Friday, June 30, 2006

13 Ways of Looking at the Novel by Jane Smiley

from 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel by Jane Smiley, p. 224

"The critical faculty does not, in any of its stages of development, promote creative freedom. Criticism is about identifying mistakes and proscribing them. If you are adept at criticism and the language of criticism is second nature to you, your lovely first draft will appear to be full of mistakes even while it is accumulating, and you will have plenty of opprobrious terms to apply to it that will enhance your feelings of shame and cause your rough draft to fail in the only way that it can fail--by not arriving at the end of the story.

The only remedy for this problem is in the degree to which you are stimulated by the material to ignore your own critical habits and discourse. If your material arouses true passion in you, you might get there...

Avid readers who become novelists are always a little ahead of themselves in terms of taste, but only a little ahead. Admiration for the work of other novelists should remind you of the goal, but not make the goal seem unattainable, should open up your desire to write, not shut it down."


Thursday, June 29, 2006

Sylvia Plath, Crossing the Water

Crossing the Water

Black lake, black boat, two black, cut-paper people,
Where do the black trees go that drink here?
Their shadows must cover Canada.

A little light is filtering from the water flowers.
Their leaves do not wish us to hurry:
They are round and flat and full of dark advice.

Cold worlds shake from the oar.
The spirit of blackness is in us, it is in the fishes.
A snag is lifing a valedictory, pale hand;

Stars open among the lilies.
Are you not blinded by such expressionless sirens?
This is the silence of astounded souls.


Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Encyclopedia Mythica

Encyclopedia Mythica has Greek, Roman, Norse, and Celtic mythology, folklore, an image gallery, a small but very cool prononciation guide, including

Aeneas {ay-nay'-uhs} Roman
Coyolxauhqui {coh-yohl-shau'-kee} Aztec
Gui {guay} Chinese
Hecate {hek'-a-tee} Greek
Huitzilopochtli {wee-tsee-loh-poch'-tlee} Aztec
Inghean Bhuidhe {een'awn boo'ee} Celtic
Kishelemukong {keesh ay lay mukong} Native American
Philoctetes {fil-ahk-tee'-teez} Greek
Tuatha Dé Danann {thoo'a-haw day dah'-nawn} Celtic
Ymir {ee'-mair} Norse

and best of all, MythQuiz.


Tuesday, June 27, 2006


A mystery set in 1830s Istamboul, with the investigator a eunuch? Harem life, street life, exotic food, minarets, minions, palace spies, what's not to like? Goodwin has previously written non-fiction books about the Ottoman Empire, and this is the first of what promises to be very entertaining series of mysteries. The plot is fine, complicated and satisfying to unravel, but the real joy of the book is the characters, the setting, and the essential oddity of the main character. A good summer read.


Monday, June 26, 2006

What Ship Is That?

is a useful book by Bob Basnight, albeit with an Atlantic bias. Here's what the author has to say about the NORTH PACIFIC CRAB BOAT:

"The North Pacific crab boat can be identified by the forward location of the house and mast, and the long boom for handling the crab pots. Of course, sighting a vessel on her way in or out with a deckload of wire pots makes for positive identification."

However, the book has a significant weakness. Can you spot the problem?

"Today's fisherman doesn't look like a character from Captains Courageous or the chap on the sardine can...Commercial fishing is listed as one of the most dangerous occupations in the country. There are few, if any, protective guards around deck. Everything is wet and slippery, steel cables and booms are clinging about, and the sudden lurch of the boat will tip him over the side in a moment..."

Uh, Bob, wake up. Today's fishing industry has girls in it. Tough women who run tough boats. Still, I like the line drawings in the book.

For those of you surprised that the blog has jumped into the water, I am writing a novel set partly in the world of commercial crab fishing up in Dutch Harbor, Alaska.


Saturday, June 24, 2006

Janice Gould

Janice Gould is the former Hallie Ford Chair in Creative Writing at Willamette University. She has published several books of poetry and her work has been much anthologized. She is of Maidu/Konkow descent, is a recognized scholar of Native American poets, and has received an NEA Fellowship, a Roothbert Fellowship, and a Ford Foundation Fellowship, as well as an Astraea Award.

The Day of the Dead

I wish it were like this:
el dia de los muertos comes
and we fill our baskets with bread,
apples, chicken, and beer,
and go out to the graveyard.

We bring flowers with significant colors-
yellow, crimson, and gold-
the strong hungry colors of life,
full of saliva and blood.

We sit on the sandy mounds
and I play my accordion.
It groans like the gates of hell.
The flames of the votives
flicker in the wind.

My music makes everything sway,
all the visible and invisible-
friends, candles, ants, the wind.
Because for me life ripens,
and for now it's on my side
thought it's true I am often afraid.

I wear my boots when I play the old squeeze-box,
and stomp hard rhythms
till the headstones dance on their graves.


Thursday, June 22, 2006

Karen Elizabeth Gordon

from the introduction to The Deluxe Transitive Vampire:

"It is not often that circumstances force me to utter more than one sentence at a time, or, for that matter, one after another--the usual arrangement of such things. And we are dealing with usual arrangements here: the form and ordering of words, be they mumbled, bellowed, or inscribed. Grammar is a sine qua non of language, placing its demons in the light of sense, sentencing them to the plight of prose...This is a dangerous game I'm playing, smuggling the injunctions of grammar into your cognizance through a menage of revolving lunatics kidnapped into this book."

I used this entirely readable grammar book when I tutored middle school students in East Palo Alto in English, and had to keep one lesson ahead of them. Eastside Preparatory School. gets 100% of its graduates into college. The student faculty ratio is 10/1. It was an honor to work there.

"At Eastside College Preparatory School we are committed to opening new doors for students historically underrepresented in higher education...Eastside students who are the first in their families to go to college create a ripple effect, changing their own lives, the lives of their families, and the life of their community."


Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Carl Dennis

Carl Dennis won the Pulitzer in 2002 for Practical Gods. Dennis is Professor of English at the State University of New York at Buffalo, and author of seven other volumes of poetry as well as a book of criticism. He was born in St. Louis and received his doctorate in English literature at the University of California at Berkeley.


It's not the idle who move us but the few
Often confused with the idle, those who define
Their project in life in terms so ample
That nothing they ever do is a digression,
Each chapter contributing its own rare gift
As a chapter in Moby Dick on squid or hard tack
Is just as important to Ishmael as a fight with a whale.
The hapy few who refuse to live for the plot's sake.
Major or minor, but for texture and tone and hue.
For them weeding a garden all afternoon
Can't be construed as a detour from the road of life.
The road narrows to a garden path that turns
And circles to show that traveling goes only so far
As a metaphor. the day rests on the grass.
And at night the books of these few,
Lined up on their desks, don't look like drinks
Lined up on a bar to helpthem evade their troubles.
They look like an escort of mountain guides
Come to conduct the climber to a lofty outlook
Rising serene above the fog. For them the view
Is no digression thought it won't last long
And they won't remember even the vivid details.
the supper with friends back in the village
In a dining room brightened with flowers and paintings
No digression for them though the talk leads
To no breakthrough. The topic they happen to hit on
Isn't a ferry to carry them over the interval
Between soup and salad. It's a raft drifitng down stream
And birds of many colors rise from the reeds.
Everyone tries to name them and fails
For an hour no one considers idle.

from POETRY May 1998


Sunday, June 18, 2006

Federico Garcia Lorca 1898-1936


If I die,
leave the balcony open.

The little boy is eating oranges.
(From my balcony I can see him.)

The reaper is harvesting the wheat.
(From my balcony I can see him.)

If I die,
leave the balcony open!

translated by W.S. Merwin


Friday, June 16, 2006

Eavan Boland


In the end
It will not matter
That I was a woman. I am sure of it.
The body is a source. Nothing more.
There is a time for it. There is a certainty
About the way it seeks its own dissolution.
Consider rivers.
They are always en route to
Their own nothingness. From the first moment
They are going home. And so
When language cannot do it for us,
Cannot make us know love will not diminish us,
There are these phrases
Of the ocean
To console us.
Particular and unafraid of their completion.
In the end
Everything that burdened and distinguished me
Will be lost in this:
I was a voice.


Thursday, June 15, 2006

Tillie Olsen

Literature is a place for generosity and affection and hunger for equals--not a prizefight ring. We are increased, confirmed in our medium, roused to do our best, by every good writer, every fine achievement. Would we want one good writer or fine book less?

from Silences (1978)


Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Deborah Garrison

An Idle Thought

I'm never going to sleep
with Martin Amis
or anyone famous.
At twenty-once I scotched
my chance to be
one of the seductresses
of the century,
a vamp on the rise through the ranks
of literary Gods and military men,
who wouldn't stop at the President:
she'd take the Pentagon by storm
in halter dress and rhinestone extras,
letting fly the breasts that shatter
crystal--then dump him, too,
and break his power-broker heart.

Such women are a breed apart.
I'm the type
who likes to cook--no,
really likes it; does the bills,
buys towels and ties;
closes her eyes during kisses:
a true first wife.

The seductress when she's fifty
nobody misses, but a first wife
always knows she's the first,
and the second (if he leaves me
when he's forty-five) won't forget me
either. The mention of my name,
the sight of our son--his and mine--
will make her tense; despite
perfected bod, highlighted hair
and hip career, she'll always fear
that way back there
he loved me more
and better simply
for being first.

But ho:
the fantasy's unfair to him,
who picked me young and never tried
another. The only woman he's ever left
was his mother.


Tuesday, June 13, 2006

A. E. Stallings

XII Klassikal Lymnaeryx

Lady Circe declared, "Men are swine-
For when you invite them to dine,
They smack while they eat,
Plus, their small cloven feet
Cannot open a bottle of wine."

The poor fellow never suspects
That there's something all wrong with the sex-
To affairs of that kind
He has always been blind.
All he touches, that Oedipus wrecks.


Monday, June 12, 2006

Molly Peacock

Molly Peacock is a celebrated poet and non-fiction author, former President of the Poetry Society of America, and one of the creators of Poetry in Motion on subways and buses throughout North America.

Why I Am Not a Buddhist

I love desire, the state of want and thought
of how to get; building a kingdom in a soul
requires desire. I love the things I've sought-
you in your beltless bathrobe, tongues of cash that loll
from my billfold--and love what I want: clothes,
houses, redemption. Can a new mauve suit
equal God? Oh, no, desire is ranked. To lose
a loved pen is not like losing faith. Acute
desire for nut gateau is driven out by death,
but the cake on its plate has meaning,
even when love is endangered and nothing matters.
For my mother, health; for my sister, bereft,
wholeness. But why is desire suffering?
Because want leaves a world in tatters?
How else but in tatters should a world be?
A columned porch set high above a lake.
Here, take my money. A loved face in agony,
the spirit gone. Here, use my rags of love.


Friday, June 09, 2006

Ashley Warlick

I just re-read her most recent novel, Seek the Living, and I am blown away by it. The first time I galloped through the book, compelled by the story, the characters, the wonderful voice. This time I slowed down to savor, and enjoyed it even more. I heartily recommend this book. It is a cracking good read. The characters are vivid and believable, and the writing is superb. Warlick was a recipient of a Houghton Mifflin Literary Fellowship and teaches in the MFA program at Queens University of Charlotte.

The protagonist is a young woman, Joan Patee, whose husband is often away. Their relationship is close, passionate, tender, but as yet without children. Joan spends her days cataloging newspapers, and trying to figure out her past, particularly her brother Denny. The power of the story is in the voice of the protagonist. Here's a sample from near the begining:

"I've come to think it's those loves you are born to, the ones you bear out, that keep you tethered, rather than the ones you pick yourself. And it's not that I don't love my husband, but here I am, in this dark, hurtling car with Denny at the wheel. Here I am, still hunting for the right thing to say, when it's long been clear that words are just a waste of time...I remember coming to this fish camp a long time ago, on our way to and from the farm and the lake...This would have been when we were children, before our father sold the farm and moved to teach full-time at the university, before our sister was born, our mother dead. This would have been before Denny moved to the cemetery, before Hedy, before any women, just girls and mothers and poeple on TV. Such thoughts make me smile.
I wonder what they do for Den."


Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own (1929)

"The history of men's opposition to women's emancipation is more interesting perhaps than the story of that emancipation itself."


Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Imaginary Poets, edited by Alan Michael Parker

from the back cover:
The Challenge
Translate a poem into English, offer a biography of the poet, and then write a short essay in which the poem, the poet, and the corpus are considered--and make all of it up, without once indicating you have done so.

The contributors include: Aliki Barnstone, Annie Finch, Garrett Hongo, Maxine Kumin, D.A. Powell, Mark Strand, and Judith Hall. The results are delicious!

Alan Michael Parker, the editor, has published three books of poetry, a novel, and two other anthologies. He holds an MFA from Columbia and a BA from Washington University. He has received a Pushcart Prize and fellowships from the Arts & Science Council and the MacDowell Colony, as well as the 2003 Lucille Medwick memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America. His poems appear in The New Yorker, The New Republic, The Paris Review, and others. His prose appears regularly in The New Yorker and The New York Times Book Review. He is director of the creative writing program at Davidson College and teaches in the MFA program at Queens University of Charlotte.


Sunday, June 04, 2006

Carl Wiener

from the back of his most recent chapbook, Niagra:
"Carl Wiener has been a resident of San Francisco for more than thirty years. He completed his BA at Reed College in 1973 and later an MA at San Francisco State University. He enjoys travel, photography, reading, writing, walking and listening to music. He speaks several languages with varying degrees of fluency."

Poor Thucydides

We were parked by the ocean, I remember:
between the front fender of the car
and Okinawa, there was nothing but the
Pacific. Then Bill started talking about
the Peloponnesian War, because that's
what he was reminded of, that night, for
some odd reason, though I completely
forgot what he said. And that's the second
time I forgot about Thucydides, come
to think of it, because I read and forgot
him in college, too. Poor Thucydides: I guess
you repeat yourself, eternally, in the hearts of ex-marines.


Saturday, June 03, 2006

Kay Ryan

from her bio at The Academy of American Poets:

"Ryan's awards include the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, a Guggenheim fellowship, an Ingram Merrill Award, a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Union League Poetry Prize, the Maurice English Poetry Award, and three Pushcart Prizes. Her work has been selected four times for The Best American Poetry and was included in The Best of the Best American Poetry 1988-1997."


There is a
deferred silence
which only follows
a deferred sound.
As when an oak falls
when no one is around.
The violence waits
for someone to approach
to have just stopped.
There is that ozone
freshness to the aftershock.


Friday, June 02, 2006

Carol Bly

from The Passionate, Accurate Story: Making Your Heart's Truth Into Literature, by Carol Bly:

But the unconscious has no idea of being dutiful. To waken it, we try laying some sensual or aesthetic or moral excitement just under its nose: the fragrance will rout it from its torpor, we hope.

The unconscious mind had much rather remain sleeping, of course: it knows what it's doing. If it wanted to be awake all the time, it would be the conscious mind.

It is powerful: it holds most of our memories. It has a penchant for terror and self-defense. If not tempted by other nourishment, it will content itself with lurching to its feet just when we don't want it to, attacking someone senselssly. It is as much soup as animal. It prefers steeping away to thinking. It is a mess, but in its mess lie impressions life once gave us. We want them to freight our hearts' truth in short stories.