Saturday, 31 December 2011

Good-bye, Annus Horribilis

The year began well: in February I brought out my second book of poems, Divining for Starters, and in April I moved in with my boyfriend, while continuing to write and teach (two of my greatest pleasures). But on 29 July my mother, my dearest friend, died too soon, most suddenly and unexpectedly, and August became the worst month of my life, full of family slights and betrayals alongside sorting through my parents' belongings and finances and suffering an incredible grief. In the last month I've started to feel a little better, feel myself inside a slightly lesser mourning, but it's hard to imagine what would make the next year worthwhile. I plan to read and write more, to try to write better, to continue reviewing and publishing, but I'm not excited by these prospects the way I used to be. I am waiting to be excited, I think. I am hoping and watching. And remembering my parents in their stunning absence.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Fabulous new poems by Claire Crowther

and many others compose Blackbox Manifold's seventh issue, including Nathaniel Mackey and Aidan Semmens. There's also a strong translation section with contributions from Tim Atkins, Vahni Capildeo, Rod Mengham, Justin Quinn and Keston Sutherland, among others.

(Here's where I admit to possible bias re: Claire's poems; she's a close friend. Nonetheless, the poems are startlingly good.)

Monday, 12 December 2011

O Christmas Tree

Tonight, decorating my boyfriend's shiny fake brown tree, strung with bunny lights, I broke for a moment. (Is that oxymoronic--can one really break for just a moment; is it then not a real break?) I was hanging ornaments, and for many years I bought matching ornaments for my mother and I, to create a mirroring between home and away. I couldn't remember the origins of some, while others' purchases I recalled vividly, as with those from the Mikasa outlet in Irvine; the strangeness of buying crystal snowflakes in a desert.

In my ten years in England, I think I've seen candy canes just once, and so finding them today amid online grocery shopping startled and delighted me. On Christmas Day candy canes would appear on the tree, as though left by Santa; there were several late nights I put those candy canes up for the sake of my younger sisters and later my nieces and nephews. Now I'm eager to repeat the same, as I cling to that sharply severed thread to the past.

Often in my thoughts are my parents' histories, which they referred to in asides and the odd anecdote over the years. Both were only children. After my father died, my mother intended to write down what she knew of her family's history, once she retired; she died days before the first retirement check arrived. I scramble at what I remember, knowing how much information my parents held dear that died with them. There is so much information, and still so much lost.

From here I see a rare photograph of my father smiling after his paralysis. He's got a Christmas present in his lap. One brother in law, two nephews, and my mother are scattered and intent on their own purposes in the background, and for once Dad looks at ease in the ill-fitted wheelchair. I had a tremendously nourishing family life, I knew and appreciated the fact, and oh, life seems so meager without it.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Alice Oswald withdraws from the T.S. Eliot Prize

in protest at the sponsor Aurum, an investment company focusing on hedge funds. Americans need to know that this is the most prestigious prize for poetry in the UK--it'd be like withdrawing from the Pulitzer or National Book Award, which makes Oswald's act that much more public and impressive. Read the story in The Guardian.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

A new review of Divining for Starters

appears in Poetry Salzburg Review's twentieth issue. Interestingly, Zoë Brigley reviews Divining alongside David Cooke's In the Distance (Night Publishing, 2011), David Morley's Enchantment (Carcanet, 2010) and Evie Shockley's the new black (Wesleyan University Press, 2011), which renders me "the most avant-garde of the poets discussed here," a position I rarely occupy. The review is thoughtful and appreciative, yet the essay is of such a whole, I can't excerpt it usefully. You'll have to see it for yourself.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Four Months

I'm still waiting for you to come back. Almost every day I think of calling to talk, to put this horrible nonsense behind us and tell you all about the new cats, the teaching, poetry and ask after your cats, your teaching, what you're reading. Before I pick up the phone, though, I admit, rationally, you're gone, and then the ache, the deep-chest ache, and the longing to return to the moment of denial, the moment you were almost still here.

Monday, 28 November 2011

"Aurascope" from Nerys Williams' Sound Archive (Seren, 2011)


You came with Mr Rhetoric
and the light found a pattern
for his squat figure guarding the door.

We sped, or rather I, through countries
I never really knew
while a fire fell in the grate.

The phantom caller sketched my hand
watching the butterfly ring
beat metal spirals on my finger.

My favourite perfume was a room of laughter,
in the sound between my aurascope
clouds emptied of your face.

Nerys Williams
Sound Archive (Seren, 2011)

You can purchase Sound Archive for 20% off directly from the publisher.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Peter Reading, 1946-2011

Peter Reading's most recent book, Vendange Tardive (meaning late harvest), was all too prophetic about the nearness of his death. My review of that impressive collection appears on The Guardian website here, and his publisher Bloodaxe Books's blog entry on his death here.

British poetry has lost one of its most compelling, original writers.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

The new issue of Shadowtrain

features some fine prose poetry, with selections from Andy Brown, Lucy Hamilton and my own just-finished MA student James Davey. At first glance, there's also interesting work from Rufo Quintavalle, Jeremy Over and Nathan Thompson. Read it here.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

A splendid review of Divining for Starters

appears on the Burning Eye Books website. Here's one beloved passage:

"This is a poet writing with confidence and surety. Yes we are at the experimental end of things, out there with the kooky fringe dwellers painting with words, but what words, what poise, what perfect balance of imagery from beginning to end."

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Current Issues

When I started "Current Issues" posts on my blog, it was in response to students who asked where they could read more of my work, especially as I had yet to publish a book. With two books now in hand, I was starting to wonder whether such posts had become superfluous, but as I'm always interested to know where poets I admire are publishing new work, I'll persist in the hope someone is curious about my work in the same way.

I have poems in two new anthologies, The Best British Poetry 2011 (Roddy Lumsden, ed.; Salt Publishing) and This Line Is Not for Turning: An Anthology of Contemporary British Prose Poetry (Jane Monson, ed.; Cinnamon) as well as in the magazines Horizon, Sunfish and Tellus.

Poems are forthcoming in Notre Dame Review, Poetry Salzburg Review, Poetry Wales, The Rialto and Tears in the Fence. A short-short story, "The Name," will appear in Ginger Piglet, a new magazine started by Bath Spa MA graduate Libby Walkup. I also have a poem in the forthcoming anthology, A Mutual Friend: Poems for Charles Dickens (Peter Robinson, ed.; Two Rivers Press).

I also have a short review forthcoming in the TLS.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Bath Spa University's Stand Up Poetry Reading Series, 2011-12

If you live in or near Bath, please take note of the following dates for the Bath Spa University Stand Up Poetry Series this year. In five years, we've never repeated a reader, and I hope that will continue. The organizer of the series is Professor Tim Liardet (with assistance from yours truly) and its manager is PhD poetry student Andy Turner. All readings are held at 8 p.m. at the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institute, 16-18 Queen Square, Bath. I believe the cover charge is £7, though it's free for Bath Spa students.

6 October (yes, already gone!): Dennis Nurkse
10 November: Ian Duhig
8 December: Julia Copus
12 January: Lytton Smith and Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch
9 February: Geraldine Monk
8 March: Neil Rollinson
19 April: Jill Bialosky
10 May: Vahni Capildeo and Ahren Warner

Unfortunately I'll miss 10 November and 8 December as I have readings in Cardiff and Swindon, respectively, on those nights, but I expect to make it to the others. I hope to see some of you there!

Monday, 10 October 2011

A prose poem from Ellie Evans' The Ivy Hides the Fig-Ripe Duchess

Line Ending

He was always plagued by line-endings. This was why he didn't lift his pencil off the paper, but kept on and on, writing more and more slowly. And his writing got smaller. When words stopped forming, he let the line go and it drew him after it, as it drew petals, the scroll of an ear, a foetus like a conch-shell. At the same time, the line annotated all these in tiny script, written backwards to bewilder him. Still he was running as the line left the page and spiralled over walls to doodle staircases, camels, a banyan tree...then off down corridors, ambulatories, even cannons and aeroplanes. But all he had ever wanted to do was make a lion: it walked towards the king as if to attack, then opened its mouth. And it was filled with lilies.

Ellie Evans
The Ivy Hides the Fig-Ripe Duchess
Seren Books, 2011

You can purchase The Ivy Hides the Fig-Ripe Duchess from The Book Depository with free worldwide shipping. At the moment of writing, it's 26% off!

Monday, 3 October 2011

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Poetry Reviews

My short reviews of Nancy Gaffield's Tokaido Road, Ahren Warner's Confer, and Carol Watts' Occasionals appear in today's Guardian. All were well worth the read.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Two months gone

This is the last picture I took of her, sitting at the other end of the couch from me. Without thousands more words, I can't describe the extent of my loss.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

i.m. Henry Ross Etter, 26 September 1940-13 March 2009

the hot pink cast

Twenty-five things about my father:

1. When the rehab facility broke his leg, he asked for--and got--a hot pink cast for it.

2. He loved cashews and Fannie May's dark chocolate vanilla buttercreams.

3. He gave me his father's poetry notebooks.

4. He was laid off from General Electric when I was 14. We spent 3 or 4 years under the poverty line, as he was considered overqualified for most positions and could only find occasional work, before GE rehired him through a temporary service agency, at half his previous salary.

5. He grew up in St. Louis. When driving, he often didn't fully stop at a stop sign; he called that a "St. Louis stop."

6. He used to enjoy CB radio and served as an emergency contact, listening on the emergency channel for a certain period once a week in case any calls came in (clearly in the days before mobile phones).

7. As someone from St. Louis, he loved the Cardinals. When he took me to my first Cardinals game, he warned me that baseball could be boring sometimes. The Cardinals won 7-4 against the Cincinnati Reds in extra innings, and later that year the Cardinals won the pennant.

8. He was always unsure about gifts and would ask my and my sisters' advice about presents for Mom.

9. He used to try to do as many car repairs as he could himself, and growing up, my sisters and I often heard him through the door linking the garage and kitchen as he cursed.

10. He picked up some sort of calisthenics program in the 60s and did it every morning Monday to Friday in the garage (until his injury, anyway).

11. He was noisy about his pain. He would literally call out, "OW! OW! OW!"

12. He held me, at three months old, in front of the TV to see the moon landing.

13. He made claims against Republicans without invoking any examples or evidence; one Christmas I gave him The Bush Haters' Handbook in the hope he'd use it for support.

14. He snored. Really loud.

15. He loved Bill Haley and the Comets and John Stewart. Those were the two sides of his music taste: rockabilly and folk rock.

16. He didn't drink much, and when he did, it was cheap stuff, either sweet wine from a box or Icehouse beer. He would, however, gladly partake if I was making amaretto sours or the like.

17. In one of our last conversations, he told me how proud he was of me. I interrupted to stop him, and he said something like, "No, no, now listen."

18. When he was delirious on morphine the last night of his life, I don't know whether he called out hari kari (least likely), Harry Caray, the name of the famous Cardinals broadcaster, or Hurry, Carrie.

19. The last signs of consciousness we saw in him were seemingly reactions to the rockabilly music on the satellite TV-radio channel--partial smiles &c.

20. I was always joked that, having five daughters, he related to us by introducing us to sci-fi, but I was the only one with whom it took. We went to a number of Star Trek movies together and commented on Next Generation and Voyager when we caught up on the phone.

21. He loved cycling and cycled 20+ miles a day for years before his injury in 2007. Sometimes, when I could be persuaded, we cycled out into the country together. He cycled so much that the local paper used photos of him for its "local moments"-type feature on three different occasions.

22. He would talk a stranger's ear off, whether the waiter, a gas station attendant, or someone he met when cycling on Constitution Trail.

23. Years after I finished my BA at UCLA, he said he'd wanted to send me to Harvard (had he the money).

24. He was obsessed with the weather, first following it on the radio, later on TV when The Weather Channel started, and later still on the internet. In his retirement, he spent a couple hours a day reading about the weather on the internet.

25. He told me he loved me at the end of every phone call.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Catching Up with Anthologies: The Best British Poetry 2011

NB: In all the "catching up" entries, I have work in the publication.

Salt Publishing and Roddy Lumsden have come up with a British parallel to the well established Best American Poetry Series overseen by David Lehman. The first editor is Lumsden himself, to be followed by Sasha Dugdale next year. While the initial volume is a largely mainstream selection (with, strangely, not a prose poem in sight), it possesses greater energy and range than the annual Forward Book of Poetry, as evidenced in poems by Gillian Allnutt, Amy De'Ath, and Chris McCabe, among others.

The advantage of a single poet reading through a year's magazines for selections, over the Forward's approach of taking four selections from each magazine editor, manifests in the larger selection of younger and emerging poets therein. It's good, too, to see in the represented magazines a mix of the usual suspects (Poetry Review and Poetry London, but not, interestingly, TLS or LRB) and such internet journals as Ink, Sweat and Tears and Shadowtrain and more experimental journals like QUID and Shearsman. Part of the success of the American series has come from annual editors' choices seemingly pushing beyond personal taste, in an attempt to recognise the best work whatever the style; that range in choice of editors and work selected will need to increase as the series goes on for it to distinguish itself from the Forward. Here's hoping!

Monday, 19 September 2011

Another (praiseful) review of The Tethers

The current PN Review includes Alison Brackenbury's review of The Tethers (over two years after the book's publication, but hey, I'm not complaining). Here are some highlights: "The Tethers reveals Carrie Etter as a poetic chameleon, with a colour to dazzle every reader. [...] This is beautifully done. The Tethers is rich in technical variety. [...] Etter’s endings are persistently superb, including wicked collage, ‘you are saved, I tell you, you are saved’, and passionate entreaty, ‘Tell me which. Tell me both.’" See the magazine to read the whole.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Linda Black, Root (Shearsman, 2011)

She liked the space on the landing

Where the stairs turned, as if it were extra, a place in which she might pause, leaning her back against the wall, where the sun might shine, as on the lawn at her grandparents’ house, briefly. The lawn she had wished for her children to run on in abandon. When she sees a photo of the children she thinks, how familiar, how familiar these children in their clothes and their faces, as though she could open a door and see them standing there with their voices and their little feet.

Linda Black

Root is available directly from Shearsman Books or from The Book Depository.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Catching Up with Magazines: Sunfish

When in Manchester earlier this year for the splendid The Other Room reading series, I encountered a journal I hadn't heard of before, Sunfish: A Magazine of Exploratory Poetics. It's A4, all white with black papers, a clean, flat-spined production. Edited by Nigel Ward, Sunfish comes out three times a year for the low subscription price of £12, and get this--Ward will send you a PDF copy of the magazine free on request if you write to him at sunfishmag at googlemail dot com. How sweet is that?

What with sharp work from Ken Edwards and others in the issue I bought that night up north, I submitted work for consideration straight away. Happily, the new issue, 5: summer/autumn 2011, includes six poems of mine, alongside work by sean burn, Phil Davenport, Amanda Earl, Alec Finlay, and Charles Stein. I haven't had much time to peruse, but already I've enjoyed some of the musical, fragmented lyricism of burn and the playful intelligence of Stein. I hope others will, too.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

"Breaking the Rules" Poetry Society Stanza competition (deadline 9 September)

I'm judging this year's Poetry Society Stanza competition, on the theme of "Breaking the Rules," and hope there are hundreds upon hundreds of entries to read. Seriously. The greater the number of poems submitted, the more gold I hope to find.

You must be both a member of the Poetry Society and a member of an area Stanza to submit (free!); to find your local Stanza, please see this page. You can read more about the competition here.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Requiescat in Pace Scott Wannberg, 20 February 1953-20 August 2011

I met Scott early in my time in Los Angeles in the late 'eighties, often seeing him at poetry readings and occasionally sharing the bill, and was delighted when he found me on Facebook a while back. From that point on he became part of my daily consciousness with his messages, posts and poems. I will miss his easy affection, compassionate generosity, and irrepressible spirit.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Requiescat in Pace Colin Harvey, 1960-2011

I am saddened to learn of the death of my former student and science-fiction author Colin Harvey. My condolences go out to his family and friends, and I am most sorry I will not be able to make it back to England in time for his funeral next Friday, 27 August.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Cooking for One

Since I arrived at the family home on the first of August, I have spent hours each day going through my parents' papers, and it's excruciating to see this stuff of lives knowing the lives it accompanied are gone. I've read truly countless bills and financial statements, but I've also come across love letters, a draft notice, an impressive collection of 60s Democrat memorabilia, old photos of people I don't recognize, loose bits and bobs, and the letters I sent my parents over the years, especially in the days before email.

One of my sisters told me there was more cat food in the trunk of my mother's car, and within this hour I encountered another motley array, recent purchases including some books, catnip, Christmas paper plates and wrapping paper, cat food and a box of instant amaretto cappuccino sachets. I expect the latter was for me and my expected visit later this month, as she knew I loved amaretto and had bought me Amaretto di Saronno as a Christmas present on at least one occasion, and on several visits home I'd bought the makings for amaretto sours and made them for my parents and I.

More sad were some of the books. There were a couple novels, apparently picked up secondhand, as well as a few nonfiction titles: the first I saw were Cooking for One and Facing Loneliness. My mother has struggled on her own since my father died in March 2009, and these titles, and, found a few minutes later, Healing Grief, struck me hard with the pain of her sorrow. I dearly wish I could have done more to mitigate it.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Screams for my mother

Written on the flight from London to Chicago








Henry Etter and Bernadine Meeker, 1965

The year before they married

Sunday, 31 July 2011

20 Things My Mother Loved (or Liked)

1. John Denver, the person and the music. All of it. She saw him in concert and met him several times.
2. Maeve Binchy novels. The Irish settings help (she was half-Irish and grew up largely with her Irish grandparents).
3. Melon, all kinds
4. Cats. The house on Arlington Drive, where she lived the last 37 years of her life, always had cats, and for a while, a dog named Buffy.
5. Panera Cafe in Bloomington.
6. Shakespeare. When my visits coincided with the Illinois Shakespeare Festival, we'd attend one or two plays together.
7. Playing silly computer games, like Chuzzle
8. TV medical dramas: St. Elsewhere, ER, Grey's Anatomy....
9. Pizza with lots of vegetables, especially green pepper and black olives
10. Daisies
11. Cooking. Specialties included lasagna, beef stroganoff, and ham and bean soup.
12. Fish. She loved to eat all kinds of fish, every which way. I can remember dinners with her where she had catfish, tilapia, orange roughy, and salmon (not all at once!).
13. Sales. Garage sales.
14. The color blue
15. Her dark burgundy sofa with the recliners on either end
16. Strawberry daiquiris (not that she had them often)
17. Autumn foliage
18. Old James Bond movies
19. Getting her hair cut
20. Constant Comment tea

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Friday, 22 July 2011

The Poetry Society's Extraordinary General Meeting, 22 July 2011

A Guardian report somewhat sympathetic to the Board of Trustees appears here, while a statement from outgoing Finance Manager Paul Ranford, about the events in question as he saw them, is on the alternate Poetry Society website here. As I did not attend, I'd be glad for others' comments on what actually happened in the meeting, written with due consideration for all parties involved.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Aidan Semmens' A Stone Dog (Shearsman, 2011), first selection


For the destroyer shall come suddenly upon us

that which is manifest begins
with the seed of itself

blurred stirrings
of whatever is new, may be invented

hard black buds of ash
embers of haw

osier incipient

we weep
on bairns' bones
in our own decay

a desert harvest

toxic growth

a language

Aidan Semmens
A Stone Dog (Shearsman, 2011)

You can buy A Stone Dog from The Book Depository with free worldwide shipping.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Gargoyles in Lisbon

Traveling among European cities, I find myself increasingly interested in and attracted to some of the more ornate elements of the architecture, especially gargoyles and balconies. Here are some gargoyles from the Jerónimos Monastery in Lisbon as a start. (You can enlarge any image in a separate window by clicking on it.)

Each one is unique. I love that.

The most unusual one I noticed, close-up.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Lytton Smith's The All-Purpose Magical Tent, second selection

The Tightrope Walker's Childhood

Fear of wheatfields. Fear of groundbeetles.
Fear of where the tree trunk disapppears

below ground. Fear of ground opening
to absence like the magician's trick cabinet.

She can sleep only on water and fitfully.
Footfall is an act of brevity then she is

soundlessly at your shoulder. From stilts,
rooftops, belltowers she studies faraway,

learns to think as a wing-walker, to harness
bird's-eye view: rivers are blue scarves,

an oxbow lake fits in the small of her back,
fields are a patchwork she can fold

about her at night. Here, afloat above
a sawdust ring, the audience's faces

safe as farms distance has made small, rope
is all the faith she needs. This is no feat

of balance. This is belief and aversion,
this is how earth becomes afterthought.

Lytton Smith
The All-Purpose Magical Tent (Nightboat Books, 2009)

You can buy The All-Purpose Magical Tent with free worldwide shipping from The Book Depository.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Divining for Starters, Review 4½

On Intercapillary Space, Michael Peverett has reviewed a number of Shearsman Books' PDF samplers of new titles, including Divining for Starters, thus commenting on just the first six poems. However, he's gone into more detail and analysis than many a review of a complete collection. You can read his review here.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Divining for Starters, the fourth review

"One might want to state that Etter's work could be viewed as establishing a phenomenological lyric, as well as a poetic framed by ecological concerns. Etter builds upon (and challenges) the experimentations of an earlier generation of women poets--such as Lyn Hejinian's strategies of defamiliarisation, or Jorie Graham's testing of the reader with her long modulated and errant lines." --Nerys Williams in Poetry Wales' new issue, where the whole of the appreciative review can be read.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Torre de Belem, Lisbon, 1 July 2011

Click on any image to enlarge it in a new window.

Torre de Belem

looking up from within

within the Torre

Saturday, 25 June 2011

A third positive review of Divining for Starters

"Carrie Etter's follow up to her debut collection The Tethers (Seren 2009), Divining for Starters (Shearsman 2011), consolidates her growing reputation with poems that begin with a consideration of beginnings and origins and develop in elegant swerves of unexpected and precise delineation. [....] ...this collection alternates between a poetics of consciousness and one of the reflexivity of the body. At their base is a probing of self and identity, with an arc of origins from the American Mid-West via California to the edge of the West Country that realises some powerful poetry."

David Caddy, Tears in the Fence

The Book Depository sells Divining for Starters with free worldwide shipping.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Lytton Smith's The All-Purpose Magical Tent, first selection

"Structural for the Tent"

Mainstay. Ringside. Acts. The audience is meant

To believe in the tent even when they pass on

And it’s dismantled—apparition. “The night sky

Was in there. The full moon. The clowns wore

The gravediggers’ smiles.” Circular and itself

In a field. The events transpiring within an illusion

The performers and watchers aspire to maintain.

“The lions I think Africa. The trapeze intercontinental.

We were magicked away.” But there’s nothing magical

About the magical. The audience invents a moment

The disappeared reappear. Any moment now. Now.

Now. I’ve watched the sleight-of-hand from the gods

And found it wanting—each act I can’t take back.

Lytton Smith

The All-Purpose Magical Tent (Nightboat Books, 2009) is available from The Book Depository with free shipping internationally. NB the double-spacing of the poem is accurate.

Pamphlet review in TLS

A roundup review of pamphlets in today's TLS includes favorable reviews of both Claire Crowther's Mollicle and Tim Liardet's Priest Skear. Read it here.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

A short survey of writing habits

For the annual anthology, last year's Bath Spa University MA graduates decided to do a short survey of writing habits, beginning with writers teaching on the programme and extending outward into the larger literary community. Respondents include myself, Peter Finch, George Szirtes, Samantha Harvey, Mimi Thebo, Gerard Woodward, and Lucy English, among others. You can read them here, as well as dip into extracts from the graduates' work.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

A blast from my L.A. past

In 1989, I was a L.A. poet., regularly in the company of many of the poets listed with me on this flyer. It was a great time in my life.

Thanks to S.A. Griffin for posting this online.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Reading at the University of Notre Dame London Centre, 14 June 2011

An edited video (with the most unflattering camera angle) of my reading last week at the University of Notre Dame's London Centre is now on YouTube. You can skip the introduction to the evening by starting at the 1:30 mark. The editing removed a number of introductions and explanations, including mention of the poet who read the two "poems for two voices" with me, Rachel McCarthy.

If you like what you hear, the collection I read from, Divining for Starters, is available at The Book Depository with free international delivery.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

On this day 45 years ago,

my parents married and spent the first night of their honeymoon at a motel in Kankakee, Illinois, that burned down years ago.

An anniversary doesn't end just because one spouse is no longer living, just as we still think of a particular day as being a person's birthday long after she's gone. As regular visitors will know, my dad died two years ago, so this anniversary is a solitary one for my mother. I wish I could spend the day with her, reminiscing and hugging and crying when we can't help it.

I've been thinking of their anniversary all week, of the extraordinary marriage they had. It's harder for the fact that Father's Day is tomorrow. Such a weekend.

Let it rain.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Why I'm Not Having Children

Recently turned 42, I've been thinking about why I haven't had a child of my own, as I adore my 12 nieces and nephews and enjoy children's company wherever I find it.

In my twenties, I wouldn't have even considered having a child. I was in Los Angeles until I was 26, at first working full-time and going to school at night, then working part-time and going to UCLA in the day. On graduation, I headed down to Orange County to pursue my MFA in creative writing at the University of California, Irvine; I lived in Corona del Mar for those two years before moving to Irvine when I started the PhD programme in English. So you could say that in my twenties, I was too busy getting educated--and was hence too poor--for a child to be a real option.

In my thirties, when I married, moved to England, and finished my PhD, the reason for not having children changed: my men became the greatest barrier. I have always been attracted to men whose vocation--intellectual, academic, artistic, or some combination thereof--is their passion and ambition. Literature and writing have been my driving force for nearly all my life, and I relish the company of others who have a comparable sensibility. My ex-husband, whom I began dating when I was 27 (I moved in a mere three months later) and separated from when I was 34, is a reader in philosophy at a prestigious university and has always had an all-encompassing intellectual ambition. This meant that after he was late with several rent payments, the finances fell to me, then all travel arrangements (for conferences, family visits, etc.), etc. My next partner was a poet and musician, whose hours reading, writing and revising poetry, and reading about, listening to, and playing music, took nearly all his time outside his teaching. Along with the finances, I took up the greater share of housework.

I knew that to have a child with either of these men would be like being a single parent. While I know they both would have loved a child dearly, their vocations would still have been dominant, the first thing they turned to in a free moment. I believed--and believe--that circumstance would be destroying for me and any child.

Now that I'm in my forties, I've lost interest in having a child of my own. I love their company, and I think if I could have a few hours a week in the company of my nieces and nephews, any maternal urges would be completely satisfied. I want to get on with my writing--there are so many books I want to write!

It's hard to wish things had been much different, as then I might not be here, where I have (apart from the admin &c.) a wonderful job teaching promising writers, I travel regularly to give readings and workshops, and I've published two books of poetry and edited an anthology. In Britain I've made the best of friends, found a little success in my writing, and come to live in a beautiful city with one of the best men I've ever known. I suppose that explains why I've stayed in the UK as much as why I don't want to change course now.

Why am I telling you this? Now that I share a house and have been with my boyfriend for over a year, people are starting to ask about marriage and kids, and when I say I'm not interested in the latter, they respond with disbelief or dismayed surprise. Is it really still taboo for a woman to choose not to have children? If so, why?

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Katherine Larson's Radial Symmetry (Yale UP, 2011), take 2

On 29 May, my review of Radial Symmetry appeared in The Independent. Here are some passages I admired. (NB: Often the spacing has been regularized, as I haven't been able to figure out how to do complicated spacing on Blogger--tuition welcome!)

And memory
which outruns the body and
grief which arrests it.

the end of "Statuary"

And a sun so round it might exhale.


There are days that walk through me
and I cannot hold them.

from "The Gardens in Tunisia"

The smell of sunlight
fading from the stones. Quietness that's solitude

but not isolation.

from "Lake of Little Birds"

The singing of the blind school
children and the
Mediterranean's flat expanse are metaphors

for every kind of solitude made
forgivable by time.
The hillside museum with rows of empty

earthen vessels is full of it. A stillness
so replete
it resembles something like intimacy.

opening of "Water Clouds"

I don't pretend to imagine the lives of women tending oyster crates
in estuaries at the edge of Sonora.

It's enough to follow the hand-painted sign of a mermaid
peeling and peeling in the sand.

"Ghost Nets," opening of section IV

We emerge from the pale nets of sleep like ghost shrimp
in the estuaries--
The brain humming its electric language.

Touching something in a state of becoming.

"Ghost Nets," end of section VII

All that quiet. Like dreaming you're standing on water
but not hearing the water.

"Ghost Nets," from section VIII

The stillness enough
to hear pistol shrimp snap in the tide pools.

Each time the intimacy becomes greater, the vocabulary less.

"Ghost Nets," end of section X

as pages of Braille.

Memory. The invention
of meaning. Our minds with deeps
where only symbols creep.

"Ghost Nets," from section XI

Not equilibrium, but buoyancy. A hallway
with a thousand human brains carved out of crystal.
Quiet prisms until the sunlight hits.

end of "Metamorphosis"

You can buy Radial Symmetry from The Book Depository.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Another epigraph for Divining for Starters

I came across this today in reading some of prose poet Killarney Clary's work and thought it would have made a good additional epigraph for my most recent collection, Divining for Starters: "We who could divine what is from what is, pull any one way with purpose, win or lose at dice, laugh in the mirror, wish through the tunnels. Risk is juggled into difference."

Monday, 30 May 2011

Katherine Larson's Radial Symmetry,

the latest winner of the Yale Younger Poets Prize, is a rich and engaging first collection; my review of it appears in yesterday's Independent.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Writing book reviews

Much of what these critics say about reviewing children's books applies to book reviewing generally, in my experience. If you're interested in getting into reviewing, I think you'll find this Guardian article helpful.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Want to read a book of poetry in translation this summer?

Modern Poetry in Translation has begun a wonderful project, where they'll send you one of their books received in exchange for a 100-word "poetry postcard" when you're finished. I don't review books in translation because of my weak knowledge of living foreign languages, so I'm particularly pleased to have an opportunity to read and respond to such a book without that concern. Join me?