Thursday, April 30, 2009

It might be over, but it ain't over (Chicago world edition)

Well, swine flu's here.

The Tribune covered the departure of the current managing editor at Chi-town is out of "energy".

And Chicago, like the rest of the country, sure could use some more bad news!

But--wait--first female poet laureate in the UK.

The End of National Poetry Month!

Thank you, Cheebus.

So I've taken down the decorations, as it were. Now that the month is over, it is time to step away, reconsider, maybe revise. I was going to try and post a last poem today. I was going to write poems to make up for the days I missed. But I am tired. So here's a haiku instead:

Don't let the door hit
National Poetry Month
on its way out. Word.

I think that just about sums it up.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

P is for PhD!: An Update

If you know me, you know I accepted OU's PhD offer three weeks ago. Today I finally received word via email from FSU:

April 28, 2009

Dear Applicant,

I regret to inform you that the Department of English has not recommended your acceptance into our graduate program at Florida State University. Like many graduate programs around the country, we are limiting our enrollments in light of budget constraints and of prospects for placement of our students upon completion of their degrees. Competition for the available spaces in our program was especially keen this year, and we have been forced to deny many applicants with solid credentials. At this time we have already accepted our maximum number of students into the program.

We do wish you success in your future endeavors. Thank you for your interest in our program.


Dr. Stan E. Gontarski
Director of Graduate Studies

Tara M. Stamm
Graduate Program Assistant
English Department

My understanding is that if I made it this far, then I was under serious consideration, which is nice, even if no cigar. Last year I was rejected in February. Word on the street FSU only had 2 spots this year instead of the usual “5 or 6.” That I made the inner circle is a huge compliment.

Yet, let us compare my email to the one sent Jackson Bliss, a fellow PhDer (who will be attending USC and with whom I *might* be cohosting a AWP panel on the creative writing PhD.)

And I quote from his live journal:

“Here's my gracious rejection email from Julianna Baggot at FSU, one of the final emails in a series of conversations we had:


It's a combination.

We usually overbook, meaning we usually accept more people than we actually expect to accept. We're trying to hit a target -- if we go over, well, we go over. But this year there was no margin to go over. At all. We could only accept as many as we had spots for. So it was tighter than usual. And then I was told one fewer and other wrenches. We had to wait. And wait. And now more folks -- from that tight offer batch -- have said yes than expected. So that's where we are.

The top seven-ten in both the PhD and MFA file in fiction, I felt like I would be honored to teach any of those students. Honored. The work was really stunning. Yours included. From there, it's a group decision. And it was painful for all of us. The work was really strong -- and varied. And the decision-making was so hard. You are hugely talented. You'll do great things. And I don't say any of this to make this easier.

All my best,


I can’t help but feel a little jealous. Did I receive intimate fuzzy emails from Julianna Baggott? Engage in gracious correspondence? You know, emails employing words such as “stunning” and “honored,” signed with an adorably diminutive lower case “j”? Of course, I’m a good girl dumbass too terrified to contact an actual faculty member. I contacted the overwhelmed administrative assistant, who is undoubtedly three manila folders away from ovarian cancer. This email exchange isn't FSU's fault, but my fault, because I'm a contact-phobe.

Oh well, no is no, no matter how nicely worded. In the end, no is the final word that counts.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

This week on the interweb, MFA style

  1. "These days, Big Brother isn't just watching you — he wants to know your superpower and the name of your childhood pet. And he already knows you like to Google yourself, so don't try to deny it."

  2. "Unfortunately this mass-production university model has led to separation where there ought to be collaboration and to ever-increasing specialization." Another hard-nosed look at graduate programs here.

  3. In the new issue of Third Coast, the essay entitled "How Not to Write a Personal Essay for Freshman Composition." And some poems by a recent Montana MFA grad (Brandon Shimoda) and a current Montana MFAer (Scott Alexander Jones).

  4. Edgar Allen Poe is enjoying a wealth of scholarship for his 200th b-day year. Turns out, he was quite the liar/exaggerator. He gets his own square. And everyone has decided he died of rabies.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Sex and Food

This morning I visited the mental_floss website and found one of my old articles posted, 10 Foods You Wouldn't Want to Catch Your Parents Eating, an article on aphrodisiacs. Whoah. I'm archived.

I reread it and didn't cringe hardly at all. Although it was a little scary, because I don't remember any of the information I supposedly wrote about with great authority.

Off to Jazz Fest and my quest for crawfish bread. It occurs to me the entire city of Nola is an aphrodisiac. Oysters. Heat. Deep fried goodness. Sweat. Booty funk. Today I love you.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

"Each poem, in its way, demonstrates poetry's power to undermine the numb complacency of merely customary, unreflecting life and language."

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Brian Kevin Has a Book Out

Fellow Montana MFA-er (nonfiction) Brian Kevin has a book coming out and it's on the Powells website!

Synopsis of Compas American Guide: Yellowstone and Grand Teton: Fodor's has given the Compass American Guides series a major makeover, with a fresh, dynamic design, full-color photography, and inspiring, personal writing. A locally unique look and tone makes this handbook appealing to active travelers and armchair travelers alike.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Down in the Hole

As a fellow Irish friend observed recently, Irish sober = not so interesting. (A toast to which we raised our double shots of Bushmills.) And that’s why as I began The Wire, season 5 last night, I was schadenfreudenly pleased to find Jimmy McNulty off the wagon and whoring.

Of course, while McNulty’s wiener-capades delight us, they wouldn’t be so great if these hookups weren’t based on character, and if the fucking didn’t take place against the greater landscape of an urban dystopia. It’s The Wire’s willingness to tackle huge issues, that makes it rise above the regular cop show, and Season 5 takes on the decline of the paper.

And so we finally we reach the point of this post. And here I shall employ another lazy-ass Chuck Klosterman post-modern self-aware transition (I’m out of coffee, ok?):


I was struck by how The Wire through fiction explores the same points made by this article in The Nation, The Death and Life of American Newspapers.

Among other points, The Wire and The Nation make the case that papers are failing because in the interest of short term profits, they did not cultivate (read: pay) their talent. As the writing deteriorated in quality, new readership (i.e. young readership) failed to develop.

Conversation in Episode 3 between editor Augustus "Gus" Haynes (trying to save the paper) and skilled, veteran reporter Roger Twigg, (getting the shaft):

Haynes: “You know my father worked over at Armco, right? And every morning before he went to work he’d sit at the table reading the paper with a cup of coffee and no one could interrupt him for that fifteen minutes before he walked out the door. And I remember watching him thinking, what the hell is so important about that damn paper. I want to be a part of that. It made me want to be a newspaperman.”

Twigg: “One day I was cuttin’ class at Patterson and there was this man on the downtown bus folding his broadsheet just so. And the way that man folded that paper and concentrated on reading those pages made him look like the smartest son of the bitch on the bus. It was just one of those moments.”

I possess dim memories of these good old days, when the paper mattered. Sundays we all read the paper, passing sections around, and my parents still subscribe — they simply are of that era. Paper: It’s what you do. God bless them for it because The Tuscaloosa News is truly awful. (Sports = football. Front page = stadium construction news. Religion = the coach and his wife went to church. Life = the coach’s wife reupholstered her sofa. Metro = there's boxing until football season in six more months.)

Now, I’m not sure I could document a decline exactly of The Tuscaloosa News, but I can safely say it has gotten even worse because of all the outsourced articles, which destroyed the local character. The paper used to, at least, have some personality.

Not so long ago it seemed many great writers whetted their pens at their local paper (and actually Lee Smith worked for T-town news in the 70s). Maybe these writers didn’t stay in journalism, but it was considered an honorable phase, and “reporter” (as the job was called back then), did have the aura of a glamorous profession. But as more papers came to read like canned copy, writers lost interest. We writers need at least a little romance to keep us going. Maybe it wasn’t the pay so much as the harness. Perhaps the decline in newsprint journalism has birthed creative nonfiction as a genre to compensate.

Is it too late for the paper? Probably, Has anyone learned that short term profits lead to increasingly poor product and eventually, bankruptcy? Doubtful. But I like to think there is some moral victory in that (at least partially) the pending failure of the local paper lies in that the owners should have freaking developed their writers.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The MFA, uh, pyramid scheme?

Reviewing two creative writing program-related new books last week, the NYTimes uses the word "Ponzi". In the headline.

From the review, on Mark McGurl's The Program Era:

The actual process of tuition is hard to generalize about, so his book is, instead, full of incomprehensible diagrams, theoretical analysis and sentences like “Technomodernism identifies with the ‘emptiness’ of pure formality — that is, with the systemacity of the system itself, drawing the machine to itself in a form of ontological prosthesis."

The review is a little more forgiving for Tin House's The Writer's Notebook.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Review of Isaiah Vianese’s Stopping on the Old Highway

A friend of the Three Ps recently released a poetry collection with recycled karma press. It is available here. In celebration of his work and National Poetry Month I thought I'd offer my take on the collection (see full disclosure footnote at the end of my review for more information). It's even interactive...

Isaiah Vianese’s Stopping on the Old Highway
(recycled karma press, 2009)

In a recent article for the Poetry Foundation online, Matthew Zapruder clarifies the role of poetry critic. More specifically, he clarifies useful distinctions for a critic to make when discussing a work under review. No longer useful (or perhaps never useful to begin with) are the old signifiers used to lump together schools of thought in poetry:

So if not abstraction and representation, and if not narrative and lyric, what would be an example of a useful distinction? I propose the following: Does the poem have a single, particular, specified consciousness, speaking in a relatively identifiable situation? Or does the poem have a less defined consciousness, speaking without need of or reference to a particular situation?1

I found Zapruder’s distinction useful when reading Isaiah Vianese collection Stopping on the Old Highway (recycled karma press, 2009).2 Zapruder’s two distinctions, seemingly in opposition to one another, are both present in Vianese’s work.

Many of Vianese’s poems in this 45-page collection, a mix of prose poems and lineated free verse, have a narrator planted firmly in familiar settings. That is, setting is clarified as the speaker(s) describe and comment on the surroundings. As this happens, the location (sometimes named in the title, sometimes now) slowly becomes familiar to a newly arrived reader.

We often find ourselves inside a home, in a domestic space surrounded by female relatives, or outside in a rural setting. Here, in this well-known place (Zapruder’s “identifiable situation”), the speaker may sit with a relative, to “watch the last / of the mothers nest in the brush” (“The Mothers”, 6) or

wake up early to hear
my father slump down the creaky stairs,
my mother calling the dog out to pee
in the cold, then starting the coffee. (“Our Tradition”, 13)

Soon, however, Vianese’s speaker reflects from within these familiar settings with what Zapruder calls “a less defined consciousness…without reference to a particular situation”. The speaker begins to transcend the prescribed setting by conjuring either the ghosts of other poets and poems or setting new conditions for the manner in which the speaker will seek spiritual enlightenment from the natural world.

In “Burying the Queen”, the speaker observes a beekeeper worried over the job of removing the dead queen bee to bury it. Because of the ceremony of bees inside the colony, the speaker first understands that “this is not normal procedure”, as the burial could very well disrupt the planned ceremony (35). In the previous poem, “Our Secrets”, the queen bee acts ceremoniously, as “she accepts offerings, fat on royal jelly, her brown sack turning out each gentle egg like a spell” (34).

Here, I recalled Robert Frost’s “Directive” and the goblet in the children’s playhouse. Frost’s wooded setting protects the magic of a child’s playhouse and reveals the earth’s ravenous appetite for the playhouse and its belongings only to an attentive and meditative speaker, just as the deceased queen bee will not reveal its mystery to just anyone.

The influence of Frost can also been seen in “Stopping On the Old Highway”, a lament and celebration of a year’s end and homecoming. The poem ends with “and there are miles yet to drive— / an hour or two before I can sleep” (19), echoing the penultimate (and ultimate) line in Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”.

Vianese invokes another well-loved modernist poet, William Carlos Williams, in “The Wheelbarrow, The Plum”. Here, the speaker decries the stuffy and controlling directive that prevents the collective “you” from writing “about love” by allowing only a written account of such things as “the wheelbarrow full of stones, / the plum wrapped in maroon skin like a heart” (15). Here, the poem moves to deepen and make explicit the longing for love touched on in Williams’ “The Red Wheelbarrow” and “This is Just to Say”.

Vianese’s poems, in whatever register, always delight in the mystery of the natural world. This world is not tarnished by overly analytical labels or digression. The tone is always hushed and reverent, even when urging action (for when you are quiet, people must listen all the more intently to hear). It is a celebration Vianese consistently maintains, even as the speaker navigates around a “car covered in shit, leaves, frost” (9) or a clearing inhospitable to new growth (25). After this, the speaker is left to find cousins gathering twigs—in the poem “Currency”—“that we would ignite with a Bic Lighter / and then recite false incantations, / ask the stones to speak”.

1. Zapruder, Matthew. “Show Your Work!: A poet calls for a new kind of poetry criticism, and a new kind of critic.” Poetry Foundation online. March 2009. 16 April 2009 .
2. Full Disclosure: As an undergraduate at Elmira College, I had the fortune to meet Isaiah Vianese, a fellow student, through shared involvement in extracurricular activities that included the literary magazine, Sibyl, the newspaper, The Octagon. We were also both students in poet MaryJo Mahoney’s stellar modern poetry course. I hope these facts serve useful for the reader to understand my appreciation and understanding for his craft—and my observation of the possible sources of its genesis.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Michael Chabon: Secret Poet

Michael Chabon is a poet. He revealed all last night at his presentation/talk/discussion/lecture at Northwestern U, when introducing his audience to his personal obsession with Edgar Allen Poe.

E.P., he pointed out, was one letter away (“t”) from having a very meta last name.

M.C. knows that when asked straight out “Do you write poetry?” to kindly—against instinct—answer “well…I used to dabble in high school and college.” What he really wants to scream is “Yes, yes I do! I do it every time I write a sentence.” It turns out he can’t resist E.P. for just that reason. He's obsessed with language. I love it.

M.C. spoke at length about and quoted E.P.’s poem “Ulalume” (you can enjoy Jeff Buckley’s reading here) to frame his discussion about the use of "horror" in his work. What instills horror in an adult reader is not the talking hearts, the cannibalism or the messy tombs but the ambiguity of a narrator’s feelings (and I’m freely paraphrasing here)

  1. against and simultaneously for a beloved (revulsion/adoration)
  2. of disdain for someone else who exhibits the same qualities the narrator dislikes about him/herself
  3. about whiling away time without completing or being scared of accomplishing the remarkable or conquering a fear to avoid disappointment and/or regret and/or more fear.

In addition to the content of his discussion, there were ample environmental conditions to remark on.

Sitting in the last row in an auditorium filled with at least 1000 people affords you either a welcome break from scrutiny aimed at your neck or heightens the attention paid to all the fidgety students ahead of you. There was hair twirling. There was the person who played with the bottom of their boots—that is, fingers picked at the tread of the boot. Yes, that part that touches the ground when one walks… There was the student obsessed over a blackberry, using facebook, google and I’m pretty sure some kind of stock tracker all while making eye contact as M.C. spoke AND, it turned out, waiting “patiently” for Significant Other to get there to take the saved seat, a seat saved with not just one paperback of M.C.’s but two (The Yiddish Policemen’s Union and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay). This person was clearly a big fan, so I'll let it slide.

I digress: When I chose nearly the backmost seat (row three or four, in this case) for the Myopic bookstore poetry reading earlier this month, Donna Stonecipher entreated us lackeys (generally and without eye contact—in the most nonoffensive way, really) to move on up front to close the gaps in the seating area. She said she felt too much like a teacher in that case. Well…that made me the student prone to text messages and reading the school newspaper in class. No such accommodations were possible last night. M.C. packed the house.

Maybe this makes me a bit rude. Nevertheless, I think it illustrates a common occurrence in large groups. You’re largely anonymous and you sure can get distracted by all the cuticle chewing and hair twirling. For any given 30 min. period, I’d say 7 minutes are zoning out minutes. Sorry. It's true.

While M.C.—as ANY reader might have—would lose a few listeners here and there to the suddenly captivating little nick in the plastic of the seat back directly in front of the lost listener, this large audience was with M.C. all the way. He had rehearsed the subtle laugh lines and the audience responded immediately. This speaks, too, to M.C.’s enviable reading voice. He made “Ulalume” sound exactly what it is—lush and beautifully metered verse. He spoke at length about E.P.’s prose, the successes and failures as an awkward adolescent (M.C.’s and E.P.’s alike), and publishing when publishing meant survival. And how that's a wee bit scary.

Speaking of which: Edgar P.'s first novel only sold 100 copies its first run.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Sand Mantis

I'm doing some freelance writing work for a scientist. Research for said writing often involves stumbling upon amazing inventions. This is one such invention. Not only in the headline worthy of accolades, this darned thing uses sapphires in the opening to "polish" the offending waste.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

P is for PhD!: An Update

So it's official. I have committed to Ohio University's creative writing PhD program.

Yikes. 5 years!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Taco Poem.

Taco Day / was the only way, / to get me to buy lunch.

Joan Didion is a Badass and I Love Her

Recent Facebook status update:

“Kelly Kathleen Ferguson notices that students refer to male authors by last name (Updike) but women authors by first (Joan). She endeavors to correct one Didion at a time.”

And then voila! I discovered Joan Didion was coming to read at Tulane. This event earned a top tier Hello Kitty! calendar sticker. Joan Didion is the Chrissie Hynde of the writer’s world. One of the few true badasses who has transcended gender in a male dominated field.

Now, given that 70% of the reader’s market consists of women, some might argue with my male dominated rap. But in the field of “Literature,” I argue men (more than women, we can only count Toni Morrison so many times) are considered to be the “important” authors. They aren’t expected to reduce themselves to the crass guttermuck of sales, because they are writing the next Ulysses. I suspect that has something to do with why Jonathan Franzen declined the Oprah award. So demeaning for a man of letters!

As women we have few idols. I’m not going to say they don’t exist, but Didion has stared down male publishing world and she has not flinched. She has not only worked as a journalist and written novels, but she has been nonfiction badass. She has her own patented style. I could see the introducers (3!) squirm as the they tried to conjure the adequate words. This event merited The President of Tulane! The important white man was trotted out!

Then Didion arrives, a petite, wiry figure parting the velvet curtain as if it were a buzzing fly. She turns them all to dust.

She read Chapter One from The Year of Magical Thinking because “she hadn’t read it for a while.” Yep, she rocked the mike. She doesn’t inflect much, but the prose is so freaking good, she doesn’t have to. I can’t think of another nonfiction writer who could write about tragedy, exactly how it feels, as well. She weaves that fine line between stark details and prose in a way that mirrors exactly that surreal floating feeling, even as these horrible visions go off like flashbulbs in our head. These are the imprints that will remain and jolt us awake at 3 am while we struggle to remember the rest.

The Q and A (as usual) was horribly painful. Can’t people just be normal and ask a normal question? One woman got up and said she’s writing a book on California and wanted Didion to (basically) tell her what her book should be about. Didion said as nicely as possible, “Um, isn’t that your job?” OK, actually she said something more like, “Well, I don’t know.” The woman also said she was thrilled to find out Didion was born in Yolo County, just like she was.

Didion: “Actually I was born in Sacramento County.”


Next some guy lifted a quote from an essay she wrote thirty years ago. It took him 2-3 minutes to read this excerpt, (it was something about the bitterness of life, etc.) and he was “wondering if she felt any differently about it now.”

Didion: “No, I’m pretty much the same person.”


What it is, and I understand, is we all want to put our hand on the flame. We can’t help ourselves. I guess I knew to recognize I wasn’t worthy, and kept quiet.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Constraint of Prisoners: How National Poetry Month is Shaping Up

Last night I saw poets Oni Buchanan and Donna Stonecipher read at Myopic Books in Wicker Park. One factor in particular contributed to making the event a little less lovely than it otherwise would have been. The weather. The awful, ice-cream-brain-freeze inducing slush crap that piles up on the sidewalks and all of Wicker Park's spike high heelers were searching for higher, warmer, snowless ground. I attribute this for the less than stellar turnout at Myopic. There were 5 of us audience goers. Five.

Now, people love to hate on Poetry Month. Why have you debased poetry to the level of National Toilet Paper Appreciation Month? Placed it at the mercy of commodification; used it as a gimmick for arts organizations to "do some stuff" one and a while? Yes, these objections can be well argued. Objections are made on the morality of the thing: Ange Milinko opposes NPM because "in a time of prolific poetic production, the Academy invented a National Poetry Month using the language of victimhood," placing it in between Black History Month and Women's History Month out of convenience. But NPM can also be the time to get cranky about other stuff, the time for the general critics of what-poetry's-become to speak their mind, and issue their carefully-worded clarifications just. to. nail. home. the. point. that there's too much money in poetry. We don't need this, naysayer! Wait until May. Then, let's have your criticism. Leave April alone. Go see someone you admire read. Go read.

Sadly, everyone keeps reminding us that poetry is on the realm of academic, inching closer and closer inward, keeping everyone else out. Could it simply be that not more than 5 people felt like braving the weather, leaving their house on a Sunday evening, to go to a non-chain, non-establishment, Chicago-famous bookstore? Why couldn't 5 more people come out? Didn't they at least want to see Myopic's resident cat and then fall upon some poetry? Certainly some more people would want to notice the following book titles on the shelves at Myopic before catching the reading: 1) Stroud's Digest on the Diseases of Birds ($8.50). 2) Chicago Manual of Style, 14th ed. (my god--only $11.50; that's a fifth of what you'd pay for the 15th ed., new). 3) The Federal Role in Urban Mass Transportation ($cheap! and cool!).

Well, this was not what this post was supposed to be about. There's no use being spiteful about poetry. The people who wanted to come, came. The people in the audience cares and laughed at the clever lines and cared about the two people standing up there without a microphone, reading. I know I've missed my fair share of poetry offerings in Montana, in Chicago, in other places. Weather, homework, moodiness, bad hair evening. I've used the excuses. But I appreciate poets who make it out to read for their audience of any size.

At the reading both Buchanan and Stonecipher made comments that endeared me to their work. I understood a little more that the "mystery" of reading someone's work for the first time has deliberate and non-mysterious patterns and writing quirks behind it, unknown to the reader who only interacts with the words on the page. Buchanan has a series of poems in her new collection, Spring, that use only prisoner's constraint words. I didn't know what this was, either. (Should I have known it?) It is any word that does not have descenders or ascenders. To give you an example, Buchanan had a poem "maroon canoe". The entire poem was made up of these prisoner's constraint words like "maroon" and "canoe". This poem came after she'd been text messaging herself, challenging herself (to write to herself) in only prisoner's constraint. The poems also make generous use of O.B.'s first and/or last name. I haven't read Spring, but I'm sure I'd be surprised and concerned to see her name throughout, and the odd rhythms that come out when you're deliberately excluding certain letters. The inspiration behind the piece was an exercise of obsession, and not of an elaborate plan to thwart reader's perception of language. (O.B. mentioned not being over to sleep for a few days, kept up by the gnawing of prisoner's constraint words floating out there in the world.)

Stonecipher read from The Cosmopolitan, a collection of long-lined, numbered poems. She read a series of "inlays", where a quotation sits in the middle of the poems, in italics, clearly attributed. When reading, she chose to interrupt the poem--mid stanza--and narrate where the direct quotation started and who wrote it, then launching into the rest of the poem. I thought this a curious choice. Poets often appropriate parts of other people's work, sometimes burying it as their own (a word or two, a fantastic title) or using it as an epigraph. Usually, the poet reads these taken parts seamlessly, as much a part of the new poem as their own words. I found D.S.'s interruption useful-- because as a reader you're interrupted, startled, by this long and differently formatted quotation in the middle of a poem-- and also distracting. I wanted her to keep going with it, stay in the incantation of it. I'm sure the intention was interruption, just as she was interrupted when reading Kafka, etc. to job down the favorite line and ponder a poem out of it.

And, finally, the Myopic cat. His name is Leonard:

Friday, April 3, 2009

Workshopped to Death

In honor of National Poetry Month I offer this bipolar post.


An article on the benefits of workshop, gleaned from Glimmer Train. During my Montana MFA, I sometimes grew frustrated because I felt as though I spent more time critiquing others' work than producing/revising my own. But then this phenomena occurred after my first year, where I began to understand the divide between talented student writing and publishable work. Snap! In many ways this was the beginning of my real work as a writer.


Link to a site called Dead At Your Age, which searches for historical figures born on your birthday, and compares your longevity to theirs.

My results:

You've outlived Massillon Coicou by almost a month. He was a novelist, playwright, activist and one of Haiti's greatest poets. He died by execution on March 15, 1908, 61 years before you were born.

“The fear of failing was my primary motive” New Orleans: Part III of III

On my last day in New Orleans for the Tennessee Williams Festival, I went to see Richard Ford speak. Usually at these panels, in the interest of having something remotely more intelligent to say than “it was cool” if asked about how the panel went, I take notes. This endeavor happened to be complicated by the fact that, unbeknownst to me at first, Ford’s wife sat down next to me. She offered to make the seat in between us “the drink seat”, as I was fiddling with my camera to take a picture of him. Sure that she’d see my note scribbling in crazy stalker penmanship (see above) AND afraid for her husband’s well being because I was taking stalker pictures, I tried to keep it all very casual. This resulted in my notes looking something like a Bingo board, all marked up with the little purple marker dots. Shorthand quote here. Squiggle there.

Richard Ford had some great things to say about the practice of art. The "precious habit of art" he called it. Carving out the time to just go ahead and write. He talked about the genesis of his craft. He was in law school, which turned out to be “one of many failures.” He turned to his roommate one day and told him about an idea for a book he had and that he’d decided to be an author. The roommate turned down the idea.

Ford described writing as one thing he hadn’t failed at. Therefore, he knew it would stick.

He also explained that having an audience is, in fact, why he writes. Probably why we all write. I don’t think this has to be counter to the belief that we write for ourselves, maybe as a means of communication with the self. But then once we leave the little hovel with one light bulb we write in, we should acknowledge at some point we’re writing in the hopes that someone else will read what we wrote and take some meaning from it—it isn’t for money or a fame. It is because we are social creatures.

Later, Ford took questions. One audience member mentioned her church book group finished one of his short story collections. I forget now what the question was, but the church bit prompted Ford to talk more about writing for an audience and mentioning “life is our last resort.” Probably not what the woman was looking for, but it’s bold of him to admit.

Ford’s next novel, Canada, takes place in Great Falls, MT (and later in the novel, certain Canadian provinces). I hope the O’Hare Motor Lodge makes it in there somewhere.

Before leaving for Chicago, I went back for more pirates. And houses that reverse the aging process.

Remember to tip your server. New Orleans: Part II of III

On Friday evening of the Tennessee Williams Festival Kelly and I volunteered for the two evening theatre events. This was a stroke of genius from K, who earlier signed us up for volunteering, which scored us a free panel pass. We were pros at this, having learned about and watching people volunteer at AWP New York while working at the CutBank’s booth at the bookfair.

We nabbed the concessions stand, feeding the theatre-going crowd alcohol or alcohol and bottled water. We then saw the plays, relishing the night of free entertainment. The first, a one-man play, Bent to the Flame, featured Doug Tompos as Tennessee Williams on the verge of NYC stardom. This satisfied the Mark-Doty-Master’s-Class void by weaving in Hart Crane’s “Voyages”. It explored the personal connection Williams had with Hart Crane’s poetry. The second, Kingdom of Earth was a later Tennessee Williams play. It featured an impending hurricane, a nudie picture & cross dressing. The meaning was deeper than that, but these are the things I recall.

“I could never remember / That seething, steady leveling of the marshes / Till age had brought me to the sea.” New Orleans: Part I of III

I just returned from seeing fellow MFAers Anne-Marie and Kelly of Post-MFA fame in New Orleans a week ago today. We’re inseparable. We’re still shifting around in the fetal position, mainly. And missing our third of the three, Trina.

New Orleans involved various encounters with bodies of water. Yes, this is not a shock. And yes, it served as a reminder of New Orleans’ resiliency. Some of these personal encounters were permanent and expected (Mississippi River, the nature trail in Houma, LA), some uninvited and smelly. And all ominous enough to be perfect backdrop for the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival and the ensuing moisture-laden events.

Let’s get the anecdotes out of the way. Cars flooded. Kelly’s car in particular. She will always have a little piece of LA with her no matter where she is. Water stays with you. It levels with you. Literally. Up to the cup holders. It doesn’t let you go.

Cars routinely flip over in front of or somewhere in the vicinity of the following items: Street lights. Stop signs. Streetcars. Other cars. The cops did not appear phased. I take this as a sign that disorder is still accepted and encouraged. Louisiana, you grew on me.

Large cockroaches with horrible antennae can only be killed with a shoe. This is why Clorox surface cleaner was invented.

I saw a lot of stuff askew. I also went for the literary mingling. Well, okay, I went to watch other people mingle while I sat in the back of the classroom.

Months ago I was revved up to take a Master’s class (not as awe-inspiring as the name seems to hint at) with Mark Doty. I’m a big fan of his work, My Alexandria in particular.

Friday morning came and I rushed down the sidewalks of the French Quarter to get there in time. I can’t be late! That’d be rude. No. What was rude, I discovered, was being that one earnest sneaker-squeaker bee lining down the very narrow sidewalk in…the Quarter. People meander, keeping to the left or right or middle as they choose. They very often dare to look up and stop walking to admire goodness knows what. The gall of tourists visiting the very touristy Quarter--on Friday of Spring Break no less! Call me crazy but sidewalks are for getting from one place to the next as quickly as possible. In the heat. In the rain. Move, people, move.

And then the Mark Doty event was cancelled. Family emergency. Well, I felt like a douf. I made it up to myself by spending the next hour hanging out in the Quarter walking slowly, respecting everyone else and even stopping to check out the pirates, musicians, smelly bars and doughnuts.

(The titular lines are from Hart Cranes’ “Repose of Rivers”)