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Seattle, WA
Martha Silano's books are The Little Office of the Immaculate Conception, Blue Positive and What the Truth Tastes Like.
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The Seriously Funny: Poems about Love, Death Religion, Art, Politics, Sex, and Everything Else reading had me laughing a whole way lot, for sure. David Kirby, Barbara Hamby, Albert Goldbarth, Mark Halliday, Jennifer Knox, and Jason Bedle read poems about, among other things, chicken buckets, The Rotary Club, an actual key that opens the human heart, and Shakespeare's plays. I was very happy I attended! (top to bottom): Albert Goldbarth, David Kirby, Barbara Hamby) Then I was lucky enough to hear Juan Felipe Herrera belt it out for a small and very, very lucky crowd crowd (why did they have him read such a crackerjack poet during lunch hour?). If you don't know Herrera's work, you need to click on his poem 187 Reasons Mexicans Can't Cross the Border right now. Unbelievable. He told stories about his ferocious tia (aunt), who had a scary, mean trembling voice and wore a black rebozo and a 10-pound black rosary, who was always standing on some street corner trying to bless someone by throwing water on them. He also shared he was a terrible altar boy ("I didn't even know when to ring the bell!"), and that he didn't speak at all during his K-12 years, but he did sing, recite poems, and play music. He also spoke about living in San Francisco in a "Chicano Animal House,"and being part of the SDS's shutting down of the Berkeley campus. He said that back in those days he climbed a peach tree each morning to eat his breakfast in. When asked what was going down during that "time of political transformation," he said "guns, drugs, poems, and love, and any one of those will kill you." (Juan Felipe Herrera signing after his amazing reading, above) The final panel I attended was titled Outsiders Writing the Outside: A Reading of Wilderness Poetry by Women, Queer, and Minority Poets. Keetje Kuipers moderated, and Aimee Nezhukumatathil, GE Patterson, Paisley Rekdal, Brian Teare, and Ross Gay read. What I enjoyed about this reading is that all the poems shared use images from nature, but they are not writing "nature poems," i.e., descriptive lyrics that reflect mostly on the beautiful and awe-inspiring aspects of the natural world. Nature in their poems was not always pure and sublime; it was much more messy and complicated than that. As Keetje Kuipers commented "My nature poems have nail polish or a landfill in them--that's what eco-poems are about." (L to R: Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Ross Gay (behind), Paisley Rekdal, Brian Teare, and GE Patterson.) Continue reading
Posted Feb 5, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
Top to bottom: Gregory Pardlo, Star Black, Jennifer Knox, Derek Monk, Jason Schneiderman, Martha Silano. All six read from their newest books at Bardeo Wine Bar in the Cleveland Park neighborhood last night. Continue reading
Posted Feb 4, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
Entered Marriott without incident and headed to conference registration line. All preparations made for lines out the door (plenty of that maroon velvet snakey stuff on poles), but it was just me in the R-S column. Grabbed my complimentary book bag (much sturdier than the ones in Denver--mine long ago went kaput--and a much more pleasing beige) with requisite 2-lb. Conference Catalog, along with most-essential name tag. First stop, Bookfair. For those of you who are not here with us in DC, let me just say the Bookfair is easily twice the size of the one in Denver, or at least to my recollection. It stretches on for miles in many, many directions. I had quite a time trying to figure out the logic of the numbering/lettering system (come to think of it, I have yet to discern the logic). Suggestion to the Board (listening, Oliver?): how about putting the booths in alphabetical order? That would really help, cuz we're writers, you know, and we do much better with A-Z than 332 and D and 102 and 66 and B. It gets sorta confusing trying to navigate?? Okay, but enough complaining. If I do not make it back to the Bookfair again (which is indeed not the case), I accomplished enough this morning to make my trip to DC worthwhile. To what accomplishment to I refer? None other than visiting the American Poetry Review table and picking out TWO ancient, weathered, back issues of the magazine, one from May/June 1973, and the other from 1976. Guess who's face graces the cover of the '73 issue? Anne Sexton. Also in this issue: James Wright, Philip Levine, Robert Bly, Jane Kenyon, Jim Harrison, Donald Hall, Mark Strand, and Diane Wakoski, among others. I do not usually enjoy the smell of old print/ink, but these have an almost intoxicatingly musty sent that smells like, well, 1973, when people let newspaper clippings stack up until they yellowed. When the news was either in print or on the television/radio. The 1976 issue features, along with Maxine, Adrienne Rich, Pablo Neruda, Theodore Roethke, Ellen Bryant Voight, Robert Lowell, and Brenda Hillman. Oh, and George Oppen. There's a picture of Maxine with one of her horses (Boomerang). She's in her--early 40s? She looks about 25. She has some guns on those arms! And Adrienne Rich's contribution is an excerpt from Of Woman Born. Can you believe that APR was charging $1 an issue for these? The advertisement of Sexton's The House of Folly is worth more than that. Anyway, after that huge coup I raced over to Sean Dougherty's mega-stellar-awesome reading with his incredible posse (Crystal Williams, Silvana Straw, Roger Bonair-Agard, Dora McQuaid). The only sad part was that I was 15 minutes late, which meant I missed Sean's reading (dang!!!) and walked in half way through Silvana Straw's contribution, which immediately had me laughing too loud as she called out the letters of the beaded necklace her speaker had made: F*U*W (which translates to Fuck You,... Continue reading
Posted Feb 3, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
The conference has not even officially begun, but I am revved up and in love with this city where I held up a map in confusion and a nice fellow in a suit put his arm avuncularly around me and guided me 180 degrees in the other direction (ahem, where I needed to go, which was the Postal Museum). I'm usually a bit of a light-weight when it comes to museums, but not today. Spurred on by the drizzle that turned to bright sun and a breeze that was whipping Old Glory into a tizzy outside our Nation's Capitol, I hit four + the Botanic Garden. Yes, yes, I am ready to kick off the Nike's and put my feet up, but not before I share a few very wonderful, poem-worthy tidbits: 1) In the early age of ariel photography, they actually fitted pigeons with cameras, so they could fly up and give it their best Ansel Adams. 2) Istanbul's citizenry was star-gazing back in the 1500s, using tripods, parallactic rulers, and armillary spheres. No joke! 3) Apollo Astronauts each had a "Personal Preference Bag" for carrying their toiletries in. 4) The Land Rover's seats look exactly like beach chairs, with the woven backs and everything. And the fenders! They are very flimsy and rusty. Guess what the tires are made of? Wire mesh! I kid you not! 5) I got to see Mercury Friendship's gauges! Oh, stop me, please do! I saw several DeKooning's, a roomful of Matisse's, a Serra, a bunch of Motherwell. Oy, it was intoxicating. But okay, okay, enough sightseeing! Let the wild rumpus begin! (left: John Glenn's Friendship) Continue reading
Posted Feb 2, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
Aimee Nezhukumatathil's Lucky Fish (Tupelo) is definitely at the top of my list. Also at or near the top is Steve Kistulentz's The Luckless Age, just out from Red Hen Press. And the great thing is that I will soon be swooning over poets that I had no idea existed or wrote such lively and funny and musical verse. That's the best part about AWP: discovery! And then there's all those beautiful hot-off-the-presses lit mags just waiting for us: Willow Springs, Puerto del Sol, Beloit Poetry Journal, and Bat City Review, just to name a few. Last year I ponied up for 2-year subscriptions of The Georgia Review, The Southern Review, and Ecotone, all for a fraction of the cover price. I sure didn't regret that. That's another great thing about AWP--screaming deals! I blogged yesterday about Thursday's line-up, but have a look at Friday. At 9 am there's a panel titled Channeling Voices: The Persona Poem with Julie Sheehan, Linda Bierds, Cornelius Eady, Joan Houlihan, Melissa Stein, Robert Thomas on the curious case of persona poem. I am so excited about this one. And after what I'm sure will be a lively and worthwhile chat, we can all pay tribute, come late afternoon, to one of our best dramatic monologists: Ai. But before that tribute, there's the Houghton Mifflin celebrating 10 years of Michael Collier at the helm. Andrew Hudgins, Linda Gregerson, Rodney Jones, Maurice Manning, and Leslie Harrison are all reading. Next it's off to Local Poets with National Reputations, where Linda Pastan, Carolyn Forche, Fanny Howe, Jonetta Rose Barras will read. That's some line-up. And, if you're still conscious at that point,Claudia Rankine and Charles Wright will grace the Regency Ballroom. Anyway, these are my choices for Friday. Am I missing out on something I somehow overlooked? If so, please post a comment and let us know any enticing options I may have overlooked! Continue reading
Posted Jan 31, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
For the next six days I will be blogging to you live from the 2011 Associated Writing Programs Conference in Washington DC. However, right now I am in the other Washington, where I am trying to figure out how many pairs of boots and long johns to take with me. I have lived in the land of moss and ferns for too long. I've become what my East coast friends refer to as "a cold wimp." Jack Frost has not nipped my nose since I visited Santa Fe in 1986 and came down with a terrible flu after jogging when it was 2 degrees outside. I've been emailing back and forth with Kelli Russell Agodon, author of Letters from the Emily Dickinson Room, just out from White Pine Press, because she arrived in DC two days ago after a similar dilemma regarding which boots to bring with her: the very waterproof/warm but less stylish, or the less waterproof/warm but quite hip. She is telling me in today’s missives that she went with the hip pair and definitely made the right choice, that in fact as of 4 pm today it was 49 degrees in our nation's capitol, and then added that I needed to bring my sunglasses. Sunglasses. What a novel concept. Meanwhile, shows, next to Tuesday, Feb 1, the day I fly to DC, a white cloud with a bunch of snowflakes falling from it. Oh, and also mention of freezing rain. (Perhaps I should also be packing a plant mister filled with de-icer?) Okay, so I am a cold wimp, but I also like glittery tank tops and very much not waterproof sleek black boots, though admittedly I also adore my Joan of Arctic Sorel boot with “vulcanized rubber shell” and “felt frost plug,” rated at -25 degree F. But will I need them? I also have a bunch of books and magazines I want to read on the plane, but I dimly recall my final hours in Denver at last year’s conference being spent alternately jumping on my suitcase to get it to close, and woefully removing several coveted literary magazines purchased at the Book Fair and flinging them into the trash. I should not pack a single piece of reading material for the East bound flight, and I should only fill my suitcase half way, but everyone who knows me knows that this is not going to happen, for I must be reading or writing from take off till landing in order to prevent myself from contemplating the fact that at any moment the plane I am on could suddenly fall off the radar and God knows which city we’d all come showering down on. Or that we might actually have to figure out how to don our life vests and blow into those hideous tubes before we hit the emergency slides a la Steven Slater (yes, you can be sure I will take time to grab an icy cold one from a beverage cart in anticipation of my swan dive into the gelid waters of Lake Erie.) But getting back to my destination: the AWP conference! Several weeks ago I printed out my own personal schedule, the must-sees during my 3-day panelizing and reading marathon. Here’s what I am hoping to attend on the first official day of the Literary Big Top, Thursday, February 3: 10:30-11:45 am If You Can’t Dance You Can Keep Your Revolution (Sean Thomas Dougherty, Crystal Williams, and four other Writers of Political Engagement) 3-4:15 pm: This Human Longing, with Bob Hicok, Marie Howe, Gregory Orr, Kevin Young, and Alison Granucci 4:30-5:45 pm: 40th Anniverary Ploughshares Reading with Terrance Hayes and others, but from this lovely fete I must cut out early for the Saturnalia/Painted Bride Quarterly reading at Bardeo, which I hear is very close by and has a wonderful array of finger foods. Note that I am not even attempting to attend anything during the 9-10:15 am panel slot. This is because (1) jet lag and (2) not having to be up at 7 am PST to make buttermilk pancakes in the shapes of hearts or soccer balls or dinosaurs or butterflies or tarantulas or lightbulbs or for my two school-aged kids. Either that or I will be doing the other thing I never have time to do in Seattle: exercising! Wish me a safe journey in which I do not hear “this is your captain. I have just received word from Air Traffic Control that Reagan National Airport has closed due to [insert one of the following: heavy snow, freezing rain, hail, graupel, earthquake, avalanche, meteor strike, space alien invasion].” Continue reading
Posted Jan 31, 2011 at Marthasilano's blog
In the new issue of AGNI, editor Sven Birkerts contemplates the Heidegerian-ish question: What is writing? Birkerts steps right in and breaks it down: Writing is . . . “very little actual writing.” Indeed. For instance. The day job. Tracking down my marriage license because I can’t find our 2008 tax return. I need one or the other to prove that my betrothed is indeed my domestic partner. Otherwise, in 30 days he will be axed from my Washington State Health Care Authority insurance plan. (I am not even sure our marriage license got filed. Why? Because the guy who officiated our wedding was "ordained" via the Internet when the Internet was, well, a kind of sketchy operation held together by a bunch of prayer flags. Oh, and our officiant (officiator?) wasn’t exactly known for his secretarial skills. So, what happens if I have no license and can’t find the tax return? I guess that’s when I get to call the Health Care Authority and listen to the options, then hit 0 and pray I can talk to a person who understands that we do plan on spending the rest of our lives together, but we’re just not very good with filing. One thing's for certain, however. While I am on hold, I will not be writing.) Cricket procurement, dispensation, and corpse removal. Ditto for the “pinkies “ (very small mice). Goldfish bowl cleaning. Shuttling children to and from all order of Spanish and art classes, chess, swim lessons, soccer games and practices, birthday parties, dental and medical appointments (in other words, standard fare). Life’s non-negotiables, including sleep, eat, Facebook, email, bi-weekly chat with folks, traffic, laundry, and looking all over the house for my car keys and cell phone. Which leaves about, if lucky, half an hour per day (on average) for the act of doing what I am called on in this life to do, though most of that time is taken up with editing what’s already been written or venting long-hand in a journal (which I’ve been doing since I was 9), researching, blogging, & reviewing. Thank God, as Birkerts asserts, “a writer doesn’t have to be sitting at his [sic] desk at all to be considered ‘in the act’.” What a relief to know that when I’m not writing I’m “inwardly shifting and shaping experience that eventually calls work forth.” I, lucky thing, unlike the poor sot who isn’t a writer, am “living liminally, hovering at all times at the threshold of transformation.” Thank God thinking about writing is enough! Continue reading
Posted Nov 28, 2009 at The Best American Poetry
HUNGER (by Samik) Eskimo You, stranger, who only see us happy and free of care, If you knew the horrors we often have to live through you would understand our love of eating and singing and dancing. There is not one among us who hasn’t lived through a winter of bad hunting when many people starved to death. We are never surprised to hear that someone has died of starvation – we are used to it. And they are not to blame: Sickness comes, or bad weather ruins hunting, as when a blizzard of snow hides the breathing holes. I once saw a wise old man hang himself because he was starving to death and preferred to die in his own way. But before he died he filled his mouth with seal bones, for that way he was sure to get plenty of meat in the land of the dead. Once during the winter famine a woman gave birth to a child while people lay round about her dying of hunger. What could the baby want with life here on earth? And how could it live when its mother herself was dried up with starvation? So she strangled it and let it freeze. And later on ate it to keep alive— Then a seal was caught and the famine was over, so the mother survived. But from that time on she was paralyzed because she had eaten part of herself. This is what can happen to people. We have gone through it ourselves And know what one may come to, so we do not judge them. And how would anyone who has eaten his fill and is well be able to understand the madness of hunger? We only know that we all want so much to live! Continue reading
Posted Nov 25, 2009 at The Best American Poetry
I'm drawn to Mark Bibbins' work because he is not a confessional poet, and also because linear narratives do not seem to be exceedingly important to him. He is, of course, not the first contemporary poet to move away from confessional narrative, but what stands out about Bibbins' work (at least for me) are three things: his attention to and aptitude with sound/rhyme, his use of word play, and the unexpected forms his poems take. Here the author answers questions about his new book, The Dance of No Hard Feelings (Copper Canyon 2009). MS: You state in your 2009 BAP contributor note that “Concerning the Land to the South of Our Neighbors to the North” gained its foothold when the final line of the poem (“Connecticut! We’re sawing you in half.”) popped into your head. Is it common for you to get first (or last) lines in your head, triggers that coalesce into poems? Or do poems come to you elsewise? MB: For me a poem starts with a phrase or a sentence that arrives, usually without warning or preparation, then the rest grows around that. Some wind up as titles, others beginnings or endings; most change their minds and move around as it’s coming together. I certainly wouldn’t have sat down to write a poem “about” America, as my level of ambition is pretty low. I prefer to let something besides that direct a poem toward or around its subject(s). MS: Speaking of “Concerning the Land . . .,” it’s a wonderful poem on the first go, but, at least for me, it only gets better with each re-reading. Can you share a bit about the making of this poem? Did the Necco wafers and New Jersey’s queer shoulder come quickly to you, or did it take several throws to get each state just right? Also, how conscious were you that each state’s stanza is gazelle-ishly distinct? Did anyone read a rough draft, and if so were there any suggestions for revision? MB: A handful of states came during a train ride through the Nutmeg State, and I picked up again after returning home a few days later—it happened quickly, and the conceit really hustled it along. I like hearing of odd events and foods and landmarks that places are “known for.” It’s preposterous and sweet, sometimes creepy. Also arbitrary, which is why I felt entitled to fabricate, and why it didn’t always matter what information was attached to which state (New Jersey and Ginsberg being, as they so often are, exceptions). Nobody saw a draft of it. The wonderful Danielle Pafunda had offered to consider something of mine for La Petite Zine, which she was coediting, and I’m grateful for her consideration. I usually don’t show poems to anyone until I feel I’ve finished writing and revising them, which isn’t to imply that I haven’t been given good advice in the past. Nor do I mean to separate the processes of writing and revision. MS: The Dance of... Continue reading
Posted Nov 25, 2009 at The Best American Poetry
Everyone’s gathered at the gourd-festooned table. The TV is momentarily turned to OFF, the carved turkey and gravy boat are beckoningly steaming. That’s right: It’s time to bust out the Poem o Thanks. But OH NO! You forgot to write a poem of thanks, or even do a Google search for a poem of thanks. Hark! Heck! You’re without a poem of thanks! Have no fear that this will be your T-day nightmare because you have Martha’s quick and easy, handy-dandy reference guide for the perfect Turkey-time poesy. Here come Thomas Lux, Ronald Wallace, John Berryman, Charles Simic, Anne Sexton, and Joy Harjo to the rescue. Now you can belt out a poem or two (see below), sit back, and enjoy some good old American-type face stuffing. Maybe you'll even convince yourself, as the wine and cranberry sauce flow freely, that you'll write your very own thanks poem next year. Clink! Crunch! Burp! POEM IN THANKS - Thomas Lux Lord Whoever, thank you for this air I'm about to in- and exhale, this hutch in the woods, the wood for fire, the light–––both lamp and the natural stuff of leaf-black fern, and wing. For the piano, the shovel for ashes, the moth-gnawed blankets, the stone-cold water stone-cold: thank you. Thank you, Lord, coming for to carry me here–––where I'll gnash it out, Lord, where I'll calm and work, Lord, thank you for the goddamn birds singing! BLESSINGS - Ronald Wallaceoccur. Some days I find myself putting my foot in the same stream twice; leading a horse to water and making him drink. I have a clue. I can see the forest for the trees. All around me people are making silk purses out of sows' ears, getting blood from turnips, building Rome in a day. There's a business like show business. There's something new under the sun. Some days misery no longer loves company; it puts itself out of its. There's rest for the weary. There's turning back. There are guarantees. I can be serious. I can mean that. You can quite put your finger on it. Some days I know I am long for this world. I can go home again. And when I go I can take it with me. John Berryman's "Address to the Lord" Charles Simic's "Summer Morning" Anne Sexton's "Welcome Morning" Joy Harjo's "Perhaps the World Ends Here" Continue reading
Posted Nov 23, 2009 at The Best American Poetry
Today’s interview is with 2009 BAP contributor Susan Blackwell Ramsey. Susan and I began emailing each other in 2001 when a friend suggested I needed to know her. Regretfully, I did not archive those initial exchanges, but I assume they must have been rather cursory and formal, lacking subject lines the likes of “AIEEEEEEEEEEE!!!” or “Nononononononoo oooooooooo,” which soon became de rigeur. Yes, we must’ve initially been professional. Just-met composed. But looking back, I can’t recall a time when we weren’t firing off effusive and impassioned missives upwards of 5x a day. It was one of those Gemini Titan II rocket friendships; it just took off. I finally met Ms. Ramsey in person at the 2009 BAP Release Bash in NYC this past September. In the weeks leading up to the visit, I began to worry she might not live up to her cyber-self, or even worse, that she’d find me jejune, sophomoric, or—most likely—an insufferable windbag. I am happy to report that the meeting went more than smoothly; Susan turned out to be every bit as passionate, funny, wise, and knowledge-crammed about poetry (and about a whole lot else, it turns out) as she was in her emails (and since she’s still writing me, I’m assuming I didn’t completely disappoint). My only complaint is that we had just three hours to stroll the European Wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art together. But since I am still in the process of trying to track down every poem, book, painting, novel, memoir, DVD, and video clip she enthusiastically raved about in those three hours, perhaps it was enough to tide me over till we next meet. By now it’s pretty obvious that I count myself as one of the lucky to not only know Susan’s work (her poems are put together like freaking DNA strands), but to have Susan as a friend, a first reader, and as someone who promises me if I ever come to Kalamazoo she will teach me how to knit (fat chance, as I cannot thread a needle, but I love her all the more for her willingness to believe she could). And now, without further ado, the brilliant, funny, and enviably humble Ms. Susan Blackwell Ramsey: MS: Share the journey from start to finish (or anywhere in between) of your BAP poem, "Pickled Heads: St. Petersburg"--number of drafts, comments/suggestions by others, number of magazines submitted to, major overhaul(s), etc. Was it a poem that came easily, or one that you struggled with? SBR: I was reading a book on the evolution of natural history museums which mentioned that Peter the Great had the heads of his wife’s reputed lover and his own executed mistress preserved in “spirits of wine.” While morbid curiosity kept me digging for details, I kept remembering other equally peculiar stories of preserved bodies and body parts. Each story seemed bizarre, but there were so many of them that they began to fall into subcategories while I kept asking “Why?” The story... Continue reading
Posted Nov 22, 2009 at The Best American Poetry
And this week's guest blogger is . . . Martha Silano. Hello, everybody, and thanks for reading. I thought I'd begin my short stint by sharing a recent interview I had with this year's guest editor, David Wagoner. I took two poetry writing workshops with David Wagoner at the University of Washington, the first time as a non-matriculating post-baccalaureate. That's right: non-matriculating. I had heard that sometimes David let people into his classes without actually being enrolled at the U, and so I sent him a few poems and asked him if I might sit in on his graduate poetry workshop. I'd been studying poetry writing for about five years, which meant I was just barely beginning to figure things out. On the first day of that first class, we were all seated at a long rectangular seminar table, waiting for David to walk in. When he did, he was wearing a bright purple turtleneck and carrying what looked like a thousand submissions to Poetry Northwest in several giant manila envelopes. He was up to his ears in poems, or so it appeared. He wore a faded jean jacket. I marveled at his thick head of hair and the youthful look of his face; he was, after all, as old as my father, who at that moment seemed much older than this man now sitting to my left. It was a painful ten weeks, mainly because, as David repeatedly pointed out, I didn't know how to write poems in a consistent meter. "Here you've got an iambic line, but it's followed by a ballad line. And what's this next line? It's trochaic tetrameter. Martha Silano: What are you doing?!" There were times I wanted to cry, was about to cry, so I started to laugh. It was the only way to keep from further shaming myself. I was a pitifully bad poet, but I knew I wasn't going to stop writing poetry, so I dug my heels in and got down to business with figuring out this thing called metrics. I began by counting stresses in a line. I did my best to keep it to around five stressed syllables, then I'd break and start it over on the next line. In this way I was finally able to break through my tone deafness and begin to make a kind of music with my words. It was poetry boot camp, all right, but I had no choice (I'd tried to stop writing before, and it had only made me depressed with purposelessness). I was stuck with having to go through the process of figuring out how to do what David had asked: to listen, to make music, to capture my audience through their hearts (through the rhythm of my poems), rather than through their brains. To this day I am certain that had I not barged in on David's poetry class in the winter of 1991, I never would have learned to emit anything close to a joyful noise. I'd... Continue reading
Posted Nov 21, 2009 at The Best American Poetry
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Nov 19, 2009