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Showing posts from April, 2011

Calling all Houston-based Emerging Writers

And even some of you who aren't living in Houston. This may be short notice, but there are still spots open for the Boldface Writer's Conference at the University of Houston. The week-long conference, held May 23-28th in the M.D. Anderson library, is a great way to develop your craft and make connections with other like-minded individuals. While the original mission was to empower undergraduate creative writing majors, the focus of the conference has expanded to include any writer who is not currently in or an alumni of a graduate creative writing program.

The application deadline is May 5, so you'll need to decide quickly. If it doesn't work out for this year, consider thinking about it for the future. At $125 for the entire week and with some meals provided, it's hands down one of the best bang for the buck conferences around. For non-Houston area residents, there's limited dormstyle lodging available, for an additional weekly fee. You can also apply to…

NaPoMo QOTD The Last Best Quote to Read. Ok, Not Really, but the Last One I'm Blogging About.

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"Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.
There is no happiness like mine.
I have been eating poetry."
 - Eating Poetry by Mark Strand* (PoLau '90-'91)

Finding snippets and reading poems for these blogs has been so enjoyable for me. I am a bit embarrassed to say that I hadn't heard of about half of these poets. Now I can't imagine not having this book sitting by my bed. I can't speak highly enough of this collection. The pictures of the PoLaus and the extra biographical information adds to the experience of the poetry. If you haven't bought this book yet, do it! Seriously, it's awesome.

Thank you so much for eating poetry with me.

*From The Poets Laureate Anthology, published by W.W. Norton in association with the Library of Congress. Poem copyright Mark Strand.

Donate to J'ru's Relay for Life team and get an autographed copy of "Bald in the Land of Big Hair"

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From Jerusha's Relay for Life page:
My reason to relay is my mom, it's my grandmother and my friend, my best friend's mom and my best friend's future. It's for each time I get to hear my mom sing Happy Birthday or tell me to clean my apartment. It's for my future and for yours. It's for every adventure big or small that someone gets to have because they're still here.In my memoir, Bald in the Land of Big Hair, I talked a lot about Jerusha, who was five when I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, and profoundly effected by that experience. (Yes, that's her on the book trailer!)

Because we couldn't afford childcare after kindergarten, she attended many chemo sessions with me. When I started getting seriously sick, I wanted to protect her, so I'd lock the bathroom door when I had to throw up. She'd stand out there patiently knocking, then impatiently knocking, then kicking the door, yelling "Joni Rodgers, you stop that!" …

NaPoMo QOTD Nearing the End and Starting Again

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"I must hurry, I must go somewhere...
Pronounce its name. Oh, driver!
For God's sake catch that light, for

There comes a time for us all when we want to begin a new life."
 - The World Is a Parable by Robert Penn Warren* (PoLau '44-'45, '86-'87)

My mom says I'm always in a hurry. I say I have a lot to do. Either way, I've never really operated on the standard timeline. From being premature to graduating early to exploring new countries, I'm always ready to turn over a new leaf before the person next to me. I just love adventure and the sooner I can get to one, the better.

Today's adventure (and consequently today's shameless blog plug) is heading up Team Starbucks for my college's Relay for Life. I have a hard enough time wrangling folks when they're paid to listen to me, now I get to coerce them for free. yesss. All in all, though, I impressed my boss with fundraising ideas and I get a cool t-shirt, so I think it will work out…

What you waiting for? (Gwen Stefani's cure for writer's block: "Take a chance, you stupid ho!")

Posting today because a) I wasn't blogging in 2004 when it came out, b) while I generally reject music industry business models being applied to publishing, in this case, it holds up, and c) huDANG!

My favorite part is the agent saying, "You need to get inspired? Well, here you go: YOU'RE INSPIRED." That and the shoes.

Have a groovy weekend, all!

#BuyThisBook: memoirista Jen Lancaster creates suburban mayhem in debut novel "If You Were Here"

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Jen Lancaster, New York Times bestselling author of Such a Pretty Fat and My Fair Lazy makes her fiction debut next week with If You Were Here. If the book is as entertaining as the trailer, I think I'm going to like it! (I'll let you know.)

Per the PR:
Told in the uproariously entertaining voice readers have come to expect from Jen Lancaster, If You Were Here follows Amish-zombie-teen- romance author Mia and her husband Mac (and their pets) through the alternately frustrating, exciting, terrifying-but always funny-process of buying and renovating their first home in the Chicago suburbs that John hughes's movies made famous. Along their harrowing renovation journey, Mia and Mac get caught up in various wars with the homeowners' association, meet some less-than-friendly neighbors, and are joined by a hilarious cast of supporting characters, including a celebutard ex- landlady. As they struggle to adapt to their new surroundings- with Mac taking on the renovations himself…

NaPoMo QOTD This Poem is for the Little Old Man that Dances at Don Vicente.

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"When tunes jigged nimbler than the blood
And quick and high the bows would prance...
I saw the old come out to dance.
The heart is not so light at first..."
 - Song from a Country Fair by Léonie Adams* (PoLau '48-'49)

I used to go swing dancing at these two clubs, The Zendah Grotto and the Don Vicente Hotel. These dances would draw such an incredible range of people. From high schoolers to great-grandparents. There was always this little old man there, in his saddle shoes and suspenders or, on occasion updated to a t-shirt and orthopedic shoes. He definitely knew all the dances from back in the day and loved that people still wanted to do them. When you danced with him, it was just the simple steps, but there was always a story that started with "back in my day..." and for three minutes you'd be transported back to the days of cool, dark bars with hot jazz pianos and vets still in their fresh Class As. Even though this poem is about a country fair, it …

Bald in the Land of Big Hair 10th Anniversary eEdition arriving on National Cancer Survivor's Day!

Back from Montana, which was a snowy wonderworld, and gearing up for the BLBH ebook release, which is slated for (what else?) National Cancer Survivor's Day, Sunday, June 5, 2011!

I can't believe this spring marks a milestone (if not a millstone) 10 YEARS IN PRINT for this book! I continue to get wonderful letters from readers and from high school and college students performing scenes from the book for UIL competition. Amazing. Humbling. I'm incredibly grateful to HarperCollins, Chip Kidd, Marjorie Braman, Laurie Harper, and everyone who's contributed to the continuing success of BLBH.

NaPoMo QOTD Because America Loves Miniature Things. Seriously, Look at Sliders and Keira Knightley.

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"to be miniature is to be swallowed
by a miniature whale."
 - This Life by Kay Ryan* (PoLau '07-'10)

This whole poem is so great, but this quote just gets me every time. I love it. I think we've all felt that way.

I am also hella impressed by Kay Ryan because she's a phenomenal poet and she has never taken a creative writing class. I, for one, could cause physical harm with how bad my poetry was before I really intensely studied the art of writing it. Even now it can go either way most of the time. Ryan just does it. And she's awesome.

I think another reason I like her poetry is because she also embodies the humorous poet. Everything she writes reveals its purpose with a wry smile. It makes you shake your head a bit and say, "I see what you did there." The meaning and message isn't forced (ironically enough one of her other poems in this anthology is "Force") it's right there with a sly rhyme and a wink.

*From The Poets Laureat…

James Andrew Wilson's 5 Emotional Stages of Writing a Novel

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A friend turned me on to me this little video, which got me laughing (and wincing in recognition at the Stage 3 slog.

Check it out!

Buy This Book/See the Movie: Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen

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I’m late for the show on reading Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen and I don’t imagine I can add much that hasn’t already been said about this grand, sparkling big circus of a book. In fact, I believe it was already excellently reviewed by Colleen for the blog some months ago. I’ll just note a few things that stuck out for me. Like the prologue. I’ve read so much about how they should be done away with, that agents and editors warn against them, but here’s this very successful exception, which just goes to illustrate that it’s the exception that proves the rule and another axiom: Write it the way you feel it. The way you feel it not the way the rules say you should. Or in other words, once you learn where the lines go, feel free, very free, to color outside them. It doesn’t matter what form your creative expression takes. But no one since Shakespeare has said it better: “To thine own self, be true. . .” Because when it’s all said and done, the book, or whatever, should speak from your…

NaPoMo QOTD Because This Sounds Like An Actual Reason I Wouldn't Keep A Gun In My House AND Because Humor is Serious Business

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"while the other musicians listen in respectful
silence to the famous barking dog solo,
that endless coda that first established
Beethoven as an innovative genius."
 - Another Reason Why I Don't Keep a Gun in the House by Billy Collins* (PoLau '01-'03)

First and foremost, this poem is hilarious. If you have ever had that neighbor with that dog, the breed that can't breathe without barking, yeah THAT dog. This poem is for you. I have that neighbor. With that dog. With walls thin enough to hear when she microwaves lunch (It's an unhealthy amount). This poem is for me.

I love funny poetry, and this poem had me in stitches. April is, in addition to NaPoMo, National Humor Month. So, I wanted to include something that really shows that poetry is not just stuffy and formal. It's also hilarious. I think, in general (or at least in public schools/state universities) poetry that isn't stuffy and serious is overlooked as some lesser descendant of actual poet…

Mystery Writers Talk Shop

Who says I don't have class? An online class, anyway, which I'm offering via the Kiss Of Death Chapter of the Romance Writers of America, along with fellow authors Harley Jane Kozak, Jo Ann Ferguson, and Angie Fox. (Check out our bios below!)

Killer Instinct - May

Title: Mystery Writers Talk Shop: Conversations and Q&A with...

Instructor: Harley Jane Kozak, Colleen Thompson, Jo Ann Ferguson, and Angie Fox

Class Description: In this four week workshop, there will be a different mystery writing featured each week. And we do mean that this is conversations with questions and answers because that is exactly what we'll be doing. Asking each of these ladies how they write. You supply the questions.

But you've only got one week with each. They pass the baton on to the next mystery writer when their week is finished. That's what makes this different from the sort of roundtable discussion in physical workshops but would be less time consuming for the authors in the onli…

NaPoMo QOTD The Wreck of the Thresher...and of the Lesser Known Sir Ichabus the Scion XB

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"As the night turns brackish with morning, and mourn the drowned.
Here the sea is diluted with river; I watch it slaver
Like a dog curing of rabies. Its ravening over,
Lickspittle ocean nuzzles the dry ground."
 - The Wreck of the Thresher by William Meredith* (PoLau '78-'80)

Sir Ichabus the Scion XB, Lil Icky for short, was so named for Ichabod Crane and Icarus...and the giant crack in the windshield that perfectly formed a mustache. In retrospect, I probably shouldn't have named my car after a foolhardy dude with too many feathers and a superstitious dude who is thought to be spirited away by an angry ghost. It was bound to turn out poorly. Just like naming my fish Gatsby. I should have foreseen his watery death. Poor Lil Icky was doomed from the moment my best friend and I came up with that name.  Likewise, they should have known not to name a ship after a shark that likes to be alone. Of course it was going to be lost at sea.  I think the moral of the story i…

NaPoMo QOTD Easter Edition: Coming Home Different Physically, Mentally, and Poetically

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"I step on shadows gliding through the grass
       And feel the night lean cool against my face:
       And challenged by the sentinel of space
I pass."
 - "Home-Bound" by Joseph Auslander* (PoLau '37-'41)

Auslander was pretty spiffy dude. He worked in a sweatshop as a child and rose to study at Harvard and the Sorbonne (swoon) and teach at Columbia. His poetry was used to sell war bonds and he is responsible for many of the rare poetry manuscripts in the Library Congress. Much of his poetry is about war and reflects an older style of writing. This particular poem struck me because it was different from the others included in this anthology. The writing is simple, austere. The lines aren't terribly long or esoteric. It's just easy so you can fill it with all your own meaning.

I think today this poem is about a journey that changes us. We go on some grand, or not so grand, adventure and when we come back to the start, we find that we don't fit t…

Almost Easter: Results from my Lenten Experiment

Tomorrow is Easter, which for some means frilly dresses, Easter egg hunts and candy bunnies, and for others transcendent celebrations exulting in the joy of a risen Christ. And for some of us, it marks the end of the Lenten season, 46 days (unless you don't count the Sundays) of meditation and contemplation and, ideally, a deeper spiritual walk. Sometimes we fast too, temporarily giving up something that might make us unhealthy or get in the way of a closer relationship with God. One year I gave up diet Coke; one year I gave up chocolate. One year I chose to add something positive, to make sure I was going out of my way to be compassionate every single day.

This year, I gave up facebook. My reasons? Not only was facebook starting to consume too much time desperately scarce this point in the academic year, but it was also, I suspected, holding me back from greater things. It was causing me to think too much about the wrong things and pulling me into too many intellectual skir…

NaPoMo QOTD What The Heck Is This Awesome Poem?

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"night is a dream you know
an old love in the dark
around you as you go
without end as you know"
- Good Night by W.S. Merwin* (PoLau '10- , Special Bicentenial Consultant '99-'00)

Merwin is a pretty awesome guy. Not only does he write great poetry, he lives on a pineapple farm in Hawaii. That is one rockin' poet. Not to mention the fact that he made money straight out of college by moving to Europe and tutoring rich kids and translating poetry at the suggestion of Ezra Pound. I think he'd be a cool old dude to sit down with and talk to.

I was hoping someone could help me out with this poem. When I first read it, I immediately felt like I recognized the form, but now I'm not sure. I've googled it and flipped through three semesters worth of notes from poetry classes, but I still can't decide if this poem fits the description. So, Is W.S. Merwin's Good Night a free verse poem or a pantoum?

*From The Poets Laureate Anthology, published by W.W…

NaPoMo QOTD This Poem Takes Place In The Liminal Space Between Here And There.

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"The Good casts out the Bad...

The warty giant and witch
Get sealed in doorless jails
And the match-girl strikes it rich."
 - "It Out-Herods Herod. Pray You, Avoid It."

I think, a lot of times, poetry defies description. (which makes blogging about it kind of difficult.) It hits something baser than our lexicon. It is understood through something more human than language, even though its mode is words. The balance of emotion and purpose and experience and accessibility and gravity and a million other things is so precarious. Part of the wonder of poetry, for me, is how overwhelming solving that impossible equation is.

You should buy this book just to read this poem. It is haunting and beautiful and solves the equation perfectly.

*From The Poets Laureate Anthology, published by W.W. Norton in association with the Library of Congress. Poem copyright Anthony Hecht.

Cool Editing Tip of the Day

Some of you are probably ahead of the curve on this, but I tried a new editing technique today and loved it.

Not sure if this works on other e-readers, but for those of you using a Kindle, upload your chapter or manuscript to the device. (Go to Amazon.com to find out how.) Then press the Aa button and turn on speech.

While you're listening to the Kindle read aloud, follow along and edit the text on the computer. Pause reading as necessary.

It's a great, handy way to catch typos, dropped words, and clunky dialogue. You'll be shocked what you pick up on. And it's easier to do using the Kindle than toggling back and forth between one screen with MS Word and the other with MS Reader or whatever text-to-speech program you might be using.

Though I often read aloud my own work and find it helpful, I still miss things because my brain knows what I meant to type. Having another person (if you can find one with infinite patience) or a machine read is a terrific help.

By the way…

NaPoMo QOTD This Poem IS America. And This Video Is Awesome.

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"When I had no roof I made
Audacity my roof.When I had
No supper my eyes dined."
 - Samurai Song by Robert Pinsky* (PoLau '97-'00)

I love this poem because it's basically the American dream, but it sounds prettier. The idea that audacity can be my roof is such a lovely invitation to go out and create fearlessly. And let's be honest, who doesn't dine with their eyes on a daily basis? The whole poem is beautiful and Robert Pinsky is such an admirable poet. He served three terms, more than anyone else, and did more than any other PoLau as far as grassroots get-up-and-go type stuff. We're talking consistently holding a schedule of three readings a day all over the country. I would love to see what a PoLau with his drive and 2011's technology could do.

And now for something COMPLETELY different:

I was thinking about cool ways that poetry sneaks into our lives. Be it Robert Frost's poem Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening making an appearance in th…

Buy This Book: Do the Work by Steven Pressfield

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If I could only own one book on or about writing, it would be Steven Pressfield's fabulous The War of Art, which personifies a negative anti-creative force he names "Resistance" and gives writers, artists, and others some singularly-helpful tools to overcome the roadblocks that stand between us and the completion of our work. Whenever I find myself paralyzed by self-doubt or mired in distractions, I pull this slim volume off the shelf and-- voila! -- I'm soon back to writing, hell for leather.

So it was that I leapt at the chance to pick up a review copy of Pressfield's latest can of creativity whoop-ass, the even slimmer Do the Work!, which was released on April 20, 2011, from Seth Godin's The Domino Project and Amazon, and is being underwritten by GE, allowing free downloads via Amazon's Kindle platform.

Or you can pay $9.89 for the hardcover volume, which I suspect you'll want to do after reading the digital copy anyhow. Why? Because this deceptive…

NaPoMo QOTD Poetry Proving That Children and Snowmen Have Been Creepy Since The 20s

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"The pale-faced figure with bitumen eyes
Returns him such a god-forsaken stare
As outcast Adam gave to Paradise.

The man of snow is, nonetheless, content"
 - Boy at the Window by Richard Wilbur* (PoLau '87-'88)

So, I know we're all wordy people here, but I promised in the title that this proved something, so I'm going to bust out my rusty, but well-intentioned, math skills and write a proof for all of you.

Given: Children and Snowmen are creepy (ex, Campbell's Soup commercials, Pet Cemetery, this qotd)

Wilbur's poem (I assume) = his childhood
His childhood = in the 20s
Wilbur's poem = creepy kiddo and a snowman
Therefore,
Kids and snowmen = creepy since the 20s

That, my internet friends, is math. It can't be wrong. For the most part.

*From The Poets Laureate Anthology, published by W.W. Norton in association with the Library of Congress. Poem copyright Richard Wilbur.

Buy This Book: The Coffins of Little Hope by Timothy Schaffert

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At his website, Timothy Schaffert says of his past books that they are, “slim volumes,” and that they “take blessedly few hours to read end to end,” and that is true as well of his latest novel, The Coffins of Little Hope. It did take only a few hours to read, but what joy there was in those hours. Stick to the ribs joy with a delightfully drawn cast of warm, relatable characters. Consider Essie Myles, for instance. At the age of 8, Essie or Ess or S as she is sometimes known, wrote her first obituary for her mother. Now 83, Essie has been chronicling the town’s dead her entire life when she is summoned by the mother of a young girl who has gone missing for months and asked to write the child’s obituary . . . the obituary of the “vaporous Lenore”. Vaporous because no one in town, including Essie, knows whether the vanished Lenore was ever real. It’s quite possible she, and her presumed abduction, is the invention of a lonely woman in dire need of attention ... the solitary Daisy. Dais…

'Brick and Mortars Still Rule the Book World'

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The Quotation of the Day from Shelf Awareness

"In the past eight weeks, I've visited more than forty independent bookstores all over the continent, and every one of them had its own personality, and virtually every one of them was owned by an impassioned soul, who had bought themselves into a low paying job by buying a bookstore. Oh, and virtually every one of them was a pillar of their community, who put their money right back into said community. And guess what else? All their employees were impassioned people, who happened to be local, and happened to like working for a low wage, if only because it allowed them to work around books, and to spread the word about books and authors, and none more so than the those who otherwise might fall under the radar, or the search engine."--Jonathan Evison, author of West of Here, in a post at Three Guys One Book headlined: "Why Brick and Mortars Still Rule the Book World, and Why We Must Shop at Them Even If It Cos…

More From Mortenson

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More From Mortenson

According to the blog THE EARLY WORD, Greg Mortenson is now blaming the factual dissonance of his mega-bestseller THREE CUPS OF TEA on his co-author's desire to smooth out the flow of the story.

Hmm. Something tells me that condensing/telescoping events is a wee bit different from (allegedly, according to 60 Minutes) inventing a Taliban kidnapping and squandering funds raised in order to build schools.

Will be interesting to see how this plays out.

NaPoMo QOTD If You Could Only Ask One Question, Would It Be This One?

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"What was it like? I can tell you what it was like...
We banished the sky from the heavens and it was like death."
 - What Was It Like? by Reed Whittemore* (PoLau '64-'65, '84-'85)

I think think this would be my one question. For pretty much any situation. For pretty much any person. People have their lips clasped around the most incredible stories, even the boring ones are beautiful.

*From The Poets Laureate Anthology, published by W.W. Norton in association with the Library of Congress. Poem copyright Reed Whittemore.

NaPoMo QOTD Special Guest Star Robert Frost. You're Going To Read It, Don't Pretend You Won't

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"The woods are lovely dark and deep
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep."
 - Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost* (PoLau '58-'59)

Who doesn't love some Bobby Frost? I thought it would be nice to see a few lines that we all know and recognize. Plus, I've been up since 4am and, honestly, I don't have the energy to do much of anything today. And I, too, have miles to go before I sleep. Well, just one mile, but it's really hot and I have to walk with my laptop, so it feels like miles. Don't judge me.

*From The Poets Laureate Anthology, published by W.W. Norton in association with the Library of Congress. Poem copyright Robert Frost.

Sunday quote:Bradbury and Being "Drunk on Writing"

You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you. ~Ray Bradbury
This quote is such a great reminder that for the writer, it has to be about the magic of the process, those sublime "flow" moments that create a high that keeps us coming back time and again. Though not every moment--maybe not even most of them--can transport us, those that do serve as a reminder of why we do this in the first place.

When writing becomes about the external realities--the lust for honors, bestsellerdom, and huge advances--we risk losing the magic and being utterly consumed.

NaPoMo QOTD PoLaus GONE WILD! But Seriously, James Dickey Ain't Yo Mama's Poet

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"...    and someone is always checking

A wrist watch by the bed to see how much
Longer we have left. Nothing can come
Of this    nothing can come..."
 - Adultery by James Dickey* (PoLau '66-'68)

Let me preface this by saying, James Dickey is effin' weird. With a capital eff. He might say he was disappointed in LSD, but his writing makes me disinclined to believe that.

I wanted to quote his lesser known poem "The Sheep Child," but I couldn't find four lines, consecutive or otherwise, that weren't too inappropriate (even for the internet). Just know that it's about EXACTLY what you think it's about. You should buy this book for the singular purpose of reading that poem. It gives you that weird feeling where you don't know if you should laugh or be horrified. Which is fitting because I kind of get that feeling about Dickey being the PoLau at all. I mean, the man wrote Deliverance. 'nuff said.

The real point about Dickey is that he d…

NaPoMo QOTD Elizabeth Bishop is Yes. endofstory.

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"Time to plant tears, says the almanac...
and the child draws another inscrutable house."
 - Sestina by Elizabeth Bishop* (PoLau '49-'50)

Bishop's poetry is iconic and celebrated, so I tried to find one that you probably didn't read in at least five classes. She was one of the youngest PoLaus at 38 and pretty sickly woman. Her health and writing suffered as a result of being the PoLau, but she managed to get through the year being otherwise productive. I think my favorite thing that she did was throw a 75th birthday party for Robert Frost at the White House...the year Frost would have turned 76. For. The. Win.

*From The Poets Laureate Anthology, published by W.W. Norton in association with the Library of Congress. Poem copyright Elizabeth Bishop.

NaPoMo QOTD Because Some Things Aren't Extraordinary. They're Just Nice, And That's Good Enough.

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"When she went into the gazebo with her black pen and yellow pad
to coax an inquisitive soul...
and the notebook, turned to a new page,...
I wrote: happiness! it is December, very cold"
 - Happiness by Robert Hass* (PoLau '95-'97)

I love this poem because this is how I want to feel about every single day. Not so much the very cold part, but the rest of the poem. It isn't spectacular in some earth shattering way; it's just nice. And honestly, common life is pretty extraordinary and wonderful.

Hass said that "poets have a moral responsibility to make and refresh...images of common life." I think that's incredibly accurate. Poetry has the ability to do this is a way that no other artistic medium can. A pretty sunset, a kid's ice cream smudged face, a house on fire, a hooker. Everything has something beautiful about it that poets need to point out to everyone else because not everyone sees it right away.

*From The Poets Laureate Anthology, publi…

Buy This Book: Meg Howrey's "Blind Sight" drawing buzz and big names tonight at Strand

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I've been hearing a lot of talk about Meg Howrey's debut novel, Blind Sight. PW says "alternating between tricky present tense first- and third-person sections, the novel speeds along with deftly drawn characters and pitch-perfect dialogue," which definitely sounds like my kind of book. (I just popped it on my Kindle for some quality airplane time next week.)

The protagonist, 17-year-old Luke, is the result of a one-night-stand between a famous actor with a dark secret and a bohemian mama with her own hidden past. That's about all I know of the story, but I get the feeling from the very promising Kindle sample that this book is all about the character study, language and dialogue.

Meg Howrey, a former Joffrey dancer and Broadway actress, appears tonight at Strand Books on Broadway at 6:30 PM.

NaPoMo QOTD This Poem Is About The Sixties, But Poetry Repeats Itself. Well, It's Societal Significance Anyway.

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"All autumn, the chafe and jar
of nuclear war;
we have talked our extinction to death."
- Fall 1961 by Robert Lowell* (PoLau '47-'48)

Robert Lowell spent six months in jail because he was a conscientious objector to World War II. I must say, I dig the fact that he's a pacifist, but that war was definitely worth fighting. Turns out Lowell was kind of crazy, though, so maybe it's best that he didn't go warring. I wonder what he would think of the current state of things. This is really a beautiful poem that is as relevant today as it was in the '60s. I love that lingering presence of poetry. Or maybe it's just proof that history repeats itself. I'm not sure, but I hope I hope it's the former.

*From The Poets Laureate Anthology, published by W.W. Norton in association with the Library of Congress. Poem copyright Robert Lowell.

Buy This Book: Delirium by Lauren Oliver

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Lately, I've been on such a roll, reading great book after great book, several of them ground-breaking coming of age dystopian stories, such as Suzanne Collins The Hunger Games and Beth Revis's terrific Across the Universe.

Here's another genius premise, from MFA graduate Lauren Oliver. In Delirium -- wait. I'm not going to gas on about how great this book is. I'm going to do to you what Oliver did to me by bonking you over the head with this killer first para:

It has been sixty-four years since the president and the Consortium identified love as a disease, and forty-three since the scientists perfected a cure. Everyone else in my family has had the procedure already. My older sister, Rachel, has been disease-free for nine years now. She's been safe from love for so long, she says she can't even remember its symptoms. I'm scheduled to have my procedure in exactly ninety-five days, on September 3rd. My birthday.
From this auspicious opening, Oliver intro…

NaPoMo QOTD Rita Dove's Rules of How to Keep the Ground In Place and Yourself In Line

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"(Remember: go straight to school
this is important, stop fooling around!
Don't answer to strangers. Stick
with your playmates. Keep your eyes down.)
 - Persephone, Falling by Rita Dove* (PoLau '93-'95, special Bicentennial Consultant '99-'00)

As someone who isn't too adept at following all the rules, I love this poem. It reminds me that there are some that I really do need to follow, and some that will just never work because, well, they just don't fit for everyone.

*From The Poets Laureate Anthology, published by W.W. Norton in association with the Library of Congress. Poem copyright Rita Dove.

Persistence, Belief and a Book with Wings: Rebecca Rasmussen on The Bird Sisters

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If you've been following publishing on twitter at all in the past few weeks, you'll almost inevitably have heard of Rebecca Rasmussen's debut novel, The Bird Sisters. Often referred to as "the perfect book club book," the novel traces the lives of two sisters, Milly and Twiss, as they piece back together birds, people, and their own broken past. Inspired by the author's grandmother's journals, the novel is both contemporary and historical, and as restrained as it is fierce with emotion. And its official birthday is today, so we're very excited to have Rebecca herself here to talk about it. Happy birthday, Bird Sisters!
You must be absolutely out of your mind with excitement. How has the publication process been for you and how have the last few months been? A rollercoaster? Were there any surprises and/or pitfalls along the way?
You are absolutely right, Kathryn. I am completely out of my mind right now with excitement. This has been quite a ride and–w…

Let It Out

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And if you wanna sing out, sing out

And if you wanna be free be free

Well there's a million things you can be

You know that there are . . .


Cat Stevens




May the words burst from you today, my friends (with thanks to sign language interpreter Cori Pate and all the wonderful folks at the Illinois Big Read).

NaPoMo QOTD What's In A Name? For Me, 22 Years Of "Oh, I Thought You Were Black...Are You Jewish?"

"Old Four Eyes fled
to safety in the danger zones
Tom Swift and Kubla Khan traversed."
- Names by Robert Hayden* (PoLau '76-'78)

My name is Jerusha Isabelle Rodgers and I'm not going to say that people have certain stereotypes in their mind before they meet me, but in college I was roomed with girls named Baby Gomez and Chinesta. Hayden's poem beautifully illustrates the importance of names, not just the ones our parents give us, but the ones our peers give us, too. And as an African-American man born in 1913, I feel like Robert Hayden knows alot about that.

I must admit, though not proudly, I had a less than polite nickname for Ms. Gomez. She had this deviated septum or post-nasal drip problem or something. She snorted. And she hid candy everywhere in our room. Seriously. It was gross. In a fit of frustration I declared that she sounded like a pig searching for truffles. My brother heard Sgt. Truffles. It stuck. At first I thought it was hilarious (a part o…

BUY THIS BOOK: The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

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In The Postmistress, Sarah Blake’s illuminating novel set in 1940, the lives of three women are brought together by a relationship to one man, a young doctor, Will Fitch. Emma Trask Fitch is Will’s new bride and her marriage to Will is the first real security she’s had since her parents died when she was young. She was lost before Will; she didn’t feel as if she had an identity. But now she is young Doctor Fitch’s wife and folks see her as if she matters. Even more Will loves her and she loves him and this is everything. Until tragedy strikes and Will is plunged into a dark night of the soul where he feels the only remedy is to leave Emma, leave their cozy home in the relative safety of small town Michigan and offer his services as a doctor in London at a time when London is under siege by the Germans, when frantic, terrified dashes into underground “funk” holes to escape the infernal, incessant bombing is the way life is lived, the way it goes on--if it goes on. In his lengthening ab…

Buy This Book: If you're enjoying J'ru's NaPoMo QOTDs, score a copy of the PoLau Anthology

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I'm loving the Poet Laureate bits and Quotes of the Day Jerusha is doing in celebration of National Poetry Month. It's already switched me on to some great reading. Her resource for a lot of her info is the wonderful The Poets Laureate Anthology. If you don't have it on your reference shelf already, I highly recommend you score a copy before you find yourself in an emergency situation with a rainy afternoon, a cup of herbal tea and the wrong book!

NaPoMo QOTD Because Everybody Snores Sometimes. Even If They Say They Don't. They Do.

"And then we had a three-week cab guest
who snored; he broke the wilderness of our rest."
- The Gentle Snorer by Mona Van Duyn* (PoLau '92-'93)

Van Duyn did not enjoy being a PoLau. She said she would "run kicking and screaming in the opposite direction" to avoid doing it again. But I'm glad she did it once. She may just be the only poet in the history of ever (ok, not ever, but she's one of few) that didn't look to her own bouts of depression for a subject. she said that the years when she wasn't suffering were the "most real" and that's what she looks to. It's hard to write when you're in a good mood. At least, I think it is and there's enough angsty poetry in the world to sop up the ocean, so I'm incline to think I'm right. I really like that Van Duyn doesn't play into that at all.

*From The Poets Laureate Anthology, published by W.W. Norton in association with the Library of Congress. Poem copyrigh…

A Way With Words (just a thought to start your writing week)

If This Doesn't Inspire You, Nothing Will: A Conversation with American Book Award Winner Jericho Brown

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In keeping with Jerusha's fabulous posts on National Poetry Month, we're going to be interviewing several poets in the coming weeks and discussing their work. For our first poet, we welcome Jericho Brown, whose debut poetry collection, Please drew immediate attention all over the world, garnering him the Whiting award, an NEA fellowship, and the 2009 American Book Award. Introducing Jericho is a little like trying to introduce God. There's so much presence and power there, you just want to get on out of the way. That said, here he is. Prepare to be wowed.

In PLEASE, you incorporate snippets of music and echoes of legends, all the while mixing in bits and pieces of your own background and life. Where did you get the inspiration to bring all these elements together, and what resonance does music have for you?

Through metaphor and music, poems collapse time and space, make present what only seems to exist in memory with transformative clarity. I never thought of brin…

NaPoMo QOTD This Is How You Write A Poem. Good Day and Good Luck.

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"Be careful what you say to us now.
...If you speak
You cannot be delicate or sad or clever.
...You may speak only to our heart,"
 - Lines to a Poet by Josephine Jacobsen* (PoLau '71-'73)

Today is National Encourage a Young Writer Day. Jacobsen's advice is one of many poems to writers in the Anthology. Her poem, in its entirety, is the one that struck me the most, so I decided to share it with all of you. I'm celebrating today by not having a regular blog. Instead of you reading what I have to say (although everything I have to say is of great importance and you should read it. Probably more than once.) I'm going to share some of my favorite writing exercises from over the years. Go forth and be encouraged, writers!

#1: My former poetry professor, Dr. Melissa Morphew, has what we not-always-so-lovingly referred to as The Box. It's a little blue tupperware container with roughly a bajillion tiny slips of paper inside. She would bring it into class and …