Monday, October 29, 2007

Speaking of awkward and heavy-handed....

Just got back from a weekend trip to Louisville, where I used to live once upon a time. I often think of Louisville as a place where I detoxify myself, and remember things that I once knew, that have been obscured by stress and time and anxiety and details. This happened on a couple of levels this time; for one thing, a series of migraine-y episodes made me slow way down, pay attention to what I was eating and how I was moving, and be silent. Both when I felt ill and when I didn't, I was reminded this weekend in this spectacular way how many people there are who care about me and are willing to take care of me. I'm afraid I didn't express my gratitude for that often or effusively enough. One lame way I can do that is here, so thanks: for the airplane song mix, the rides, the molasses cookies, the Halloween costume approval, the accommodations to my timetable, the book of poems, and the many demonstrations of affection; for confiding in me, and telling me I'm beautiful and useful and smart.

Okay. Something completely different now. Last month my friend Michelle gave me a whole mess of Neko Case songs, and I really like them. She's got a gorgeous voice and the songs are just really good. So I got my November issue of Poetry magazine, and who's part of this series called "The View from Here" where non-poets comment on poetry? Neko Case. (I've been enjoying the series by the's perhaps an obvious truth that people outside a field can have these spot-on insights about it.) What she says is funny and humble, and I just wanted to share some excerpts.

...I don't want to let poetry down. Poetry is such a delicate, pretty lady with a candy exoskeleton on the outside of her crepe-paper dress. I am an awkward heavy-handed mule of a high school dropout. I guess I just need permission to be in the same room with poetry.
I do know when a string of printed words busts my little dam and the tears spill over and I sponge them up with my T-shirt. I couldn't give you that formula before it happens, it just hits me like a bat to the face. That's a sweet, hot, amazing, embarrassing moment.
What do these poets [Auden, Dorothy Parker, Shakespeare, Lynda Barry, Sherman Alexie] have in common? They don't write sycophantic, roman-numeral-volumed postcards to God. They don't get all "love-ity-love-love" either. I get the sense they imagine their audience and want to comfort them. They are so good at it they even have the ability to comfort us with scariness. Sadness too. I think that is a powerful magic.

-from "My Flaming Hamster Wheel of Panic About Publicly Discussing Poetry in This Respected Forum," by Neko Case, in Poetry, Volume CXCI, Number 2 (November 2007), pp. 141-142. Chicago: Poetry Foundation, 2007.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

A handful of made-up sentences

Just a quick note before I have to go to class.

I've been harboring some nostalgia lately for Amherst College. I think part of it is the time of year - homecoming is approaching, and it's the time of year when Amherst looks spectacular and makes you fall in love.

I just finished reading two pieces in the latest Amherst magazine - an interview (by a friend) with the venerable Bill Pritchard (who graduated from AC in 1953 and has been teaching there pretty much forever), and a review of English at Amherst: a History by Theodore Baird, by another alumnus who's also a poet. Here's a quote from the second piece:

"No such dynamic exists in the other places I’ve been as a teacher where students take courses in a range of methodologies without feeling that anything so dire as the fate of their minds (or the fate of literature) hangs in the balance. This seems to me Baird’s idea and the idea that inspires his marvelous English at Amherst: if you can convince a large number of 18-year-olds that making up sentences is an act of deep moral imagination, you do it, no matter how much work that entails...."

Dan Chiasson in Amherst, 59 (4) (Summer 2007)

I never really thought about the uniqueness of English (my major) at Amherst, because I didn't have any basis for comparison. I just knew it was (for lack of a less boring word) wonderful - it's described much better in this review. And, of course, I got to take two classes with Pritchard.

Classes are beginning to speed along, but maybe I'll give an update on them soon.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

This honky-tonk parade

A while ago, I checked out some random selections from the new poetry section of the library; one was Mark Haddon's The Talking Horse and the Sad Girl and the Village Under the Sea, which no doubt initially attracted me by the pop-up-book spinning wheel on the front which displayed each of those three figures alternately.

In any case, there's this poem in there that I wish I wrote. I wish I thought of the concept, and the examples.

Old, New, Borrowed, Blue

The day we met.
This unexpected envelope.
My San Francisco Mime Troupe T-shirt which you wore to potter in the flat, whose sleeve-trim matched
Your eyes.

That sleepless night.
This sleepless night.
The face I'll wear to shake your hand and wish you well.
The way I'll feel when I do.

"Paper Moon." Our song.
"Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring."
My Ella Live at Montreux which I hope he plays one night by accident and makes you cry.
This honky-tonk parade.

from Haddon, Mark. The Talking Horse and the Sad Girl and the Village Under the Sea. New York: Vintage Books, 2006.