December 08, 2014

On Sand

a line, make it my mouth: I'll name
your country. I'm a Yes man at heart."

~from "The Sand Speaks" (I Was the Jukebox)

These lines are actually an oblique reference to my least favorite idiom, "drawing a line in the sand." I grew up unsure what it meant. I associated the phrase with the Battle of the Alamo, vaguely, but hadn't the Alamo fallen? I did not know the Biblical story (John 8:6), in which Jesus uses the gesture to halt the stoning of a woman. 

So throughout my twenties, I argued with anyone who used the phrase to describe a situation with a hard boundary, or a scenario in which a course of action, once committed to, could not be reversed. I made my case in poetry workshop; at the office of the magazine where I worked; at home, talking to my then-boyfriend.

Why draw the line in sand? I always came back to this. Why not etch the line in stone? Why not concrete? The choice of medium was an endemic vulnerability, the literal promise of a decision's erosion. Sand gets blown away. Sand gets washed away. Sand slips through your fingers. 

The last three weeks have drawn line after line: The failure to indict in Ferguson for the shooting of Michael Brown.  The failure to indict in Staten Island for the choking of Eric Garner. A wave of horrific stories concerning sexual assault at UVA. Mark Strand has died. Marion Barry has died. Steve Cymrot has diedClaudia Emerson has died

Amidst it all, an incredible gift as well: an NEA grant. A blessing of confidence in the poems, all of which will be in Count the Waves. A bulwark against debt. 

These are days when everything feels utter. Like anyone, I move through many worlds as a poet, as an alumna, as a DC resident, as an American citizen. All halved in some way, Before and After. As frightened as I am by this feeling, what frightens me more is the notion that it will not last. Martyr, classmate, icon, mentor, friend. How long does it take for any one name to become a footnote? 

I ask that with hesitation, not wanting a genuine unease to lapse into solipsism. "It ís the blight man was born for," Gerard Manley Hopkins writes. "It is Margaret you mourn for." Amidst the worries of these worlds, my feelings matter very little. 

Still. The practical hours make their relentless march. Pages to proof. Chicken to be cooked. The students of DC need final grades on Friday, even though my poet-heart wants to trek four hours south to a memorial service. I am trying to be responsible. I am trying to burn the candle at one end only. Yet I am trying to change, and be changed, by all that is happening. I'm trying to end up with something more than a fistful of sand.

November 14, 2014

Oh Hey There, Jared

"Love your Pandora bracelet!"

So, you have these new ads. Apparently, you hope that the trend of charm bracelets will sweep the nation this holiday season. Women will bond, in the language that all women share: jewelry. Men will be lauded for their savvy gift-giving. 

Because a bracelet can communicate critical facts, such as the following….

"The ballet slippers?" "I used to dance."
"Suitcase?" "Anniversary trip."
"Soccer ball?" "Soccer Mom."

Or this one, in which the token professional accolade (She's the boss!) is quickly set aside. Do we find out that she oversaw a merger? That she has a law degree from Haravard? That she holds a revolutionary engineering patent? Nope.  

"She's been to London, Paris, and her son plays baseball."

Each time with the tag line...Telling her life story with just a turn of the wrist. 

Oh, Jared. Your new ads are horrible. We're not even going to get into "the red-hot love bead." (Though if you are prepared to offer a cast pewter clitoris, let's talk.)

How kind of you to innovate a way for us to express ourselves. But luckily, we came up with a few alternative options, such as: Poems. Essays. Whole memoirs, even. Do you want to see what it looks like when a woman really tells a life story? Read this...

"Breasts Like Martinis" - Jill McDonough (Slate)

or this:

"Till Death Did They Part" - Molly Krause (Brain, Child Magazine)

or this:

"Piece of Her" - Monica F. Jacobe (Barely South Review)

Here's the thing, Jared: the truth doesn't jingle neatly. A woman's story doesn't consist of sequential beads on a string; it doesn't consist solely of activities pursued on behalf of her children, or in the company of her husband. We love, we sacrifice, we regret, we wonder, we hope, but none of it is linear. This is what it means to live a life. 

You know what Pandora was doing, when she turned her wrist

She was lifting the lid off the box. 

October 16, 2014

Horizon Lines (Posole & Patience)

Hard to believe that two weeks ago, we were watching the sun rise over Amelia Island. Now all is wet leaves & heavy clouds in DC. I'm heating up a pot of posole, so rich and thick that I'll eat it with a fork. Later, I'm taking part in a reading of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" down in Dupont Circle, thanks to Kramerbooks. In other words: autumn.  

Good things are happening in DC. Graywolf is bringing a quartet of poets to the Folger (or to be precise, across the street from the Folger) on Monday, October 20. Poets & Writers is hosting a daylong event on independent publishing, with panels and roundtable discussions, at the Library of Congress on Saturday, October 25. Ambitious folks might then dash over to Dance Place that same evening for The Ghost of DC Past: An All-star Spoken Word Reunion. On Sunday, October 26, there is a release party for Mathias Svalina's Wastoid, published by the good folks of Big Lucks, at The Big Hunt. Amidst it all, a shameless plug--I'm hosting a reading at the Arts Club of Washington on Wednesday, October 29 for The Book of Scented Things. This anthology puts together 100 contemporary poems about perfume, solicited from writers across the country, and it's the first volume designed and printed by The Literary House Press (based out of the Rose O'Neill Literary House at Washington College). We'll hear from contributors with their poems, editors Jehanne Dubrow & Lindsay Lusby will answer questions, and they'll raffle off a designer perfume. A veritable scent-topia. 

Oh, and on Wednesday, November 5, there is a doubleheader at American University: journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates (7 PM), and poet Patricia Smith (8 PM). Seriously now.

At 4 AM, I got up to scribble down ideas for an essay. Counting through this morning, I've reached critical mass for some kind of prose book. But what kind? I'm picking up threads from nonfiction projects I thought I might write over the last few years, but being a little more honest about where my life is now, and what I have to say. When Stephen King titled On Writing, he added the subhead, "A Memoir of the Craft." I love that notion of writing in a way that is analytical, attentive to form, and yet also interweaves the personal. I have different obsessions to attend to than King, and no great anecdotes of coke-binge drafting sessions; no Firestarter or Carrie on my shelf. Yet there's something here.

The manuscript will be a long time in the making, I suspect. It used to be that the prospect of starting a project that I didn't think could be completed within months had no appeal. The MFA / thesis experience coaches us to force a book into being, and that's a perfect match for a deadline-driven writer such as me. Even when I sold Don't Kill the Birthday Girl, I vouched that I could finish it in a year, with only 20 pages in hand. But now a longer-term project feels welcome, like a promise to myself. When you're making a good soup, you have to be patient. That's what complicates the flavor. 

Perhaps that's a lesson learned with Count the Waves, which has a poem in it dating back to 2005, a poem greatly improved in 2014 by the edits that I figured out (finally!) needed to be made. I am so thrilled to finally have CtW's cover in hand, as well as a firm pub date--June 1, 2015--and the knowledge that it will be hardback, 96 pages or so. Peekaboo: