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.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Memories, Cesar and Poets n Writers

Laurie, an old family friend, sent us this. She's on the left. My sister Ann (who is the taller child, next to me, the shorter one) always thought Laurie was cool. And now here we have a photo to prove it. Also pictured are my parents.

Thanks to those of you who commented on my blog and emailed me personally about the situation with my mom. I know I'm not alone. Your reaching out means a lot.
In preparation for the experience of moving her tomorrow, I went on a 25-mile bike ride today. Cesar Millan's tactics with dogs work with people, too--well, they do with me. If I exercise hard, I'm much more centered and at peace the rest of the day. I also enjoy being "calm assertive" in my life.
(An aside to commenters: I know Millan is controversial, but I can't help loving the guy.)

* * *
If you want to read a profile of one of your favorite contemporary writers, it might be here.

Poets & Writers magazine and website is a great resource for lots of other things too, including current calls for submissions. I like subscribing to the magazine, but most of the what is in the magazine is available for free online.

I just noticed they have an interview with Ellen Bass, whom I featured on a past Poetry Monday.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Moving Mom

This is the big weekend that my two sisters and I move my mom out of the house she and my father shared for many years.

Shortly after my father died in March, my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. It's been such a double blow for the family.

As an R.N., she had self-diagnosed a while back but didn't say anything to us because my father was so ill. Her role was caretaker. But apparently he was doing his share of taking care of her as well.

It's the end of an era, moving her out of the town I grew up in.

Fortunately she will now be closer to me and other family members.

Fortunately she she will be living in a brand-new, very nice senior assisted living apartment complex with her own one-bedroom apartment.

Fortunately my father was a long-range planner and much of the expense of this is (at least temporarily) handled.

Fortunately my mom wanted to move.

Fortunately my sisters and I are all working together.

I need to keep focusing on my fortune--and focusing on what's good, because so much isn't.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Gay Marriage and the Candidates

When you watch these two videos, it's so clear that the candidates who openly support gay marriage are much more at ease than those who don't.

That's because those who don't support gay marriage know they are on the wrong side. And history will live to show it.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Poetry Monday: Queer Collection

"2007 is the inaugural year for Queer Collection: Prose & Poetry," said Editor Gregory Kompes.

"The annual anthology concept came out of a discussion on how little non-erotic queer literature is published in book form at the national distribution level. The decision to include both prose and poetry in a single volume was chosen because there's so much great work being written without many outlets," said Kompes.

Kompes added that this "first volume's submissions request was a grassroots effort" that he initiated. "Bloggers, Website owners, and queer writers passed the word and more than 300 works were submitted for consideration. "

The result is a terrific collection of diverse queer poetry and stories.

It opens with a poem by Laura Loomis titled "Mirror Poem"--a piece which, to me, is worth the price of the book. It begins:

I am not
that person
you would have made me into.

And ends:

you would have made me into
that person.
I am not.

See the pattern? The whole poem is a surprising and touching experience in the interplay between form and function.

I also liked "When I Move Out of My Parents' House" by Shane Allison, which hooks the title right into the first lines:

I'm gonna thrown the biggest party the south has ever seen.
I'll invite all the men I've had sex with.
The ones I've had crushes on
When writing poems was the only thing to get
Met through the shock of seeing girlfriends and wives
Hanging off their shoulders like dirty washcloths.

Julie R. Enszer's poignant poem "First Kiss" says about teenage desire:

I wanted to kiss you.
I always waited late
into the night thinking,

could I pretend it was just an accident?
Lay my lips on yours: mid-sentence,
mid-giggle, mid-teenage confession.

There are many more strong poems in the book, as well as compelling prose pieces. Queer Collection is a great venue for queer voices.

Since Kompes envisions Queer Collection to be an annual publication, he is currently accepting submissions. Amazingly enough, he considers previously published work--and he pays. For more information, check out the submission guidelines.

Friday, July 20, 2007


THIS is a fun way to promote your blog.

On the site, if you click on BOOKS beneath my name, a series of literary-related sites will appear for your perusal.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

A Huge Loss

SEKOU Sundiata, the Harlem-born poet, performer, artist, activist and educator passed away in New York yesterday from heart failure. He was 58.

excerpt from the 51st (dream) state by Sekou Sundiata:

What if we were Life
Or Liberty
Or the Pursuit of something new?
Between the rocks below
and the stars above
What if we were composed by Love?
And what if we could show
that what we dream
is deeper than what we know?
Suppose if something does not live
in the world
that we long to see
then we make it ourselves
as we want it to be
What if we are Life
Or Liberty
and the Pursuit of something new?
And suppose the beautiful answer
asks the more beautiful question,
Why don't we get our hopes up too high?
What don't we get our hopes up to high?

Monday, July 16, 2007

Poetry Monday: Montgomery Maxton

If you want to read original, edgy, surprising writing, check out Montgomer Maxton's blog and website.

Here's what he says about the genesis of his writing: "I have no idea how I come up with my work; I just do; like the Nike slogan, Just Do It, so I just do. Perhaps it’s based on life. Perhaps it is not. Mother Teresa sums it up best for me … 'God is the hand, I am just the pencil.' Except replace God with something a bit more logical, like Emily Dickinson’s spirit or Charles Darwin’s clone. And replace pencil with black Compaq laptop or Bic pen on the Chipotle napkin."

Leave it to MM to call Emily Dickinson's spirit or Charles Darwin's clone "logical." Such MM sentiments make the world feel fresh.

Recently I was especially struck by MM's desire to not be "afraid" of language. He's really onto something here. Fear drives the internal critic, who tells us what we're writing is dumb/not worthy/----- [fill in the blank]. I know that to write in honor of my uniqueness I need to work on letting go of the fear as much as possible. Easier than it sounds.

Below are two of MM's poems: "Moon Landing" and "Surviving the Body." To read more of his work, click here.

* * *

Moon Landing

The home haunts
the abused spouse.

The rain is
a master of disguise.

You walk the dog
to get the mail.

You never think about
conspiracies until

They are before you
in newsprint

at the barber shop
that’s open on Sunday

Because any other time
You are too busy

To consider Kennedy,
9/11, Roswell, or

If Walt Disney really is
a block of ice.

* * *

Surviving the Body

we lay against each other
exposed by flesh and soul –
water droplets forming between us.

we made love all night –
it’s six o’clock in the morning
i said looking at the clock on the windowsill.

traffic outside was waking to
steamy coffee and weekend editions of
popular newspapers where,

if they knew,
we would be the front page –
two scandals trying to find relief

in one suburban bedroom,
a touch in a town that
doesn’t know how to touch.

this moment will survive
our bodies.
i want to whisper into your ear.

* * *

About Montgomery Maxton:
Montgomery Maxton was born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1980 and raised on a rural six acre estate in southwestern Ohio. He is an award-winning journalist. His poetry and prose have appeared in various print and online publications. He is also a photographer, activist, painter, and lunatic. He is the artistic editor of Limp Wrist , an online poetry and art magazine launching in late 2007. He divides his time between New York City and Columbus, Ohio and is working on his first novel and second collection of poetry.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Poetry Tuesday--and Your Advice

Not until I came onto blog did I notice: It's Tuesday!

I'd thought it was Monday.

It's so easy to lose track of the days when I have the summer off.

And also when I'm absorbed in working on my novel, as I have been. My head's in that world more than this one.

Needless to say, I missed Poetry Monday. I will be back at it again next week.

In the meantime, in the past seven weeks, I have featured seven poets on my Poetry Monday feature. If you missed any of them, click below and check them out:

Collin Kelley
Susan Rich
Larissa Shmailo
Lorna Dee Cervantes
Ellen Bass
C. Dale Young
Joan McMillan

AND I SOLICIT YOUR ADVICE: I have a few more poets in line to feature...but if you have any poets (who have a blog presence) you'd like to nominate to be featured in a future Poetry Monday, please let me know by email or a comment on this blog.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Eight Things

Arlene tagged me to reveal 8 things about myself. I decided to make it into a poem:

Eight Things About Me

1. My father is gone.
2. I didn't believe in mortality until 1 above.
3. I wish I had a magic wand
4. To bring back every one I've loved.
5. There's part of me that feels lost.
6. A polar bear without her ice.
7. A pinpoint of me feels free--
8. Released to adulthood by my daddy.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Poetry Monday: Collin Kelley

Yes, that's Collin Kelley--today's featured poet--with Pam Grier. Collin is one of those people who constantly surprises you. For instance: he knows Pam Grier?! He's the kind of guy you talk to who seems unassuming but then surprises constantly pop up--about people he's met, awards he has won, adventures he's had, and insights he offers about everything from the poetry of Anne Sexton (his poetry goddess) to American Idol (he predicted this year's winner months before it was obvious).

He's a talented, award-winning writer of poetry. And he's also a novelist, playwright and journalist.

His day job is writing for Altlanta Intown newspaper. Outside of that, he is a tireless ambassador for poetry. He participates in and spearheads a wide variety of public poetry events, and he hosts an Internet radio show, The Business of Words, on Leisure Talk Radio.

Collin says he writes "because I don't know how to do anything else, and I've really never wanted to do anything else. I started reading full novels at an early age and I knew then that writing would be my life's work. I flirted momentarily with being a helicopter pilot. There probably would have been more money in it."

His poetic influences include Sexton, Sharon Olds, Stan Rice, Margaret Atwood and Alice Walker. He considers his work in the realm of confessional poetry, as evidenced by the title of his blog: "Modern Confessional."

Today are featured two of his poems: "What Remains" and "The Virgin Mary Appears In A Highway Underpass."

About "What Remains," which appears in his lovely chapbook Slow to Burn (MetroMania Press), Collin says:

This poem began in a workshop and I recall the workshop leader and another poet getting into an argument – which I wasn’t involved in – about the last line of this poem. The workshop leader wanted me to cut it , the other poet said the last line was vital. I kept it…mainly because I like the word ephemeral, although many people don’t know what it means.

About "The Virgin Mary Appears In A Highway Underpass" (which originally was published in Poetz), Collin says:

This has become one of my most requested poems when I give readings. Some find it sacrilegious, others find it humorous, but I always love the silence that descends after the last three lines sink in. This poem was written in 2005 and inspired by a real event in Chicago. We haven’t had a Mary sighting lately, and I’m eagerly awaiting the next one.

* * *

What Remains

We arrived in Paris on a rainy Sunday,
I remember this now,
as I lift the veil you shrouded me in,
made me complicit in your indecision.

While the others walked under umbrellas,
we lay on opposite beds in the Marais,
our hands reaching across the chasm,
my fingertips tracing your open palm,
every line a dead-end.

We made love through a litany
of favorite things: films as foreplay,
music for kisses, books our orgasm,
a rush of words safe between hard covers.
We should have been covered in sweat,
sticky with the unspoken,
a tangle of limbs and lips.
We are those people in an alternate world,
where hallway voices hold no sway.

I remember this now, your eyes
before the door opened, broke the spell.
Your hand moving away, all the lines
suddenly on fire, a map gone to cinder.
This ephemeral day, even the afterglow.

* * *

The Virgin Mary Appears In A Highway Underpass

Mary pops up in the strangest places,
usually as a window stain or sandwich,
but yesterday she dripped down a wall
on a Chicago underpass, brought the faithful
running with candles and offerings, blocked traffic.
I saw the pictures, couldn't see her face,
saw a giant gaping vagina instead, just failed
my Rorschach Test, going to hell for sure.

If this is Mary, she sure gets around,
recasting herself as a Holly Golightly,
popping up where you least expect her,
causing trouble for the locals.
But why would she choose to appear
in condensation, burnt toast or ditch water runoff?
Some will say it’s proof that she still dwells here,
runs like an undercurrent, manifests in the mundane.

I say, cut the parlor tricks, Mary.
If you want a little respect, come flaming
out of the sky on a thunder cloud,
ride it like a magic carpet over middle America,
speak in a voice like Diana Rigg or Emma Thompson,
command attention, instead of this sleight of hand,
a stain to be cleaned with soap and water,
so easily erased.

* * *

More About Collin: Collin Kelley is a Pushcart Prize-nominated poet from Atlanta, Georgia. He is the author of Slow To Burn (2006, Metro Mania Press) and Better To Travel (2003), which was nominated for a Lambda Literary Award and Georgia Author of the Year Award. Kelley’s poetry has appeared in In Posse Review, Blue Fifth Review, Terminus, New Delta Review, Chiron Review, poeticdiversity, The Pedestal, Lily, Welter, SubtleTea and many others. He is co-editor of the award-winning Java Monkey Speaks Anthology series (Poetry Atlanta Press) and hosts the Internet radio show The Business of Words at Leisure Talk Radio Network. For more information, visit his website by clicking here.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Saturday Night Music

We saw Alison Krauss and Union Station in concert last night in Berkeley. Krauss' voice combined with Dan Tyminski's is an amazing combination of uplifting and mournful--whether the song is up- or down-tempo.

Dobro playing by Jerry Douglas was stunning.

Other than the wild, uptempo "Oh Atlanta" (thought of you, Collin!), here was my fav of the night (also my fav on the CD):

For those who don't know, George Clooney is actually lip-synching to Union Station's Dan Tyminski here: