weeks ago on Fourteenth Street, near 7th Avenue. It was about 10 p.m. The black wrought iron affair had a giant blue plastic trash bag tied onto it, maybe so the trash men would see it if they did their rounds in the middle of the night. Five shelves, 18 inches wide (I guessed two feet but decided I could get off my arse and measure). I took it home on the bus.

The odd thing is that five years ago I made a decision to divest myself of as many of my books as I could bear to. A great friend who has fallen off the radar, darn it, was pushing me to declutter, the promised reward being clarity, spirituality and an opening for something new in my life.

I had much more paper back then and so worked on culling files, throwing out as many old drafts as I could (mainly, drafts of novels that haven't worked out). It was great and yes I walked lighter on the planet once there was less in my apartment.

I tackled my books, acknowledging that if I were driven to reread The Brothers Karamazov, or even learn how to spell it, I could buy a used paperback or go to the library. And it wasn't likely that I was going to reread many of the books I held on to. I wasn't likely to consult them for favorite passages. The sense of friendship they offered was no longer dependent on their presence, any more than I need to see old friends from the west coast to know we're still connected.

Given the number of times I've moved, I've never been able to amass the kind of library that brings back rushes of every phase of intellect, whim and passion. I moved almost once a year in my twenties, almost that often in my thirties--and those two decades were especially strong times of reading classics and esoterica.

I moved from one state to another and then in my forties from the west to the east. Books were sold and doled. But I still clung on until aggressively urged to let go. In spite of all that, a friend built some shelves for me a few months ago. These shelves served me organizationally. One shelf stores all the print journals in which I've been published. I stuck books I have yet to read on another.

And here, in the other room, I am tidying. I'm not throwing out books right now. (By throwing out, I mean either giving to the library "free" cart or in my building's lobby for whoever wants them). The books I most hold onto are poetry collections. They do warrant consultation. Each book has twenty or forty or sixty poems. Maybe only a few from any one book will linger, but they linger they do.

In my new bookcase are friends' books, books I feel warm towards (this bookcase is by my bed). I've owned two books forever (Arabian Nights and a Looking Glass Book of Verse) (and by forever I mean since grammar school).

I still have three stacks of books on the floor, waiting to be returned to the other extant bookcase in this room. I'm sorta glad I don't have a camera and therefore can't show you what is really happening here.

But in my mind what's happening is an early spring cleaning and further attempt to tidy my noggin, my life, my soul. So something greater can enter my life, my poetry, my greater connection with all things greater.