Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Are You a Twitwit?

All I hear about these days is Twitter. Twitter, twitter. It seems like everyone is twittering. Politicians keep their constituency advised about hair appointments and dinner plans. News anchors ask viewers to twitter responses to stories. Even Oprah is now twittering. As soon as she signed on, she had thousands and thousands of followers. Now really, I thought, how could Oprah possibly have time to twitter? Maybe she has a staff person twitter for her. A scam twitterer?

There's even an article in the May / June issue of Poets & Writers. According to author Sarah Weinman, there are now more than six million users of Twitter. Many of them are writers. Some of the writers' blogs I visit have Twitter links and buttons.

I've been wondering what advantage might accrue. Apparently, the idea is to gather followers who then receive all of your "tweets." There's a limit of 140 characters to a tweet which might contain news, a link, daily drivel, etc. Even publishers have flocked to Twitter as a quick, easy, and free way of connecting with readers. Weinman says that authors use Twitter to provide links to work published online, to post reading schedules, and to offer submission guidelines. Sounds sensible. But then novelist Tayari Jones is quoted as saying that Twitter is "a crazy time-vampire." That's what I've been wondering—a good use of time or a waste of time?

Weinman's article does not draw any conclusions. She is unsure if authors are maximizing the possible uses of Twitter or if they should bother trying.

So how about it? Do you twitter? Has anything good happened as a result? Is this a good way to network? A good form of free pr? Or a time-vampire?

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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Signs of Spring

Summer walking is officially underway. Every day I can get out there, I will. It's in the 90's so I'm feeling pretty noble. Yesterday I took my camera with me so I could catch the signs of spring before they capitulate to encroaching summer.

Pretty white trees whose name eludes me

Tulips and green grass

Beautiful pink-blossomed tree whose name eludes me

Myrtle so sweet and temporary

Lovely border of forsythia—here today, gone tomorrow

Dandelions, of course, here today, here tomorrow

Daffodils trumpeting loudly and briefly

Some thoughts from my walk:

Worst invention of the century: Electric pencil sharpener
Word of the day: Niblets
Heroes of America: Third grade teachers
Best letter in new Poetry: Ira Sadoff's

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Sunday, April 19, 2009

My Cup Runneth Over

That is, my mug runneth over. Today Garrison Keillor is featuring another of my poems from What Feeds Us. I'm feeling enormously lucky, grateful, and happy. And thank you so much to all the amazing people out there who took the time to listen to and read Thursday's poem and then write me a nice note. I really appreciate it!

Today Keillor is featuring Blueberry, one of several food-related poems in the collection. I am so pleased that Keillor chose this poem as it's one I often use when giving workshops. It works with poets of all ages. The poem and the prompt will also appear in a new textbook coming out soon from Autumn House Press.

I began the poem several years ago during a week at the Provincetown Fine Arts Center in Massachusetts. Having time and space to myself for an entire week, I wanted to get as much writing done as possible. Sometimes, though, it takes more than time and space.

One evening I found myself facing the blank sheet with a head just as empty. So I thought about the fruit salad I'd had for lunch that day, especially the plump blueberries. I then began a free-writing about the blueberry, largely just descriptive—size, shape, color, and so on. Not surprisingly, I was not overly thrilled with what I produced. I put the writing away in my folder—I never throw out any of my writing.

Sure enough, when I looked through that folder several months later, I saw potential in the draft that I hadn't seen before. And I remembered my mother's fondness for blueberry pancakes, so I added on something about that. Then I thought I wanted to know more about the blueberry, so I did a Google search and uncovered some interesting pieces of information, e.g, that the blueberry is the state fruit of New Jersey—I live in NJ and didn't know that. I also learned that the little blueberry is great for fighting urinary tract infections and is rich in antioxidants. I imported some of that information and diction into the poem. I began to think of the blueberry metaphorically, and that's when the poem took off.

Time, patience, persistence. Then maybe a poem gets hatched.

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Nice Knock at My Door

Much to my great delight, Garrison Keillor is featuring another poem of mine on The Writer's Almanac. The poem, After the Ice Storm My Son Does Not Come Home, is from my book, What Feeds Us.

I am again reminded how much patience poetry takes. My publisher sent the book to Mr. Keillor right after the book came out in October 2006. Now more than two years later, long after I stopped hoping to hear from him, I hear from him. And then hear from him again. This makes me hugely happy!

This is a poem I wrote, not surprisingly, during one of those beautiful but terrifying ice storms when the trees are weighed down with ice, when everything glistens, when the roads are a sheet of danger. I had three teenagers, each with a driver's license. Need I say more? You may have been there, too, awake, waiting for everyone to come safely home so you could go to sleep.

The poem was written as four separate, unrelated pieces of fast writing. Then I fused the parts together, found the link among the four parts. That, for me, is one of the most exciting parts of writing poetry, i.e., finding connections among things not apparently connected. The poem went through many, many drafts. It's a fairly simple poem, but one that I hope captures the beauty and terror of parenthood.

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Sunday, April 12, 2009


Not all bookshelves are created equal. The above one belongs to Anthony Buccino who also took the photo. This bookshelf happens to be one I am partial to. Can you guess why?

But seeing those books so neatly lined up reminds me that I really need to do the annual thinning the herd with my bookshelves. What to keep? What to give away? I find it almost impossible to give away a poetry book, but I think I might have to clean out a few. The shelves spilleth over.

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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Blog Tour: Shaindel Beers

A few months ago I was invited to participate in a "blog tour" with poet Shaindel Beers whose first collection, A Brief History of Time, was about to be published by Salt Publishing. Since I'm interested in new ways that poets can promote their books and especially interested in ways the internet can be put to use, I quickly agreed. The publisher then sent me a complimentary copy of the book. My task was to read the book and prepare 3-4 interview questions for the poet.

The tour consists of a total of thirteen stops at a wide variety of blogs. I'm Shaindel's fifth stop on her journey through cyberspace. Check out the complete schedule here. What a great way to bring the book to the attention of a whole new audience scattered across the country.

It was a pleasure to read Shaindel's book and to participate in her tour. It's also my pleasure to recommend the book to you. (Click the above cover image to get to Amazon.) And now the interview.

Diane: What made you choose "A Brief History of Time" as your title poem? What made you decide to place that poem first in the collection?

Shaindel: To be honest, my publisher made “A Brief History of Time” the title poem. Titles are hard for me. I went through two different working titles during the few years I was sending this collection out to publishers before Salt picked this book up and titled it for me. The first title (which is so embarrassing I won’t even admit what it was here) was a phrase from a poem in the collection, and, at the time, it seemed like a good enough title because I couldn’t come up with anything better. One of the years I sent the collection to Tupelo Press’s Dorset Prize competition, I got a personalized rejection from Jeffrey Levine (which, in itself, was an honor), and one of the suggestions he gave me was to choose “a more evocative title” so that my collection would get more attention. From there, I changed the working title to Last Train from the City, which, I think, has a nice ring to it and is metaphorically fitting, but if you ask anyone to name their favorite poem from the collection, that probably wouldn’t be it. I mean, I wrote the poem, it made the cut into the collection, and I like it, but it’s definitely a lesser poem than “A Brief History of Time.”

I think “A Brief History of Time” is probably the strongest poem I’ve ever written. It was definitely my first long, ambitious poem, and I feel like it’s all-encompassing—or at least tries to be. So it’s an appropriate beginning for a book, especially my first book. It’s a grand entrance into the world of poetry for me, whereas the first working title I had for a book would have been like tripping into the foyer of a fancy party, and the second title would have been like showing up in business casual for a black tie event.

Diane: I noticed several sports metaphors. For example, "A Brief History of Time" ends with these lines: "That same moon I liked to picture as a baseball, years earlier, / a baseball hit so hard and far that nothing could ever bring it back." Tell us about your attraction to sports as a source for images and figures.

Shaindel: That’s interesting. The reference you mentioned, I would have thought of off of the top of my head, but I actually had to go back and look at my own poetry collection to find the other sports metaphors. It looks like baseball dominates the sports metaphors, and baseball was pretty much my religion, growing up. I really thought at one time that if I practiced hard enough, I would be the first woman to play Major League Baseball. And we’re talking when I was really young—like nine or ten. I loved being the girl on my street who could hit the ball out of the yard every time. It impressed boys more than anything else I knew how to do, and I think it scared them a little. Home runs are something amazing. On the one hand, it shows immense strength, but then, it sort of lets you off the hook; you don’t have to hustle around the bases if you’ve knocked it out of the park. There’s something romantic about that lazy kind of power.

I think in the case of baseball, which I still see as the American pastime, it’s a useful tool for metaphor because it’s common enough everyone will know what you’re talking about; it’s a form of shorthand. I had a discussion about this with Wayne Miller when I was interviewing him about his translation of Moikom Zeqo’s collection, I Don’t Believe in Ghosts. There’s a portion in one of the poems that goes, “I want to kick the planet like a soccer ball / into the open goal of the future.” In Albania, where Zeqo is writing, soccer is the national sport, so it would be the same type of shorthand baseball is here. That is one of Zeqo’s younger poems; he was about twenty-three when he wrote it, and Miller was about the same age when he translated it. I think there’s a youthfulness about the sports metaphors that adds energy.

As far as the gym and kickboxing mentioned in “A Study in Weights and Measures,” I worked part-time as a fitness instructor when I was writing that poem, and I still work Saturdays as a fitness instructor. My minor is in dance, and I feel like I should do something to use all of those anatomy and kinesiology lessons from college, and I get a free gym membership for working four hours a week. Part of me is tempted to go on about the balance of mind, body, and spirit, which I truly believe in, but the other part of me knows that I’m not very disciplined, and being employed by a fitness center is one way I know to make sure I’ll work out.

Diane: One of the virtues of your collection is its variety, not simply in subject matter but also in forms. You alternate free verse with formal poems such as the sonnet, villanelle, sestina, and ghazal. You have poems with very long lines and ones with short lines. You have poems in a single stanza, others in multiple stanzas, and others in sections. How consciously do you strive for variety when you are writing? And did you consciously strive for variety when selecting the poems for the collection and when organizing them?

Shaindel: First of all, thank you. This is my first collection, and one of the beauties of that is that most of these poems were written during my MFA program, so I was trying a lot of things, and I had four different graduate advisors—one each semester—and each one was a different type of influence on me, and I was constantly trying everything they told me to try. (I’m one of those spaniel-like students who will do anything a teacher asks.) So, I tried all kinds of form poems and different line lengths and experimentation with line breaks, and I read widely as far as poems and poets and literary theory.

I really don’t think I consciously strive for variety. I think it’s a part of my personality. During my first years teaching college, I had a radically different hair color each semester. I do remember that when I turned in a list of books to my advisor that I wanted to study during a particular semester, I had a number of books by one very well-respected poet, and my advisor said, “You don’t need to read four books by her; she’s been writing the same book over and over since the 1970s.” I do know I don’t want anyone to say that about me. When selecting poems for the collection, I pretty much picked what I (and my final graduate advisor and post-graduate advisor) thought was good enough to make the cut. I organized them into what I felt was a narrative (and largely chronological) arc. I think it’s mostly my good fortune that the variety worked out the way it did. But I do hope always to be growing as a writer.

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