Saturday, October 24, 2009

Reading my own poems....

Aauugghh! I just wrote about self-absorption, and for the past few days, I have been reading little packets of my own poems over and over! Well, it's actually the responsible and generous thing to do, and I know that, but it's making me feel self-absorbed! Did I say, "Aauugghh!"

There are several readings coming up, and I need to gather, practice, and time my work so I don't exceed the time limit! And so I feel prepared and comfortable reading! And know what I'm going to say in the little preparatory remarks!

The first is our Living History poetry reading at the McLean County Museum of History. Seven of us will be reading, the 7 current participants in my Poetry at Babbitt's drop-in workshop at Babbitt's Books. It's an hour-long program, 7:30 to 8:30, and the museum closes at 9:00 p.m., and it is courteous to stick to the publicized time, let people go after an hour of poetry (potty break, etc.), and leave time to chat with poets and each other and exit the museum, and leave time for us to chat and also help clean up! So I've told everyone 3-5 poems, 5-7 minutes, and keep rehearsing my own poems, down to 4 very pertinent and appropriate ones, but one is long and so I keep timing out at 10 minutes. This is annoying! Ultimately, I may cut yet another poem even though it went out on some of the PR!

I am also doing an hour program for the Mornings with the Professors program at Illinois State University on November 6. I'll be talking about inspiration, composition, and revision of particular poems and need to give them a packet of them to look at while I read aloud. So I keep refining the packet--it was a dozen poems, then I added 3, thinking it was too short, so I had 15. Then I read aloud, adding the explanatory material extempore, and it was too long, so I took 3 out, not exactly the same 3....still too long, and now I'm down to ten. I think this is the right number!

Meanwhile Broken Sonnets should be mailed out on Monday, to me and to those who pre-ordered it from Finishing Line Press, and those two readings are coming up in November and December, so I will be rehearsing, and timing, and self-absorbed all over again all too soon!

Friday, October 16, 2009


I have been re-reading Plainsong by Kent Haruf in preparation for a meeting of the book group I'm in. I understand this was on our President's summer reading list, too. It's a lovely book that shows people being both mean and decent to each other, which is the way life really is, in a way that encourages us to choose and admire decency. Nice thing to read in an age where much of the culture seems to choose and admire mockery and meanness!

I've been pondering the self-absorption of writers and artists a bit, too. I am one, so it seems OK, possibly even decent, to ponder it--the risks, the strategies to avoid too much self-absorption, the evidence. Recently I joined Facebook, on the recommendation of friends, and it's a good way to stay connected and re-connect with old friends, I agree. And for several years I've belonged to an Internet writing site, where people can share and "workshop" their stories and poems, but also, more recently, keep up with each other's personal as well as professional lives in online journals and blogs. I have about a dozen people at one site with whom I stay pretty connected, and many friends at Facebook, of course, but a smaller number who regularly post a comment or a "Like." I scatter myself around and post little comments and "Likes" pretty frequently, as human connection is good! It seems decent to let my pals know I see what they are saying!

At both places, I notice the phenomenon of people who post pretty constantly, but seldom comment on the postings of others. It's the old Read me, read me, engage with me, but don't expect me to read you or engage with you thing. I should not be surpised, but somehow I am still irked. Of course, some of them are lurkers...reading but too shy or insecure or jealous or...well, what? what is it?...too something to let another person know they are there. The only catchall word I can find is "self-absorbed," so that's the way I think of it.

At work, I read a fabulous fun introduction by Ray Bradbury to a collection of 13 tales by Theodore Sturgeon, a writer he admired and that's why he was gathering the material and editing the book. The introduction was generous, very funny, and very admiring but also boiled down to the wonderfully honest admission I can summarize (and nearly directly quote) as this: You are such a good writer, I hate you. I am jealous of your talent and success, and I hate you. I have read your work all these years, and I love it, and now I am doing this. And I still hate you.

It gets at the jealousy/rivalry thing, and of course we know Bradbury doesn't really hate Sturgeon. He loves him. But that little irksome kernel of hatred is still there!

Nonetheless, Bradbury behaves decently--connects with the man, does him a service, promotes his work, writes to and about him. And really, deep inside and blazoned on the outside, and spiced with humor, loves him.

OK, let me go a teensy bit further here. I read the work of my poet friends. If they tell me about a journal they are in, I order that issue or go to that website. If they write a book, I buy it. (A few times, I've received the book as a gift, or in trade, or as a review copy, by chance, but mostly I buy it. Often, I have to save up to do so and can't buy it right away. I have mouths to feed at home.) Then I let the friend know I have read the book, or received the book, or read the individual poem. I try to convey my thanks and delight and support earnestly, honestly, and without too much gush, which might embarrass them.

I have to say I seldom receive the same courtesy or encouragement back. It sort of astonishes me. Mainly because often these same people DO respond to my communication of support with great thanks--"I'm so glad you enjoyed the book," they'll say. "It's nice to know someone is reading it." As if no other friends have let them know! Or, "You are the first one to really get what I was trying to say," which indicates that friends have commented, but not specifically or intelligently, probably not reading closely enough...or maybe at all?

So why don't these same people ever say something friendly, or encouraging, or specific back to me?!

OK, that's my moaning self-absorbed, self-pitying moment of the day. Now I'm off to make some roasted red pepper soup!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Sun

I've been reading The Sun, October, 2009. I love The Sun. I first received it as a gift subscription and have maintained it ever since, except for maybe a 6-month period when life was disrupted.... I like pretty much everything about it, down to the letters to the editor, which have the same excruciating honesty as the Readers Write section. I love the poems, I love the stories, I love the essays, and I love the general outlook--which contains generosity, liberalism, optimism, and realism in just the right mix.

I have based poem assignments for my little class on poems found in the pages of the The Sun! I have found and contacted some of its writers by email, to thank them for their work, and I have shared particular pieces with my mom, my son, my daughter, and a friend recently. Stuff in The Sun makes us think of our individual relationships, and our own lives, and do particular things about them.

My friend who gave me the original subscription just borrowed the August issue, which has an article/interview on deep breathing exercises that can do the same thing LSD can do to the brain, but safely. She had misplaced or loaned out her copy, and needed to share the article with a friend; likewise, I want to share the article with my sister, an expert on deep breathing, yoga, theatre, body/mind. I had already discussed this particular article with my daughter, recently a Beatles fan, and alerted to altered states, thanks to the film Across the Universe with all those great Beatles covers. Same friend also loaned me all those issues from the subscription lapse, but she wants them back!

So The Sun inspires a lot of sharing, but also some "keeping," some treasuring.

I recommend reading it, then subscribing. One thing I love about it is that it has no ads. We subscribers keep it alive. That, too, is a direct relationship, and a kind of deep sharing.

And it keeps the editor, Sy Safransky, free. Independent and free.

Monday, October 12, 2009

A Walk in the Cemetery

It's been a long time since I wrote in this particular blog...alas. I blog elsewhere as a version of myself, a funny version, and I write in a regular journal with a pen, and I write poems, etc., etc., but lately I've been very busy and not writing about what I'm reading, which is what I mostly intended to do here.

I've been in the cemetery, in fact. As Sarah W. Davis, the wife of David Davis and a contemporary of Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln and Davis rode the circuit together in Illinois--remember those stories about books in Lincoln's saddlebags?--and one season Sarah and her son went along, literally, for the ride! She had 7 children, but only 2 lived to adulthood, and after the loss of one child she took her son George with her to join her husband and Lincoln and spend what today we'd call "quality time" together. When Davis was a judge in Washington, she wrote him many letters. When she and her husband were in Chicago on business in April, 1865, she wrote a letter to her surviving children, telling them that their father would start that night, Easter Sunday, April 16, for Washington to attend to the affairs of the assassinated president. I just performed that letter in Evergreen Cemetery in Bloomington, Illinois, where Sarah is buried.

It was a pretty intense experience--the grief and anger at the loss of our President! Recreated sometimes 16, sometimes 24 times a day, for schoolchildren on field trips or for the general public on weekends. Some days it rained. The last day it was 38 degrees! But audiences came and loved it, as they do every year. This year, all the characters--who are real people buried in the cemetery--had some connection to Lincoln, as it's his 200th birthday. What an honor to work with fellow actors, writers, and museum volunteers who put this event together.

So I've been busy, scattered, and focussed for the past several weeks--preparing for this, finishing up other tasks, and carrying on a normal family and work life.

I've kept reading, I've had thoughts, whole paragraphs have spun out in my head, but....sigh....

More to come.