Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Center Field

Last Thursday I meant to write a post about Victoria Chang's reading at VCU, but clearly I am not getting to it until now.

As an added bonus, Jon Pineda got a hold of me, and he, Jess, and myself all got dinner before the reading. Jon graduated from VCU with his MFA in poetry, and he also did a First Book Interview, which will be running a few weeks. We got to share VCU stories and talk about the trials and tribulations of publication. He's not only a very talented poet, but in a few years I think he'll start dominating the poetry world, which he's already starting to do.

Victoria's new book, SALVINIA MOLESTA, seems so easy on the surface, and I think that's why she's becoming another poet to really keep an eye on. Though it may be breaking some sacred rule of closing the eyes and taking in the words, I like to follow along with the actual text of the poems at readings if I can. It helps so I don't drift off, which is too easy to do for me, especially since Victoria's poems seem so natural. So I bought a copy and did just that.

And like I said, I don't know exactly what makes them seem so easy on the surface, but these are poems that really take many readings to get to the heart, and thankfully I can keep returning to them now that I have my copy.

But what I kept noticing out of the corner of my eye was all the undergrads around. There were some current VCU students and professors and alums around, but it's a bit sad to me when the majority of the room is all undergrads that are forced to go because their teacher is either forcing them directly, in addition to the obligatory two-page write-up about the reading, or they want the A, so the extra credit is too enticing not to just show up to the reading.

I say sad because about two poems in, most were doodling away, already off in some other world. I understand this. I've been to enough readings. But it's frustrating to see, and it probably always will be for me. That said, I've always compared poetry readings to a kind of concert. Someone seeing MUSIC FOR 18 MUSICIANS for the first time, not knowing Steve Reich's tendencies, not knowing anything about minimalism, might be swept away by, or they might be dulled by it, but even if it's the latter, knowing the work always enhances the experience.

And when there's nothing to listen to but the sound of the human voice, it's tough to get the audience involved. We all know that. Which is another reason why following along, if I can, always helps me and enhances the experience. Not only that, but you get a feel for a poet really having a foothold on how they read their work. For example: Victoria seems to end many lines with articles, which is something I don't see a lot of the time. Many of those lines, however, were broken by her voice not at the enjambment, but the natural rhythm of the caesura, almost always right before the end of the line or right after. So how she interprets her work isn't the way everyone else would interpret it as far as reading it aloud goes. Something to think about I suppose, for all of us reading our work aloud, especially when considering most of the audience won't be using a visual aid while listening.

I also made sure to talk to her about this previous post, the core of it which still fascinates me to no end: The different from poem publication in journals to book publication. How much freedom does one have? Or should one have? I told her that C. Dale Young -- who I think published one of the best in the book, "The Professor's Lover," in NER a few years ago -- commented, and some other folks did as well, so I asked her how she gauges those kind of changes. She basically told me that she's always working on her poems, even after they're published, and to her the publications in journals don't really matter, as far as the final product in the book goes. Makes a lot of sense.

But I think for younger, more inexperienced poets like myself, that can be a dangerous thing, in the sense that the focus could be on publish publish publish now and worry about your book later. But what if the book never comes? That said, I sincerely doubt someone who buys SALVINIA MOLESTA will have read every single poem in the particular journal where each poem was published. Also, isn't it dangerous to never publish because you're trying to chisel your poems to the precision of Michelangelo? Especially if you want to be in the poetry world of publishing and possibly teaching?

Anyway, it was a good reading, and Victoria, for how smart she is (she has degrees in many fields), seems really cool and down to earth. I'm glad I went, and I really need to kick myself in the ass when it comes to not missing readings and taking advantage of the opportunities I have to go to them.


Yesterday, because I had submitted my manuscript to the T.S. Eliot Prize last year, I received Victoria Brockmeier's MY MAIDEN COWBOY NAMES in the mail.

Contrary to possibly popular belief, I think it's great to receive the winning book in the mail if you're not the contest winner. If I'm going to spend the $25 for the fee, why not have a book to show for it? If there are other folks who didn't win feeling the opposite, well, suck it up, or move on to something else.

I did find it funny, however, to see they had a little postcard-sized notification of this year's deadline. Keep in mind that I received the book yesterday, November 10th.

And the deadline states: "We value your support of the competition. The next deadline is October 31st, 2008."

Hmmm. I wonder if they lost some additional $25 checks because of the lateness. Then again, I'm sure they didn't want to rush the book's publication. But still.


For those of you who are "friends" with Richard Siken on Facebook, he recently put up a few photos in a section he called, "How Is the New Book Coming Along?" Now I know I'm not the only one who thinks CRUSH is one of the best poetry books (not just first books) of the last five years or so, and it also had me thinking that among the duds of the Yale Younger Poets in the years since she took over (Say what you want, but there are many), there's hope that she may pick another book this great.

But above all, that means Richard Siken is working on a new book. And that excites me to no end. I'm not sure if he can one-up CRUSH, but regardless, I'll be pre-ordering it as soon as I can, even though it's in the "spread out all over the floor in weird patterns with lots of things highlighted and crossed out" stage, which you can see from the photos.

But in-the-works and Richard Siken equals a pretty killed one-two punch as far as I'm concerned.


I posted probably around a month ago a conversation I had with a secretary at a certain school to which I'd hoped to apply.

After about a month -- a month -- of calling, emailing, and bugging them, I finally got an answer. I can apply. It took a month for them to get around to basically letting me know the answer in about 180 seconds.

I'm not sure I discussed it, but there was a possible snafu with my General GRE scores with some schools, and it turns out that they're fine, thankfully. I don't have to take them again, which will save me a good deal of time and money when all is said and done.

So aside from all the ridiculousness of the last month with practically doing everything but driving up to the English department in the program a few states away, I finally got a positive answer.

Despite many people saying, "Just cross them off the list..." I'm persistent, maybe sometimes too persistent, but myself and others also held the school up pretty high, so I'm glad they'll be able to consider me, even if they end up saying no.


Two new live records of interest, both recorded live at The Triple Door in Seattle, and both very different musicians, both for whom I have a great affinity: Greg Dulli and Helios.

The Helios record sounds amazing. I don't know how he got it sound that good. I'm pretty sure the drum machine tracks are set up and he's playing guitar over everything, but he may have a keyboard too. Songs spanning across the board from his albums, and sometimes some beautiful improvisation. I've already been listening to it like crazy.

And Dulli's record is more intimate than AMBER HEADLIGHTS -- his only official solo record, scrapped after Ted Demme unfortunately passed away, and then reluctantly released after the persistence of so many fans like myself -- with a lot of covers, and some recently recorded Twilight Singers stuff, some from POWDER BURNS (one of my favorite records of the last five years) stripped down with mainly guitar and piano and strings.

They're both great. I can't believe how many amazing records continue to come out, seemingly exponentially, each year. I couldn't live without music.


Finally, there will be two new First Book Interviews posted tonight. I'll keep you in suspense for now, but I'll post them and post the update here when they're live.

Also, I got about six new interviews out to poets yesterday, with more books coming in, more questions being generated, and more interviews going out.

So get excited.