Saturday, April 30, 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 have a portion of your work critiqued by a visiting writer. And for the record, I'm not involved in any way, other than as an alumni of the creative writing program, so I'm giving you my honest assessment. This is a great opportunity; emerging writers are lucky to have it. If you have any questions, you're welcome to ask me in the comments below.

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

"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.

Friday, April 29, 2011

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

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!" And when I couldn't stop, she'd sit on the floor and cry.

I finally opened the door. She came in, held a cold cloth to my forehead, and sang to me all the little songs I'd been singing her to sleep with since she was a baby. When she was allowed to help, she no longer felt small and afraid. It's a lesson she's taken with her as a woman and as a volunteer with Habitat for Humanity in Cambodia, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the Leukemia Lymphoma Society, American Cancer Society, and in the cause of civil and human rights abuse. I'm incredibly proud of her. Tonight she'll be rallying her peeps as captain of Team Starbucks at Relay for Life at SHSU in Huntsville to benefit the American Cancer Society.

Please help me support Jerusha and the American Cancer Society! I'll send an autographed copy of BLBH as a thank you gift to the next 25 people who donate $25 or more! Go to the linked page, make a donation of $25 or more, and forward the receipt along with your shipping address to jonireaders{a}


NaPoMo QOTD Nearing the End and Starting Again

"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 well. I'm happy to make management happy and I'm ecstatic to help the American Cancer Society.

In addition to being NaPoMo and and NaHuMo, April is also National Volunteer Month. I've thoroughly enjoyed sharing poetry with you and I'm glad that you've all humored me enough to read it everyday. Please help me one last time by donating. (Told ya. shameless.)

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

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!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

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

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- Mia and Mac will discover if their marriage is strong enough to survive months of DIY renovations.

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

"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 makes me think of him. Not so spry anymore, but I bet he was quite the dancer back in the day.

I couldn't help it. Michael McCoy is always there with a camera taking pictures, so I grabbed one. I think if this picture had a poem, it would be "Song from a Country Fair".

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

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

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.

"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 Laureate Anthology, published by W.W. Norton in association with the Library of Congress. Poem copyright Kay Ryan.

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

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!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

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

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 own heart; it should tell your truth.

According to an interview, that’s how Sara Gruen writes, from the center of herself. She felt the draw of this story to the marrow of her bones. It reached to her through a single photograph. (Several wonderful old photos were inserted throughout the copy I read and they brought back so many memories of going to the circus when I was a kid, they brought my imagination alive.) She said she had to write it and she did it by the seat of her pants. In her words: “I hate outlining. I hate outlines, hate them, hate them.” She knew what the crisis would be and that it would be bad but not how to get there or how she would resolve it. She worked it out finally in a closet and it is a wonderful, engrossing and glorious read, a most spectacular show indeed with a fairy tale of an ending. And now a movie (trailer below) in theaters this month.

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

"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 poetry. Billy Collins used his terms as PoLau to try to turn that stereotype around. His online anthology Poetry 180 brought together 180 poems, one for each day of the high school year. He just didn't want people to rip them to shreds to find the hidden meaning. Just listen to them. I love that plan.

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

Monday, April 25, 2011

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 online format. There are no assignments given, just be prepared with your questions.

The four mystery writers each represent a different niche in the field of murder and suspense.

May 1 - 7: HARLEY JANE KOZAK. Winner of the Agatha, Anthony and Macavity Awards for her Wollie Shelley mystery series, Harley Jane Kozak is also a well respected actress, and now speaker and workshop presenter as well as writer. There are currently four Wollie Shelley stories out: Dating Dead Men, Dating is Murder, Dead Ex, and A Date You Can't Refuse. While Wollie is romantically involved (not always with the victim, fortunately), there is no reoccurring hero across the four books, although it looks like there may be based on the past two books in the series. Harley represents Comedic Series Mystery the first week of the workshop.
May 8 - 14: COLLEEN THOMPSON. Colleen Thompson has been turning out fast-paced, steamy romantic suspense tales since her 2004 thriller, Fatal Error, launched a new line at Dorchester Publishing, was nominated for the RITA Award for Best Romantic Suspense and won the Texas Gold for Best Mainstream Fiction. Another eight titles, with Touch of Evil the latest release in March 2010, have followed, and Colleen has two Harlequin Intrigues on the way, beginning with Capturing the Commando, a Romantic Times Top Pick for June 2011. But she hasn't always written thrillers - she began her writing career spinning historical tales. Colleen represents Romantic Suspense for her week with the workshop.
May 15 - 21: JO ANN FERGUSON. The holder of two ARTemis Awards from RWA, and many other nominations, Jo Ann Ferguson has had over 80 titles published, sometimes writing under four different pen names as well. A former Army quartermaster officer, she is the author of the Lady Priscilla Flanders Regency mystery series, which has been released through Zebra, Five Star, and now ImaJinn. She is no stranger to KOD though, having taught a workshop on Regency era crime and punishment in the past. Jo Ann, naturally, will represent Historical Mystery series the third week of the workshop.
May 22 - 28: ANGIE FOX. New York Times bestselling author Angie Fox claims she has as much fun doing research for her Demon Slayer series as she does writing them. Angie holds a degree in Journalism and worked in television news and in advertising before beginning her career as an author. There are currently four books in her urban fantasy/mystery series, the most recent title, A Tale of Two Demon Slayers, released in January 2010. Angie will represent Paranormal Mystery series the final week of the workshop.

Registration for the class, which is conducted through posts on Yahoogroups (making it accessible to students on their own schedule) is a bargain, $15 for KOD members and $30 for non-members. For more information, please follow the link. I'd love to see you on my roster.

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

"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 is that some people just shouldn't be allowed to name things. Homekid who named the Thresher and I are vying for the number one spot on that list. That being said, I feel that my next car's name will be El Jefe.

At least they got a sweet poem to commemorate their loss. I just got a sweet pair of Reeboks and some bills.

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

Sunday, April 24, 2011

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

"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 there anymore. During Lent, we cut something unhealthy out of our lives or add in something that we wouldn't otherwise but really should. When we get to Easter, are we the same person? Do we still crave that thing we cut out, or grumble at the thing we added in? Do we have the same feelings and understanding about the world around us? Or, for one day, do we become keenly aware of time and our place in the universe?

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

Saturday, April 23, 2011

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 skirmishes.

Added to that, there's the problem of my compulsive empathy--something that serves me beautifully as a writer when I need to get under the skin of my characters, but can end up, if unchecked, exhausting. In the early days of my facebook presence, I blurted out any old thing and read almost everything, enjoying the back and forth and rediscovery of friends I hadn't seen in years. But now that the number of my facebook "friends" has climbed to over 700, it's simply impossible for me to be the kind of friend I want to be to everyone.

So I decided to check out temporarily and see what would happen, and I thought Lent would be a great time for me to do this. It was an easy boundary to set, and for the most part, people respected it. What I hoped would happen was that I would find a temporary rest from what had become a constant churn of internal chatter, and that I would be able to grow, both spiritually and emotionally, from the brief withdrawal. I also hoped that I would spend even more time writing and doing what is now pretty heavy market research for my novel. I was already good at fitting in the time--but I wanted to do even more. I also wanted to explore options concerning my day job. I expected it to be a time of growth, meditation, and shift in perspective.

What I did not anticipate was how in doing this one small thing, I opened up so much psychic space. Psychic space not only to write and imagine and grow and dream, but space for God to speak--and speak and speak and speak. Within a week, my car broke down, I got another one, and stressed about paying for the new car, leapt to find another part-time job, which led to several fluke encounters and what is essentially a career change. This has been coming for some time, my shift away from academia, and I've been grieving giving it up. But what's happened in the past 45 days has taught me better how to shape my postacademic life, one that will likely involve several part-time jobs while I piece together a career as a professional writer.

It's a scary step I'm taking, but spending these last few days away from the facebook chatter has confirmed that it's both what God wants for me and what I want for myself. It doesn't mean I won't still teach, but what it does mean is that I'm ready. I'm ready to face this next season in my life, whatever God wants it to be. I used to think it would be a tenure-track job, but now I'm truly open to anything. The last time I was this open was right when I came to UH, as a wet behind the ears 24-year-old, with $186 dollars in cash, no car, and an apartment I had no idea how to pay for. But I heard the call, and I leapt, and within two weeks, had two jobs and a $5000 fellowship. The next semester I got a teaching assistantship.

So now, as I finish out the semester, finish my revisions, and start my new job (yes, oh boy, life is going to be crazy!), I'm looking into a future that's equally unmapped. And rather than feeling anxious, I feel excited. Rather than worrying all the way through my writing sessions as I usually do, I move through them with a new sense of confidence and glittering snatches of joy. I can't explain it, really, except that somewhere in the enclave of silence, I ended up moved by peace. By taking the time out to listen to God, I finally heard myself.

NaPoMo QOTD What The Heck Is This Awesome Poem?

"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. Norton in association with the Library of Congress. Poem copyright W.S. Merwin.

Friday, April 22, 2011

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

"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 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, Amazon charges a small fee to upload .doc or .pdf files to your Kindle. Under a buck, I believe, and totally worth it.

For those of you still looking for an excuse to purchase an e-reader, this could be the one!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

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

"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 the grindhouse film "Death Proof" or learning rhymes to remember multiplication tables or seeing quotes on inspirational posters with pictures of wild animals and landscapes you'll never see.

This one is my favorite, though. Levi's Go Forth ad campaign is phenomenal. They captured the feeling of Walt Whitman's Pioneers! O Pioneers! and didn't try to undermine its power with ridiculousness. And, no lies, it totally made me go out and buy a pair of Levi's. They're super comfy. And they make me feel adventurous.

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

Buy This Book: Do the Work by Steven Pressfield

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 deceptively-slim set of instructions for avoiding procrastination, getting down to work, blasting through the wall to reach the finish line, letting the work go, and learning from disaster, is an absolute gift for any writer who's ever had trouble getting started or bogged down and lost faith (i.e., all of us).

I love that he talks about "staying stupid," avoiding the impulse to talk ourselves right out of acting (or submitting the fruits of our labor) with endless mental chatter:
"A child has no trouble believing the unbelievable, nor does the genius or the madman. It's only you and I with our big brains and our tiny hearts who doubt and overthink and hesitate."

Pressfied, who is also the author of The Legend of Bagger Vance and a number of other novels, doesn't come across as some perfect guru who's never entertained a doubt in his life. Instead, he lays out example after example of how Resistance has kicked his can over the years and how this powerful force is constantly evolving. In this volume, he also expands his theory to talk about the equally powerful force of Assistance, which he uses to describe all those serendipitous helpful people and tools your efforts can and will attract once you begin doing the work you're meant to do. (This rings so true!)

When I first received my review copy, I was a bit put off by it's thinness and the amount of type-size overemphasis, as if the reader could not be trusted to pick out the important passages. I was also a bit bothered by what I saw as a lot of rehashing of concepts first laid out in The War of Art, which remains my all-time favorite book for writers. But for anyone who can't get enough of Pressfield's wisdom (raising my hand here) or who wants a simple, deceptively-wise set of tools to get them moving toward their creative goals, Do the Work is definitely a must-buy, on its own or as a companion volume.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

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

"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
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.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

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

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. Daisy who as far as anyone can tell has always been the single occupant of the Crippled Eighty, a farm that passed to her from her father. The facts of Daisy’s story, whether about Lenore’s birth or her disappearance, can’t be established making it all the more compelling to the townsfolk. Speculation is rampant. Somehow Lenore’s abduction becomes tied into the publication of a final book in a series of YA gothic novels which the elusive Daisy is heard reading, husky-voiced, from a bootlegged volume over the radio. Speculation has it that this is a mother's effort to entice Lenore, to conjure her return. Ultimately, events roll into one big media circus, drawing coverage from around the world. Even the author of the YA series puts in an appearance. Might the town along with the newspaper and the elusive Lenore be saved? Is her abduction a hoax or the delusion of a lonely, lovelorn lady?

Essie is at a loss, as is her granddaughter Tiffany with whom Essie has a most delightful and warm grandmother/granddaughter relationship. The love between this very old woman and this very young girl is one of the true gifts of this book. It is a treasure unfolded throughout the twists of the larger plot and there is nothing vaporous or doubtful about it. Where the larger plot takes on human nature’s proclivity to engage in drama, even to foster it, to fall for it and to be led by it, the bond Essie and Tiffany share stands as a powerful, iconic reminder of family, of love and courage and of loyalty.

And throughout, Timothy Schaffert writes with grace and style, a wry wit and most notably a depth of compassion for character that is just engaging on every level. That’s the stick to your ribs part. The Coffins of Little Hope is an altogether lovely read.

'Brick and Mortars Still Rule the Book World'

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 Costs a Couple Extra Bucks and Few Extra Minutes."

More From Mortenson

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?

"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.

Monday, April 18, 2011

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

"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, April 17, 2011

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

"...    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 doesn't shy away from any topic. In fact, he is drawn to the grime between wheel treads and the much in the sewer. He upturns rocks with his writing and examines what's wriggling underneath. I think a lot of the time, poetry makes you stop and smell the roses, but Dickey writes to remind you that at the bottom of every flowerbed is dirt. And I kinda like that.

So many poets throughout time

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

Saturday, April 16, 2011

NaPoMo QOTD Elizabeth Bishop is Yes. endofstory.

"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.

Friday, April 15, 2011

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

"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, published by W.W. Norton in association with the Library of Congress. Poem copyright Robert Hass.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

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

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.

"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.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Buy This Book: Delirium by Lauren Oliver

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 introduces the reader to a creepily-controlled world where security is the only thing that matters, "unsafe" books, music, and speech are banned, and the mere admission that your favorite color is something "suspicious," like the gray of the sky in the moments just before dawn are enough to foul up your entire future. Throw in a Romeo and Juliet-worthy romance that changes everything, and you've got the basis for this finely-crafted page-turner.

Fabulous read. Be sure to check it out. Especially, if you're one of those folks who still occasionally shivers at the unsettling corollaries to Orwell's 1984 in everyday life.

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

"(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.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

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

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–wow!—that ride has lasted over a year and a half! I first learned that my book was accepted for publication in July of 2009. It’s now 2011, so I have been waiting for a while now to hold the book in my hands so to speak. When my boxes of books arrived from Random House the other day, I thought I would jump around and scream, but I was really calm. After I hauled the boxes upstairs, I sat on the couch and stared at them for a long while. We’re not supposed to say we’re proud of ourselves, or at least not too much, but that’s how I felt. Incredibly proud of my hard work in all its forms, from actually writing the book to promoting it to waiting for it to appear on my doorstep on a wind-riddled day in St. Louis. What a long journey this has been, and I am so grateful to all of my lovely friends—new and old—who have helped give this book wings. Without them, I would still be living in my writer cave.

Tell us about the book itself. How'd you get the idea for the novel, and how did you end up pitching it? And what advice would you have for emerging writers in the process of working on their first books?

I got the idea for the novel after reading my grandmother’s journals, which she left me when she passed away. For a long time, I couldn’t find the story in them because I was so attached to the material, which was often very sad. My grandmother lost both of her parents when she was a girl and most of her life was spent trying to get over that grave loss. Once I closed the journals, the story came to life for me—the voices of Milly and Twiss—and I wrote the first draft in about seven months. But oh did I revise! As soon as I finished the book, I sent it out to agents (probably prematurely). The book and I met with a lot of rejection and revisions before I found my lovely agent, Michelle Brower. My advice to new writers is to keep going even when you think you have nowhere else to go. Persistence was half the battle for me. And belief in my project and myself was the other half. It’s amazing what happens when you combine those two things. Also, make sure you hug yourself. And often!

Here at BtO, we've been talking a lot about the exponential growth of ebooks and in particular, the publish-to-Kindle phenomenon. What's your opinion on all this? And how do you feel about The Bird Sisters existing as a Kindle version?

I am happy about The Bird Sisters existing in its many forms, primarily because I hope that people will read it and enjoy it. Whether that happens on a Kindle, in a large print addition, or in the hardcover, I am ecstatic! My husband has the book on his Kindle and my parents hope to listen to the book in the car one day. Any format works for me, though of course I am concerned for all of my indie bookstore friends and hope that people will consider supporting their local stores, too.

Finally, standard BtO bonus question: What are you currently reading? And what are you currently learning?

I have been reading wonderful books lately. The first one I want to mention is Susan Henderson’s novel, Up From the Blue, which is a wonderful synthesis of what’s it’s like to be child in a highly dysfunctional family. It’s sad and beautiful and wonderfully written. I’ve also been reading Alan Heathcock’s story collection Volt, which does indeed electrify me somehow. Alan and I navigate on different ends of the spectrum: his stories are tough, gritty, and very Cormac McCarthy-esque. I love this collection because it breathes life into my imagination, and I only hope it gets the attention it deserves. Other wonderful books I’m reading are Siobhan Fallon’s You Know When the Men Are Gone, Melissa Senate’s The Love Goddess’ Cooking School, Kate Ledger’s Remedies, and Therese Fowler’s forthcoming novel Exposure. All are major nightly treats for me. As for learning, my daughter is always teaching me things. Last night, it was how to eat string cheese properly!

Let It Out

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 of me still does), but when I see her on campus, I feel a twinge of guilt. Of stupidity.

Be kind. Keep in mind that there's alot in a name. History and love, ignorance and hate, indifference and title.

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

Monday, April 11, 2011

BUY THIS BOOK: The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

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 absence, Emma is disconsolate. She begins a ritual of going daily to the post office to retrieve Will’s letters. Iris James, postmistress, watches Emma carefully. Iris is a woman who is governed by order, who takes the distribution of the mail and the truth with an equally balanced sense of responsibility, but that changes when she comes across a letter that contains critical information that she chooses to hide. As a reporter, Frankie Bard shares Iris’s sense of moral duty and obligation to the truth. Both Emma and Iris tune in regularly to hear Frankie’s broadcasts that air from London where she was sent from America to report on the Blitz. It’s in London that Frankie meets Will and hears about Emma and through him, Frankie senses Emma’s heartbreak.

In fact Frankie is learning more than she cares to about war-time heartbreak. On assignment, she leaves London to ride the European refugee trains where she interviews families, parents and their children who are displaced and terrified. She watches in shock as they are dragged from the railcars over and over without explanation. To go where? What is being done to them? They tell their stories to Frankie, but as an American, she is prevented from knowing the end for them and worse, she can’t help them. It flies in the face of all that Frankie has been trained to believe in, to report--by no less a historic personage than Ed Murrow. She grows increasingly more angry and disillusioned that as a war correspondent, she is continually thwarted in her duty to follow her story to its end. She returns to the States in frustration carrying the weight of what she has seen and felt and also a letter from Will Fitch for Emma. The letter came into Frankie’s possession through an odd twist and like Iris, the postmistress, Frankie, too, will stand at a crossroads, hunting for the right way to proceed, hunting yet again for the right ending.

This isn’t a novel of war that you might anticipate it would be or that you have encountered before. It is finely focused on the lives of three women and the nature of one’s responsibility with regard to the truth--whether to tell it and how much. That said, the title, The Postmistress, is a little misleading. While Postmistress Iris James plays a major part, the story truly centers on Frankie Bard, a most aptly named and intrepid war correspondent in a time when female correspondents were a distinct minority. Iris and Frankie’s occupations alone separate this novel from the pack and make it interesting.

But this story illustrates another theme as well that is more timeless, that of the way in which ordinary life goes on . . . people shop, they read and listen to the radio even as war rages in other parts of the world. Frankie Bard thinks it is out of arrogance and/or ignorance, even indifference, but eventually, she concludes it is in defense of the perhaps deeper, more brutal truth that people simply can’t face the horror of war. As individuals, they feel they can’t stop it, fix it or make it better and so they ignore it.

The Postmistress is a very fine, thought provoking read. For fans of The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, you might like to read her interview with Sarah Blake at Sarah's Amazon detail page and for more interviews and information visit Sarah Blake's website.

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

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 copyright Mona Van Duyn.

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

Sunday, April 10, 2011

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

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 bringing the elements you mention together as anything other than my job as a poet. I think a poet should write about that by which she is wracked. I love a lot of popular music, so making use of it as subject matter or as artifice wasn’t an idea I got from anywhere; it was my responsibility.

I love music because it makes me think and feel alive and wonder. It makes me reconsider what talent is and can be. It provides me with a set of metaphors that I use to understand other art forms—including my own writing and revising.

Some reviewers have commented on how your work is a beautiful walk between darkness and light. Was that balance intentional on your part, or is it just something that flows from your soul?

Hmm…when you put it that way, I wonder what flows from anyone’s soul other than darkness and light, Kathryn. I think art manages to capture the contradictory aspects of being a human being…or maybe that’s just a defining characteristic of the art I admire most. I know that words on hallmark cards aren’t art because they mean to be all light. I know the words out of the mouths of men beating their wives are not art because they mean to be all darkness. So yes, the balance is intentional, but it’s intentionality shouldn’t be as special as reviewers of my work may make it seem. Maybe the comment they really mean to make is that the balance isn’t there in enough of contemporary American poetry, that this is how poems of late fail us. If they think my poems succeed in that way, I am grateful, but I don’t see any other way to succeed.

Your work has, just out of the gate, received an overwhelmingly positive response. How has this affected your creative process, and do you see it changing as a result?

There’s the easy answer to this that would assure me continued positive response, and then there is the honest answer. Both answers are true.

The easy answer, what I’m supposed to say, is that I’m quite surprised that so many people from so many walks of life and varying backgrounds enjoy and champion my work. In this answer, I should also say that, while I know current response is positive, it says nothing about whether or not the work will actually last beyond my life and that the immortality of the poems is what’s most important to me.

The honest answer, the one that makes those who confer positive response nervous, is that this is just what I wanted and feel that I was working toward as I aligned words on the page and none of it is yet enough. I want people to read my poems and love them and send me the emails of praise they send about them. I also want some sense within my lifetime that my work changes the way some people think about literature and that my work changes the way some people think. I believe in poetry—that it can make things happen and that it doesn’t have to wait until anyone is dead to get started at its labor in doing so.

Both the easy and the honest answers to the first part of your question live in my mind like an old married couple who still like to make love. As for the affect any positive response has had on my process, I have to say that there’s little I can’t do when people believe in me. I always feel like a person in the world who managed to get a great deal done without the emotional or financial support of my parents, so any kind of encouragement makes me go to bed later and wake earlier because I feel responsible to more than myself. I don’t want to make a liar out of anyone who says that Jericho Brown is a good poet, and I won’t make a liar out of my 23 year old self who said this will be my life, my living, my source of integrity to which I shall forever be true.

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

"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 have each student pick a certain number of words (usually 10 or 12) out of the box and write them down in the order they're drawn. Then we have to write a poem using those words. In that order. You don't have to have a magic word box, you can pick words from anywhere. Just 10 or 12 randomly chosen words to create a poem around.

#2: The incredibly popular 20 Little Poetry Projects. This one is pretty self explanatory. Start with the first project and finish with the last. My professor used this as an exercise to kickstart a poem in Intro to Poetry and I came out with a pretty good piece of work if I do say so myself. (I do. And Texas Association of Creative Writing Teachers agreed. I got 2nd place.)

#3: Another favorite of mine is to pick a color. Describe it in as much detail as you possibly can, but don't ever say the name of the color. The first time I did this was in creative writing in high school. It was a failure of epic proportions. I revisited it in college and chose the color of my favorite scarf. It is one of my favorite that I've written.

#4: Skeleton poem. Pick your favorite poem. Or your not favorite poem. Whatever. Take the verbs (or adjectives or any of one type of word) and write a poem using those words in that order.

#5:  Pick a word. (Longer ones are better for this) That's the title of your poem. Write a poem using only the letters in the word you chose for the title. This one killed my brain, but the poem I ended up with was a totally different style from what I usually write and it brought out something I didn't know I had in me.

Don't worry about it if the generation exercise doesn't work for you the first time. Not everything is gold. try a bunch until you find that spark. Just let the poem go where it needs to, don't feel constrained by the "rules" of the exercise. I think the best piece of advice Dr. Morphew ever gave our classes was "Sometimes your poem starts out on its way to church and ends up at the dog track."

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


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