Sunday, October 31, 2010

Dancing with the Dead Poets

Happy Halloween! This morning I discovered the fun of making a JibJab video. You can make a number of them for free (example here) or you can pay a minimal fee for a full membership. Videos are available for all sorts of occasions. The program is easy to use and fast.

Check out my dancing video. Can you identify my dancing partners?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Poets and Geeks

First there were poets. Then there were geeks. Now there are poet-geeks. I'd like to give a shout-out and a big round of applause to some of these strange but wonderful people who love poetry and computers and who are finding new ways, via the internet, to spread the good word about poetry. They do not sit around moaning and groaning that nobody buys poetry books anymore. Instead, they are creating new ways for poets and poetry lovers to experience poetry.

First on my list is Dave Bonta, who must be a real mega-geek. His name pops up in all kinds of discussions about online journals and technology. Rather than do the same kind of online journal that has proliferated, i.e., an online parallel to a print journal, Dave has created a truly innovative online journal, qarrtsiluni, which takes full advantage of what the internet can do. Issues are themed and editors change. Instead of the entire issue appearing all at once, poems are added daily, thus giving each poem and poet a chunk of time in the spotlight. Each poem is accompanied by an audio with an introduction by Dave and a reading by the poet. Readers / listeners are invited to leave comments, so there's an interactive element. You can subscribe by email and iTunes and you can follow on Twitter. Like what you've found? Say so at Facebook and any number of other sites with a quick click of the appropriate icon. You can also download any of the podcasts. For free! Links are provided to each author's blog and website if available. This is no concession to The Book Is Dead philosophy. In fact, Dave and his cohorts recently instituted a print version of themed online issues as well as a chapbook contest. Hey, Dave even has a hoodie!

Nic Sebastian has recently taken on another kind of innovative project, a site she calls Whale Sound. Nic has a lovely reading voice which she puts to good use by creating audios of poems by other poets. There's an Index of Poets with each poet's name linking to a bio and to the recorded poem. Readers can Like at Facebook and Tweet. They can also leave comments. Guess who helped Nic with the technical issues involved in running such a project? Dave Bonta! Another interesting aspect of this project is that Nic limits it to what she has named "web-active poets." Here's the definition from her submission guidelines:

If #1 below and at least two of the remaining items accurately characterize you, you are a web-active poet:

1. A fair amount of your finished work is freely available online (on yours or others’ blogs/sites or published in online poetry journals).
2. You check and respond to email at least once a day.
3. You have a comment-enabled blog that you update at least twice a week.
4. You have a Facebook/Twitter/other online social network account that you check/post on at least twice a week.
5. You have a website that consistently displays current contact info and material.

Although the site did not begin with this limitation, I think that Nic soon became overwhelmed with requests from poets to record their poems. And she noticed that those poets who had a heavy web presence were attracting many more visits than those who didn't. This is a web project, so, of course, it makes sense to want to expand the exposure using the resources of the web.

Last on my list is Jessie Carty who has begun an online project called Referential. Jessie selects a poem or a piece of prose from submissions for which she puts out a call. That single piece is posted in the online journal. Other people are then invited to respond to it in an original piece of their own. That can be another poem, a piece of prose, some kind of audio, or a visual piece. These pieces can be submitted anytime during the year. After the initial piece is posted, the referential ones accumulate. From what I can see, subsequent ones may also, in turn, stimulate referential pieces. These are posted with a piece of art. What an interesting concept! A kind of Ponzi scheme for writers.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Temptation by Water: Book Trailer

I have finally finished my book trailer. To be more precise, I should say that I have finally mustered up the courage to release it to public view. Now why should that take courage? I guess for the same reasons it takes courage to go public with any creative endeavor. There's that inner voice that says, Maybe it really stinks. Maybe people will mock it—and me! Maybe it does my book a disservice. But then I took myself in hand, put those voices to silence, reminded myself that I put a lot of time and effort into this, and mustered up the courage to unveil my creation.

I obtained most of the photos from photoXpress. This site allows you to download up to 10 photos per day. They have an extensive selection of high quality photos. I also used Keypad, part of the Apple software in iWork, to make the clips with text and the opening cover page and the final author picture. Again, I borrowed my music track from Kevin MacLeod. Getting the right music is a challenge. It has to thematically fit the video and it has to be the right time length. I feel very fortunate to have found "What You Want," which fits my trailer for time but more importantly for theme and tone. I listened to a whole bunch of tracks, but as soon as I hit on this one, I knew it was just what I wanted.

I initially had at least three times as many pictures as I ended up using. Making a trailer for a poetry collection is a real challenge. How to capture the essence of a collection that contains 51 poems? How not to offer a plot summary when the collection is not a narrative one? How to get in everything you want? The answer to this last question is that you can't get in everything you want and still keep the video to the recommended maximum length of two minutes after which viewers hit the Pause button. So there are a lot of hard choices to be made, just as in revising a poem.

In the end, I zeroed in on what I perceive to be the collection's dominant thread—the idea of temptation—and the dominant recurring image—water. (This pretty much parallels the book's underlying structural plan.) Other motifs come in, but I'm not sure you'll recognize them as motifs without reading the book. My hope, of course, is that the trailer will tempt you to read the book.

So grab some popcorn or a box of Junior Mints and check out my movie.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Poetry Salon: Glenna Luschei

I've never met Glenna Luschei in person, but I feel a kinship with her. In 2006 I reviewed her chapbook, Seedpods. By way of introduction here, I'm going to resurrect my opening words from that review: "Glenna Luschei’s name is well-known in poetry circles. She’s been moving in those circles for many years in many different roles. As a poet she has published seventeen collections. As a translator she has published an additional three books. As the founder and publisher of Solo Press, established in 1966, she made it possible for many other poets to see their work in full-length collections. Now in its fortieth year, the press no longer publishes books, but continues to put out a chapbook series as well as Solo CafĂ©, an annual journal. Luschei also served her community as the Poet Laureate of San Luis Obispo for the year 2000. As a philanthropist in 2002 she permanently endowed the editorship of the highly regarded journal, Prairie Schooner. And as if all this weren’t enough, she’s also an avocado rancher."

Since I wrote that review, Glenna's number of collections has increased, but she's still the same lovely, generous poet. It's a pleasure to host this salon in celebration of her new collection, Salt Lick: A Retrospective of Poetry. Let's hear what she has to say about the book.

Diane: This book strikes me as an enormous undertaking. Tell us about the process you used to gather together and winnow down the mountain of work that spans a 40-year career and 21 collections of poetry.

Glenna: I think in order to compile a retrospective such as Salt Lick you must work with an editor or friend who has known you for a long time and watched your development. I had that good luck with John Crawford of West End Press in Albuquerque. I lived in Albuquerque forty years ago, even before he moved there, but we had the same friends and knew the same terrain. I fell in love with the desert and the high, dry mesa of Albuquerque. I grew up in Iowa which produced the best crops in the world but also the hottest summers and the coldest winters. Someone was always sick and that person got to recover in the sick room which was the story and poetry room. Some of my poems in Salt Lick were started in the sick room seventy-five years before.

I think the best feature of John was that he could share my pain with me, that of losing a daughter
during the Aids Pandemic when she was only thirty-six, the most beautiful age for a young woman.
John always talked of my resilience which surely is the watchword of a poet putting together a retrospective. We have to go down for healing, come up for air. No one escapes tragedy which is a blessing in a long life, a long book.

John was tireless. He read through all of my chapbooks, artist books, and trade editions. We had
another old friend, Bill Witherup, who helped us select poems. That friend has since died. I was  pleased we could acknowledge him and I am dedicating the next issue of my magazine to him. What I realize now is that all the people are interwoven in the book. They speak to each other through the pages—and the ages.

I think the way I helped the most was just sitting back and watching the process. I was just grateful it was taking place.

Continuing on the subject of a retrospective and how we keep touching on themes and people, William Stafford once wrote me that the book I sent him (I think it was Matriarch) was like a train trip with stops at stations.  I think the themes and the people I keep coming back to are the stations. They are signals for me.

It seems significant to me that during the process of the book John and I both lost our mates.  Because of an accident on the avocado ranch where I live, my husband Bill died the week Salt Lick was published.  He never got to see it. He loved Susan Kelly's painting and helped me choose the cover image of a New Mexican landscape and dwelling with a moon overhead. John's wife Pat, of native American heritage, was my dear friend, a life-long supporter of poets and artists. I pray that we honor them with our work. She told me once that I published her first poem.

Diane: Tell us the story behind your cover.

Glenna: I try to return to New Mexico every year. I held both DH Lawrence and Wurlitzer Fellowships there plus teaching assignments. When cover artist Susan Kelly and her husband, Booker, moved to San Luis Obispo because of his health, Bill and I became close friends with them and got together for Saturday walks and poetry evenings. Their house in San Luis Obispo held many New Mexican artifacts and above all her gorgeous oils. She and I often talked of a collaboration which will take place this summer in Santa Fe. She will illustrate a number of my poems and we will hold poetry readings with Southwestern poets. A third artist will take part in our show—Margaret Berry, from Lincoln, Nebraska. She has illustrated my poems in encaustic art or wax. I love it that an idea can gather momentum and go on in unexpected ways.

Diane: Why did you title the book Salt Lick?

Glenna: The title of the poem including the salt lick is "Salt of the Earth." I spent summers at my grandparents' farm in the Nebraska prairie which is filled with buffalo grass and Spanish bayonet. When I was trampling through the grasses, I came upon a salt lick created by the tongues of cattle. I must have been three and remember it vividly as the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. It was my first work of art, the uncarved block as the Taoists say. It was a work of nature and formed my idea of art as something simple and organic. Does this seem hard to believe? I still can't think of anything more pure than a salt lick. People have also pointed out that there is an erotic connotation to the title. I hadn't thought of it, but that's okay, too.

Diane: What do you hope readers will take away from your book?

Glenna: First of all, that life is joy, even the hard parts, and a feast. I hope readers will like my bringing New Mexico into California in "Rain Dance." Landscape is so much a part of poetry, as are images. I hope beginning poets will take heart that they can have a retrospective in mid or late life, too, if they do what William Stafford said to do: "Let poetry be a beacon for you in your life." He said that the poets who last aren't the early prize winners so it's important not to be discouraged. Just follow the beacon. As if we had any choice!

Diane: Please choose a favorite poem for us and, if you like, tell us why you chose this one.

Glenna: I am choosing "Rain Dance" as one of my favorite poems because it illustrates forgiveness by which I try to live my life.

Rain Dance

Twenty years of waiting for him
to apologize, to ask me to dance.
I asked him

and we danced at our son’s wedding
to his Mexican beauty. Two hours
with Mariachis, all night with DJs.
Salsa, meringue, samba, cha-cha-cha.
Even to Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,
while the machine threw out smoke.

And on the bronzed California hills,
it began to rain as in the green
corn dance at Zia Pueblo. It rained down
mudhens, kashares, crickets, lightning
bugs and lightning. The Wall
broke into wet crumbling adobe.
Our grandchildren slid down the berm
like salamanders.

And I forgave him,
understood why smoke
got in my eyes, why lovely things die,
why I loved him.
The shine on our children’s faces
when they saw us dancing
made me grieve for our estrangement.
Our children, with splits in their heads
like Frankenstein’s monster, would not heal,
become whole, until I merged with the other
half of the nucleus. I grieved
that I withheld this peace from them.

And we danced in the rain until dawn
until the bride was green with dollar bills.

Glenna: In the third stanza it is interesting that when I read the lines: "I grieved / that I withheld this peace from them" some people think I am saying "piece" instead of "peace," because I am talking about the other half of the nucleus. I also am uncertain about the last line. Sometimes I change it to say "until roses fall upon the path." People then protest and say they wanted the payoff with dollar bills. I like to read poems that people comment on or protest. I think a reading is communication, not just one person getting up there to pronounce.

Thank you, Diane, and dear readers, my lovers.


Now let's all join Glenna in her garden and listen to her read "I Want To Be Your Poet."

I'm more than happy to have Glenna as my poet! Now please help yourself to a glass of sauvignon blanc and some pineapple spears, watermelon, and pear slices wrapped in prosciutto, all chosen for you by Glenna.

Overheard at the Party:

"At the heart of Glenna Luschei's poetry is . . . a fierce love, the kind that keeps us always connected to those with whom we travel, albeit all too briefly, through this life, the kind that tenaciously embraces every memory and dream. For some forty years, she has published honest poems rich in intimacy and passion that manage to balance love and loss, fulfillment and despair, mourning and reconciliation—the heart's inseparable pairs."—Steven Shur

Before you head for home, please be sure to pick up a copy of Glenna's book. Then while you enjoy your snacks and some more poetry, please leave your comments for Glenna in the Comment section. Thank you for coming to the salon.

Click Cover for Amazon

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Dodge Poetry Festival 2010

This past weekend I attended the Dodge Poetry Festival. I was part of the staff so had several assignments throughout the three days. Not as thrilling as reading at the festival, but I had a really good time. In fact, I was rather surprised as I wasn't at all sure what the festival would be like in its new venue. In the past when I've worked at the festival, I've been provided with a hotel room, but this time, because of a tightened budget, I had to commute. I stressed over the drive and the parking for days! Needlessly. The drive was easy and the parking was a breeze. I wasn't happy about having to pay for parking, but at least I got into a lot right across the street from the NJ Performing Arts Center and even managed to get the same exact spot all three days.

I also wondered if the move from the rural setting of Waterloo Village to the urban one of downtown Newark would work. It did work. Surprisingly, the feel wasn't even urban. I felt like I was in a village. NJPAC is a beautiful building—what a dope I've been for not going there before this!—and the grounds are beautifully landscaped. Unlike at Waterloo where the various venues were spread out and a long hike was sometimes necessitated from one to the other, in Newark all the venues were within short walking distance. We were blessed with three days of the most gorgeous weather, so it was lovely walking outside.

As always happens at the festival and part of the fun, I ran into tons of people I know but never see. I also met some people I'd known by name only. Each time I went from one place to the next, I stopped and chatted several times along the way. In this new location all of the reading venues were indoors, so no stomping through mud or squishy grass as has sometimes happened at Waterloo (though with the weather this year, Waterloo would also have been lovely outdoors). And what an improvement in the bathroom situation. There were ample bathrooms in all the buildings. Any lines that developed moved quickly. The bathrooms were clean and the floors were dry.

I couldn't help but notice, though, that the number of people seemed diminished. I know some people who didn't go this time because they were reluctant to travel into the city, but the festival really wasn't in the heart of the city; it was on the very outskirts. Perhaps the attendance will pick up next time if the festival is again held in Newark. I attended only one event where the room was filled to capacity. Some of the others were generously filled but not completely. Mostly where I noticed the reduced number of people was in the Borders Book Tent. I had to pass through it—and it was huge—on my way to lunch and back. Each time the tent had merely a handful of people in it. No exaggeration.

I wish I'd taken more pictures, but here are a some that might give you a sense of the festival.

People arriving early Friday morning

Food Court early Friday morning--a great variety of food

NJ Performing Arts Center

Students gathering in front of NJPAC

Dorianne Laux reading in Trinity and St. Phillips Cathedral—one of my jobs was hosting this one

Sharon Olds in the center background

Matthew Dickman

Matthew Dickman and Aimee Nezhukumatathil co-reading Aimee's poem

Michael Dickman

Taalam Acey at From Homer to Hip Hop

Me with poet Madeline Tiger in the Borders Book Tent--notice the absence of book buyers
(photo by Anthony Buccino)

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Monday, October 11, 2010

Good News

I was delighted yesterday to find that a review of my new book, Temptation by Water, has appeared online in Rattle. To tempt you to read the review, here's the Introduction: "Temptation by Water, Diane Lockward’s fourth volume of poetry, is both fierce and funny. This lively new collection piercingly depicts loss but balances it with wit and genial good humor. Some of Lockward’s poems confront difficult but necessary truths but others are sexy, irreverent and amusing. Despite the heart-wrenching loss of a husband or lover, the poet never feels sorry for herself. Her poems are a pleasure to read, and her talent for the unexpected keeps readers turning the pages." Click here to read the rest of the review by Barb Daniels.

I was also pleased this past week to have a poem, Gender Issue, recorded by Nic Sebastian for Whale Sound. I love these new ways of spreading the word about poetry. I'm particularly interested in the various ways that poets make their work available to readers / listeners. Certainly, Nic's project is a wonderful contribution. At her site poets and poetry lovers can have the pleasure of hearing contemporary poems beautifully read by Nic whose voice and pacing enhance each and every poem she chooses to read. There's an Index and each poet's poem is accompanied by a bio and a link to the text of the poem. Visit the site often. You might also want to sign up for the email notification.

Whales and water. I like that.

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Thursday, October 7, 2010

Do Unto Other Poets

In the March/April issue of The Writer's Chronicle, Chapman Hood Frazier has an excellent interview with Gregory Orr. There's something in the interview that keeps circling around in my head. Frazier asks Orr how the poets he had as teachers influenced him as a poet, specifically, "how did their work itself influence you and your writing?" He wants to know not just what poet-teachers such as Stanley Kunitz and Mark Strand taught Orr about the craft but also what influence their poetry had on his poetry.

Interesting question, but what interested me most was this part of Orr's response: "Reading their (Kunitz's and Strand's) poems was also a way for them to teach me indirectly through their writing. And it's very important to know your teacher's work. I sometimes have students working with me, and they've studied with me two or three years, and I realize they've never read anything I've written. That seems crazy, because why would you listen to somebody's opinion of your work if you don't know what they've written?"

It's that last part that has stayed with me. I keep thinking of a college student who came to a reading I gave several years ago. After the reading she came up to me and offered some lovely compliments. She moved closer to me and indicated that she wanted to touch me for "inspiration." She seemed to think that she could magically acquire what I knew by literally rubbing shoulders with me. I suggested that the best poetry teacher and the best source of inspiration is a poetry book. But she went home empty-handed. Now I understand that college kids often don't have the money for poetry books, but I sure hope they don't really believe that proximity to a poet is how one learns how to write poetry.

I've also been asked several times by other poets to write a review of their latest book. I write several reviews each year—it's kind of a mission of mine, a way of supporting poets, and it allows me to hope for the same kind of support—but these requests sometimes come from poets who I'm sure haven't bought or read any of my books. They might, at best, have read a few of my poems in journals. I'm not inclined to say Yes to the request.

Likewise with blurbs. I generally feel honored to be asked to write a blurb for a forthcoming book—but only when it comes from someone who I know has supported my work. Unfortunately, that's not always the case. I've been asked to write blurbs for people who clearly have virtually no knowledge of my work beyond having read a poem or two online. And I have to wonder, as Orr wondered, why they'd want words of praise from someone whose work they don't know very well? And why they would expect my support when they haven't given me theirs?

One more thing that puzzles me: Why do poets with forthcoming books or chapbooks ask me to pre-order and pay for their collections when they've never bought one of my books already in print? I receive these requests fairly often as there are several presses which require their poets to solicit advance sales. The number of advance sales then determines the print run. Although I do not like this business model at all, if the request comes from a poet who I know has supported my work, then I pre-order. But sometimes the request comes from a poet who I'm quite sure has not availed himself of my work. I'm not sure why some people would ask or expect me to pay for the publication cost of their work when they haven't offered me their support.

Most poets I know are generous, and I hope that I am too, but, at the risk of sounding cranky, I want to suggest that people asking for services or favors or time need to remember to be generous too. They need to remember The Golden Rule of Poetry.

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