Friday, October 27, 2006

Judith Grossman

from her essay "Thinking about a Reader" in Bringing the Devil to His Knees, 2001

...even the most reclusive minded of writers might consider the late-Victorian observation by George Saintsbury that 'it is the first duty of a novelist to let himself be read."

When I came across those words, quoted in some random review a while back, they took me by surprise, like an uncomfortable reminder of a truth stuffed way back in the closet: that writing is a solitary practice that has a sociable destiny. Gertrude Stein put it succinctly: "I write for myself, and strangers." Safe behind the closed door of our study or bedroom or converted garage, we are (however subliminally) opening another kind of door - toward an implied presence, the distant yet oddly intimate stranger.


Wednesday, October 25, 2006

and again, Ogden Nash

The Cow

The cow is of the bovine ilk;
One end is moo, the other, milk.

from The Selected Verse of Ogden Nash, 1945

(Yes, it's true, I admit it, I'm a fan of Ogden Nash. So sue me! To my mind, he is as much fun as P.G. Wodehouse, and as much of a stylist.)

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

more Ogden Nash

from "A Posy for Edmund Clerihew Bentley" in Versus, 1949.

Robert Browning
Avoided drowning
To P.B. Shelley.

Charles Algernon Swinburne
Glowed less with sunburn than with ginburn
Alfred Lord Tennyson
Settled for venison.

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Monday, October 23, 2006

Joan Didion

"All I know about grammar is its infinite power. To shift the structure of a sentence alters the meaning of that sentence, as definitely as the position of a camera alters the meaning of the object photographed. Many people know about camera angles now, but not so many know about sentences. The arrangement of the words matters, and the arrangement you want can be found in the picture in your mind. The picture dictates the arrangement."

from Joan Didion's essay "Why I Write," in The Writer and Her Words, Volume I.


Sunday, October 22, 2006

Madge McKeithen

Blue Peninsula is a memoir and commentary on poetry written by Madge McKeithen. Madge and I were students together in the MFA program at Queens, and I am very excited to announce that her book has just been reviewed in American Poetry, the Journal of The Academy of American Poets.

From the review:
"Madge McKeithen's memoir of her son's unnamed and aggressively degenerative illness is a testament to the connective and empathetic power of poetry...Each chapter of the book is introduced by a poem that's themes and images become a mechanism for McKeithen to understand what is happening to her and her son...This is not a book about poetry, but rather it is a book about poetry's role in life and how, sometimes, that role can be lifesaving."


Saturday, October 21, 2006

blogger problems?

Blogger is very slow, slow as a cold, dead rock.


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Martha Gies at the Central Library, Sat, Oct 21, 1 pm

Come to the downtown library this Saturday from 1-2:30 pm to hear Martha Gies, Robin Cody, and Robin Schauffler talk about research, as part of the Writers Talking series. The panel will be held in the US Bank room.

All events in this series are free, thanks in part to the Regional Arts & Culture Council.

from the Multnomah Library website:
"How does research fit into our narratives, enriching them with texture and authenticity? How, when and where do we begin? Which questions — architectural styles? train schedules? exchange rates? weather? — need answers and which can we safely invent? In this panel, Portland writers Robin Cody, Martha Gies and Robin Schauffler talk about the role of research in their past and current work."


Tuesday, October 17, 2006


November is NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. I'm certainly not going to do this, but I applaud all and sundry who attempt.

(Especially Sundry, who is not getting out as much as she used to. Her sister Sultry gets all the action. But I digress.)

From the website: "National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing November 1. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30....Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It's all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly."


Sunday, October 15, 2006

more John Gardner

"Perhaps the besgt exercise for heightening one's gift for discovering such equivalencies is the game called "Smoke." The player who is It thinks of some personage living or dead and gives his fellow players a starting clue - "living American," "dead Asian," or whatever - then each player in turn asks a question in the form: "What kind of ___ are you?" (What kind of smoke, what kind of vegetable, what kind of weather, building, part of the body, and so forth.)

As the answers pile up, everyone playing the game finds he has a clearer and clearer sense of the personage whose name he is seeking, and when someone finally guesses the right answer,the effect is likely to have something like the power of a mystical revelation. No one who has played the game with even moderately competent players - people capapble of suspending intellect for the deeper knowledge of the poetic mind - can doubt the value of metaphor for the creation of vivid character."
(pp. 32-33, On Becoming a Novelist)


Saturday, October 14, 2006

Reading Like A Writer by Francine Prose

"One essential and telling difference between learning from a style manual and learning from literature is that any how-to book will, almost by definition, tell you how not to write. In that way, manuals of style are a little like writing workshops, and have the same disadvantage - a pedagogy that invoves warning about what might be broken and directions on how to fix it - as opposed to learning from literature, which teaches by positive model." (p.44)


Thursday, October 12, 2006

Emily Dickinson

The Soul selects her own Society -
Then - shuts the Door -
To her divine Majority -
Present no more -

Unmoved - she notes the Chariots - pausing -
At her low Gate -
Unmoved - an Emperor be kneeling
Upon her Mat -

I've know her - from an ample nation -
Choose One -
Then - close the Valves of her attention -
Like Stone -


Tuesday, October 10, 2006

more John Gardner

" selecting the right detail, the writer subtly suggests others; the telling detail tells us more than it says."

from On Becoming a Novelist


Monday, October 09, 2006

Eudora Welty

From the Paris Review interview with Eudora Welty

" listen for the right word, in the present, and you hear it. Once you’re into a story everything seems to apply—what you overhear on a city bus is exactly what your character would say on the page you’re writing. Wherever you go, you meet part of your story."


Sunday, October 08, 2006

John Gardner

"...language plays a far more active role in the creative process. No doubt it is sometimes true that the writer has an intuition of what it is he wants to say and, after a struggle, finds just the right words to express the meaning he knew was there waiting to be expressed. Just as often - probably more often - language actively drives the writer to meanings he had no idea he would come to."


Saturday, October 07, 2006


"all originals are translations, and all translations original."

Octavio Paz, from POETRY, November 2005


Friday, October 06, 2006

Jane Kenyon & Anna Akhmatova

On the Road

Though this land is not my own
I will never forget it,
or the waters of its ocean,
fresh and delicately icy.

Sand on the bottom is whiter than chalk,
and the air drunk, like wine.
Late sun lays bare
the rosy limbs of the pine trees.

And the sun goes down in waves of ether
in such a way that I can't tell
if the day is ending, or the world,
or if the secret of secrets is within me again.

(Jane Kenyon's translation of the poem by Anna Akhmatova)

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Thursday, October 05, 2006

Jorie Graham


Engine rising [we know there's a hill] then evening-out to a
smooth hum, then into the story with fictive
presence, even as it crosses through the length of town then out.
When the woman calls out, it's not as if the netting
caught her. She knots up the far left of
the listening. A small boy suddenly very near to the
right taps a glass jar with a metal
implement, then he taps a different openness.

Here's a bio of Jorie Graham at The Academy of American Poets.


Wednesday, October 04, 2006

W.S. Di Piero

"I meet a successful middle-aged poet curious, or bemused, about the prose I write (have written for as long as I've written poetry) as if it were a subtropical, carnivorous plant. I never knew any better. The poets I read early (Shelley, Keats of the letters, Leopardi, Yeats) developed prose styles, so I took it on faith that a poet had to be a writer. It's best to do it mostly for money - resistance sharpens things. Some shy away from putting prose out there because it's a giveaway. You can't fake it. It reveals quality of mind, for better or worse, in a culture where poems can be faked. Find a faker and ask him or her to write anything more substantial than a jacket blurb, and the jig is up."

from Poetry, October 2006

W.S. Di Piero teaches at Stanford.


Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Nikki Giovanni

"I resent people who say writers write from experience. Writers don't write from experience, though many are hesitant to admit that they don't. I want to be clear about this. If you wrote from experience, you'd get maybe one book, maybe three poems. Writers write from empathy."
from Black Women Writers at Work (1983)