Thursday, July 31, 2008

Ruth Lilly finalists announced

Poetry magazine announced the 45 finalists for the Ruth Lilly Fellowship (not bad out of 900 applicants) and three of them (that I know of) are from the University of Michigan MFA program. Congratulations to Britta Ameel who graduated the year before I came into the poetry program (I think). And congrats to Emily Zinnemann and Elizabeth Gramm who came into the program the year after me. They are all lovely people and talented poets to boot! :) The winner will be announced September 1. Personally I hope that Emily and Elizabeth tie and have to mud wrestle or, better yet, duke it out karaoke style.

As an added bonus, here's a super sweet blog posting by Emily's mom about the whole thing.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Wearing your heart on your chest

I, like the rest of America, am a big fan of the T-shirt. It's comfortable, versatile, and capable of expressing the inexpressible and/or telling folks up front, "This is who I am" or "This is part of who I am" or "I don't get it either." Take, for example, the gentleman I saw at a bar wearing a shirt that read: "I'm not a gynecologist, but I'll take a look." At first glance such a message might be interpreted as "asshole," as in the guy wearing said shirt must be one. And maybe he is. But also, just maybe, he's saying, "Ladies, I'm not the kind of guy who judges a woman by her sores, oozing, labial deformities, etc. Come as you are." Though probably he was just an asshole.

That said, I've noticed that there aren't a lot of poetry t-shirts out there. Perhaps that's because poetry, unlike sports or Hannah Montana, is wildly unpopular. Still, I am always on the look out for poetry shirts and thought I would share a few here with you.

Take this haiku shirt by Threadless, for example. It's witty, hip and only $15.
Plus, if you like it, you should definitely be sure to check out this haiku comic.

Threadless also has a Shakespeare shirt that always makes me smile. In fact, the phrase "Shakespeare Hates Your Emo Poems" pops into my head quite often.The only reason I don't own this shirt is that, well, I don't really dig Shakespeare all that much. And if that makes me lose all credibility, well, suck it.

I do, however, own a T-shirt with this image of Emily Dickinson on it from the Academy of American Poets even though the amount of Emily Dickinson's work I've read is scandalous. I saw it at their booth at AWP and couldn't really resist. Once at a fabric store while waiting for my wife a woman looked at the shirt and looked at me and said, "Is that you?" At first I didn't know what she was talking about, then I realized I was wearing my hair in a loose pony tail and wearing this shirt. "Uh, no. That's Emily Dickinson," I said. This is not the first time I've been mistaken for a dead famous person. My wife's grandmother once thought a post card of Janis Joplin was a photograph of me. Perhaps it's the universe's way of telling me I need a hair cut.

If you don't like Ms. Dickinson, you can get the same shirt with Walt Whitman on it. I'd gladly wear it, only I fear being mistaken for him, too, and that would be a lot harder on my psyche. They also have a red T-shirt with a quote from Whitman ("And our visions, the visions of poets, the most solid announcements of any"), but it's not really my thing. It feels a wee bit self-important.

Gwendolyn Brooks fans can nab a T-shirt from the Academy of American Poets that looks like it was bought from a souvineer store in Key West. It's not especially "cool" though your mom might like it if she plays pool and sells Mary Kay.

There's a Cafe Press site that has a lot of poetry T-shirts. Some of them are ugly but well-intentioned, some are really lame, while others are actually pretty cool. And I have to admit, the one that says Puns are bad but poetry is verse makes me laugh. I don't think I'd wear that shirt, but I would consider putting that bumper sticker on my car. If there was any room.

If you know of any other poetry shirts, send them my way (by way of emailing me a link. Though if you insist, I usually wear a women's medium).

Monday, July 28, 2008

"Books of Fury" by Happy Tree Friends

For all of you who thought your elementary school librarian was just being nit-picky when she told you to turn book pages from the top corners, Buddhist Monkey of the Happy Tree Friends wants to remind you to treat books with respect. Or else.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

To ink or not to ink...

By way of Slog I came to Molly Lambert's rant on This Recording against tattoos. The post comes complete with a host of pictures of "literary" tattoos, including one which contains the lines "I should have been a pair of ragged claws. Scuttling across the floors of silent seas" from The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T.S. Eliot. The best one is of a Bible verse right above an ass crack. It's way classy.

A friend of mine (Liz, pictured) has some of The Lord of the Rings on her arm in, like, hobbit script or something and while Lambert would no doubt have included Liz's forearm in her post, it looks kind of cool even if I have no idea what it says (and even if I did read hobbit, I have never read The Lord of the Rings and never plan to. And no, I haven't seen the movies, either. I'll learn to read hobbit before that happens).

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Kay Ryan is the new U.S. Poet Laureate

While a lot of folks probably still think Billy Collins is Poet Laureate, that hasn't been true for years. As of July 17, 2008, the title of Poet Laureate goes to Kay Ryan, who received a nice write-up in The New York Times that described her work as "sly, compact poems that revel in wordplay and internal rhymes."

Surfaces serve
their own purposes,
strive to remain
constant (all lives
want that). There is
a skin, not just on
peaches but on oceans
(note the telltale
slough of foam on beaches).
Sometimes it’s loose,
as in the case
of cats: you feel how a
second life slides
under it. Sometimes it
fits. Take glass.
Sometimes it outlasts
its underside. Take reefs.

The private lives of surfaces
are innocent, not devious.
Take the one-dimensional
belief of enamel in itself,
the furious autonomy
of luster (crush a pearl—
it’s powder), the whole
curious seamlessness
of how we’re each surrounded
and what it doesn’t teach.

(Kay Ryan, from Elephant Rocks, 1997 Grove/Atlantic, Inc.)
Ryan is a poet I was introduced to via Poetry magazine. Since subscribing several years ago, I've noticed that she is in just about every issue. Clearly the folks there love her. While I don't love her, I'm glad to see the title going not only to a woman, but also a lesbian. Give me hope. The Poet Laureate list is pretty much a sausage fest.
Poets who have held the Poet Laureate position since I was born:
2008–2009 Kay Ryan
2007–2008 Charles Simic
2006–2007 Donald Hall
2004–2006 Ted Kooser
2003–2004 Louise Glück
2001–2003 Billy Collins
2000–2001 Stanley Kunitz
1999–2000 Special Bicentennial Consultants: Rita Dove, Louise Glück and W.S. Merwin
1997–2000 Robert Pinsky
1995–1997 Robert Hass
1993–1995 Rita Dove
1992–1993 Mona Van Duyn
1991–1992 Joseph Brodsky
1990–1991 Mark Strand
1988–1990 Howard Nemerov
1987–1988 Richard Wilbur
1986–1987 Robert Penn Warren
1985–1986 Gwendolyn Brooks
1984–1985 Reed Whittemore (Interim Consultant in Poetry)
1984–1985 Robert Fitzgerald
1982–1984 Anthony Hecht
1981–1982 Maxine Kumin
1978–1980 William Meredith
1976–1978 Robert Hayden
For more on these poets and a complete list going back to 1837, check out the Library of Congress Web site.

Monday, July 21, 2008

You're it this time...

I tend to write a lot of poems in the second person, a point of view that can be problematic. After all, not all readers want to be implicated when they sit down with a poem, especially since second person "you" is such a direct and intimate manner of address. When it's done well I really like it.

Thinking of this I can't help but think of the words of an Ani DiFranco song:
"Every song has a you, a you that the singer sings to, and you're it this time..."

Perhaps it's because I'm a writer, but when I read poems in the second person I don't identify as the "you" so much as I do with the speaker. In any case, I just started reading Dan Chiasson's Natural History and he uses second person quite frequently and does it very well, I think, especially in this poem.
Love Song (Sycamores)

Stop there, stop now, come no closer
I said, but you followed me anyway.
You made a bed for us in the woods.
There were sycamore boughs overhead.

Stop there. Stop now. I calculated that
the number of birds singing
on any given morning
was a function of the sycamores plus my hangover.

I said, Stop there, but you followed me
even when I tore our bed to pieces,
I did that, I brought anger into the bower
and the sycamores became menacing shoulders.

And the birds cried, scared, a little embarrassed.
And we paced back and forth, under
the menacing shoulders of the sycamores.
The birds made nests inside our heads.

When you held my fist between your two hands,
I pretended to be subdued. But then
I opened my fist easily
and scattered your strength all over the bower.

When you ran towards me, I said, Stop there,
stop now, you'll end up
in a stranger's life
; and when you ran away
I said the same words over again, louder.

(Dan Chiasson, from Natural History, Knopf 2005)

Saturday, July 12, 2008

"At the Door" by Jean Valentine

It's the primate aspect that interests me most about this poem.

At the Door
Seeing my daughter in the circle of lamplight,
I outside:

It is not I,
it is Mother.
(But it is I.)

It is the first tableau, the first
red wellspring of I.

Chimpanzee of longing,
outside the light,
wrap your long arms
around the globe of light,
hold your long haunches
wide open: be
ungodly I.

(Jean Valentine, from Not for Mothers Only: Contemporary Poems on Child-Getting & Child-Rearing, edited by Catherine Wagner and Rebecca Wolff. 2007 Fence Books)

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Will verse for food

While I consider myself dedicated to my craft, I would never intentionally become homeless in order to pursue poetry. Nor would I expect to be discovered and become famous while doing so. But then, I'm not Daniel Canada and Gregory Deloatch, who try to do just that. Hear all about it on This American Life episode #358: Social Engineering.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Save the Orangutans

A new study finds that orangutans are dying out. Not a surprise when you consider how much respect humans have for the natural world.
"The declines [of orangutans] in Indonesia and Malaysia since 2004 are mostly because of illegal logging and the expansion of palm oil plantations..."
You can learn more about the plight of the orangutans at the Centre for Orangutan Protection web site.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Heavy Metal Poetry

I have to say, when I first heard of McSweeney's All Known Metal Bands, I was excited. When I found out it was simply a listing of band names with no other information on the bands in question, I lost interest. But then my sister brought a copy into my home. And I am addicted. This book is way fun. A must have for any party.

Here's a sampling of some metal band names that pertain to this blog:
Evil Poetry
Poema Arcanus
Poem’s Death
Poems of Shadows
Poeticus Severus
Poetry of Chaos
Poetry of Dreams
Poet’s Cry
Poets of the Plague

Monkey Business
Monkey Cave
Monkey Head
Gorilla Monsoon

Thursday, July 3, 2008


Oh yeah, this is totally healthy...
"It was nine months before Lori could leave the room without [pet monkey] Jessy having a panic attack. There were other difficulties, as when Jessy started to nip at Lori and her husband, Jim. They eventually had her teeth removed."