Wednesday, April 30, 2014

God of Small Things

I've been reading The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy, and I finished it today, just in time, as book group meets tomorrow. It's lovely, and won the Booker Prize in 1997, but it was tough to read. It's nonlinear--or non-sequential--in structure, so we are folding back and forth in time. It does have suspense, even though we keep being told who will die and what has happened, and the reason for this came home to me in Chapter 12, Kochu Thomban, named for an elephant the children love, and all about the traditional kathakali dancers. Now, an elephant is not a small thing, but that even comes up in this chapter! "He wasn't Kochu Thomban any more. His tusks had grown. He was Vellya Thomban now. The Big Tusker." The children come of age in this story, too. With much woe.

But the nonlinear structure was addressed when Rahel, the narrator, steps into the temple to watch the Kathakali Man dance. "It didn't matter that the story had begun, because kathakali discovered long ago that the secret of Great Stories is that they have no secrets. The Great Stories are the ones you have heard and want to hear again. The ones you can enter anywhere and inhabit comfortably. They don't deceive you with thrills and trick endings. They don't surprise you with the unforeseen."

That reminds me of something Flannery O'Connor said about her own stories, that it would be best for you to know from the start that somebody will die, so you can be watching for the meaning all the way through, how the people behave, watching for the why and how, not the "who done it" aspect. I do read Flannery O'Connor over and over. Of course, I'm usually not very comfortable in her stories--often I am laughing and half-horrified at the same time. I guess that was true in The God of Small Things, too.

Back to Arundhati Roy: "In the Great Stories you know who lives, who dies, who finds love,who doesn't And yet you want to know again. That is their mystery and their magic." Yes.

I was also moved by the description and plight of the Kathakali Man, who is "the most beautiful of men. Because his body is his soul. His only instrument." He is trained in his art since childhood, knows what he will grow up to be, is very skilled, and cannot be or do anything else, even though the times are changing, and his art is no longer respected in the way it was before, not even by his children, who are wrapped up in lives of commerce, not art. "But he himself, left dangling somewhere between heaven and earth, cannot do what they do." He is part of a particular time and place--Kerala, India in decades of great change, late 1960s to early 1990s--and part of History with a capital "H," which, in the story, powerfully disrupts the lives of individuals.

But he also shows us the plight of the consummate artist, "dangling somewhere between heaven and earth," unable to do anything else, whose "body is [his/her] soul." Ah, but don't the great spiritual teachers tell us the same thing?

Speaking of small things, here are some very short reviews, in haiku form, of 4 chapbooks, posted at Escape Into Life, with more art by Simen Johan, whose mammoth, owls, boy, and hill of bugs you see here.

Saturday, April 26, 2014


Finally! It felt like spring all day, the trees suddenly fully in bloom. What a busy week--still recovering, still behind, still writing poetry, but such a slattern. Kicked off the Internet again. Back on, with some weirdness. Forgive me. If I owe you a response or a task, I'll get back to you as soon as I can. Camellias and Cherry Blossoms by Jonathan Koch.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Shakespeare, Barnacles, and Blueberries

Happy Shakespeare's Birthday! Or death day. If Shakespeare was even a real person. Sigh...

It's still National Poetry Month. I have been very busy. Writing a poem a day. Except for yesterday. So I wrote two poems today. Very, very short poems.

Yesterday I was showing beautiful Uptown Normal and our "tree campus" at Illinois State University to Escape Into Life poet Scott Poole, who came here from Vancouver, WA, via Portland, OR (and Denver, CO on the plane) for the fabulous News That Stays News poetry reading, sponsored by The Parret Endowment for Religion, Culture & the Arts at the First United Methodist Church.

We had a great audience--enthusiastic, rapt, supportive--and many people stayed afterwards to chat with the poets, eat chocolate, buy books, and talk further about the importance of poetry in the world! So, yay!

But we had a worry: the health of our wonderful WGLT radio host and poetry lover, Bruce Bergethon. My wonderful dad, a radio man from way back before he was a theatre professor, filled in for Bruce and did a great job!

This morning I got up at 4:30 to make sure Scott got to the airport on time for his flight back to Portland, and I am pooped. But, no, that's not me on the roof. That's a fabulous photo by Scarlett Hooft Graafland. You can see more at EIL here, or with the wonderful new poetry feature by Kristin LaTour! Her poems have blueberries and barnacles, crustaceans and lilies. You'll also want to check out LaTour's "Items of Value to a Dying Man" with art by Peter Gric at Moving Poems, here!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Team of Rivals

I finally finished Team of Rivals, by Doris Kearns Goodwin, which I have been reading in sections for the, nine years, evidently. Lately (although what could I possibly mean by "lately" if I just realized it took me nine years to read a book?), I've realized that I tend to read books at exactly the right time, and I finished this book at exactly the right time, as Abraham Lincoln was assassinated on Easter weekend.

Sigh... I wept! I knew what was going to happen, and I still wept! A testament to his character, his legacy, his greatness, and her excellent writing.

You may laugh...or you may not, reminded of our country's great loss...but I wanted to finish the book before I saw the movie! And we have Lincoln ready to watch, as soon as we are ready to watch a 3-hour movie. When I started reading the book, Liam Neeson was going to play Lincoln. So much has happened in the interim!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Poetry Cheerleading

Whew! It's been a busy National Poetry Month! Attending readings, reading & buying poetry books, writing poems and reviews, and doing what I can as the unofficial (and official, for Prick of the Spindle), Poetry Cheerleader! Just up in my Poetry Cheerleader column is a review of I LOVE SCIENCE! by Shanny Jean Maney. Read the review here, and buy the book here! Shanny is THE BEST, and I think she teaches at U-High here in town unless she's up and moved to Chicago, where she helped found The Encyclopedia Show, a fantastic performance thing. (I do love science.)

Monday night my mom and I went to hear Ricardo Cruz read fiction and Tim Hunt read poems, and now I am enjoying Hunt's Thirteen Ways of Talking to a Blackbird, a bunch of riffs on famous, frequently-taught poems by the likes of Wallace Stevens, T.S. Eliot, and Ezra Pound. I love the cover, by John Hunt, Tim's son. And I love this particular riff on the wheelbarrow poem:

but if you
want more

than biscuits,
get me

a chicken, that

one by
the fence.

Earlier in April, I attended the second annual SRPR Lucia Getsi Reading of Spoon River Poetry Review at the gorgeous Ewing Manor, also the home now of the Illinois Shakespeare Festival. Lucia herself wasn't in town yet, but she was able to attend Monday's reading, and I'll see her today at a memorial service for Jim McGowan, a beloved poet, translator, and Illinois Wesleyan professor who died in March. At the reading, Jim's wife, Ann, delightedly showed me the Jens Jensen rendering of the Ewing grounds and gardens. And we both giggled at the coincidence of a poster for the film Noah's Ark, showing opposite Honky-Tonk, with Sophie Tucker, at the rival theatre, with the remake of Noah's Ark also just out!

Wait! I've gone astray. I was supposed to be poetry cheerleading. Well, it's a Random Coinciday. It's also poetry Wednesday at Escape Into Life, where you can read the press release for the upcoming News That Stays News poetry event on April 22, at 7:00 p.m., at First United Methodist Church in Normal, sponsored by The Parret Endowment for Religion, Culture & the Arts. And, for the Hump of the Week, here's Sophie Tucker, "The Last of the Red Hot Mamas."

Monday, April 14, 2014

Wondrous Wild Beasts

Here is the cover of the spring issue of Menacing Hedge. I have 6 poems in it from the Camille Claudel series, with audio. The "something wild" theme is woven throughout the issue, though the Claudel poems are fairly tame in comparison, containing "the bone of a lamb." Well, I guess the Devil and crazy people are there, too.

We had wild weather last night, taking my daughter back to college after a visit home. Wind and rain. Today is a Blue Monday, cloudy with a faint threat of snow, everyone gone. My son was here, too, changing from winter tires to rain tires on his little car, which made it back to Chicago safely in the rain. Our wild weekend included a balmy day in the seventies and much love and joy.

On April 14, I'm 14 poems into poem-a-day National Poetry Month. Today's poem was about teeth.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Sign Language

I'm ten poems into National Poetry Month. Whew! Today I was doing some private poetry tutoring, reminding my excellent poet pal/tutee to keep it simple, not "poetic" (re: images, symbols, poetic devices). Those things are named by others, later, reading, studying, teaching, interpreting poems. We are not putting in poetic devices. We are writing poems, a much simpler (and way more difficult) thing to do.

Hmm. I hope she understood me!

Though I am keeping up with writing a poem a day, I am still a little behind on some other things. For instance, while I usually do participate in Kelli Russell Agodon's wonderful Big Poetry Giveaway in April, I didn't get it together this year. Instead, I posted a reminder at Escape Into Life, and you'll see some individual poets' giveaway posts here if you scroll down the blogroll on the right.

Today at EIL, theatre writer Scott Klavan has reviewed a play about "Dummy" Hoy, a baseball player who was deaf and taught the umpire some hand signals so he could keep track of the call without getting struck out while he turned to read the ump's lips. The fabulous art, photos of an installation, is by Nicola Yeoman.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Upside Down Tangerine

Whew! What a month! And we are only seven days into it! I just closed in an intense play, and I am writing a poem a day for National Poetry Month. Unfortunately, since I happened to get one of those engagement calendars that starts the week on Monday instead of Sunday, I am never quite sure what day or date it is. Yes, I am feeling a little like an upside-down tangerine. But I think today is Monday, April 7, and that I have indeed written seven poems.

Also today I have a poem, "Finish Line," in the new issue of Intentional Walk, an online magazine that specializes in literature about sports! Since I am not very sportsy, this feels like a win!

If you hate self-promotion as much as I do, you'll know how much of a relief it was to read this today and be able to laugh at it: Writers You Want to Punch in the Face(book).Yep. And if you are a non-artist who hates the seeming (and real) self-promotion of artists announcing new work, you might enjoy this and enjoy knowing that writers piss each other off, too. But please also forgive us, as we are told to have a place where people can find out about us and click on our work.

So here's a reminder of a news-based poetry reading, News That Stays News, coming up April 22. If you are local, please come to support Judith Valente, Susan Baller-Shepard, and visiting poet from the Northwest, Scott Poole. It's at the First United Methodist Church at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, April 22, Earth Day 2014. There, I've told you! Twice.

Many thanks to Jonathan Koch for Tangerine Study and Mandarin on Books. OK, now I'm feeling a little more right side up.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Early Thunder

I went to bed with a thunderstorm and woke up with one, too! April showers have arrived in time for Thor's Day in the blog. It's also a Poetry Someday, thanks to National Poetry Month and Donna Vorreyer's wonderful poetry feature at Escape Into Life, poems in response to the letters of poets Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell, published in Words in Air, which also inspired a Sarah Ruhl play I'd like to direct someday, Dear Elizabeth.

Donna's first poem, "You Arrive Carrying Apples," begins:

Today, in a terrible rainstorm, you arrive,
one great might-have-been, to sweep me out
of my wind-blown cottage...

I love how the art by Lizzie Gill suggests a wind-blown woman, risen from her couch, green book in her lap, to run outside to the inexplicably mirrored wagons just arrived.

It's April 3, and I do have 3 poems written in the poem-a-day challenge! (One might be a keeper.) And I've had 13 acceptances since the start of the year, a baker's dozen. (Mmmm, donuts.)

In other poetry news, there's a review by Sally Deskins, of Interior Sculpture, in the new issue of Stirring, guest edited by Margaret Bashaar. Stirring always has surprising things in it--well, stirring things! This and the Seana Graham review are great in giving background on Camille Claudel and in accepting the persona's voice and in pointing out the agonizing constraints of a woman artist in her time. It's always amazing to me what stands out for readers, and I am grateful and honored each time I hear what...stirs people!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

News That Stays News

"Literature is news that stays news," said the poet Ezra Pound. To celebrate Earth Day and National Poetry Month, I'll be participating in a poetry reading on Tuesday, April 22, 2014, called "News That Stays News: Sustaining Our World Through Poetry." Here's the poster!

I'm sure I'll tell you more about it as we get closer to the time, but I wanted to start off April with this good news and these red  flowers. The reading is at 7:00 p.m. at the First United Methodist Church, 211 N. School St., Normal, Illinois, for you central Illinois readers. Meanwhile, it's cold again, but we've got sunshine instead of April showers. And, yes, I'm writing a poem a day for National Poetry Month. Maybe some of them will be about the news.

I'll be reading with local poets Susan Baller-Shepard and Judith Valente and Washington state poet Scott Poole, who is house poet for the Portland, Oregon Live Wire! radio program just picked up by Public Radio International and who writes the Poetry Report, a weekly poem based on the news, for Nailed Magazine.

"It is difficult to get the news from poems," said William Carlos Williams, "but men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there." I hope it won't be too difficult to get the news from our poems, and that we die joyfully in a future moment, not today.