Hi all! I’m pleased to share this link to the latest issue of Blast Furnace, where I’ve got two poems this month.
I had a moving and humbling experience this afternoon. I was visiting poet William Matchett, who is a friend of my parents. Like them, he lives on the Hood Canal, in Kitsap County Washington. (He and my father would both want you to know that the Hood Canal is actually a fjord. Consider yourselves edified.) Bill turned ninety this year, and his fourth book, Airplants: Selected Poems, is due out shortly from Antrim House Books. He wrote me a couple of very thoughtful notes (like, actual typed-on-a-typewriter letters-in-the-mail) after reading Luck and A Thirst That’s Partly Mine, and I brought him a copy of Talking About The Weather. Hoping for another letter!
During our visit, Bill brought out a beautiful old leather-bound book, which his mother had given him when he was a student. She had proposed that he fill the blank pages (such luxe paper!) with his own poems. Instead, Bill has, across the span of seventy years or so, invited other poets to hand-write one of their own poems in the book. What a nice idea! And Bill was inviting me to copy one of my poems into the book. I even had my favorite fountain pen (with the brown ink) with me. (“Peepers,” from A Thirst That’s Partly Mine, was the one he requested, and of course I obliged.)
Before he set me copying down my poem at the dining table, Bill opened the book to show me some of what had been written there before. Some names I didn’t recognize. Others…
Robert Frost’s “Never Again Would Birds’ Song Be The Same,” in the author’s own hand. Howard Nemerov. Carolyn Kizer. Jack Gilbert. Heather McHugh. W.S. Merwin, William Stafford.
Gwendolyn Brooks’ “looking” from “Gay Chaps at the Bar.” GWENDOLYN BROOKS, people. The first poetry reading I ever went to (I was 12 or 13 years old) was Gwendolyn Brooks and she blew my universe. She is in my holy canon to this day.
Bill Matchett was on the faculty at the University of Washington for about fifty years. He helped coordinate the annual “Roethke Readings,” which brought well-known poets to campus, which accounted for some, but not all of these poems. Some of the poets had done their copy-work while visiting Bill and his wife Judy at this very house, perched above the fjord, a house named Nellita for the town that used to be here long ago. Others wrote out their poems in Seattle, a few elsewhere. I used my brown fountain-pen ink and my tidy penmanship and copied down my poem. It felt strange and wonderful for my penmanship to be inside a book with the penmanship of all of these poets. It will feel strange and wonderful for a very long time, I think. And I’m just so touched at Bill’s invitation, just a thing he does when a poet visits him, I guess, but with such resonance for me. I felt warmth and connection and, sure, a little fan-girl giddy. I felt like a part of poetry in a very physical, leather-bound way.
John Crowe Ransom. Adrienne Rich! James Wright. Seamus Heaney’s perfect “Mother of the Groom.” Roethke’s “The Waking” taking up a whole page. Richard Wilbur. Galway Kinnell. Stanley Kunitz. A poem from each. Some of the pages had sketches, watercolors, illustrations. One of the illustrations, early on in the book, Bill pointed out, was by a young “Ted” Gorey. Yeah, him. (They met at Harvard where Gorey was roommates with Frank O’Hara!)
Elizabeth Bishop. She wrote out part of “Sandpiper.” I stared at her handwriting for a long time. I tried to imagine her hand, her pen moving.
And when I turned the page to the gorgeous scrawl of “Then,” by Muriel Rukeyser, I wasn’t ready for it. I audibly gasped. I got inaudibly teary. I was supposed to finish copying my poem, but I kept going back to read hers. Here it is:
When I am dead, even then,
I will still love you, I will wait in these poems.
When I am dead, even then
I am still listening to you.
I will be still making poems for you
out of silence;
silence will be falling into that silence,
it is building music.
At Bill and Judy’s house in the woods next to the fjord where there used to be a town called Nellita, these words came up at me from that page, from Muriel, right up at me, and all of them were true.
The snow is actually melting, for real, and making some spectacular mud on our road. But if the weather holds, looks like we might be good and pretty dried out by week’s end. We’re ready up here in Northern New England, I can tell you.
I’ll kick off here by sharing that the Issue #6 of Sliver of Stone is up, and I’m honored to have a poem included. They’ve got a great format — very readable — and some tasty work. Pretty sexy poem by Ira Sukrungruang. I’m rubbing shoulders this month with Denise Duhamel and John McNally and Laura Madeline Wiseman and even Kevin McLellan, who I had the pleasure of finally meeting at this year’s AWP Conference in Boston.
I’m looking forward to a couple of readings as well — the Plymouth State University Eagle Pond reading series will be presenting Dick Allen (with an introductory reading by PSU student poet Kim Chandler) this Thursday, April 4, and Jorie Graham (with an introductory reading by PSU student poet Tyler Carignan) on Tuesday, April 30. Both readings are in the Smith Recital Hall at the Silver Center for the Arts at 7:00 P.M., and are FREE and open to the public.
I will also be doing a couple of readings this month — one on April 9 (also at Smith Recital Hall, part of Women of Words’ annual reading) on the theme of the “road trip.” Then, on Monday, April 29, I’m so pleased to be reading with my colleague, fiction writer Njelle Hamilton, at 7:00PM, in Frost Commons, on the Plymouth State campus.
Hi all — I got tagged online recently by the literary self-interview, called “The Next Big Thing.” Poet Jeff Oaks tagged me. The purpose is to prompt writers to generate some interest in their recent or forthcoming work. I will tag other writers, via Facebook, to keep the viral thing going. In the mean time, I hope the following self-interview about my next book amuses you.
What is the working title of the book?
Don’t Ask Her About The Grapefruit
Where did the idea come from for the book?
Years ago, at brunch with Diana and Dodi, I was blinded by a squirt of especially tart grapefruit juice. Diana’s grapefruit. I actually had to go to the doctor, and of course we were on the yacht at the time, and it became this whole big THING. Anyhow, it became our little joke — about the stories that get told and retold — until Diana and Dodi were killed, after which I have neither touched nor eaten nor caused to be touched, served, or eaten, any kind of grapefruit. In spite of that, I have found the grapefruit a bottomless metaphor for my life story, and given that I will be departing shortly for starrier shores, I thought I ought to put it all down to paper. For posterity.
What genre does your book fall under?
Pop-up closet-drama memoir.
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
Playing me, Bruce Willis. Playing Diana, oh, unthinkable! Ok, ok, how about….. Heather what’s her name from Boogie Nights? And as for Dodi, I’m sure Antonio Banderas could make that happen. I think he’d be good, actually. I think it would also be a kick if Kim Kardashian and the Empress played one another.
What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
Globalista bon vivant chews through trust fund via jetsetting and meets All The People before leaving this shattered plane for another.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
Isabella insists that I was writing this book in utero. I don’t remember, but am inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt, since she was right about Facebook, those shovels, and nearly all of 2004. My MFA cohort (the program has disavowed any connection with me, so I will not bother mentioning it by name) saw half a dozen drafts and revisions of chapters over two years. The tenor of their written feedback suggested a certain level of jealousy, but I powered through.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
My life, my muse, my impeding departure…What can I say? I guess, after all these years, I am ready to tell you about the grapefruit.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
A final pronouncement regarding Empress Babish’s gender fluidity. All but one of the ingredients you need to make Kim Kardashian’s Fresca Sangria. 100% correct usage of both the apostrophe and the semicolon. Heads of State Gone Wild.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
B’rachel Star is my agent, and she is cooking up a promising looking deal with Ultima Obscura Press. Fingers crossed!
February marks the publication of the latest edition of OVS Magazine, in which I am the “Featured Poet,” with a handful of poems, a brief interview, and even a photograph. I’m so glad to be included among such a great variety of writers and visual artists. You can support all of us by purchasing a copy HERE.
In a couple of weeks, the annual Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference will hit Boston, as will I. I will be working at the Paris Press table for a few hours on Friday — Paris Press is hosting two fabulous events featuring such writers as Sharon Olds and Galway Kinnell. And I will be participating in two off-site readings on Thursday afternoon and evening — the Queertopia reading at Club Cafe, and the OVS reading in The Loft at Berklee College of Music, 3rd floor of 921 Boylston Street, at 9PM. Also, I will be at the Slapering Hol Press table (T9) from 1:30-2:30 on Thursday — if you don’t have a copy of A Thirst That’s Partly Mine, come get one, and I’ll sign it for you! If you already have a copy, come on by anyhow to say hey. Hope to see you there!
I am thinking about my writing today. No particular New Year’s Resolutions (I am not a fan), but some general resolve, buttressed by the support of a couple of good friends who are also poets AND who know the kinds of shots in the arms to give me.
I have not been writing much poetry at all these last months. This is sort of par for the course, given how much of that energy is devoted (rightly so!) to the students in my creative writing courses. I have mostly made my peace with getting the significant writing and editing done during summer. But I also feel so much better when I am writing at least a little bit.
I had a good run of 750 words, but am not yet ready to climb back on. I don’t need to write that many words every day. I need to make a poem (or poem-like thing) every day. It is already 3:45PM, and I have written neither a poem nor a poem-like thing yet today, but I guess now I have to, otherwise the three people who read this blog will give me what for.
Perhaps / if i break / this post / into / lines?
What keeps you going, poets? Any new tips or tricks other than the tested and true “sit your lazy ass down and write?”
I am pleased that this year will bring some new publications — I’ve got a couple of poems coming out in Measure, one in String Poet, and several in the forthcoming OVS. I will also have two poems in This Assignment is So Gay: LGBTIQ Poets on the Art of Teaching, which you can pre-order HERE!
I am a writer, and a teacher, in no small part due to the life-changing experiences I had as a student (and later, as a staff member and teacher) at the Young Writers Workshop. Established in 1982, it has fostered both talent and friendship — a sense of the importance of a community of artists — among hundreds (thousands?) of teens from across the United States and beyond.
They have recently updated their website, and I urge you to check it out HERE.
If you know a young person (high school age) who is passionate about writing, I would recommend that you look into the Workshop as a summer program possibility. If you are a teacher of high school students, please help spread the word. I am happy to answer questions!
How long has this been your little writing house? If you don’t call it your little writing house, what do you call it?
The “study” as I call it–I hardly call it, but when I do, I use this term–has existed since 2007. It was built for me by my husband in a carefully bartered, seemingly-fair trade for the baby-carrying I was doing that year.
How big (ish) is your little writing house? Amenities? (electric/water/heat/private parking/whirlpool tub) Where is it?
When I asked, I was told it was 16 by 20 feet, but to me it is two desks and three bookshelves long, several windows and a woodstove wide. It sits down the slope of the backyard, nestled into the trees, behind the wide tangles of wild raspberries, down a path I have to re-hew every spring. It was erected in a little sunken spot already cleared of trees where there stood the hollowed upright totem pole of a single tree trunk with peeling layers of bark.
I’d number the squat little cast iron woodstove, the untreated wood beams that span the ceiling, the door with its oval stained glass window, and even the unstained wooden siding among its amenities. The occasional foxes. And the quiet. And the many, many books.
Why have a little writing house? How has it helped you write?
After spending time at a few artist colonies over the years, I realized that space completely dedicated to writing was the way to go. I’d done my best work in these little alcoves. This particular space is modeled to some extent after a studio space I used at I-Park in Connecticut. In that studio, I wrote the first poems for the forthcoming book Body Thesaurus, while inspired by the visual artists there. I discovered what to do next in the energy of that space, and so I wanted to recreate that feel for my space here—a little heat source, a little white light, windows looking out onto long grasses and a sweep of trees.
Additionally, this space is in my mind even when I’m not there. It grounds the work and lets it stay with me even when I’m physically absent. It is a place where things remain as I’ve left them until I return. There is a museum-like preservation so I can come back to re-see the evolution of an idea even when I leave it for a period of time.
Mostly, I’m surprised that it exists at all. The entirety of it rests on a foundation of concrete posts that I watched my husband pour as liquid, singlehandedly, from a wheelbarrow into the ground. He ordered the wood beams and propped them across the ceiling. In late fall, as a last step once my son was born, he layered the roof, shingle by shingle, through the fog of lack of sleep.
He would work after coming home from his job, and I would watch him out the window as the evenings got darker and darker and I would feel like I was watching a little space happen to preserve my former life from the very different place that my future life would be.
These days, I am surprised as well by the cranky heat that won’t stay on when the temperature outside falls below freezing and the mildew that grows in the creases of the window panes and once, when months of writer’s block kept me away, even covered the surface of my desk.
But also I’m surprised by how little I am there. This is a different life from the one I once lived. When I moved to this house, I had been living alone on over five acres of land, where all I did was write and teach and sleep, and where a writing space like this would have been redundant.
Best/most necessary thing(s) in your writing house?
Every single thing there is best. Every single thing is necessary. This room is filled with all the best and most necessary elements of my writing life. A woman’s dance mask I brought back from Africa. A lamp in the shape of two pastoral lovers that was a centerpiece in my grandmother’s apartment in Brooklyn until she died. The colossal desk I bought for $30 at a yard sale in Nashua, and the old childhood desk where I wrote my very first poem. Filing cabinets filled with old drafts that brought me over slow years of work to the poems I’m writing now. The typewriter and notebooks that lead me to the poems to come. The books that have shaped my beliefs, my thoughts, my dreams, my doubts. All this, and the reliable uninterruptedness. And the desk and chair and pens and walls and floor meant for nothing but that single thing.
Any writing house “rules” or norms? A schedule?
In terms of reliable writing time, Sunday mornings are it. I skip the family breakfast and before it is light amble down through the longish grass or crusted snow and turn the key, leave the woodstove going a bit before I commit to sitting and finding my way in. Other than that, there is too much clutter in my life to predict or stick to any one thing. I sneak away when I can. I write in places I never dreamed I’d write. I am forced to be a different writer than I was. So the study is the ideal. The reality is revising in the living room while the kids pretend they are jaguars and jotting down new ideas in the driver’s seat of the car between classes. But I have faith that someday I’ll be back to a routine. And when I am, that room, that very incredible and perfect room, will be waiting.
I dream of built-in bookshelves. Someday.
What’s next for your writing?
Right now I’m working on two projects: a series of prose poems set in a laboratory and a group of poems exploring the vast impossibilities of motherhood, Though neither project is far enough along to be in the commitment stage, I’m happy to have started this work, as I recently finished a manuscript and there’s always a period of searching and struggle after that until the next undertaking happens to venture along.
Jennifer Militello is the author of Body Thesaurus (Tupelo Press, 2013), Flinch of Song (Tupelo Press, 2009), winner of the Tupelo Press First Book Award, and the chapbook Anchor Chain, Open Sail (Finishing Line Press, 2006). Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in American Poetry Review, The Kenyon Review, The New Republic, The North American Review, The Paris Review, Ploughshares, and Best New Poets 2008. Her work has also been awarded the Barbara Bradley Award from the New England Poetry Club, the 49th Parallel Award from Bellingham Review, and grants and fellowships from the New Hampshire State Council of the Arts, the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, and Writers at Work.
Today I am listening to records as I continue the lengthy and pleasurable process of, finally, converting the remains of my record collection to MP3. I like that I can’t just “program” the machine to do it all automatically — I have to sit here and listen to the whole record. I have to listen for the songs to end and push a button to split the tracks. (I’m sure there are fancier programs that will do this bit for me. I am not interested.) I have to turn the record over. I am listening to sets of songs arranged as musicians & producers intended; I am thinking about the “side” as a sub-genre or artistic movement or measurement. In other words, I’m listening to records pretty much the way I used to, you know, hang out and “listen to my records.” As an activity. Not the music as playlist background to driving or doing laundry or sweating it out on the treadmill. Listening to music — to record albums, one at a time — as the Thing I Was Doing. I am enjoying revisiting that. (I will admit to cramming in some Facebooking and blog drafting, but at present, the brevity of the typical Ramones song doesn’t permit much other activity…)
So I’m thinking about time: how long I’ve had these records. How long it’s been since I’ve listened to most of them. The length of a song, a side. Thinking about all this time I spend right here, doing mostly just this one thing. And I’m thinking about the concreteness of it all — the records themselves, the spinning vinyl, the record company logos, the cardboard record sleeves and the art emblazoned there, and the inner sleeves — sometimes paper, sometimes plastic, sometimes printed with lyrics, sometimes printed with advertisements for other records. I’m thinking about how much bigger this record collection used to be; thinking of what I’ll do with the records once they’re ripped. Them and the trunk full of CDs I ripped when I finally ditched the component stereo system and got my iPod a few years ago. (Yes, I am a Late Adopter.) I’m not overly sad about getting rid of the record albums — I love the space-saving of the iPod. I’ve held on to these records — and all manner of stuff — for so long. I’m thinking more of how the activity of purchasing and collecting and listening to music has evolved. Does getting rid of the records mean I’ll rarely (never?) devote a few hours to listening to collections of songs by a single artist/band? And if this is so, I am curious to know how the genre of the “album” (do we say that anymore?) has evolved or is evolving. Interesting questions and ideas there about how art and technology (culture and technology) are intertwined. How the recording/listening technology might impact the authoring/composition of songs.
Of course, some folks are thinking (and writing about) similar thoughts about the literary arts and technologies like paper and magazines and books. How are evolving means of distribution & new technologies for authoring and reading impacting not only how we get our literature, but also what we might call “genre?” Is “blog” a genre, or is it merely a package for prose, the “new paper?” Are small screen sizes privileging certain genres to a degree that might impact not only market, but aesthetics? Are small screen sizes or other elements of reader “interface” inventing new e-genres? Will e-books ever figure out, across the board, how to preserve, inviolate, the poetic line, or will the re-sizing/re-shaping/re-fonting functions of e-readers chip away at the very notion of the poetic line as a significant/fixed element?
School starts this week. I will be using my iPad (with an app called iAnnotate and a stylus) to attempt to go mostly paperless in my creative writing classes. The stylus and this program make it possible for me to “write on” student drafts pretty much the way I’d write on paper versions. I’m still getting used to the size and handling the stylus interface, but I’m giving it a go. I wonder how this one shift in practice will influence other teaching practices and ideas/theories I have about teaching. I guess we’ll see!