Archive for the ‘Literature’ Category

idol worship
August 23, 2014

Another month, another reading list. The summer is coming to a close, so I’ve been rushing to get through the last of my leisure reading before classes start next week. As much as I love the challenge of reading philosophy, I will certainly miss being able to dedicate a large portion of my waking hours to immersing myself in fiction and poetry. This month, I’ve been obsessed with a few writers in particular. 

Anne Carson:

Men in the Off Hours

Haruki Murakami:

A Wild Sheep Chase
Norwegian Wood

Jeanette Winterson:

The Passion
Written on the Body

Weight
Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
The PowerBook

I will continue to read these three authors religiously, Winterson for the intensity of emotion that comes through in her writing and for her wonderfully queer characters, Murakami for his strangeness and disregard for the boundary between fantasy and reality, and Carson for her ability to mix academic scholarship with poetry in genre-defying ways. I know that I will have Carson to turn to when I am challenged to do work in philosophy while continuing to be a poet, and I am glad to have her words as a guide in my future writing endeavors.

If it’s pure, raw feeling you want, though, look no further than Winterson’s writing:

“This is where the story starts. Here, in these long lines of laptop DNA. Here we take your chromosomes, twenty-three pairs, and alter your height, eyes, teeth, sex. This is an invented world. You can be free just for one night.

Undress.
Take off you clothes. Take off your body. Hang them up behind the door. Tonight we can go deeper than disguise.

It’s only a story, you say. So it is, and the rest of life with it – creation story, love story, horror, crime, the strange story of you and I.

The alphabet of my DNA shapes certain words, but the story is not told. I have to tell it myself.

What is it that I have to tell myself again and again?

That there is always a new beginning, a different end.

I can change the story. I am the story.”

(from The PowerBook)

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six word stories
July 21, 2014

It is Ernest Hemingway’s 115th birthday, and there is no better way to celebrate than to hastily write six word flash fiction. (That’s a blatant lie. There is surely a better way, and it would most likely involve alcohol, sexism, and shooting wildlife.) Hemingway supposedly won a $10 bet when he managed to write this story in just six words:

“For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.”

 

Despite my lack of a $1.66 per word incentive, here are a few of my own attempts:

The match fell, still lit. Oops.

“Me or the dog?” “The dog.”

I left without telling him why.

Was it bad for you, too?

Apples and humans: both gravity-prone. 

Quit job. Smelled roses. Ignored debt.

“Happy Birthday, Ernie!” “Where’s my absinthe?”

And lastly, although it was written in the context of her full-length novel, The Passion, I quote Jeanette Winterson:

“I’m telling you stories. Trust me.”

 

summer canon
July 15, 2014

When it reaches 100ºF in the afternoon and the only activity that is both free and not sweat-inducing is taking the bus to the public library, it makes sense that one would spend most of the summer reading in the safety of air conditioned rooms. This is exactly what I have been doing. Despite my lack of recent posts, I have been writing, too, though I am hoarding away my new poems until I have made it past the usual all-my-writing-is-terrible phase of the revision process. In lieu, then, of posting anything original, I am very lazily offering up a list of the things I have read this summer so far. I would highly recommend all of them. 

by Anne Carson:  

Glass, Irony and God 
If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho
Antigonick
Autobiography of Red 

by Jeanette Winterson:

Art Objects
Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? 

by Virginia Woolf:

A Room of One’s Own
Mrs. Dalloway

On my desk is also Judith Butler’s Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative, which I have been reading only a few pages at a time when I’m in the mood for theory, and I also have a daunting stack of Derrida that I checked out last week in a moment of extreme readerly optimism. I will in all likelihood read 20-30 pages of a random chapter of Writing and Difference before losing my scholarly resolve and switching back to fiction. Woolf’s Orlando and To The Lighthouse are piled underneath Derrida’s essay collections, and they look inviting. In the course of writing this post, I have also put two of Winterson’s novels, The Passion and Written on the Body, on hold through the magic that is online cataloging. Give a bibliophile a library card…  

from Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?:  

“I picked up my pile of books for shelving. The library was quiet. It was busy but it was quiet and I thought it must be like this in a monastery where you had company and sympathy but your thoughts were your own. I looked up at the enormous stained-glass window and the beautiful oak staircase. I loved that building.

The librarian was explaining the benefits of the Dewey decimal system to her junior – benefits that extended to every area of life. It was orderly, like the universe. It had logic. It was dependable. Using it allowed a kind of moral uplift, as one’s own chaos was also brought under control.

‘Whenever I am troubled,’ said the librarian, ‘I think about the Dewey decimal system.’

‘Then what happens?’ asked the junior, rather overawed.

‘Then I understand that trouble is just something that has been filed in the wrong place.’”

Pages 21
May 28, 2014

This is just a quick update to let my followers know that one of my poems is being published in the upcoming issue of Belleville Park Pages! You can pick up Pages 21 in a select group of bookstores in the US and Europe (here is the full list), or you can order it online here. As some of you might remember, I had a poem in Pages 12 last November, and I’m so excited to continue to contribute to this wonderful little publication!

And because I cannot make a post without including poetry suggestions, below is an excerpt from Anne Carson’s Glass, Irony and God. I’m currently staying in LA with a friend who works at Book Soup, a shop in West Hollywood, and because it is a universally acknowledged truth that if you enter a bookshop, you are obligated to buy something, I ended up with this collection of Carson’s poetry.

from “The Glass Essay”

Perhaps the hardest thing about losing a lover is
to watch the year repeat its days.
It is as if I could dip my hand down

into time and scoop up
blue and green lozenges of April heat
a year ago in another country.

I can feel that other day running underneath this one
like an old videotape – here we go fast around the last corner
up the hill to his house, shadows

of limes and roses blowing in the car window
and music spraying from the radio and him
singing and touching my left hand to his lips.

ten poetry suggestions
April 25, 2014

During a recent afternoon haze, I was browsing through Buzzfeed’s never-ending stream of quizzes and listicles when I came across a surprising article on poetry (surprising in that it was 1. a collection of full sentences, and 2. a reasonably thoughtful collection of full sentences). Once you get past the initial fact that “life changing” [sic] is negligently unhyphenated in the title of the piece, it’s not bad. I was especially glad to see Nabokov’s Pale Fire and Joni Mitchell’s song, “Both Sides Now,” included on their list, both of which I would highly recommend. 

And so this final week of National Poetry Month has seen me thinking about life-changing poems, trying to decide what counts as life-changing, what counts as a poem, and falling down the rabbit hole of the Poetry Foundation website. I’ve finally come up with a list of my own “life-changing” poems, and if you’re feeling particularly gluttonous, I would also suggest reading this wonderfully diverse selection recommended by various Carleton College professors.

1. “Loves” by Stephen Dunn – from Landscape at the End of the Century. When people ask me what my favorite poem is, this is usually the piece that comes to mind.

2. “She Had Some Horses” by Joy Harjo – Listen to the recording of Harjo reading this. It’s worth it.

3. “America” by Allen Ginsberg – Why should “Howl” get all the attention?

4. “i like my body” by e.e. cummings – It was incredibly hard to choose a single poem by cummings; reading 100 Selected Poems in its entirety is a worthy pursuit.

5. “Fever 103˚” by Sylvia Plath – From Ariel, another amazing poetry collection that I first read all in one sitting and instantly loved.

6. “I Don’t Miss It” by Tracy K. Smith – From Duende. I would also highly recommend Life on Mars, her Pulitzer-winning collection.

7. “Madame George” by Van Morrison – Yes, it’s a song (track 6 on Astral Weeks).

8. Antigonick by Anne Carson – This is a translation of Sophocles’ Antigone, so it is perhaps a bit of a stretch to claim that the entire play is a poem. But it is one of the best things I’ve ever read, and to call it prose does not do it justice.

9. “I Go Back to May 1937” by Sharon Olds – Olds’ work is fearless in its transparency. I can only hope that one day I will be brave enough to write as honestly as she does.

10. “The Waking” by Theodore Roethke – A villanelle that puts every villanelle I’ve written to shame.

new year
December 28, 2013

While I love having chips and salsa for dinner and watching as much Battlestar Galactica as humanly possible in a single 24-hour period, I can only handle a few days of winter break before I start to go mad. In the spirit of easing myself back into meaningful activity, I’ve closed my netflix tab and ventured back to the literary side of the internet. Surprisingly, it is still alive and well, despite my growing concern that the entire US population is out shopping (I went to the mall yesterday: 0/10, would not recommend).

Eunoia Review featured two of my poems this week, “Home Room” and “Baked.” The Eunoia editors are wonderful; they somehow manage to be organized enough to feature a new writer every single day, and I’m very pleased to have contributed to their blog.

Also wonderful is Thrush Poetry, whose editors very graciously rejected one of my recent submissions. I saw this rejection coming from a mile off, given that I originally discovered the journal on this list: “Top 10 Lit Mags to Send Your Very Best Poetry (and get happily rejected)“.  Regardless of Thrush’s polite brush-off, I love their November issue, particularly Geffrey Davis’ “Could You Forgive My Clumsiness.” He writes, “I’ve not yet learned // how to make clean, unequivocal room / in my poems, to offer an evenhanded display // of my inconstant heart.” It’s one of those poems that I read and wondered why I didn’t write it first.

On that note, here is one of my poetic cast-offs, whose only future lies in my dogged dedication to this blog. Think of it as store-brand poetry: cheaper and just as filling.

Confessional

Sometimes I go to sleep with everyone I’ve ever kissed
called to the forefront of my thoughts,
and I am always too alive
in those moments to give myself up
to the unconscious necessity within me,
but I try.

I don’t have enough words for the truth.
Even now I am lying,
because the whole truth would be us two
in a perfectly lit room,
stone sober, bare limbed,
me telling you that I don’t cry anymore.
(Does honesty still count
if no one believes me?)

I read somewhere that the average person
has been intimate with 4 people during their lifetime,
and I think that the average person is bad at truth
or bad at arithmetic or bad at intimacy.
Probably all three.
I don’t know what I’m bad at.
I’m just trying to find the way
to be most myself.

belleville park pages
November 26, 2013

Is everyone excited for Thanksgiving? Have you bought all your groceries? Are you starting to thaw out all the frozen pie crust you’ll need in the next 48 hours? In my house, there is going to be pie for days, and my body is ready. I’m also making a stuffed seitan roast for the first time (I’m one of those vegan weirdos), which should be exciting/disastrous. We’ll see. Even if all else fails, there will be mashed potatoes and wine.

But all that is beside the topic at hand, which is that I have some poetry in the current issue of Belleville Park Pages. It is a small literary journal published out of Paris every two weeks, and if you’re lucky enough to live in Paris, London, Boston, or Brooklyn (in addition to a few other cities listed on their website), you can get a copy for just £2 at a bookshop near you. So go do that!

In the meantime, here’s a poem in honor of the first snow of the season.

Traceful

A creature of nostalgia and carbon, I was
perfectly singed toast, candles cinnamon-scented,
and wooden picture frames.
Everything crisp-edged, smoking.

For now I am all whorls:
the spin of laundry in the machine,
your cow lick, water draining from the sink,
the sweep of blue dye into white paint,
the tail of a comet.

In the end,
thinking myself almost nothing,
I’ll imagine my breath to be
the impression left by sunlight
between the hours of 6 and 7am
after a snowfall in the night.

 

 

homecoming
June 30, 2013

Amazing how many different places a person can sleep in two months. I went from a small city in northern France to the banlieue of Paris to the wonderfully familiar bookshelves of Shakespeare & Co to the seemingly never-ending sprawl of LA to Autostraddle camp in the mountains of California to Minneapolis to Carleton College…it was only two weeks ago that I finally made it to Albany, where I will be spending the next year.

As you might expect, being a tumbleweed for a month at Shakespeare & Co was the highlight of my time in France (drinking champagne in front of the Paris city hall when gay marriage passed was a close second). My fellow tumbleweeds were a delight, as they always are. Nathan, last I heard, was headed to India, where I can only imagine he is eating like a king and writing the next great American novel. He and I first met three years ago during the shop’s literary festival, and through the strange machinations of the universe, we both ended up returning to the shop this spring. Tom – Scotsman, musician, and whiskey expert extraordinaire – is still at the shop and blogging up a storm. And Holly, the driving force behind the shop’s production of Much Ado About Nothing, continues to blissfully avoid returning to the US.

If I had not already paid for a transatlantic flight and a spot at Autostraddle camp, I would probably still be at the bookshop. It would seem that the only thing tempting enough to convince me to leave Paris is a campground full of queers (the fact that my French visa was about to expire mattered very little in this course of events, interestingly enough). Rather than try to recount all of camp for you – this would simply be me saying “everyone was so smart and attractive!” in as many ways as possible – I’ll just link you to the Autostraddle staff’s recaps.

After southern California, I flew to Minnesota, where I crashed on a variety of couches in the apartments of very welcoming friends. I discovered that Minneapolis is a wonderful city when it’s not buried under two feet of snow, that small Midwestern towns feel even smaller after living in Paris, and that after a year away, your alma mater will never feel like the home you remember it to be. Despite the onslaught of feelings that hit me upon seeing so many familiar haunts and faces, I made it out of Minneapolis without completely succumbing to nostalgia.

And so I’m back in Albany, my to-do list dominated by grad school applications and my ever-expanding reading list. The bane of my existence while traveling was my clashing inabilities to 1) avoid acquiring books and 2) fit more books in my luggage. Thankfully, media mailing rates exist and so all was resolved in the end.

Things I’ve read:

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald — I somehow got through high school without being forced to read it.
1Q84, Haruki Murakami — very long, very bizarre, very memorable
Antigonick, Anne Carson — a poetic and feminist translation/interpretation of Antigone. Wow, you need to read this.
Much Ado About Nothing, William Shakespeare — best if read with wine and friends
This Jealous Earth, Scott Carpenter — my critical theory professor’s latest collection of short stories
various poetry collections by Stephen Dunn — I will never not be obsessed with “Loves

Things I’m reading:

Kafka on the Shore, Haruki Murakami — runaways and talking cats. just go with it.
Moby Dick, Herman Melville — surprisingly hilarious and beautifully written
Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex”, Judith Butler — Problematize all the norms!

Last but not least, I’m still writing down my feelings, adding creative enjambment and punctuation, and calling it poetry. Post to follow.

where all the ladders start
November 28, 2012

“Now that my ladder’s gone, / I must lie down where all the ladders start / In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.” – from “The Circus Animals’ Desertion” by W. B. Yeats

For the 2 weeks of vacation that French schools have for All Saint’s Day, I took the train an hour south to Paris and spent time living and working at Shakespeare and Company, a little literary, anglophone bubble just across the river from Notre Dame. It is impossible to spend any amount of time in this shop without meeting extremely talented people who are passionate about reading and writing, and so living there is essentially a constant motivation to write (or to at least appear to do so). One of my fellow Tumbleweeds was Pat Cash, spoken word artist, journalist, and all-around lovely person. I also had the extreme pleasure of attending a reading by Aja Monet, another spoken word artist. She read from her first collection of poems, The Black Unicorn Sings, as well as Chorus, a recently released collection of spoken word poems that she and Saul Williams edited together. I still regret not getting a copy of Chorus when I was at the shop. Continuing on the spoken word theme, I would highly suggest attending and participating in the spoken word nights at Le Chat Noir, a weekly event organized by Spoken Word Paris. The group, though mostly anglophone expats, welcomes any and all readers, regardless of language or renown.

While in Paris, I also trekked out past my usual stomping grounds in the Latin Quarter and the Marais to visit a small lesbian-owned bookshop in the 11th arrondissement called Violette and Co. One of the shop workers was more than happy to help me fish through the poetry section, for despite the fact that I speak French, I have little to no knowledge of francophone queer poetry, and so after many suggestions, I ended up choosing a collection by Nicole Brossard called Langues obscures. Brossard’s collection is an interesting mix of prose, poetry, and philosophy of self, making it the perfect thing for me to read, or rather, attempt to read; I cannot boast that poetry in French is particularly accessible to me, even after ten years of learning the language. Nonetheless, it can be stunning, even for the non-fluent:

“Plus tard, à mille lieux de l’éternité, quand nous pensons mouvement des paupières ou nuit pharaonne ou parce que c’est beau, je m’intéresse aux nuits les plus simples, sans nuage, les nuits de bonne odeur où la culture accepte de se taire. Nuits sans légende au bas de l’image pendant qui nous regardons les étoiles et laissons le chien de l’âme en profiter démesurément.”

Later, miles away from eternity, when we think of the eyelids’ movement or pharaonic night or because it is beautiful, I am interested in the simplest nights, without clouds, the sweet smelling nights when culture lets itself be silenced. Nights without a caption below the image when we look at the stars and let the dog of the soul thrive immeasurably.

odds and ends and bits of summer
July 16, 2012

My excuse for not posting a poem in ages is that I have been reading, now that I have graduated and have time to do things like read just for the heck of it.  Here are some things to put on your reading list (in no particular order):

Ariel, Sylvia Plath
Pale Fire, Vladimir Nabokov
Full of Lust and Good Usage, Stephen Dunn
An Other, e.e. cummings (edited by Richard Kostelanetz)
Selected Poems, Wallace Stevens

Good stuff. And you know, I actually do write my own poems occasionally. I swear. This is one I wrote in Arkansas while visiting my sister:

 

One hundred degrees in the shade

 

There are too many cars
for this to be a settling place,
too much bare dirt
and cracked ground, too much
exhaust, matching the exhaustion.
I’m tired and
I don’t know why.

There, open up the doors
with the perfect panes of glass –
the notion is comforting,
the swing of it, the
silent, perfect hinges,
and outside, the smell of
chlorine in the sterile fountain,
unnaturally clean, lovely.

I watch bees flit, flower
to flower, in darkened, half-
lit gardens, under star-
light, waxing-moonlight,
porch light. I crush mosquitoes,
blood smearing on my warm limbs.
There is the rubbing screech
of cicadas, the collection
of their hollow tree-clinging
carcasses on my kitchen counter,
the white tiles all lemony under
their exoskeletons, homely and
shimmering; legs clawed, scraped,
broken, still grasping at dirt and bark;
the gleaming eyes, sightless and
beautiful for it.

The streetlights are orange and
unreal and I am an alien
on the sidewalk.
All the storefront windows see it
and reflect it back at me.
I’m blowing kisses to the mannequins,
but they are too tired to
return my careful, hopeless affection.