Saturday, April 29, 2006

Emma Tennant

(from The ABC of Writing, Faber & Faber, London, 1992. pp.19-20)


A group of texts which none of us wants to read from begining to end. The traditional canon was painstakingly constructed to honour the substantial works of great white males which had stood the test of time and demonstrated their transcendent value to the most stringent of white male critics.

In time, of course, the clubable consensus was exploded and the canon opened up to new wavesw of contemporary, feminist, multi-cultural and insurgent texts. Unfortunately each new wave admitted meant heaving out somebody's old favourite, until the canon began to lose any semblance of logic or consistency.

As a result, critical opinion divided into three schools: Reactionaries, who loudly called for the old canon to be reinstated; Radicals, who felt that the canon should become a maelstrom of manouevre and contention; and Sceptics, who believed the time had come for the canon to be discharged.


Thursday, April 27, 2006

Nabokov on Chekhov

Chekhov's books are sad books for humorous people; that is, only a reader with a sense of humor can really appreciate their sadness...Things for him were funny and sad at the same time, but you would not see their sadness if you did not see their fun, because both were linked up.

(Vladimir Nabokov, Lectures on Russian Literature, Harcourt Brace, Orlando, 1981, p.252)


Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Chase Twichell

(from Dog Language, Copper Canyon Press, 2005)


All my life a brook of voices
has run in my ears,
many separate instruments
tuning and playing, tuning.
It's cocktail music,
the sound of my parents
in their thirties,
glass-lined ice bucket loaded
and reloaded but no one tending bar,
little paper napkins, cigarettes,
kids passing hors d'oeuvres.
It's drinking music,
riffle of water over stones,
ice in glasses, rise and fall
of many voices touching-
that music. Husbands grilling meat,
squirting the fire to keep it down,
a joke erupting, bird voices snipping
at something secret by the bar.
It's all the voices collapsed
into one voice,
urgent and muscled like a river
then lowered as in a drought,
but never gone. It's the background.
When I lift the shell to my ear
it's in there.

Big thanks to Carol Peters for nudging me towards/thrusting this book at me in January. Which was it? Can't remember. It was before lunch! That much is clear.


Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Colette 1873-1954

In a memoir written in her forties, Colette said that she owed all her success as a writer to the appeal that her mother made to her constantly in her childhood, as she did her farm chores, to "Look, look!" Colette died in Paris in 1954, during the worst thunderstorm to visit Paris in sixty-seven years. She was eighty-one then, but her passion for observation was undiminished. Her last conscious act was to gesture toward the flashing lightning and exclaim,"Look, look!"

(from The Little, Brown Book of Anecdotes by Clifton Fadiman)

If you are looking for a place to start reading the novels of Colette, I suggest The Vagabond, first published in 1910.


Sunday, April 23, 2006

Willa Schneberg

I met Willa Schneberg today at Wordstock, Portland's yearly literary festival. Her poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, Tikkun, Michigan Quarterly Review, Southern Poetry Review, among others. In 2002 she won the Oregon Book Award for The Margins Of The World and her new book, Storytelling in Cambodia is forthcoming from Calyx Press.

Gigantic Room

There must be a gigantic room
where in a place of honor
a simple vase holds
a day lily
and the pterodactyl, mesophippus,
mastodon, australopithecine,
ask, passenger pigeon,
chatterton, path
sit on mats holding cup
warm with tea
between their paws, claws, hooves, hands


Saturday, April 22, 2006

Rumer Godden 1907-1998

"For a dyed-in-the-wool author nothing is as dead as a book once it is written...She is rather like a cat whose kittens have grown-up. While they were a-growing she was passionately interested in them but now they seem hardly to belong to her-and probably she is involved with another batch of kittens as I am involved with other writing."

(New York Times, 1963)

Rumer Godden wrote novels, poetry, children's books, and non fiction. For more information on her life see the official web site. Among my favorites are In This House of Brede and The Battle of the Villa Fiorita. Several of her works were made into films: The Black Narcissus and The River are available as DVDs from The Criterion Collection.


Thursday, April 20, 2006

Cathy Smith Bowers

from A Book of Minutes, Iris Press, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, 2004. Cathy teaches in the MFA program at Queens University of Charlotte, NC. Her poems have appeared The Altantic Monthly, The Georgia Review, Poetry, Shenandoah, The Southern Poetry Review, The Southern Review, Kenyon Review, among others. Her other books of poetry are The Love That Ended Yesterday in Texas and Travelling in Time of Danger.

Appropriate Container

She thought it was time I found one.
Three years and then
some, my brother's
ashes, swaddled

in the green velvet bag a friend
had once given
me wine in. A
month later I

did. Satin lined. Shrouded in spring
flowers. Safe in
the soft crook of
her folded arm.


Tuesday, April 18, 2006

W.H. Auden 1907-1973

As a young, little-known writer, Auden was once asked what effect fame might have upon him. "I believe," he said after a moment's reflection, "that I would always wear my carpet slippers." When fame did eventually come, Auden was always to be seen in carpet slippers, even when wearing evening dress.

(from The Little, Brown Book of Anecdotes by Clifton Fadiman)

Monday, April 17, 2006

Mary Cornish

I found this poem in a copy of Poetry June 2000. Mary Cornish has an MFA from Sarah Lawrence, was a Stegner, and is now teaching at Whatcom Community College and Western Washington University (Fairhaven) in Bellingham, Washington.


I like the generosity of numbers.
The way, for example,
they are willing to count
anything or anyone:
two pickles, one door to the room,
eight dancers dressed as swans.

I like the domesticity of addition -
add two cups of milk and stir--
the sense of plenty: six plums
on the ground, three more
falling from the tree.

And multiplication's school
of fish times fish,
whose silver bodies breed
beneath the shadow
of a boat.

Even subtraction is never loss,
just addition somewhere else:
five sparrows take away two,
the two in someone else's
garden now.

There's an amplitude to long division,
as it opens Chinese take-out
box by paper box,
inside every folded cookie
a new fortune.

And I never fail to be surprised
by the gift of an odd remainder,
footloose at the end:
forty-seven divided by eleven equals four,
with three remaining.

Three boys beyond their mother's call,
two Italians off to the sea,
one sock that isn't anywhere you look.


Sunday, April 16, 2006

Gertrude Stein 1874-1946

When Gertrude Stein was dying of cancer, she turned to Alice B. Toklas and murmured, "What is the answer?"

Miss Toklas made no reply.

Miss Stein nodded and went on, "In that case, what is the question?"

from The Little, Brown Book of Anecdotes by Clifton Fadiman.


Friday, April 14, 2006

The Party

I cruise my local Goodwill for poetry and fiction and yesterday I found a 1986 issue of Field, the lit mag from Oberlin. This is the begining of the Fred Chappell essay on Randall Jarrell called "The Longing to Belong:"

It is the dread question the interviewer never fails to ask: "Why did you become a writer?" The author sweats and stammers. He doesn't know why he became a writer. If he knew that he would know perhaps more than is good for him, certainly more than is good for his work.

But the novelist Jose Luis Donoso has a telling answer. Why is he a writer? "Because," he says, "I wasn't invited to the party."


I'm doing NaPoWriMo and writing a poem every day. Here is the poem I wrote today.

The Party

Oh, I was invited all right,
I had to put on the pink silk dress and
Sit while mother tugged the comb through my hair,
Wrap the present myself, the sticky tape loosening in the damp so the edges of the shiny paper curled away from the Careers board game,
Stand next to mother in the doorway,
When I could have been home reading by the water
Or making an empire in the grasses
Or naming my china animals.

I wanted to go to a party,
One with no blindfolds,
No girls whispering about my dress.
A party outside where we would race our invisible Arabians
Over the impossible terrain,
Reining up suddenly so they reared, but I never fell off,
Spun and whirled away to jump the dangerous streams and logs and twigs.
I never needed a whip,
My steed ran for me alone.

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Thursday, April 13, 2006

Charles Simic

(from Best American Poetry 1993, edited by Louise Gluck)

This Morning

Enter without knocking, hard-working ant.
I'm just sitting here mulling over
What to do this dark, overcast day?
It was a night of the radio turned down low,
Fitful sleep, vague, troubling dreams.
I woke up lovesick and confused.
I thought I heard Estella in the garden singing
And some bird answering her,
But it was the rain. Dark tree tops swaying
And whispering, "Come to me my desire,"
I said. And she came to me by and by,
Her breath smelling of mint, her tongue
Wetting my cheek, and then she vanished.
Slowly day came, a gray streak of daylight
To bathe my hands and face in.
Hours passed, and then you crawled
Under the dor, and stopped before me.
You visit the same tailors the mourners do,
Mr. Ant. I like the silence between us,
The quiet-that holy state even the rain
Knows about. Listen to her begin to fall,
As if with eyes closed,
Muting each drop in her wild-beating heart.


Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Jean Stafford (1915-1979)

She won the Pulitzer in 1970 for her Collected Stories. Her novels were quite successful and her short stories were often published in the New Yorker. She was married three times, first to Robert Lowell, then to the photographer Oliver Jensen, and finally to A.J. Liebling.

"An old cowhand in Colorado, learning that Jean Stafford was a writer, observed, 'That's real nice work, Jean. It's something you can do in the shade.'" from The Little, Brown Book of Anecdotes by Clifton Fadiman.


Sunday, April 09, 2006

Doreen Gildroy

from Poetry Daily March 30, 2006. Doreen Gildroy was recommended to me by Brigit Kelly, who read at Reed College as part of the Visting Writers series on Thursday, April 6.

Viva Vox

Every time I looked out the window,
there was a different kind of light.

I remember other things, of course
but it is the only thing
I felt in that blinding way.

In the pain, I said,
What is the happiness?

I've never been so pure,
I said . . .

felt it to open up —
the agony —
like the flower
precarious on the counter.


Friday, April 07, 2006

Dorothy Parker on revision

"I can't write five words but that I change seven."
Dorothy Parker, in Malcolm Cowley, ed., Writers at Work (1958)


Wednesday, April 05, 2006

"The real mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible." Oscar Wilde

So I've been working on the appearance of this blog. Now I have the colors, next is to expand the link area. And then it will be time to go public.


Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Memorizing poetry

I'm also memorizing a poem a week. This is not the kind of poetry I usually read, but it is what I grew up with. And of course, metrical, rhymed poetry is easier to memorize than blank verse, at least for me. Recuerdo means memory or souvenir in Spanish. I've heard a tape of Edna St. Vincent Millay reading this, and it was deliciously sad.

Edna St. Vincent Millay 1892-1951


We were very tired, we were very merry-
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry.
It was bare and bright, and smelled like a stable-
But we looked into a fire, we leaned across a table,
We lay on a hill-top underneath the moon;
And the whistles kept blowing, and the dawn came soon.

We were very tired, we were very merry-
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry;
And you ate an apple, and I ate a pear,
From a dozen of each we had bought somewhere;
And the sky went wan, and the wind came cold,
And the sun rose dripping, a bucketful of gold.

We were very tired, we were very merry,
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry.
We hailed, "Good-morrow, mother!" to a shawl-covered head,
And bought a morning paper, which neither of us read;
And she wept, "God bless you!" for the apples and pears,
And we gave her all our money but our subway fares.


Monday, April 03, 2006


I've signed up for NaPoWriMo with Carol Peters. Sounds insane, considering all I have to do for the thesis, etc, but writing a poem every day reminds me that there is life after the MFA program. Starts the day. Start the engine. Engineer the start.