Sunday, December 23, 2007

New Publication by an Obscure Writer

My six-word memoir will appear in the new book, Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure that's coming out in February by Harper Perennial.

The editors haven't broken the news to me, but I think I fall into the "obscure" category.

And here's a sneak preview of my entry:

Loved a man, then a woman.

Friday, December 21, 2007

O Life, O O

I just finished reading Dog Years by Mark Doty. I think he's an amazing writer--both as a poet and a memoirist. This book is about dogs. Love. Loss. Mortality. It touched me deeply. Loss, and how and why we go on, has been a central feature lately in my life and writing.

Here are two of my favorite passages from Doty's book:

"It's only human to mourn and to reach toward forwardness at once."

"Despair, then, isn't a place we leave--some kind of psychic location we pull into, look around, then pull out of again, relieved to not have to live there. It's more like a dimension of the self, which once opened, is part of us forever, a pole within, a spot of darkness, deeply magnetic. ... Without it, might we just float away, unable to feel the darkness and suffering of the world? The adult self requires balance; if we don't internalize some of the terrible gravity around us, then we might as well not have been here at all."


That last Doty quote reminds me of these lines from Rilke's Duino Elegies (which I'm using as an epigraph to the book I'm working on now):

We wasters of sorrows!
How we stare away into sad endurance beyond them
trying to force their end! Whereas they are nothing else
than our winter foliage, our sombre evergreen, one of the seams

of our interior year—not only season—they’re also place,
settlement camp, soil, dwelling.


And just to prevent this entry from dwelling only in the serious: Happy Global Orgasm Day!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Sanity 101

I love teaching creative writing. I don't care how shitty I feel (this has been a particularly rough year in my personal life), once I walk into the classroom, I get a shot of energy. It's a blast to turn people on to writing, creativity, stories and poems.

I have noticed in the past few years, though, that some students (usually a handful in a class) don't understand (or ignore) the nature of the classroom community. They either don't care, or don't realize, that being late, or walking out in the middle of class, or perpetually turning in late work is distracting--not just to me, but to the entire group. (Or maybe a handful of my students have always been this way, but now that I'm "middle aged" I bemoan it more.)

I wanted to find a way to deal with this next semester in a serious way, laced with humor. Calm assertive, as the Dog Whisperer says. So I've been working on the following to include in my syllabus. It will be interesting to see how my students respond. (Maybe some are reading this right now and are dropping the class as we speak.)

SANITY 101 for the Creative Writing Class
Please initial each item and sign at the end of this page.

_____ 1. I will not turn in late work, nor will I attempt to turn in late work for credit.

_____ 2. I will not be absent from class and then email Kate with the question, “What did I miss?” I will take responsibility for any unfortunate absence and contact several classmates to find out a) what happened in class and b) what’s due next time. Bottom line: I will not make my absences extra work for Kate.

_____ 3. If I have any confusion about something and need extra help for any reason, I will contact Kate—but not by email at 5:58 p.m. on the day a 6 p.m. class meets. If I want to talk 1:1 with her, I realize she has office hours and is available by appointment.

_____ 4. I will not email assignments to Kate.

_____ 5. I will not get up in the middle of a lecture and walk out of the classroom.

_____ 6. I will not regularly cruise into class late.

_____ 7. I will not regularly cruise out of class early.

_____ 8. I will not bring into class foods that reek of garlic.

_____ 9. I will not bring a full meal into class. If I must eat, I will discretely eat a snack that is not contained in loud packaging.

_____ 10. I will make the day before things are due “printing day” so as to avoid the disaster of broken printers, not enough ink, etc. etc. (Or, if I do have technological problems when I waited until the last minute, I will say, “Ah, well, too bad for me.”) This will be much less stressful, and I will thank Kate for adding an extra five years to my life.

_____ 11. I will forgo my addiction to/love for electronics during class. I will not text-message my lover, cruise the Internet for porn, update my blog, check on my stocks, etc. during class. I will honor that this is a no-tech class.

_____ 12. I will not manufacture a dying or dead grandmother, dog, boyfriend, sister-in-law, former best friend’s cousin’s pet iguana or other death or serious injury in order to try to appeal to Kate’s niceness for exceptions to any of the above.

_____ 13. I will not manufacture a psychological disorder or physical ailment in order to appeal to Kate’s niceness for exceptions to any of the above.

_____ 14. I will not beg.

_____ 15. I will do my best to come to class prepared—and prepared to have fun.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

New Poem by Al Young

California is so fortunate to have Al Young as our California Poet Laureate. He is a passionate ambassador for poetry. And he's a great guy.

He's also an inspired teacher. (Annie and I took a workshop with him a few years ago.)

Below is a new poem by Al, who says: Before long [this poem] will appear in the Marin Poetry Anthology. SOMETHING ABOUT THE BLUES, my new collection from Sourcebooks also includes it.


Big skies have always hung around in bursts
of peril and merriment. Such lush urgency.

Warm fast beside me on the floor, unemerged,
you press your body-you into my body-me:
a mass of space and particles, a cloud of chords
and song still unarranged, massive; a crowd
of two so undemonstrative we don’t get attacked
by cops with real or rubber bullets, with M-16’s
or mace – not yet. Your fingers laced in mine
design the interlocking force that glues galaxies.

Big skies above our rooftop spread and clear
the way for ecstasy, a thunderhead to break
our sense of wonder away from one another,
to turn back into lake and sea the stream
your body-you, my body-me must have
always been. Of all the civilians voluptuously
curled up on this rug so randomly -- why us?

How can anyone, you ask, how can anyone kill
in such surroundings of desert, mountain, jungle,
savannah, plains, delta, beach, shore, star
and all the light that scraps us into birth? I listen.

To cello, drums and soulful shouts we brush
against the grain. You gun your thrusts and
time yourself to me. I give up every time.

Big skies will always hang around in bursts
of peril and merriment. Such hushed urgency.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

A Sick Country

Did you know that one fourth of the Iraq war budget alone could fund healthcare for every uninsured person in this country?

Check out: Campaign for Healthcare, Not Warfare

Writers Galore

This has been a whirlwind of a last few months, ever since I was offered the position as co-director of the Center for Literary Arts at the end of August, a mere two days before the semester began.

Kelly, my co-director, and I put on a number of events (Sam Hamill, Dorothy Allison, Salman Rushdie, C. Dale Young) in addition to teaching two classes each. We've also prepared for the spring events (five events, including ZZ Packer and Ishmael Reed), written grants and reports, done a ton of PR, created a new website, paid bills, cleaned up piles of messes ... the details go on and on.

Finally, yesterday we actually got to sit down and talk about which writers we might want to bring for the 2008-09 season. What a joy to be able to build from scratch. I'm in the process of contacting writers and agents now.

Once we have our schedule confirmed, I'll let you know who's coming. If you're not in San Jose, you'll wish you were.


I just noticed that several people have left comments about my memoir piece, The Color of Change, here.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Open Reading Periods

Steven Schroeder at Sturgeon's Law has posted an imminently helpful list of open reading periods for poetry presses. Click here.

Flu Reading

The first year I don't get a flu shot in a long time and what happens? I get the flu. It's been a forceful one--four days of a sore throat, more than a week now of weakness and headache, and a relentless wet cough in my aching chest.
I've used the flu as an opportunity to read some of the books on my bedstand that I've been wanting to read for a while.

I obviously don't need uplifiting reading when I'm sick if I'm willing to pick up a post-apocalytpic novel. I read Cormac McCarthy's The Road in a day and a half, my skin crawling the entire time. I was let down by the ending (ending a novel is so tricky) but overall, I was electrically unsettled and wholly transported.

Since my mother's struggle with dementia, I've been wanting to read some memoirs about how people live through these experiences. Death in Slow Motion by Eleanor Cooney is--with its apt but oddly treacly title--fantastic. If you like a good memoir, this book is worth reading even if Alzheimer's isn't touching your life. Cooney's mother was an amazing woman whose life story would have been worth telling even without the epically tragic end. Her mother was a unique thinker, a spirit, a fascinating person, and a terrific writer--and Eleanor inherited the writing gene. The book is in no way maudlin. It's honest, clear-eyed, witty, loving, irascible and intelligent. (And this book has a great ending, one I'll never forget.)

Thomas DeBaggio's Losing My Mind is written by a man with Alzheimer's. It's a fascinating, devastating book. I listened online to a few of his NPR interviews as well. He wants to take the taboo out of the disease. He wants people with the disease to state out loud that they have it and to tell people what it's like. He thinks this will help propel a cure. Amazingly enough, he wrote a second book after this one, which I have on order. I learned that now, however, he no longer reads or writes. He is able to speak a little, and he lives with his wife. Every day she takes him to the family-run nursery where he sees his son and the plants he grew for many years.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Interview with Alice Sebold

If you're curious what Alice Sebold (author of The Lovely Bones, Lucky and The Almost Moon) had to say in my on-stage conversation with her, a piece just appeared in WritersTalk, the monthly newsletter of the South Bay Writers Club.

Alice Sebold in Conversation with Kate Evans: Creative Minds
by Suzy Paluzzi

On October 25, Alice Sebold, author of Lucky and The Lovely Bones, read from her new novel The Almost Moon at the San Jose Museum of Art. Afterward, she spoke in front of the audience with Kate Evans, local author and co-director of the Center for Literary Arts at San Jose State University.

This was Alice Sebold’s first appearance in San Jose and she immediately set a very casual tone to the evening. A striking woman, Sebold is known for writing about dark subjects. Lucky, a memoir about her rape, began as a way to find her main character’s voice for the novel The Lovely Bones, which she was writing at the time but had put aside.

Alice Sebold said she “explores lifetime backgrounds as part of her process, and writes a lot that never gets published.” After she wrote Lucky, she rewrote The Lovely Bones. It took her two years to find the voice for the character Helen in her new book The Almost Moon.

When asked about the difference between writing a memoir and writing fiction, the author said, “I had already done my personal work. Memoirs should serve the people reading them, not the author writing. Writing fiction is more free and thus inherently more challenging.”

Sebold shared that she “always wanted to write fiction” and she “wrote poetry as a child” and “writes it as a discipline” now.

The suburbs is the setting for Alice Sebold’s books. “Suburbia is ‘compost’—where it all is, where all is seething,” she believes. “When I was growing up, I used to wonder what was going on in the house across the street.” And in the “suburbs, there is an obsession about perfection—not only in the physical, like lawns—but people. People hide,” the author stated.

When Kate Evans inquired why all three of her books involve violent acts, Sebold responded, “I want to write books that psychologically move in a compelling way. A violent act only opens the doorway into psychological investigation.”

As a child, the author had undiagnosed dyslexia. “ I was raised in a house of readers, and I didn’t read …. Desperation creates a sense of drive.” She started reading, and “poetry was my way in, in high school,” she said. She still writes it now.

She read fiction “obsessively,” when she was in her mid-twenties and the old masters when she was in her early thirties.

The Lovely Bones is currently being filmed [by Peter Jackson]. When asked by a member of the audience how involved she is in the film, Ms. Sebold said, “I don’t have a lot of fear and reservations. I am a ‘process freak,’ not a ‘control freak,’ so I am excited to see what they do.”

Regarding her writing “process,” Sebold offered that she is up every day at 4 a.m. because “if you start in the dark, the judges are all asleep.”

She is “obsessed with reading” and “especially keeps poetry books near her, to “feed her” while she is working.

One of Sebold’s tips is, “It is hugely important to have writing mentors, especially to teach you how to navigate the life you are going to lead. You need to have examples of how to survive those mean years when there is little money.”

Check for tickets to author appearances like Pulitzer Prize Winner Jhumpa Lahiri in the Creative Minds series at

To learn more about The Center of Literary Arts, San Jose State, see

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Stephen King for President

We need a writer for President. Certain writers express a great deal of wisdom. For instance, here's what Stephen King says about definitions of torture:

So I said something to the Nightline guy about waterboarding, and if the Bush administration didn't think it was torture, they ought to do some personal investigation. Someone in the Bush family should actually be waterboarded so they could report on it to George. . . . I suggested Jenna be waterboarded and then she could talk about whether or not she thought it was torture.

Ellen Bass This Monday

Come meet the fabulous Ellen Bass this Monday, December 3, in San Jose at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Library at 4 p.m.

At this free event, Ellen will read, take audience questions, and sign books.

Check out Ellen's website here. And listen to one of her poems here.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Limp Wrist Wants You

The new literary magazine Limp Wrist is currently accepting submissions.

Here is the mission of Limp Wrist, according to editor Dustin Brookshire:

promote the arts by publishing poetry,
short fiction, art work, and short films

review novels and books of poetry
written by established artists

help up-and-coming artists by offering
them a chance to receive a brief review in the blurb

feature an artist via an interview

To read the sumission guidelines, click here.

Limp Wrist Wants You

Monday, November 26, 2007





I'm not a god person, but I love this ee cummings poem. Posting it here is a birthday present to myself. To me, it's a celebration of life. Of yes.


i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday;this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any--lifted from the no
of allnothing--human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

Sunday, November 25, 2007

If You Knew

Just the other day, Garrison Keillor read Ellen Bass' stunning poem "If You Knew" on The Writer's Almanac. If you missed it, listen here.

Hawaii Dreamin

I promised long ago to post pictures from my summer Hawaii adventure with my mom and sisters--but I never got around to it.
And now in about a month I'm going back but with Annie this time. She's never been; it will be a treat for just the two of us together. I can't wait to snorkle again here on the Big Island:

It was like swimming in an aquarium. Maybe I'll get to meet up again with the two huge sea turtles who let me float alongside them in the current.
Forget spring fever. I have winter break fever.

Thursday, November 22, 2007


...has finally accepted one of my poems!

My theory is that Howard Junker figured he might as well take one of them so I'd finally leave him alone.

ZYZZYVA is here.

Giving Thanks

I give thanks today for my dad, who would have been 77 today. He was a great father. I was lucky to have him.

I give thanks that my mom is here with us for a few days. I like being with her.

I give thanks for my cousins--we're going up to Daly City to eat turkey with them. I crave being around family in new ways, now that my father's gone.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


The 2008 issue of Alehouse is now previewed online. You can read some of the pieces that appear in the print version, including a new Billy Collins poem called "On Craft" (which makes the claim the writing poems is easy!).

Alas, you must order the print version to read my poem "Elephant."

Literary Arts

Hearing C. Dale Young read last night was great. The poems he read were striking. He talked a little bit about most of his poems before reading them, which I tend to like because poetry is so compressed that it's a very different experience reading it than hearing it.

Listening, poetry goes by so quickly--we can't linger, re-read lines, pause at a striking image. We must go the speed of the poet's voice. So to be introduced a bit to the poem in advance helps me to prepare to hear it.

C. Dale's event was the last of our fall season. Whew, what a ride it's been. Our next event is ZZ Packer on February 27. Kelly Harrison (my co-director) and I will be spending the next few weeks writing reports and grants, doing all the behind-the-scenes stuff that makes these events possible.

Speaking of Kelly, check out our gorgeous new website that she--O Talented Techie--designed.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Friday, November 16, 2007

Oil Spill

A few days ago, my sister and I took a long walk along the beach of Rio del Mar, a beach south of Santa Cruz. We saw two oil-soaked birds. It was so sad to watch these sweet beings struggle for their lives.

And here's the rub: Rio del Mar is 80 miles from where the oil spill occurred.

We have a horrible history of oil spills in this country and throughout the world (three in past week: Bay Area, Minnesota, and one in the Black Sea ).

A big no-duh: there would be no need to transport oil at such risk to the environment if we invested in electrical and solar technology.

Rio del Mar is a gorgeous beach. You can walk for miles, even when the tide isn't especially low.

The ruins of a concrete ship (the S.S. Palo Alto which was formerly, ironically, an oil tanker) lay spread out at the end of the pier. The ship is now a resting spot and launching pad for birds and sea lions. But it used to be an entertainment spot wtih an arcade, dining room, dance hall and swimming pool--fitted as such after being towed from San Francisco down to Aptos (south of Santa Cruz) in the late 1920s.

It went out of business after two years due to the Great Depression. Then a winter storm cracked it across the midsection. Nature claimed it.

Wouldn't it be great if all oil tankers were obsolete?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Upcoming: C. Dale Young

Physician and poet extraordinaire C. Dale Young will be with us to read his poetry and engage in a Q&A with the audience on Monday November 19 at 4 p.m. on the second floor of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Library in San Jose. All are welcome to come by for this free event.

Cool quote about C. Dale from Washington Post Book World: “Because he is a physician as well as a poet, C. Dale Young straddles the realm of science and the world of emotion. . . . He confidently locates himself at the crucial intersection between body and soul, invoking that foremost of American poet-healers, William Carlos Williams...." —

Check out C. Dale's blog here, and his website here.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A Rush(die)

Here are pictures of me and my colleague Revathi Krishnaswamy with Rushdie, just as proof that this happened.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Cover Girls, Cover Dog

This picture of Annie and me and Max (who smiled for the photo) appeared today in a local paper, along with this article.

Rushdie & Sebold & Mom

Here's an article about my on-stage interview with Alice Sebold.

The part of our discussion I connected to the most was when she talked about her need to find a voice to propel the story. I love the "click" that happens when the juicy voice manifests.


Yesterday Kelly (my co-director) and I picked up Salman Rushdie at the aiport. As he walked toward us, a young woman ran up to him, brandishing a copy of one of his novels. "Mr. Rushie? Will you sign my book?" she gushed. Turns out she had a friend on the flight who had alerted her to the fact that Rushdie was on the plane--so she hurried over with her book. Her crafty move saved her from waiting in a long line that evening because 800 people came to our event at San Jose State.

Before the event, we had dinner with Rushdie at the home of one of our board members. There were twelve of us there in the penthouse, overlooking the sparkling lights of San Jose. Rushdie was generous, funny and intelligent in personal conversation as well as later on stage. During dinner, the conversation turned to earthquakes, since we'd just had one last week. Rushdie kept us entertained as he discussed a number of novels and stories that feature earthquakes.

He also talked about the historical novel he has just finished writing. Other topics ranged from exercise (he wants a tee-shirt that says "Exercise Kills") to Harry Potter (his ten-year-old son drilled Rowling when he met her about inconsistencies in her series--and Rushdie thinks Rowling's opinions about Dumbledore's being gay are irrelevant and that it's up to us to determine character from the text. I pointed out that there is a whole history of sub-textual homoeroticism in literature, however, which he seemed to regard as an intriguing point.)

After dinner, we walked to campus, where Rushdie sat with Kelly and me in our office and signed some posters and books. We then took him to our newly refurbished Morris Dailey Auditorium where he spoke and then sat with my colleague, Revathi Krishnaswamy, for an on-stage conversation, followed by audience questions.

He talked at length about how story-telling is a human impulse--and also about the fascination people have with how autobiographical a particular piece of fiction may or may not be. He said that Nabokov, for instance, was not a pedophile but people assume he must have had "ideas" since he explored that territory. Just because writers grapple with the problems of humanity and of their era does not mean they have necessarily experienced them personally. Rushdie wants us to question why we care of something "really" happened and to appreciate story not for its supposed autobiographical truths but for its emotional truths.

He talked about why he is writing only fiction these days, not opinion pieces as he used to write monthly for the Times: it was exhausting to have to have an opinion a month, twelve a year--much less two a week like the Maureen Dowds of the world.

When asked about his appearance on Bill Mahr, he said the comedians such as Mahr and Colbert are doing important political work these days. Fitting that a satiric novelist would say so.

As other important memories from last night come to me, I will share them in new entries. For now, I'm a little brain-dead because of the intensity of the preparations and the rush of last night. Rushdie signed books for about 45 minutes and then we had a private reception with about 50 people where I introduced him to a number of people and he chatted in small groups on topics from politics to writing to teaching. After signing more books and sitting for pictures, he was whisked back to the hotel at 11 p.m. Ours was his fourth speaking engagement in as many days, so I'm sure he's happy to be back on the plane to Manhattan this morning.


I'm happy to have a quiet morning with my sister, Ann, here. She flew in from San Diego last night. Today we're going up to my mom's to celebrate her 75th birthday. Happy Birthday, Mom.

Monday, November 5, 2007

The Color of Change

Common Ties has published my short personal essay "The Color of Change" which begins:

The first time I woke up next to a woman was in a hotel bed. It was dawn, faint light eking in along the edges of the thick hotel curtains.

Please stop by their wonderful on-line journal and read "The Color of Change" and other pieces here.

I wrote "The Color of Change" in a workshop I took a while back with Simon Winchester. The assignment was to write about dawn.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

A Cool Find, A Bummer, A Little Hope & A Little Cynicism

On this spot, I found a great review of my poetry collection (Like All We Love):

"Like All We Love" delivers refreshing poetry that reads like your childhood is right there with you again -- from the ice cream bars of childhood to the pop culture, tv icon-crazed days of the teen years, to facing parental mortality. Her use of imagery touches a universal cord -- to love and lose, to be loved and to revel in the intimacies of relationships.

but I can't find out who wrote it or how to get to the main page! Ah well, I'm just happy it's there.


I don't think I've yet mentioned this here, but Merge Press--the small press that accepted my novel For the May Queen--folded. A knife to the heart, that's what that was.

So now I have two completed unpublished novel manuscripts. I'm a little dispirited about the publishing thing. I've come so close so many times, with small and big presses.

At this time, I'm only sending out short pieces (poems, essays, stories) while working on writing two other books: an historical novel and a memoir about my father's death and my mother's subsequent Alzheimer's diagnosis.

The other day one of my colleagues told me that Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was rejected a crazy number of times before it finally found a publishing home.

Here are a bunch of other famous rejections, for what it's worth. Not to be cynical, but I'm feeling a little today: I bet for every multiply-rejected "find" there have been many gems never-found.

Friday, November 2, 2007

San Jose Earthquake Errata

Two windows blew out of the control tower at the airport.


The top three floors of our joint campus/city library (on the campus where I teach) are closed as employees work to reshelve 300,000 books.


The eight-story library reportedly "swayed like a palm tree" during the quake--a good thing. Flexibility is the essence of intelligence in an earthquake (for both buildings and humans).


Backflash: During the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, I was on the campus in a three-story classroom building. Indeed, the building swayed like a palm tree--after bucking like a wild horse. The next week when I was back in the building, I had the sensation it was swaying again even though I knew it wasn't. A kind of California PTS.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007


The epicenter of the earthquake was very close to our house, but can you believe we missed it? We were driving home on the freeway and felt no sensations at all. We walked into our house, and the first thing I noticed was that our telephone and answering machine were missing. My first thought was that someone had broken into the house. We discovered the phone had fallen behind the piece of furniture it's perched on.

We then scanned for anything else awry and in the living room saw some of our framed photos has fallen over.

"Oh, I bet there was an earthquake!" I said and turned on the TV. Yep, there were those reporters covering objects falled from store shelves, their eyes betraying their craving for more disaster.

It took hours for our cat to reappear from an especially good hiding place in the house. She's fine today.

It's amazing there wasn't more damage. It was a long earthquake, begun with a jolt. Our friend Sharon came over on her motorcycle to help us sniff for gas and to see how we were. She said, "Ah, yes, October--earthquake season." It's probably a coincidence, but the big 1989 quake occurred in October. All I can say is, "Welcome November."

Thursday, October 25, 2007

I Won Rosie!

On Joe.My.God's blog, I won a copy of Rosie O'Donnell's new memoir, Celebrity Detox, about addiction to fame . Yay!

If you've never read Joe.My.God, check him out here. Beware, though, he's addictive. But I guess it's better to be addicted to smart commentary on queer issues than to fame.


I interviewed Alice Sebold tonight on stage and am wired and tired. People tell me it went well, but I'm still kind of out of my body that I don't think I'll be able to write about it until tomorrow. In the meantime, I will finish this glass of wine.

All I can say right now is that she signed my copy of The Almost Moon, her new novel that has matricide as its inciting incident: Kill Your Mother! I told her I'd take that in the Freudian way. She seemed to think that was a good idea.

War Criminal

"Yesterday, CODEPINK activist Desiree Fairooz walked up to Condi Rice during a Congressional hearing and displayed her hands covered in blood. She yelled War Criminal as Condi prepared to testify and was immediately dragged out of the room by the police. This triggered a violent up surge in the police who began arresting every one in Pink. Medea simply held up her fingers in a peace sign and was arrested."

See the video:

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

San Diego Fires 2

My sister, who lives in North County San Diego, sent me some pictures:

This isn't fog in San's haze from the fires. The sun is almost completely obscured on what would have normally been a blue-sky day.

This is ash on her car, even though the fires are miles away.

Tomorrow my sister is flying out of town. If she gets some pictures of the devastation from the air, I'll post them next.

As a resident of the San Diego area for many years, she knows many people affected by this horrible event. She and her family are lucky ones.

Monday, October 22, 2007

San Diego Fires

My sister Ann lives in Leucadia, North County San Diego. It's hot, windy and overwhelmingly smoky there. My sister, wearing a bandana over her face, took her dog to the beach and walked to the post office and still suffered eye and sinus trauma.

Her kids' school has been cancelled for a few days now. She spent the day taking pictures of her house in case they are evacuated. She's close to the beach and so is hoping they'll be safe, but other parts of her city were evacuated today. Everyone's on alert.

Ann says there's a huge layer of ash, like a snowstorm blew in. Her sons went surfing and could see all the ash in the water. They're also busy trying to find a generator in case they have to evacuate so they can set up their X-box at the beach!

Friday, October 19, 2007

51 Birch Street

This movie is great. It reveals the truth of this family--and truths about all families--with brutal revelations and compassion.

We watched it the other night, and it's now one of my all-time favorite documentaries. It's the Uber home movie.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

My Talented Sister

This is Ann, my talented knitting sister, holding one of her gorgeous creations.

Great purse, huh? Another one knitted by Ann. Love the colors!

Here are my nieces Hailey and Jenna modeling more purses made by Ann.

And here's Waxie, also modeling an Ann creation.

I'm bragging on my sister today for good reason. Check out Barrio Bags by the Sea to see more. (It's a family affair: my other sister, my mom, Annie and I all model too. )

Monday, October 15, 2007

Salman & Alice

Up next at the Center for Literary Arts is Salman Rushdie.

I hear he's a fascinating speaker, a funny guy and a "brilliant conversationalist." Of course there are people around the world who hate him, and people who love him. That mix is undoubtedly good for his literary career.

Salon did a good piece on him here.

He'll be at SJSU's Morris Dailey Auditorium on Thursday, November 8 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets ($25 general, $10 students) available at the SJSU Box Offie and Ticketmaster.


Next week I interview Alice Sebold. You still have time to float questions to me that you think I should ask her.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Be Audacious

Derided for her views that women needn't limit their lives to marriage and children, Doris Lessing has won the Nobel for Literature.

Derided as a has-been, an almost-ran, and a hyperbolic alarmist, Al Gore has won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Some days are good.

Some days we are reminded about the power of speaking our truths, of standing up for the "humane" in "humanity."

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Guaranteed Rejection

If you aren't rejected enough as a poet, submit to The Futility Review to guarantee rejection.

Their Mission Statement: We are dedicated to the non-publication of the best works of the best poets in the English-speaking world. We value diversity and strive to include new voices in our evaluation process. Our goal is to provide a non-venue for all kinds of poetry and avoid the labeling of differing aesthetics. We eschew poetry politics and never let personal relationships enter into our decisions. The bedrock principle of The Futility Review is that any poet, no matter whether accomplished or beginning, will be rejected in the same open-handed manner.

Check out it out here--and don't neglect the links (especially the submission guidelines), which are hilarious.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Tips from Dorothy Allison

Dorothy Allison was amazing. Warm, funny, smart, real--all you'd wish for.

She gave an impassioned speech, urging us all to tell the stories that won't leave us alone, the ones we *must* tell.

(I don't think it's a coincidence that all weekend I spent spilling out page after page about my parents.)

She said rage and revenge are good emotion to spark a story, but they won't sustain the work.

Here are a few others things she said:

* The Missouri Review is publishing the best fiction these days.

* She encourages writers to publish with small presses (she did for 20 years before Bastard Out of Carolina hit the big time).

* (quoting Kevin, who took notes--thanks, Kevin): "She did much of her own publicity for Bastard by doing a bookstore tour in multiple cities. She feels this effort helped the book take-off. She went to on her own train ticket, sleeping on friends' sofas. She feels without this, the book would have not done nearly as well. The publicity department didn't help at all; indeed she was at risk, because the bookstores charge the publishers for these evenings. By the time the bills started coming in it was a hit, so she was okay, but she otherwise might have been personally liable as she'd gone out on her own. She said she'd 'cashed the ad check,' . . . to pay for her expenses, and she 'raced with her head down for six weeks,' which jump-started the novel's success. Later, when the book was a hit, for the paperback, they set up a very posh reading series, where they kept her at great hotels, but in the beginning she was all on her own."

* (quoting Kevin:) "She believes that, while the publishing houses provide 'editors,' they aren't very good. But the surprise was that she does believe there are a few good editors who have a special gift (with they eye, not the ear) who can be invaluable to a writer. She specifically mentioned three of them. The one she mentioned with most respect was Joy Johannessen, whom she thinks has been responsible for one major novel after another, especially in the nineties. . . . After Dorothy became successful, she requested that her new book be edited by Joy, to the tune of $25,000. The other two she mentioned were Sydelle Kramer of Susan Rabiner's literary agency, and Shannon Ravenel, associated with Algonquin Books and the Best American Series."

From the mouth of Dorothy to your ears.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Miley, Alice & Dorothy

I don't get this.
Does that make me old?

* * *

I have been asked to be "in conversation" with Alice Sebold onstage on Thursday October 25 at the San Jose Museum of Art. She has a new novel, The Almost Moon, coming out on October 16. I have a hot pre-pub copy in my hands and will be reading it after I finish re-reading The Lovely Bones and Lucky.

The Almost Moon is about a woman in her 40's who kills her senile 88-year-old mother. I'm not quite sure how I'm going to experience this, given that I'm in my 40's and my beloved mother has Alzheimer's.

If you have any questions you think I should ask Alice Sebold, please comment!

* * *

Tomorrow is Dorothy! We are all geared-up and excited.

Saturday, September 29, 2007


Let Me Tell You A Story

If you happen to be in the Bay Area, please join us this Wednesday!

(I will update this blog after the event to let you know what it was like hanging with Dorothy.)

"Any time she says, Let me tell you a story, all she has to do is name the time and the place. I'll be there." --Boston Globe

Don't miss out on DOROTHY ALLISON
author of the classic Bastard Out of Carolina

Wednesday, October 3
The Martha Heasley Cox Lecture
TWO FREE EVENTS Open to the Public

at San Jose State University

3 p.m. A Conversation with Dorothy Allison.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Library, Second Floor

7:30 p.m. Dorothy Allison Reading, Q&A and Book-signing.
San Jose State University's Music Concert Hall

Dorothy Allison's best-selling novel Bastard Out of Carolina (1992) was a finalist for the National Book Award and is considered a literary classic. The novel won the Ferro Grumley prize and an ALA Award, and was adapted into an award-winning movie by Anjelica Houston.

Allison is the recipient of the 2007 Robert Penn Warren Award for Fiction, two Lambda Literary Awards, and the American Library Association Prize for Lesbian and Gay Writing.

The author of Cavedweller (a 1998 national bestseller), Allison has also written a story collection (Trash), a collection of poetry (The Women Who Hate Me) and two nonfiction books: Two or Three Things I Know For Sure and Skin: Talking About Sex, Class & Literature.

Born in Greenville, South Carolina, she now lives in Northern California and calls herself a working class story-teller and a happily born-again Californian.

For more information on Center for Literary Arts events,
please call (408) 924-4600 or visit our website at

Monday, September 24, 2007

All Literary, All the Time

Answer: Dorothy Allison.

Yes, she's coming to SJSU on Wednesday October 3 in two events. Click here for more details.

And this means I get to hang out with her! Way cool, huh? She's one of my heroes. She writes the brutal and beautiful truths. She's an out, out lesbian with no apologies. She's a prostheletizer for writing and literature.

* * * * *

Wow, what a weekend. The California Poets Festival. Robert Hass blew my mind with an epic poem called "I Am Your Waiter Tonight And My Name Is Dimitri." It's about war, life, why people kill one another... It's -- well, a mind-blower. The poem that follows it in the amazing collection Time and Materials, an amazing collection is called "Bush's War." Nuff said.

He also read "The World as Will and Representation" (from the same collection) about his father forcing his mother to take Anatabuse. It builds to a stunning last line that left the room agape.

His wife, the poet Brenda Hillman, was there too. Unfortunately, she didn't read--but she was wearing her Code Pink shirt, and we talked about the need for civil disobedience in these times. She has inspired me to join in on the pink brigade.

I introduced Wanda Coleman by quoting this statement she made to an interviewer who asked how she self-identifies: "As a Usually Het Interracially Married Los Angeles-based African American Womonist Matrilinear Working Class Poor Pink/White Collar College Drop-out Baby Boomer Earth Mother and Closet Smoker Unmolested-by-her-father, I am unable to separate these and, as time progresses, resent having to fit into every niggling PC hole some retard trendoid academic with a grant or hidden agenda barfs up."

And she lived up to this intro with her energized, edgy, surprising performance.

Another highlight was Ken Huffman, Poetry Out Loud competition winner. He recited Ginsberg's "A Supermarket in California" in such a bittersweet way that I'll never experience that poem the same way again.

I was also grateful to expreience the poetry of Francisco Alarcon (who read most of his poems in Spanish and English), Ellen Bass (always a favorite), Victoria Chang, Jane Hirshfield and Diem Jones, accompanied by guitar.

California's got talent.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Guess Who

we're bringing to SJSU October 3?

I'll give you three hints here. Then I'll make the reveal in a few days.

1. Bastard.
2. Trash.
3. Southern.

* * *

I picked up Sam Hamill from his hotel and took him out with a few others for Japanese food. He enjoyed the sushi and sake, saying he rarely eats or drinks before a reading. He said he was a little buzzed, but I don't think that's what led him to call Bush a "slimy little fucker" at the reading--I think he would have done that anyway.

A few people got up and walked out.
A few people clapped.

He talked about how one editor had rejected a poem of his because he'd called Bush a "fascist." What is the definition of a fascist? asked Hamill. Our government listens into our conversations. It "disappears" people. It tortures people. And it bombs innocent civilians. If that's not facism, he said, what is?

In addition to reading political poetry, he read some gorgeous poems about nature. Images of the rainfall in the Northwest were especially beautiful. It seems that nature is his antidote to the poisons of humanity.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Sam Hamill is Coming to San Jose

Ever heard of Poets Against War?

Ever heard of Copper Canyon Press?

Sam Hamill is the founder of both. And he's coming to San Jose next week through the organization I co-direct, the Center for Literary Arts (CLA).

Poets Against War, the largest poetry anthology every published, is hosted here. It began when Sam Hamill declined Laura Bush's invitation to the White House and instead called for poetry against war and for peace. Read more about that at the bottom of this page. To submit a poem, click here.

Sam has a new book out from Curbstone Press, Measured by Stone. Here's a poem from it:

To Gray on Our Anniversary

I've relished years of bliss with you
despite the nefarious Hells
this suffering world has put us through.

I know you're not fond of growing old,
and what pain's to come, only time will tell.
Still, you are my comfort in the cold

of Odyssean storm-tossed seas,
my bride, my muse, my Penelope.

Sam is also a prolific translator of poetry from all over the world, with a specific interest in Chinese poetry Here's an example:

Despair by Meng Chiao (751-814), trans. Sam Hamill

Despise poetry, and you’ll be named to office.
But to love poetry is like clinging to a mountain:

frozen, holding tight, facing death,
days of sorrow followed by sorrow.

The bourgeoisie are jealous of those
who love poetry: they flash teeth like knives.

All the old sages are long since dead,
but bureaucrats still gnaw their bones.

Now I’m frail, dying like a frond.
All my life I sought a noble calm,

a calm I could never achieve.
And the noisy rabble mocked me.

After Sam visits San Jose State, I'll write more about meeting him and the event itself.

If you happen to be in the Bay Area, come and see him at this free event. It takes place Wednesday September 12 (just one day short of 9-11) at 7:30 p.m. in San Jose State University's Engineering Auditorium, Room 189.

Peace out.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

My Life

My new job is taking over my life!

However, it's exciting stuff. I can't wait to announce here some of the writers we have coming this season and next. I'll get to do it soon, once contracts are signed.

* * *

My dog Max is now a famous model. My friend Ellen has started a very cool new business, and Max is pictured on her site. Go here and click on "Gallery of Images" at the bottom of the page.

* * *

I promise to share Hawaii pictures as soon as I can. As I said, my new job is taking over my life.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Hurricane Season

Other than the hurricane, the earthquake and the tsunami warnings, Hawaii was wonderful. Pictures are to come.

I wish I had more time to write, but the semester has descended--and I have a new job. In addition to teaching two creative writing classes, I am co-directing the university's Center for Literary Arts (CLA). We bring writers from all over the world to speak to the university and community.

This is a last-minute appointment, so the hurricane has traveled to the mainland.

More soon.

Friday, August 10, 2007


This is Annie.

For those who've been asking, she's the one who drew the picture of me at the top of my blog. (She's also my partner of 14 years.)

She creates these wonderful, expressive portraits with the drawing technique called modified blind contours. This means she doesn't look at the paper while her pen is moving. (Of course she looks later while she colors the drawings with Prismacolors or watercolors.)

She also has a new blog. In it, she intends to talk about teaching art to high schoolers--about creativity, education and being a lesbian teacher. Go over and say hi.

* * *

Quote of the day, by Francince Prose: "No matter what a novel is about, it's finally about the individual and the complexity of human beings and humanity."

* * *

As I wrote about at the end of this entry, I'm on my way to Hawaii, so this blog will be on hiatus until August 21. Aloha!

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Two Poems From...

... our new poet laureate, Charles Simic.

* * *


Green Buddhas
On the fruit stand.
We eat the smile
And spit out the teeth.

* * *

Late September

The mail truck goes down the coast
Carrying a single letter.
At the end of a long pier
The bored seagull lifts a leg now and then
And forgets to put it down.
There is a menace in the air
Of tragedies in the making.

Last night you thought you heard television
In the house next door.
You were sure it was some new
Horror they were reporting,
So you went out to find out.
Barefoot, wearing just shorts.
It was only the sea sounding weary
After so many lifetimes
Of pretending to be rushing off somewhere
And never getting anywhere.

This morning, it felt like Sunday.
The heavens did their part
By casting no shadow along the boardwalk
Or the row of vacant cottages,
Among them a small church
With a dozen gray tombstones huddled close
As if they, too, had the shivers.

* * *

(While Simic isn't a bad choice, next time, how about a woman and/or a person of color? Look at this timeline and you'll see--ta dah--mostly white men.)


It's already August...and I finally have a couple of pictures of June's SF Dyke March to share.

The crowd was impressive:

And we didn't just watch the march, we participated. Here's a photo of me with my friends Brenda and Laurie:

* * *
Guess what my mom, my sisters and I are doing starting on Sunday? Just the 4 of us--no spouses, no kids.

7 days on Honolulu, Hilo, Maui, Kona & Kauai.

Hawaii has always meant a lot to my mom. She worked as a nurse there in the mid 1950's, before it was a state. As a girl, she'd dreampt about working on Molokai with the lepers, ala Father Damien. She never did that, but she did have a chance to visit there several times.

And now as I go through boxes of things from my parents' house, I'm finding a lot she wrote about Hawaii. Over the years, she and my father went there often. She especially loved Kona.

I'm hoping she'll be able to share memories with us on the trip. At the very least, she will be able to smell, feel and taste the places she's always loved.
I'm looking forward to this adventure, another in a lifetime of many.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Poetry Monday: Cecilia Woloch

If you've never imagined sleeping with a poetry book under your pillow to become tenderly infused by another poet's power, welcome to the extraordinary world of Cecilia Woloch.

I'm thrilled to feature Cecila today. Highlighted are two of her stunning poems--"Bareback Pantoum" and "Why I Believed, As A Child, That People Had Sex in Bathrooms"--as well as her thoughts about the genesis of these poems. (I feel especially connected today to the "Why I Believed" poem, given my father's recent death and my mother's starting a new life in the midst of her Alzheimer's diagnosis. In clearing out their house this weekend because it just sold, I've come across so many things--notes, cards, pictures, writings--that have helped me see more deeply the intimate connection of their life together.)

* * *

About why and how she began writing poetry, Cecilia says she has been "in love with language, and especially musical language" for as long as she can remember, She was "good at memorizing and reciting poems as a kid" and started making her first attempts at writing poetry in early adolescence.

Theater has also influenced her. She says, "I was also a pretty good comic and character actor on stage in college and for a few years after, in equity-waiver theater; my attraction to acting had mostly to do with language, too, with wanting to say things in intense and beautiful ways, wanting to move exceptional language out into the world."

Cecilia describes herself as "catholic" in her poetry tastes. She says, "I try to keep an open mind and an open heart, and to let things move me and stimulate me in all kinds of ways." Her poetic influences include Anna Akhmatova, who "has been very important to me—her life as well as her work, the lessons they offer about integrity and beauty and love. I slept with her collected poems under my pillow during one of the most difficult periods of my life, and even dreamt of her, and felt I drew strength from that. She'd lived through worse, and when asked if she could describe it, gave that miraculous answer, Yes, I can. Her example is a gift to all of us."

Cecilia has a similar relationship with the poet H.D., whom Cecilia believes has been underrated. H.D. "wrote, in my opinion, her most beautiful poems and some of the most beautiful poems in the language while the bombs were falling around her during the London blitz. Her 'Trilogy,' in my opinion, makes Eliot's 'Wasteland' look like a long, incoherent whine. I think she was and is too easily dismissed by the male poetry establishment."

As far as contemporary poets, Cecelia admires the work of Sharon Doubiago. Doubiago's "work and life have provided important examples to me, too, and another woman poet whose work doesn't get the attention I feel it deserves. Her book Hard Country changed my life, and my way of seeing the world, and my attitude toward poetry."

Cecilia adds, "Of course there are male poets, too, whose work I love and admire. W.S. Merwin—also an example of extraordinary artistic and personal integrity, I think. And Walt Whitman, whose work I return to again and again, for its energy and wild love. And where would any of us be without Rilke, and Lorca, and Langston Hughes, and their vision of humanity? And I love the shattered beauty of Saphho's fragments, especially Anne Carson's versions of them, and I think Anne Carson is truly a genius, though I seldom use that word to describe anyone."

Cecilia clearly has a reverence for the echoes of individual lives. Embedded in her discussion of the term "genius," she added that she'd used the term to describe her nephew: "Jesse was killed in a car accident this past April, and I'm loathe to take the reference to him out of this response."

* * *

Poem #1: "Bareback Pantoum"

Cecilia says:
This poem began as a catalogue of images from a memory of one night in the heat of my adolescence, in rural Kentucky. Someone had started a fire in the woods near our house, probably to burn some brush or scrap lumber from a house that was being built nearby, and the fire started to spread.

Since the fire department wouldn't come out unless or until a structure had caught fire, my sister and I and two local boys — Boo and Tony were their names — decided to take it upon ourselves to keep watch through the night. Boo and Tony had borrowed some horses from another neighbor, but we didn't have saddles. Really, it was just an excuse for my sister and me to ride bareback behind those boys through the woods, holding onto their waists, and my mother knew it.

She and my father kept watch from the house, I'm sure, but let us stay out there until nearly dawn. My mother had to write a note to excuse my absence from school the next day, and wrote a melodramatic and hilarious account of the whole episode, which I wish I'd saved; it's probably better and more accurate than the poem.

When I started to write the poem, 30-some years after the event, I wanted to capture the heart-galloping excitement I'd felt that night, the first stirrings of sexual drama; I wanted to try to write my own version of "The Highwayman," which I've loved since I was a girl and was first seduced by its dark rhythms.

When the poem wasn't moving forward as a catalogue, I decided to try taking the most rhythmic lines and shaping a pantoum from those. The poem seemed to come together pretty easily after that; the pattern of repetition seemed to fit perfectly my memory of riding back and forth between the woods and our house, and was deeply pleasurable, too. It was the first pantoum I'd ever written, and I felt as if I'd discovered a slightly wicked, lovely secret.

(Note: To read about the pantoum form, click here and here.)

* * *


One night, bareback and young, we rode through the woods
and the woods were on fire —
two borrowed horses, two local boys
whose waists we clung to, my sister and I

and the woods were on fire —
the pounding of hooves and the smell of smoke and the sharp sweat of boys
whose waists we clung to, my sister and I,
as we rode toward flame with the sky in our mouths —

the pounding of hooves and the smell of smoke and the sharp sweat of boys
and the heart saying: mine
as we rode toward flame with the sky in our mouths —
the trees turning gold, then crimson, white

and the heart saying: mine
of the wild, bright world;
the trees turning gold, then crimson, white
as they burned in the darkness, and we were girls

of the wild, bright world
of the woods near our house — we could turn, see the lights
as they burned in the darkness, and we were girls
so we rode just to ride

through the woods near our house — we could turn, see the lights —
and the horses would carry us, carry us home
so we rode just to ride,
my sister and I, just to be close to that danger, desire

and the horses would carry us, carry us home
— two borrowed horses, two local boys,
my sister and I — just to be close to that danger, desire —
one night, bareback and young, we rode through the woods.

— Cecilia Woloch
from LATE (BOA Editions, 2003)

* * *

Poem #2: "Why I Believed, As A Child, That People Had Sex in Bathrooms"

Cecilia says:
This was a subject I'd thought about for years, though I never expected it, really, to be the subject of a poem.

That "devil" in our bathroom door when I was a kid; the fact that I always made myself right at home in my parents' bed, and that the bathroom was a private place for my parents, and that, like most kids, I had my own theories about how the world of grown-ups worked.

Of course, I realized at some point -- probably before I started to write the poem -- that my parents may indeed have had sex in the bathroom. But I wrote the first draft of this poem in one long sitting, one big rush, just piling up details and listing the reasons I thought this, thinking it was a kind of funny and silly thing to be writing, and then the last lines came as a real surprise, which is what I always hope will happen when I sit down to write.

I think those last three lines are really a kind of manifesto of what my parents taught me -- or didn't teach me -- about sexual love.

I usually write many drafts of a poem before I feel finished with it, but this one I only polished a little, deciding it was one of those "gifts" we sometimes get.

* * *


Because they loved one another, I guessed.
Because they had seven kids and there wasn’t
a door in that house that was ever locked —
except for the bathroom door, that door
with the devil’s face, two horns like flame
flaring up in the grain of the wood
(or did we only imagine that shape?)
which meant the devil could watch you pee,
the devil could see you naked.
Because that’s where people took off their clothes
and you had to undress for sex, I’d heard,
whatever sex was — lots of kissing and other stuff
I wasn’t sure I wanted to know.
Because at night, when I was scared, I just
climbed into my parents’ bed. Sometimes
other kids were there, too, and we slept
in a tangle of sheets and bodies, breath;
a full ashtray on the nightstand; our father’s
work clothes hung over a chair; our mother’s
damp cotton nightgown twisted around her legs.
Because when I heard babies were made from sex
and sex was something that happened in bed,
I thought: No, the babies are already there
in the bed. And more babies came.
Because the only door that was ever locked
was the bathroom door — those two inside
in the steam of his bath, her hairspray’s mist,
because sometimes I knocked and was let in.
And my father lay in the tub, his whole dark body
under water, like some beautiful statue I’d seen.
And my mother stood at the mirror, fixing her hair,
or she’d put down the lid of the toilet
and perched there, talking to him.
Because maybe this was their refuge from us —
though they never tried to keep us away.
Because my mother told me once
that every time they came home from the hospital
with a brand new baby, they laughed
and fell in love all over again
and couldn’t wait to start making more.
Should this have confused me? It did not.
Because I saw how he kissed the back of her neck
and pulled her, giggling, into his lap;
how she tucked her chin and looked up at him
through her eyelashes, smiling, sly.
So I reasoned whatever sex they had, they had
in the bathroom — those steamy hours
when we heard them singing to one another
then whispering, and the door stayed locked.
Because I can still picture them, languid, there,
and beautiful and young — though I had no idea
how young they were — my mother
soaping my father’s back; her dark hair
slipping out of its pins.
Because what was sex, after that? I didn’t know
he would ever die, this god in a body, strong as god,
or that she would one day hang her head
over the bathroom sink to weep. I was a child,
only one of their children. Love was clean.
Babies came from singing. The devil was wood
and had no eyes.

— Cecilia Woloch

* * *

About Cecilia Woloch:

Ceclia was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and grew up there and in rural Kentucky, the second of seven children of a homemaker and an airplane mechanic. Her mother came from a large, close-knit Polish-American family, and her father's people -- always very secretive and mysterious -- came from a place she'd only ever heard identified as "the Carpathians." She attended Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky, and earned degrees in English and Theater Arts before moving to Los Angeles in 1979. From 1986 until 2006, she supported herself as a free-lance teacher of poetry and creative writing, leading workshops for children and young people in public schools, as well as workshops for teachers, professional writers, participants in Elderhostel programs for senior citizens, inmates at a prison for the criminally insane, and residents of a shelter for homeless women. During that time, she also spent several months each year "on the road" in Europe, especially in Paris and in the area of the Carpathians where her paternal grandmother was born.

She has published three books of poems: Sacrifice (Cahuenga Press, 1997); Tsigan: The Gypsy Poem; (Cahuenga Press, 2002) and Late (BOA Editions, 2003). A chapbook, "Narcissus" will be published by Tupelo Press in 2007. She's currently a lecturer in the creative writing program at the University of Southern California as well as a member of the core faculty of the low-residency MFA Program in Professional Writing at Western Connecticut State University, and she is the founding director of Summer Poetry in Idyllwild and of The Paris Poetry Workshop. Though her "base" is in Los Angeles, she continues to travel as much as possible, and feels most at home in Paris and in the Carpathians.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Walking the Line

Look, I'm famous. Ain't the internet grand for pretending so?

Mom's move from her hometown in the Sierra Nevada foothills to an assisted living apartment in the Bay Area was intense but went well. My sisters were dynamos. Plus we had help from a variety of family members on both sides of the move. Love-infused help.

I'm going back over to her place today to take care of a few more details. I called her but got her answering machine. But--how amazing--I don't have to worry that something's wrong. She might be in the library reading or on the computer. Or she might be walking with an exercise group. Or she might be eating in the dining room. Or getting her hair done in the salon upstairs.

It's amazing to realize that simultaneously she has more independence and more safety.

People have been wondering how I was able to post Poetry Monday while in the midst of moving my mom. It's easy when you wake up filled with anxiety on the couch of your soon-not-to-be-parents'-house at 3 a.m. Yes, in the wee hours before the move I was posting from my mom's computer that hadn't yet been dismantled.

It was surreal, sad, unbelievable saying good-bye to the house where I'd spent so many hours playing cards with my parents, eating meals together, helping them put in new light bulbs and other tasks that my father could no longer do as he got weaker. The house where the last night of his life, he, my mom and I watched Walk the Line and ate pie.

He'd asked me to look online to see how old Johnny Cash was when he died. 71. My dad was 76. I like to think they are somewhere together right now, playing poker and smoking cigars.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Poetry Monday: Mary Alexandra Agner

Mary Alexandra Agner's poetry is both gloriously readable and surprisingly slippery. It is so richly wrought that I experience new surprises with each reading.

Mary has published two chapbooks (Ancient Alternatives and stet), has won a ton of awards, and her science fiction novelette-in-verse can be read online. She has also published poetry all over the place.

But in a world of proliferating poetry, you can be excused if you've never come across her work. Just be glad you get to start on her here!

Mary has been writing since she was a child. She says she "can clearly remember writing a poem in early elementary school which said along the cobble path, the lonely turtle did trod. I think my teacher didn't believe it was my own work."

As far as her influences, she says that everything influences her: "What I walk through on the way to my paying job, my coworkers' comments, what I'm reading, what the people on the bus talk about. Poetry is a reflex that gets triggered by my environment. Story is how humans relate to and make sense of the world. Poetry tells that story in the most pithy and engaging way language can. I think it's essential. "

Below are two of her poems, one "from each end of the spectrum" of her writing process.

About "Are You a Good Witch or a Bad Witch?" (which appeared in Iron Horse Literary Review) Mary says:
"This poem came out in a single rush with just about no revision later; I wrote it in response to a line from a pop song by Dan Schmidt which just wouldn't leave me alone."

About "Men Granted Wings" (which appeared in Passages North) Mary says:
"The first two lines in 'Men Granted Wings' came to me while admiring Assyrian art in a museum and I spent a long time revising, cutting and bringing in new information, before it settled into a story and was finished."

* * *

Are You a Good Witch or a Bad Witch?

My teeth are still clenched
from the shock of house slammed into earth,
tornado dissipated in real time, real color,
dust motes in my mind idly panicking:
will *my* legs, in striped stockings,
look so crippled when I'm old?

Woman in white, heat wave, wand
at the ready, and a voice full of sugar
(the kind I'm not to follow
into the woods, were there forests in Kansas)
you gave me nine words of self identity,
eliminating a lifetime's shades of grey.

I'll be an evil witch
whatever that may mean, learn as I go.
In your belief of hat and cackle,
I've room to remove gingham.
I step outside your yellow lines.
I'll find the shoes that fit, myself.

* * *

Men Granted Wings

The Assyrian bird-man steps out of the granite
bas-relief and shakes the cuneiform from his skirt.
He looks up at the not-sky: blank, grey
museum ceiling meant to set off the artifacts.
His tight curls jingle as he stretches his stiff neck.
He stares at the jewelry neatly boxed in glass
and a section from a temple mosaic hung on a wall.
The air is quiet without the clang of copper
pounded into pots, women's voices rising
over the beat. He doesn't hear his wife's contralto.
The high sweet flavor of dates doesn't overpower his senses
or fight with the smell of mud bricks baking in the sun.
In the dim light, the air is chill. Nothing moves.

He touches the walls of the dead: the smooth solid
of a drinking pool before dawn. Behind his reflection
he can almost make out his wife, walking,
hands full of beads and flowers for the dedication
of his bas-relief, a smile hidden for him in her eyes
and her hips. He remembers her lips twisting
to a curved shell (with a tired laugh as the sound
of its surf) for the children he could never give her.
How she sang lullabies into the pots she made.
And her delight with the rubies he rolled down
between her breasts to her stomach. And the warmth
of her legs and arms surrounding him in their bed.
Men granted wings are so rarely granted anything else.

He would cut the feathers from his shoulders
if it would change the present, let him hear
one more sigh as she rolls over in her sleep.
Instead he flies straight through the ceiling glass
up to the god whose intervention he has not finished
paying for. The sacred flowers tied to his wrists
and ankles suddenly smell like rain. Could he have
anything with which to bargain for a shorter life?
For a longer stay in the next world with his wife
and all the children she had wanted?
His lungs heave like his wings, beating against
nothing. Gods have always let man wager
just a little more against the human soul.

* * *
Mary Alexandra Agner writes of dead women, telescopes, and secrets. She makes her home outside Boston. She can be found online here.