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Les Semaines

99.02.07

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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Poetry and Ambition

So I've been working on my poetry (for more about this, see the writing section) and it has sparked all this mixed anxiety and desire to make what I'm working on the best possible that it can be. Well, of course. But then there's the need to have it better than that, to more closely match the ideal of it all that's in my head. How to reach that? By infinite revision. But for how long and how can I revisit old work and what is the value of that?

One poem that is in Spells for Clear Vision, "September, New York", I worked on for ten years. It was even the last poem I tweaked before the book went to print. Is it the best poem in the book? I don't think so, but it's one of the best, and I think it finally reflects the confusing experience it was meant to (a visit to New York when we were just married and poor grad students visiting Jim's family whom I was meeting for the first time and we wanted to escape to New York for a few days and his family thought we were crazy to want to go somewhere so dangerous and we had so little money we stayed in the horrible Y--apparently there's a nicer one--with roaches crawling over our bed by night and spending our days in the museums with all of this amazing art and sitting outside waiting for a friend to show up and someone poured a bottle of piss out the window above us onto the sidewalk so we got a few drops on us and one day we were going to Columbia U and spent the last of our cash on taking the A train instead of the one that actually went to Columbia and we wound up dazed in Harlem in the morning not knowing where we were and having only a couple of traveller's checks and a woman came up to us and told us that we didn't want to be there, that it was a bad drug area and she explained how to get to Columbia only a few blocks away. We walked quickly, me in my silly white-girl sundress past a group of people outside a grocery store then through Needle Park and a security guard saw us coming out of the park and thought those stupid stupid white kid tourists.) A long parenthesis but there's the story. How to write about that and get the flavour? What details are necessary and what to leave out not to clog it too much? No wonder it took ten years. And I had to leave out how very strange it was to go back to little white Missoula Montana after that.

So in this new book--if that's what it is--I have a lot of poems where this problem is there in miniature. Dramatic stories that I have to get the feel across and sometimes it's happening and sometimes it isn't and I want this to work, to communicate.

And sometimes it's too much and I feel as though the poems are nearly hysterical trying to get their stories across the blank field between writer and reader that swallows so much emotion.

So last night I gave a poetry reading. It was fun, though for some reason I was more nervous than I have been in recent readings--maybe because I haven't read for several months, and maybe because the place was packed out--a coffee shop in Redmond with an ongoing series and lots of open mike participants. But it went over well even though I read a little faster than I have been, and I sold five books, which is a marvellous response--I haven't sold that many since my book was new. And it was nice to have people say things like "blown away" and be shy to talk to me. I love giving readings. It's my way of being a ham since I can't act or sing.

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

Listening

My obsession this week was David Usher's Little Songs. It has been a long time since I obsessed with an album that didn't have female vocals, but the part that this has in common with the female vocalists I love is his powerfully emotional singing and evocative somewhat cryptic lyrics. He is the singer for a group, and I'm wondering if I want to look into their music, too, but I love this, love it.

I also got Annika Bentley's see you around, lifeguard disc. Someone had mentioned her on ecto, and so I went to her website and downloaded the sound samples. At first I wasn't particularly impressed, but they got on my playlist cycle with MacAmp and I kept hearing them and they haunted me enough that I sent for the disc. It only came yesterday so I haven't quite settled my opinion of it, but so far I really like it. Stripped down but still lush sound and mournful vocals. Interesting songwriting and (after a shaky start to the song) probably the best cover of Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne" that I've ever heard.

Also should briefly mention a great "authorized bootleg" disc of live Cordelia's Dad material, Joy Fun Garden And Tori on Sessions last night (PJ Harvey on the week before!)

It's alarming me a little how quickly albums have been coming into our house and I haven't the time to give all of them the attention they deserve and there's still that stack of tapes just over there on the bookcase that I need to listen and sort through.

I've been thinking about all this, but mostly just putting David Usher in the disc player once again.

last week's listening § next week's listening

Reading

A Young Adult week: Gail Carson Levine's Ella Enchanted, a charming YA retelling of Cinderella. This was delightful and cleanly written, and very fairy-tale feeling but the heroine felt very real. Also with a strong, strange heroine was Patrice Kindl's Owl in Love. It started off wonderfully (knockout writing) and ended only slightly less delightfully when the story line had to be wrapped up a teensy bit less beautifully written. I loved her depiction of how shapechanging children couldn't think in regular human terms. Also Susan Whitcher's Enchanter's Glass where today's kids get mixed up in an allegorical world. This was a little too awkwardly managed and slightly too moralistic for me to feel the magic in it, despite some wonderful passages. A near miss for me.

last week's reading § next week's reading

Writing

So this week there has been more revising of still more poems and I'm not done with it yet. I've put together a chapbook I'm calling Lucidity after the poem by that name, which is thematically one of the central poems in the collection. It's a strange movement between the poems but I think it works, and hope it is part of the basis for the book that I am working on. The chapbook will be going out to a local competition this week, one which has the nice addition of choosing poems from the work submitted for an anthology which they promote locally quite nicely. Jim has had poems in two of the associated anthologies, and they will shortly be publishing a non-competition chapbook of his. I'll be sending Lucidity other places as well, and the still unpublished poems within it.

The process of revising is making me a little crazy, going back and forth between versions trying to decide which is better. This process is complicated by suggestions from a friend that at first I agree with and then I realize that--for me--they gut the poems. Sigh. So I keep on trying to trim and keep the life and reshape the poems hoping that they actually need the reshaping and it's not just a kneejerk reaction to being tired of shapeless poems in dense blocks down the page. Then of course there's my own weird sense of where linebreaks belong.

I haven't gotten any poems out yet and the fiction seems very background right now, but both will happen.

last week's writing § next week's writing

Retrospective: The Phonosnout

About the Phonosnout

Winter 1975

55. Mr. Munch told me to write this down

I said this and mr. munch told me to write this down. One of these days (years) when i submit this monster to a publisher, they're going to say "what is this mess? why should i publish this junk?" oh well. This is very high-class junk. I'll make sure it's a high class publisher. I wouldn't want it to be rejected by anything else.

56. Waging a war

I've decided to wage a War against misuse of capitals. They should only be used at the beginning of sentences and to place Special Emphasis on certain Words. You see, nobody ever thought that we'd use so many capitals, and so our supply is running low. Conserve capitals!

57. Liaising

This morning i got up and hour early and went liaising with the liasion committee. Staff-student that is. It was Exciting and Interesting, and we had a good discussion. 'Bout what? who knows, noes, nose? Identity. Flower. It's going to be a long day...

58. Semester two

Well, new semester. Named "two". What else do you call the second? They should try giving them proper names like Charlie and Irving. Sure thing. It's a good idea, anyway. Anyway, this means new people, new classes, new teacher (gnu teacher? Whatever.) A chance to make new friends (and new enemies). (Who, me, enemies? Hah! [Hah! Hah!])

59. Poetry's Weird1

It really is! It's weird! Sometimes i like it, and sometimes it's so boring i could scream. It makes me nervous. I never know how it's going to be before i get there. Sometimes i shake at the door. Since it's usually first thing in the morning, i'm never awake until i've shaken at the door.

60. Socials

Socialistic Studies or Socialism, Socialists, Society, Sociological Connotations. Guess what! What? We're going to have an election! Like wow! (Thrillsville.) Far far far far out. (Infinitely distant?) I think i'm getting carried away, but what else is new? [Lyrics from Nillson's "Spaceman" deleted.2]

61. Bile-ology

Biology. Let's all look in our microscopes and gaze upon a small part of our world, in hopes that we will understand the whole better. Crap! Look at little bits of plants and blood and cheek cells and amoeba and little letter "e"s. Sounds exciting, doesn't it? Wait until you try it.

62. Spare

My space is my favourite block. I get a double block of it on Friday. Time to do homework, sleep, sit in the lunchroom, fly a kite. Fly a kite? Oh, well. Time to do whatever i want to do, what's better, not to do what i don't want to do. Six hours a week of kicks. Only one problem--I've got enough homework to last through six weeks of spare blocks. That's just the way it goes.

63. In poetry now

I'm in poetry now, having already shaken at the door, and am now listening to Robert Frost (the late) reading his poem, and i get to watch snow fall again. I think this is used snow. This is the same snow that fell last month! I protest. It's kind of pretty, but why doesn't it just disappear? Do you hear me, snow?


NOTES

1. I'm actually referring here to a class called poetry, but this works equally well if you take it to mean poetry more generally. Especially the shaking part.

2. From Son of Schmillson. I recently got another copy of this after not hearing it for years. It's still fun.

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