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Les Semaines

02.06.30

what I'm thinking and doing § what I'm listening to § what I'm reading
what I'm writing § retrospective: The Phonosnout

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First Week of Clarion 2002

Monday I had to go to work and miss driving Mark to the airport and the first class for the new Clarion West students. I gather from all reports that it was quite remarkable, but while it was going on, I was sorting out the annual budgets for my programs, trying to make sense of them for the end of the year (fiscal as well as academic). Ran a couple errands, and got home, determined to stay low key and relax a little--did that by throwing myself into a book and reading, though taking many breaks to check email and cook dinner, do the dishes, the usual routines of daily life. I know there were more important things to do, but for the moment I didn't care.

Tuesday I was in the Clarion West classroom for the first time, watching Paul Park teach, which is impressive. He had given the students an assignment--to write a story featuring setting, though not using descriptive passages to do so. He had them turn in the exercises the next day, and then read them aloud and the class and he discussed them. He's very sharp, drawing things out of the students and always on top of things, and clearly remembering the details of the story and what students had said and were saying. So much close attention. Went to lunch with him and Leslie at the Gravity Bar, then I wandered around Capitol Hill, then Pioneer Square, killing time before the reading at Elliott Bay because there was a baseball game and parking in the area would be a nightmare so I came horribly early. Had time to type some of this into my handheld, read a little, shop a little. Paul Park's reading was as impressive as his teaching. Too bad Elliott Bay didn't have any copies of his books because with the late change in instructors they didn't have enough time to get them! I really want a copy of his new collection of short stories, and would have loved to have him sign it.

Wednesday and Thursday were equally good in the classroom, if not better, while the class worked their way through new exercises on character. It was interesting how difficult it was for them to keep story and ideas out from taking over the piece and to focus on character, getting enough details in there to bring the characters really alive. Not an easy exercise but the consciousness of character and the skills to present it are so important--duh--and a little too rare in the genre.

On Thursday Paul started the class by telling a stunning extemporaneous story about his visit the evening before to a friend and her unusual house. The story didn't have a plot, but the level of detail about her and the house kept everyone's attention--totally and clearly illustrating what the class needed to be working on in terms of description and characterization. An example like that off the top of his head. Utterly amazing. This is just one example of how good he was at thinking on his feet--at listening to what the students were saying, and drawing the next level of thought out of them. Challenging them to push themselves. (And helping me open my mind to challenge myself, by the by.)

Friday was my last day at my day job till September (great joy) and I managed to get all my budget stuff done, and everything else (I hope) that couldn't wait until September (greater joy). Then was the party for Paul Park. I picked up a couple of the students and took them there, then followed my usual party pattern of poking my nose into various party conversations and moving on before really participating. God knows why I have so much trouble talking at parties when if I were anywhere else with these people in smaller groups I wouldn't at all be at a loss for things to say. Party brain death. Anyway, it was sad saying goodbye to Paul. He's a fascinating person.

Saturday I was awoken at 8:30 by numerous phone calls having to sort out the frig delivery for the instructor room. All kinds of annoyances and the phone never stopped ringing after that for hours, including a calls from Christina, who is back from Britain in Istanbul and soon to start moving to Bulgaria (they're keeping an apartment in Istanbul). In the afternoon, Jim and I worked in the yard. I finally got a chance to deadhead the roses, which desperately needed it, even though Chuck had done it a few weeks ago. I hope they will still be encouraged to continue blooming. Though they can be a pain in the neck to keep healthy, I love roses and they do reward the care by blooming for such a long time every year. We also picked the first raspberries. Yum! Later we went to see The Fast Runner, the Inuit film, which was wonderful. A great story that felt both real and like a folk tale at the same time. A little confusing at first, but I quickly got caught up int it. Very well done and highly recommended.

Sunday, today, I slept in and moved slowly through the morning, not feeling too well. At 2:00 I left to get Octavia Butler to bring her to the dorms to talk to the Clarion students. Nice to have a little time with her on the way there, and fun to hear her talk to the students. She's such a warm and open person. Impressive both in herself and her powerful fiction. One of the best things about working with Clarion West is getting the chance to know people like her. After that Leslie and I went to talk to Kathleen Alcalá, this week's teacher, as she moved into her room. At 6:00 Leslie and I went upstairs and did a little decompression session with the students (Leslie mostly leading as I still was feeling a little punk) then Kathleen came in and introduced herself and talked about the assignment she'd had Paul give the students on Friday and a little generally about writing and about what she plans to do for the week. I think she's going to be a good transition from the way Paul taught the workshop into the more traditional Clarion West workshop method.

Leslie and I both stayed and had dinner with the students, and I got all caught up in conversation with one of the students who has similar reading tastes. Dropped off some things for the class at Kinko's, then finally got home rather later than I'd expected. Now very sleepy. Glad I managed to finish this entry, though--I nearly forgot to! I think I must be a little focused on Clarion West....

last week's thinking and doing § next week's thinking and doing

Listening

More of Robin Holcomb's The Big Time, and it's coming into focus. Truly a complex, evocative cycle of songs that become richer the more I hear them.

When we were in Vancouver at Zulu Records, they played Mary Timony's new album The Golden Dove over their sound system. I found it intriguing (I have her first solo disc, too, but haven't listened to it that much) and so picked it up this week when I was wandering through Orpheum Records on Tuesday. This is delightful indie rock/pop. Very catchy. Her voice is so typically indie, as are the lyrics, but the sound seems far more geared toward pop. Good stuff!

last week's listening § next week's listening

Reading

Nicola Griffith's The Blue Place is the prequel to Stay (see my May 19th entry for comments). This is nearly as wonderful as Stay, and had I read it first, I might have liked it just as much. This is the story of Aud, a Norwegian-American former policewomen who is addicted to the rush of violence, so much so that she is at all times aware of just what violence is possible both that she could do and that which could be done to her. She is an expert in martial arts. One day as she is out walking, a woman runs into her. Moments later, the house the woman was running toward explodes into flame. She's curious about the event on her own, but she is later hired by the woman she has bumped to find out who killed her friend in the house that burned. The police think it was drug-related but the signs don't feel right to Aud. This begins both a mystery and a romance, where Aud learns much about herself. A wonderful book. To think I at first wasn't interested in reading this because I thought it was a mystery--it is a mystery, but the focus here is clearly on character. Impressive.

Waiting at Elliott Bay Cafe for Paul Park's reading, I finally finished The Princess of Cleves, which on the advice of someone (on the Internet?) I had downloaded from Project Gutenberg onto my Visor handheld. This was definitely not for me--I found it depressing and tedious, and not really a story at all somehow. Very much in the told style of early novels, the characters, while sensitive and emotionally highly wrought, didn't seem in any way real, and the situation not particularly inspirational as a moral tale, though it felt like that was what it was aiming to be.

Annette Curtis Klause's Blood and Chocolate is a young adult novel about a young woman who seems almost like a normal disaffected teenager, but she's what we would call a werewolf. When the book opens her pack has just been forced to move because some of the younger males had killed a human, and now the people had burned them out. Now the pack has to rebuild themselves in the suburbs with their rebellious young people and needing a new leader. While of all things Vivian finds herself attracted to a human. While the general story is the typical coming-of-age and growing-up tale, the depiction of this not-quite-human family and girl is clearly etched and feels very real. Recommended.

Transformation is the third book of Kara Dalkey's young adult Water trilogy (see my June 16 and June 23 entries for comments about the previous two books). Reading it after Blood and Chocolate was probably a mistake, but it made me realize just how it didn't quite succeed at evoking the alien/magical aspects of the story and the tale seemed more of a children's book than a young adult. It also was doing a whole lot more in a small space with plot, though.

last week's reading § next week's reading

Writing

I've just started working on revising the beginning of Gypsy Davey. I'm about halfway through the first chapter. This is the easy part, because I've been through this part of the novel so many times before.

last week's writing § next week's writing

Retrospective: The Phonosnout

About the Phonosnout

November - December 1983

1354. Whatever compels you to speak
November 19, 1983

...didn't compel me tonight. It's a night of aborted attempts to write, on both Jim's and my part. Didn't get anywhere, but caught some excitement somewhere. Thought about doing what I did last year at about this time, and writing a poem from a painting, and then a poem from Pound's Cantos. And so got caught up in looking at my women artists collections. Discovered a fascinating painting called Guardian Angels by Dorothea Tanning, which connects. Somehow. Got caught up in that. Also interested in Romaine Brooks' La Trajet. Interested in Brooks' life and all.
     Also thought about Wright's self portrait poems. I've had them in the back of my mind for a while.
     And then there's what struck me at the Pat Metheny concert Tuesday--the need to write a chant or a ballad--something performable.
     maybe one of these will come tomorrow night, or sooner. Something needs to come while I suddenly have ideas and energy and the need to write. This mood must stay because tonight is water--midnight and with my schedule I can't push midnight as I'd like
     I don't want to start a series of painting poems or anything like that (Jim and John have the monopoly on that [1]), but I'm interested in how those two paintings interlock with my mythology & with women in my mythology.

1355. Guardian Angels
November 27, 1983

Not yet serpents               after Dorothea Tanning

1356. Another Attempt at the Above
December 4, 1983

What is it I am trying
to describe? The moment, with
their outstretched wings, blood-
tipped feathery-fleshed wings,
they pulled me from my
bed? The moment I realized I
could not look travel backward from that
first scream as they entered the room?
I must go on. The angels carry me.
Their bodes are the colour of my
bed, their faces that of the bird
in my dreams. I am not lying.
They carried me; they carry me
still through this cave drenched
and draped in feathers that are
no dreamed. They hold me lightly,
gently. I can't let them go. [2]

1357. with Jim at the chequer board by the banana cage
December 4, 1983

this is from heaven
the warp
and the woof
with a sky wet as ocean

the stones slide beneath our feet
like the waves falling from each other
February, and the rain blurs all
the horizons, melts sky and sea
into each other. Walking, we our feet
lose their hold on
whatever we walk on. Where
is your cold hand? Your back
before me os broad and dark
against (the) (uncertain) grey.

there is wind space and rain space

between us more of the nameless
space that cannot help but remain.
I step up to a wet log and stumble the logs below us stumble
into each other with the push and stutter
of waves. My flesh is cold and naked
under the winter bulk of cloth; wind
and rain remove it, thoughtless as passion
but with the same cold fingers, love.

as some say: a dark forest
the warp and woof
that is of heaven
[3]

1358. Dream to remember
December 13, 1983

Almost Dorothy--I was standing on the porch of a house, near a friend (Bette?). As we watched, a whirlwind came toward me. I knew I wouldn't leave because I wanted to explain what it felt like to be inside--and then I was inside. I can still remember what it looked like--very thick wall with twigs and stones spinning in it. I couldn't see through it. I was aware of feeling as though I'd entered a new space and only I fit into it.


NOTES

[4] 1. Jim was writing poems based on Hopper paintings, and John published a book of poems about Emily Carr, West of Darkness.

2. This poem was eventually abandoned.

3. This poem evolved into "Thetis Island" in Spells for Clear Vision

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