Saturday 22 December 2007


On the day after the year's darkest day, my father will finally come home. It's been over ten months since he left for a kidney biopsy, perhaps ten months to the day that the infection that entered through an uncaught bedsore paralysed him to the extent that he couldn't breathe. I'm sitting at the ancient computer he used to spend hours a day on, mostly reading weather reports, and wondering whether it'll ever be that way again.

Last night my mother and I cleaned "the playroom" to make space for extra furniture, moved down from the living room to make space for Dad's hospital bed and equipment. Fortunately, because the living room is fairly long, the entertainment centre can stay, as well as two small sofas. This means that the room will feel more homey, will look closer to the living room Dad left than a hospital room.

Saturday's dinner will be chicken quesadillas--of the dishes I make when home (i.e. it's suitable for spontaneous mass production), it's one of Dad's favourites.

Thursday 13 December 2007

2008 Readings

Here are the readings I have scheduled so far.

Saturday, 23 February, 7 p.m., Crockett & Powell Books, London (near Waterloo). I read with Wendy Mulford. This will also be the launch for my new pamphlet, Yet (Leafe Books).

Tuesday, 3 June, Swedenborg Hall, London (near Holborn). This is a launch for All That Mighty Heart: London Poems, edited by Lisa Russ Spaar and published by the University of Virginia Press. Along with other contributors, I'll read my poem in the collection as well as one other from the volume.

Tuesday, 22 July, Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago. I'll be reading with one other poet on the Series A reading series coordinated by William Allegrezza.

Six times lucky

I couldn't quite believe it when this afternoon I read the contents page for Friday's TLS and saw that they were publishing another poem of mine, the sixth they've printed this year alone. "Fear of Lightning" is also one of the most overtly (read "in your face") topical poems I've published (in short, it's on European secularism); I wrote it earlier this year, during and after my visit to the Czech Republic.

Sunday 9 December 2007

Friday 30 November 2007

Landis Everson, 1926-2007

A Berkeley poet whose work I've much admired and enjoyed. Here is the Los Angeles Times obituary, and The Academy of American Poets has a short poem of his online.

Sunday 25 November 2007

Prague reading, 5 November, belated photos

Top: My reading at The Globe Cafe (there were more people to both the left and right, but the picture's cut them out).

Bottom: I was interviewed afterwards for a student literary magazine at Charles University, by the lovely Liz Skrbkova.

Both photos were taken by Michaela Sladeckova.

Thursday 15 November 2007

Current Issues

Though I myself am ill (it's been a bad autumn for that), the magazine appearances continue in a healthy stream. An "ars poetica," "Postmarked," will appear in the 19 November issue of The New Republic, and currently I have poems in The Liberal, Poetry Review, and Shearsman.

Tuesday 6 November 2007

A postcard from one of my nieces

(Picture: Constitution Trail, which runs through Bloomington and Normal, Illinois)

Dear Aunt Carrie, you are nice and you are always funny I like it when you came on Christmas This this post card has a trial on it and I walked on it p.s my mom had her baby. Love, Kaylee

Thursday 1 November 2007

In this week's TLS

appears my poem, "David Smith, 'Wagon II' (1964)." I saw the Smith exhibition at Tate Modern twice; I found the trajectory of his work and numerous individual pieces fascinating.

Monday 29 October 2007

Irish Poetry Night, 11 November (or, A Great Excuse to Change the Subject)

I am happy to announce two more confirmed readers for the Irish Poetry Night. Along with me, Karen Hoy, and Donald Gibson, David Hale and Susan Mackervoy will be reading. Don't let the unfamiliarity of the names influence you: neither of these poets seems to know the strength of their work, so they have yet to even submit (see, I'm worked up, a split infinitive) to journals fully deserving of them. Both also read very well, as I can attest to from personal experience.

That's 11 November, 7 p.m., at The George on Woolley Street in Bradford on Avon. Come one, come all! It's always a jubilant night!

Sunday 28 October 2007

The folks

are recovering nicely, I understand (no thanks to me). Last night, two days after his biopsy and apparently high on morphine, Dad phoned Mom and thought he was calling from an insurance company office in downtown Bloomington. She says he was like that a lot in the weeks just after his coma. It sounds funny here, and I laughed when Mom told me the story, but I remember seeing Dad in April, when his thinking was starting to clear but he was still very confused, and in person it's distressing, disarming.

Saturday 27 October 2007

Uncollected Poems: 1992

History of Western Civilization, Part I: Final Exam

for Elliott Kai-Kee

In 399 B.C. Socrates drank hemlock
What significance does this have for you?
Because, like Petrarca, you pursue the sanctity
of your soul through a modified form of dialectics,
the questions more or less exacting on different days
dependent on an infinite number of variables
(i.e., lust, humidity, familial concerns)
Because you burn without consequence

In Alberti's On the Family, why were you humbled
and somewhat despondent when reading his discourse on idleness
and his claim that it is the fountain of all sin
when you are uniquely compelled to cultivate enlightenment
and how does this relate to the question on Socrates,
in particular to the aim of dialectics,
and your faceted identity as a student

In conclusion, write an essay on your identification
with Diogenes, with references to the wine cask
he slept in, his matted hair, and rapturous diatribes
Consider Hector's speech to Andromache in Homer
and her plea for mercy; and do not begin
without pondering the "covenant of the heart"
Jeremiah prophesies in the Old Testament
and its importance in the interpretation of your goals
Find your elusive desire in precise terms

written 17 August 1992
published in Poet & Critic

Thursday 25 October 2007

Two days, two surgeries

At last I/we have some concrete information: Dad has a new abscess, lower on his spine, on a disc in his lumbar region. Later today it will be biopsied so the doctors know which antibiotic is appropriate to administer, and apparently they'll clean the area as well, somehow--and I don't understand this--clearing away some of his arthritis? The outcome should be that he will be better off than he was before the abscess.

And tomorrow Mom will have her gall bladder removed in an outpatient surgery, my sister Laura taking her to the hospital and staying with her, my sister Joanna bringing her home, and my sister Nancy spending the night to see to Mom's care. My sisters' attendance makes me feel a little easier about being away in the midst of this.

So I'm hoping that this time next week, both my parents will feel better than they have in some time.

Early in my father's illness, I ran a sort of postcard campaign for him, with friends sending postcards from places as disparate as Seattle, France, the Czech Republic, and, of course, Bradford on Avon. As I've received several queries about sending postcards again, here's my family's address: 220 Arlington Drive, Normal, IL 61761-2749, USA. If there are any Stargate, Battlestar Galactica, or Star Trek fans out there, mentioning it will immediately increase my father's esteem for you!

Tuesday 23 October 2007

Let me (us, them) out of here

Dad's back in hospital again. Apparently he was at one (for which I still remembered the number, sadly), then moved to the other hospital in town because the MRI was broken at the first. He's in so much pain, I'm told, the strongest pain meds aren't doing much for him. I spoke to my sister Nancy, and we began discussing plans for how we'd handle Christmas if he were still in hospital or rehab. Amid all this, my mother can hardly bear eating because her gall bladder is only six or seven per cent functional; she's due to have it removed Friday.

I was about to say, "When will this horrible year end?," when I stopped myself with the thought: this could go on a long time after the switch from '07 to '08. Oh, please, no.

Saturday 13 October 2007

Uncollected Poems: 1991 (2)

The Staged Confession

Here, have them. I have polished the words
I do not say until they gleam too brightly.
They are yours because I will not own them.
Patience is in the next room, she has
been waiting for this respite. There's dignity
in this awkward generosity, though diminished
(I stare at the flutter of my useless hands.)
Come on, say something. Love? Love?
I did not say that. Gracious, it was
Patience in the next room, crocheting,
yelling it out like an auctioneer, it's her way
of saying, Damn you, I'm not getting up again.
Okay, already. Here: Love. Love.

Carrie Etter
written 28 November 1991
published in West Branch

Tuesday 9 October 2007

My upcoming readings &c.

17 October, 7:30 p.m. Shearsman Books reading series at Swedenborg Hall, London. Shearsman launch with Claire Crowther and Rachel Lehrman and launch of Erín Moure's translation of Chus Pato's Charenton.

5 November, 8 p.m. Alchemy reading series at the Globe Cafe, Prague.

11 November, 7 p.m. Irish Poetry Night at The George, Bradford on Avon. Other readers include Donald Gibson, Karen Hoy, and Bronagh Slevin, with additional readers to be confirmed.

16 November, time tbc. Lecturers vs. Students Poetry Slam at the Newton Park Campus of Bath Spa University. Other lecturers reading will probably include Lucy English, Tim Liardet, and Gerard Woodward.

31 January 2008, 9-10:15 a.m. "The Transatlantic Writer: Challenges and Strategies" (panel) at the Associated Writing Programs conference in New York City. The other panelists are Mairead Byrne, Anthony Caleshu, Benjamin Markovits, and Lytton Smith, with Tim Liardet moderating.

23 February, 7 p.m. Launch of Yet (Leafe Press) at Crockett and Powell Booksellers, London. Wendy Mulford is also reading.

Sunday 7 October 2007

The work of dreams

Last night I stayed the night with my dear friend Claire Crowther. We'd been to a tenth anniversary party for The Poetry School and returned to her and her husband Keith's flat in Kingston, where they'd bought cava to celebrate the acceptance of my book (such a kindness). Claire and I stayed up a while talking about poetry and romantic relationships.

Which is why I find it especially strange I dreamt of my father, among, presumably, other things.

I dreamt I saw him walking. I stood in the doorway of my parents' bedroom and saw him walk slowly and stiffly across the room, slightly dragging his right leg.

I am a naturalist. I believe dreams are a process of consciousness, not insight into the future. And yet I want to believe that's what this was, that I can will him better through the force of my unconscious and conscious drives combined.

Wednesday 3 October 2007

The Tethers

I am delighted to announce that my first collection, The Tethers, will be published by Seren Books in 2009.

But it's even better than that--I have a whole publishing schedule.

January 2008: Leafe Press publishes my pamphlet, Yet.
Late 2008: Shearsman Books publishes the anthology of innovative UK women poets I'm editing.
2009: The Tethers.
2010 (about a year after The Tethers, but date tbc): Shearsman Books publishes my second collection, Divining for Starters.

It's like I have two first books--more or less "mainstream" work in The Tethers, avant garde work in Divining, and Yet is a selection of poems from Divining.

My great thanks to everyone's who supported me and my work over the years!

Friday 28 September 2007

Current and Forthcoming Issues

For all the difficulties of this year, it's been productive in terms of my writing and publishing. With Tim Liardet's help in the spring, I remade my first ms, since The Tethers, and I spent a good portion of the summer working on Divining for Starters--it's hardly recognisable from the last complete draft to the current one.

My poems appear in current issues of The Reader, Sentence: A Journal of Prose Poetics (the prose poetry journal in the States, highly recommended), and The Times Literary Supplement (assuming I can count the 14 September issue as current!). In October, poems will also appear in The Liberal, Poetry Review, and Shearsman, and beyond that, in The New Republic, Stand, and The Warwick Review.

Thursday 27 September 2007

Claire Crowther's Stretch of Closures Shortlisted for Aldeburgh Prize!

Hurrah, hurrah! Claire's first book, Stretch of Closures (Shearsman, 2007), is shortlisted for the Jerwood Aldeburgh Prize for a best first collection of poetry.

Previous blog entries offer selections from the book:

"Cheval de Frise"
"Lost Child"

Good luck, Claire!

Tuesday 25 September 2007

Henry Ross Etter turns 67

Tomorrow is my father's birthday, and luckily today he was moved from the hospital (where he was treated for an infection) back to the rehab centre, which is some improvement. I think the poem below is the best one I've written for him, so I'll include it here in honour of his birthday.

His Pantoum

This is the West Country: if it rains, it rains all day,
winds as fierce as anywhere
sweeping hair into my eyes at every crossing.
When did my father get old?

The prairie winds were as fierce as anywhere
when he cycled thirty miles a day.
When did he get old?
This is his twelfth day in intensive care.

When he cycled thirty miles a day,
I went on with my life, unfearing.
This is his twelfth day in intensive care,
my sixth year abroad,

going on with my life, unfearing.
Sweeping hair into my eyes at every crossing
in my sixth year abroad,
the West Country, where it rains and it rains and it rains.

(published in TLS, June 2007)

Sunday 23 September 2007

Missing Bill Hicks

I was watching clips of Bill Hicks on YouTube as I wanted to find a couple to send to a friend I've recommended Hicks to, and it was refreshing to hear good comedy on political issues. I've been a bit out of the comedy loop since I came to England in 2001, as I couldn't as easily keep up with US comedians and found many UK comedians' accents kept me from following their fast-paced routines very well. Who are the talented political comedians out there now?

Sunday 16 September 2007

Uncollected Poems: 1991


I keep leaving this place,
all the intersections perfectly perpendicular,
insidiously so.
It is more than the Thanksgiving suicides,
the skinny high school girls with shaved hair
chain smoking on the campus quad.
Everywhere people are saying something like my name;
I pivot a vestige of the sound in an ordinary conversation.
In the night, the far recesses of prairie become sky,
blue-black and an astounded silence.
I do not exist for the high school boys at the gas station
wearing caps bearing corn seed logos,
for the checkers at Pharmor,
middle-aged women with names with Sara and Lynette.
The university library, the coffeehouse,
a used bookstore, thrift shops:
I must thrive on French roast and Rilke.
The rain is thunder, the snows are blizzards,
the wind snaps like a horsewhip.
The ennui is proud of itself.
At midnight, forsaken roads and the anxiety of stars.
I keep leaving a place
I cannot leave.

written 27 November 1991
published in The Devil's Millhopper, 1992-93

Thursday 13 September 2007

"A Birthmother's Catechism (September 11, 1986)"

appears in tomorrow's issue of TLS (at newsstands today, which is how I found out!). For those who know the "Imagined Sons" series from PN Review, in the book manuscript, "birthmother's catechisms" appear at intervals amid the "sons."

Saturday 8 September 2007

Uncollected Poems: 1990

I have been writing and publishing for what feels like a long, long time without bringing out a book. The consequence of this is that poems that I once liked, that years ago I may have thought book-worthy, will never be included in a manuscript. Some of them I still like, even as I see their weaknesses or wince at an earlier aesthetic, so as long as I have the nerve, I'm going to publish some of them here in an occasional series. As the first computer file I have of my poems is from 1990, I'll start there. (If I get really brave, at some point I may dig out my volumes of pre-1990 poems, but I'm not there yet.)

I wrote the following poem on Valentine's Day, 1990. I was twenty years old.

Belligerence or Fear

His hand moves across my face
with the snap of a bird's neck breaking.
Across the room, my sister shifts
in a creaking chair, a subtle distraction.
Outside, November shakes the sycamore,
all its limbs flailing.
There is where I am,
barren boughs rattling against the windowpane,
the granite-gray skies.
As he begins to turn away, I smile too loud.

Published in Indefinite Space in 1994

(and by the way, the narrative is entirely made up)

Friday 7 September 2007

Autumn poetry events here and afar

On Wednesday, 19 September, as part of the Bradford on Avon Arts Festival, I will emcee an open poetry and music night at The George on Woolley Street in Bradford on Avon. It all begins at 7:30.

From 21-30 September, the first Bath Festival of Children's Literature will be held in Bath; it includes children's poetry events.

October 4 is National Poetry Day; this year's theme is "dreams." (I know of no events in or around Bath; I'll be running workshops in Shropshire schools for the Ludlow Poetry Festival.)

On October 10, the first meeting of my course, The Opportunities of Form, will run at The Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institute from 7-9 p.m. The class has five biweekly meetings a term and meets for three terms. This year we'll study the dramatic monologue, the prose poem, and the use of the line in free verse. If you'd like more information, please email me; if you'd like to enroll, you can do so here.

On October 11, this year's Stand Up Poetry: The Bath Spa University Reading Series will begin with a reading by Les Murray, location TBA.

On October 17, Tim Liardet's course, The Poetry Surgery (an open poetry workshop), will begin at BRLSI (enrollment as per my course mentioned above).

Also on October 17, in London, I'll be reading as part of the launch of the new issue of Shearsman and of Erin Moure's translation of Chus Pato's Charendon. All Shearsman readings are held at Swedenborg Hall, Swedenborg House, 20/21 Bloomsbury Way, London WC1A 2TH.

On November 5, I will read in Prague on the Alchemy reading series.

On November 15, I will emcee and read on the third annual Irish Poetry Night at The George in Bradford on Avon. A band playing Irish traditional music will perform at intervals throughout the evening. Other readers include Donald Gibson, Karen Hoy, Julie-Ann Rowell, and Bronagh Slevin, with others to be announced, and we'll be reading from such poets as Eavan Boland (Rowell), Louis MacNiece (Hoy), and Peter Sirr (me); Northern Irish poets Gibson and Slevin will also read from their own work.

Wednesday 5 September 2007

2007, the worst year of our lives

I speak for my family, mind you, not the world at large.

I'll spill briefly here, for those I know who've been following my father's progress, and try to post something else tomorrow so as not to give my private pain too much public indulgence.

Last night my father was taken from rehab centre back to hospital, with a high fever indicating an infection. My sister Sandra, dear, dear girl, diagnosed with MS last year, is going blind, only about six weeks after giving birth to her third child. My brother-in-law, Scott, salt of the earth, good, good man, has been ill for over three weeks with an undiagnosed illness--he's very fatigued, fevered, and dizzy, etc.; today is the last day of his sick leave pay, and if I had more in my US account than what'll cover the next two student loan payments....

The more pain one is given to bear, the more one is expected to bear it.

Sunday 2 September 2007

A final selection from Claire Crowther's Stretch of Closures

Lost Child

Scrape the ditch that fits Hob's Moat
to Hatchford Brook. Look through oak roots,

the horse field, uphill to Elmdon.
Is she hiding behind that sky-blue Lexus?

Shout toward the airport. Planes rise
and fall as if ground were a shaking blanket.

Up there, the air hostesses smile.
Inflate your own life-jacket first.

The small original airport building stands
apart, a mother at a school gate.

Pearl was playing quietly alone.
My ear is like a shell the wind swept.

Claire Crowther
Stretch of Closures
(Shearsman, 2007)

Congratulations to Claire on the strongly positive reviews in Poetry Review, Magma, and The North. You can buy Stretch of Closures at or

Sunday 26 August 2007

Welcome to Eudora

One of the best jobs I've ever had was reading Mimi Thebo's new novel, Welcome to Eudora, and asking her questions about it; Random House has posted the resulting interview online. The book is only available in the States, but if you're interested in a rollicking portrayal of small town life in the Midwest, it's worth ordering from afar. I read most of the novel on flights from Bristol to Chicago, and I hardly noticed the time, I laughed so much.

Friday 24 August 2007

American short-story writer Grace Paley has died

I am sorry to report that Grace Paley has died; the Guardian obituary is here. I treasure her book, Enormous Changes at the Last Minute, and look forward to reading the others.

The Nation has published this tribute by Katha Pollitt.

Wednesday 22 August 2007

Guantanamo Bay Poetry

Click on the title above to read this article from The Wall Street Journal. What is it going to take for these prisoners to be given due process?

Friday 17 August 2007

Friday 10 August 2007

Autumn Poetry Events &c. in or near Bath

On Monday, 3 September, Canadian poet Rhona McAdam reads at The Raven in Bath. The start time is 8 p.m., and there is also an open mike.

On Wednesday, 19 September, as part of the Bradford on Avon Arts Festival, I will emcee an open poetry and music night at The George on Woolley Street in Bradford on Avon. The start time is 7:30, but arrive between 7 and 7:30 to sign up.

From 21-30 September, the first Bath Festival of Children's Literature will be held in Bath; it includes children's poetry events.

October 4 is National Poetry Day; this year's theme is "dreams." If you know of NPD events in or near Bath, please let me know (carrie dot etter at gmail dot com).

On October 10, the first meeting of my course, The Opportunities of Form, will run at The Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institute from 7-9 p.m. The class has five biweekly meetings a term and meets for three terms. This year we'll study the dramatic monologue, the prose poem, and the use of the line in free verse. If you'd like more information, please email me; if you'd like to enroll, you can do so here.

On October 11, this year's Stand Up Poetry: The Bath Spa University Reading Series will begin with a reading by Les Murray, location TBA.

On October 17, Tim Liardet's course, The Poetry Surgery (an open poetry workshop), will begin at BRLSI (enrollment as per my course mentioned above).

On November 15, I will emcee and read on the third annual Irish Poetry Night at The George in Bradford on Avon. A band playing Irish traditional music will perform at intervals throughout the evening. Other readers include Donald Gibson, Karen Hoy, Julie-Ann Rowell, and Bronagh Slevin, with others to be announced, and we'll be reading from such poets as Eavan Boland (Rowell), Louis MacNiece (Hoy), and Peter Sirr (me); Northern Irish poets Gibson and Slevin will also read from their own work.

I'll repost this notice with further readings as I receive information.

Wednesday 8 August 2007

Lytton Smith and publicising poetry

Here's an interview with my friend, the poet Lytton Smith, who works as a poetry publicist in NYC for both Persea and Four Way Books. Anyone thinking about improving the publicising of their own collection(s) should find it interesting and useful.

Monday 6 August 2007

The Company I Keep

"Without doubt, the very best institutions in the UK for poetry, such as Newcastle, St Andrew’s, Lancaster, Warwick, Bath Spa and Wales’s own Glamorgan and Aberystwyth, for example, offer undeniable calibre among the faculty, featuring names such as Bill Herbert, the aforementioned Sean O’Brien and Douglas Dunn, Kathleen Jamie, Don Paterson, Paul Farley, David Morley, Tim Liardet, Carrie Etter, Sheenagh Pugh and Matthew Francis. Critically acclaimed poets all."

--Kathryn Gray, Poetry Wales, Summer 2007

Saturday 4 August 2007

Austin the Astronaut

I'm taking a break from reviewing, instead organising old photos. This one, taken last year, is of my nephew Austin at the Museum of Science and Technology in Chicago. I had to share it.

Thursday 2 August 2007

Charles Simic Named US Poet Laureate

A poet laureate whose work I personally admire and find invigorating--hurrah! The New York Times' article is here, though I think you'll have to register with NYT to read it.

Monday 30 July 2007

Sunday 29 July 2007

Yes, another one

This is Andrew Ross Perschal, the third child of my youngest sister, Joanna. He was born on the 23rd.

Now each of my four younger sisters has three children. I hope they won't have any more--it's become rather expensive to be The Aunt Without Kids.

Friday 27 July 2007

Current Issues

Poems appear in the current issues of Aufgabe, Poetry Ireland Review, The Reader, The Warwick Review, and other journals, while others are forthcoming in The Liberal, The New Republic (US), Poetry Review, Sentence: A Journal of Prose Poetics (US), Shearsman, and Stand (including the first publication of one of the "birthmother's catechisms" from Imagined Sons).

My review of Maurice Riordan's The Holy Land and Padraig Rooney's The Escape Artist appears in the current Warwick Review; reviews in progress include Chris Greenhalgh's The Invention of Zero (for TLS) and Tony Curtis's and Matthew Sweeney's latest collections (for Poetry Wales).

Sunday 15 July 2007

Friday 13 July 2007

Welcome to the World, Miss Casperson!

I have a new niece, born 12 July. Her name is, as yet, undecided, but despite her being premature, she's strong at 3 pounds, 10 ounces. My sister Sandra was induced about a month before her due date, on account of complications from her MS, and she sounds remarkably well.

There was talk of my sister Joanna also being induced today, but fortunately that did not happen. It's expected that within a week or so she'll be giving birth to a boy.

Once Joanna gives birth, I'll have 12 (we should have a word for nephews and nieces collectively)--5 nieces and 7 nephews. I've no idea how I'm going to manage Christmas.

Tuesday 10 July 2007

Breakthrough: advance, gain, improvement, progress, amelioration, betterment, enrichment, furtherance, headway

Breakthrough by itself sounds too hackneyed to express what's happened, so I've included appropriate synonyms as well (that's what you get on a poet's blog).

The breakthrough the doctors have been waiting for for months has finally come: yesterday Dad stood entirely on his own, bearing his own weight.

When I visited him in April at the last rehabilitation centre, this was the milestone the therapists and doctors were all talking about and working toward, and such has been the case since then. For so long I have heard of good but essentially small measures of progress, nothing that suggested this might happen now.

Yesterday Dad talked about walking, about cycling, as though they were inevitable. Now his walking seems within the realm of possibility. I don't know about cycling, but how I want to feel half as confident as he sounds! It's the best news I've had about his condition since we realised his cognition was returning to what it was originally.

I think he's going to walk again. I wasn't sure before, but now it seems real--and realistic.

Would you believe one of his physical therapists is named Zeus? This feels almost as grand a metamorphosis as those I've read in Ovid. The man three-feet-ish, in bed, occasionally on wheels, is now risen to five-foot-four with two legs. Thank you, Zeus, Miriam (yes, I remember you), and all the others. Thank you.

Sunday 1 July 2007

The poetry of Peter Sirr

On a friend's recommendation, I looked into Peter Sirr's work when I was in Dublin, and greatly liking what I saw, I bought his Selected Poems (Gallery, 2004). I could hardly put it down. Here are some quotes (note, the placement of the lines over one another can't be shown). The poems are richly, densely lyrical, deftly interweaving the common and the metaphysical.

the wrecked sun
creeping to its hut, the night hugging and hoarding

its secret alphabets


(speaking of a newsagent's)

the whole shop a shrine to the sustenance of desolation


I see a little man dragging over a great space
a wagon filled with goods. Or it may be
gods he brings, who knows? Whatever it is
is heavy and his progress across what surface
has been imagined is slow.


What if
the language slips like water through our hands
there are
liquids more surprising


I'll stay a long time here,

erasure's emperor


I was trying to be exact, I was trying to lean
a little farther in.


I stare for hours at water
an infinitely concentrated carelessness
begins there
in which I may be learning
to lend myself to myself
to lodge and withdraw like the sea
or be the beach ignorant of its own account

Sunday 24 June 2007

Saturday 23 June 2007

An update on my father

I'm just back from a whirlwind week in London, where I was regularly asked how my father's doing as he approaches the five-month mark since going into hospital. I don't know quite how to answer that question. Is he making progress? Yes, but very, very slowly--sitting up for an hour at a time in a wheelchair is one of his greatest accomplishments to date. He's completely himself, making bad jokes being the most prominent sign, but of course he's frustrated, I'm frustrated, we're all frustrated that six or seven months ago he was cycling across the prairie, miles and miles at a time, and now he can't stand, even with assistance.

Usually when I call the time is limited by his schedule of meals, medicines, bed turning, physical therapy, doctors' visits, etc., but tonight I found him on his own. We talked for forty-five minutes. That certainly hasn't happened since before his illness. It was such a pleasure to talk to him, to talk straightforwardly and ask questions about his health and mood and days as well as divert him with my bits of news. I don't mean TLS--I don't think he quite understands what that is. I tell him about the London weather and pace, about my week "babysitting" Francesca (if one can really babysit a fourteen-year-old), about the new long distance deal I have, that I mention when he worries about the cost of our lengthening conversation.

He mentioned the possibility of my visiting again before Christmas, and I fantasize about a windfall that could make that real. I felt so useful when I was last home--not useful so much in helping his recovery, but giving much needed support and solace to my mother, talking over the situation with my sisters, helping with the bills, the taxes, etc., anything I can do that he used to do. I think it's time for another random check of airline prices, on the off-chance I find a brilliant deal.

Friday 22 June 2007


See today's issue of TLS for another poem of mine, "The War's Fourth Year." I'm especially pleased to have a political poem published there.

Thursday 21 June 2007

(Re)versing the Damage: Artists Respond to Climate Change

This flyer was sent to me, and though I am not connected with it in any way, it certainly looks worthy and interesting, so I thought I'd spread the word.



Artists respond to climate change –

With spoken word artists and songwriters from across the country

June 28th –7.30pm –

at Cirocomedia, Portland Square, St Paul 's, Bristol , BS2 8SJ.

Bill McKnibben (author of The End of Nature) recently claimed that artists were ignoring climate change. Steve Larkin (one of the founders of Hammer and Tongue) guessed this was wrong and invited artists to submit their work. He has since assembled a vast array of songs and poetry, a selection which will be performed during this evening.

In partnership with The Climate Outreach and Information Network (COIN). Entry: £3/2

Friday 15 June 2007

His Pantoum

My poem for my father on his illness, "His Pantoum," appears in today's issue of TLS. It means a lot that a poem so important to me personally will have such a reputable showing.

Thursday 14 June 2007

Readers' Poem

My poem, "The Dinner Party," was selected as the readers' poem for the last issue of New Welsh Review. You can read it here.

Monday 11 June 2007

Just a thought about the British poetry scene

In last week's press, X
reviewed Y: One of the best
poets now writing.

In this week's press, Y
reviews X: One of the best
poets writing now.

Peter Reading, Diplopic (1983)

Friday 1 June 2007

Upcoming Courses

I've been planning some interesting FE courses for the next year. Here's what's planned so far:

At the Kingcombe Centre, Toller Porcorum, Dorset

From Friday, 17-Sunday, 19 August, 2007, Gerard Woodward and I will hold an intensive weekend workshop for poets--like a mini-Arvon. Activities will include workshops, readings, discussions about the contemporary poetry scene (including publishing), exercises, etc. The Kingcombe Centre is a wonderful retreat, and catering's included. From the website, select "Holidays & Courses" from the menu, then choose "August," and scroll down to find Gerard and I's course.

Saturday, 14 June 2008. For The Poetry School, I'll be teaching a day workshop (10:30-4:30) on Prose Poetry and Place. Drawing on the natural beauty of Kingcombe, this day long seminar will take participants into the meadows to explore the roles of place in prose poetry, through discussion, a writing exercise, and workshop. Between the topic and the surroundings, it should be a great day.

At The Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institute, Bath

October 2007-June 2008. On alternating Wednesday nights, 7-9 p.m., I'll teach The Opportunities of Form again (warmly known as OOF!) for The Poetry School. The first term will address dramatic monologues, the second term will introduce the prose poem, and the third term will explore the uses of the line in free verse.

At The Phoenix, Exeter

Saturday, 3 November 2007, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Publishing Your Poetry, The Poetry School. A popular, energetic class, packed with information.

At a yet unknown location in London

Saturday, 23 February 2008, 10:30-4:30? Publishing Your Poetry, The Poetry School.

Monday 28 May 2007

Friday 18 May 2007

Come one, come all! Gala student reading Saturday 26 May

Carrie Etter presents

a Gala Student Reading

at The George

in Bradford on Avon

Creative writing students

from Bath Spa University and The Poetry School

strut their stuff. These students include:

Sue Boyle
Sally Carr
Sue Chadd

Sharon Eldritch-Boersen
Ellie Evans
Donald Gibson
Zoë Howarth
Richard Lambert
Helen Pizzey
Rebecca Preston
Emily Reb
Lynette Rees
Sebastian Rigler

Linda Saunders
Mark Sayers

Bronagh Slevin

Cerianne Teague
Andrew Turner
Tom Weir
Ros Weston
John Wheway

Saturday, 26 May 2007

7:30 p.m. till ??

The George, 67 Woolley Street, Bradford on Avon, BA15 1AQ

(An e-flyer for this event will be distributed

once I confirm the time with the landlord tomorrow.)

Sunday 13 May 2007

Hospital No. 3

Since I arrived back in England two and a half weeks ago, I've taken to calling home every 2-3 days, as Dad's condition was more or less constant and stable. Tonight I called him at Provena, and the phone rang and rang, so I hung up and called my mother's mobile. "Guess where we are," she said upon answering. Dad has been moved back to town to treat his resistant blood infection, but now they are St. Joseph's instead of BroMenn. When I asked about his condition, it sounded as though he hasn't worsened, so I really don't understand what this infection is about or why it's so troubling he'd be moved. That's one problem with the distance--you can't go to anyone else for clarification or answers.

Mom also said this meant that the "clock" would start over again, should he need to return to Provena afterwards. How long can this last? He's been in hospital 3 months and 11 days; I hardly know what to say to distract or cheer him. I want him well. I want to wake up.

Sunday 6 May 2007

Current Issues

Lately it seems like every few days I'm receiving proofs or contributor's copies. There are poems in the new issues of Aufgabe (Lytton was so kind as to read for me at the New York launch--imagine me 6-foot tall, with thick blond hair and beard, and an English accent!), New Welsh Review, and Orange Coast Review (the only way I'm getting back to southern California these days). Poems are forthcoming, presumably within the year, in The Liberal, PN Review, Poetry Review, Sentence: A Journal of Prose Poetics, Shearsman, and The Warwick Review. I'm looking forward to seeing The Warwick Review--we need more good British literary magazines (and simply good magazines that include poetry).

Between Destinations

I've been putting off posting an update about my father, and it just struck me that it's because he's between destinations--"out of the woods," but far from well. Positively, I was able to see progress in his cognition, speech, and arm movement while I was visiting; but he has a new blood infection and the wound at the base of his back will take, I was told, 1-2 years to heal. I am glad now that I did not see it; I doubt I would be able to get it out of my mind.

Two images/memories are most prominent. When I first came to visit on my own (after a previous visit with family), I looked into the room and saw that he was mostly naked, his gown fallen away, only covering his genitals and little more. It was strange to see him like that, especially with his skin slack from the lack of exercise. Because of his wound, he always has to be positioned (and moved every couple hours) off his back, to one side, and he was facing away from me. I stood there, not wanting to embarrass him by walking in, but not knowing what else to do. After a minute, to my surprise, he called to me--he'd seen me after all, and as I came into the room, he apologised and tried to cover himself. The tension of the moment dissipated quickly once we began talking, but I can still see myself poised in the doorway, looking, waiting.

The other memory I return to is of cutting his nails. His finger- and toenails had grown unchecked for months; his fingernails were about a centimetre or so past the fingertip, and his toenails were so long they were curling over, back into the skin. He kept scratching his forehead, and I thought with his difficulty moving and the length of those nails he could scratch himself quite badly. So I cut and cleaned his nails, over two days. I skimmed away the dead skin and trimmed the nails down, having to cut them back two or three times before I reached the right length. I suppose it seems a little "gross," but there was something about the physicality of it, and the fact that I could actually do something palpable for my father, that was very satisfying. In retrospect it seems so feeble, when I think of the pain he's in (if I call at a time when the pain meds are wearing off, I'll hear him groan in wincing pain), but at the time, I took pride in doing something for him that others would not want to do, that would take from him just one sign of what he's been through.

He sounded a bit depressed when I called earlier and admitted his spirits were low. I remind him how much progress he's made, but while he's confined to that hospital bed and in so much pain, it must seem insufficient and slow to him. I hope he perceives some improvement soon.

Sunday 29 April 2007

Claire Crowther's Stretch of Closures, Second Selection


It was because she wasn't overlooked
because our street is one-side only
and opposite the full length of our houses
there's a wall, it's because no view,
that my neighbour hung a balcony
across her upper storey. The first

stand-out. They multiplied, a gallery
to step onto, raising knees high
through windows, or through French doors.
They float us in the air like life jackets
but, even so, we grip the canvas scaffold
of deckchairs when we set down mugs

on armrests, balance sunglasses
on the rims of flower pots, in order
to stare at lichens, mosses, water stains
and those ancient regular naked boles
of parasite, we've learned, an epiphyte
that escalades over the coping, invisibly

leaving behind the glass and iron spikes.
Our mews is mentioned in the Area Guide
so tourists occasionally come to see

the cagey prominences'! But for us,
whoever owns it, whatsoever it blinds –
grass pissing seeds inside dumped factories,

elder saplings cracking through concrete,
limbless petrol pumps, padlocked shafts –
however chafed with particulates,
it is that bent-shouldered, standing wall
that makes our heritage. What blank thing
do you look at without altering?

Claire Crowther
Stretch of Closures (Shearsman, 2007)

You can buy Stretch of Closures at or

Saturday 21 April 2007

Poetry Is Dangerous

See the blog entry of this title on poet Kazim Ali's website for a story that, sadly, does not surprise me.

Sunday 15 April 2007

Mercy Room

I arrived in Normal late on Monday, and finally on Saturday I was able to go to Urbana to see Dad. Because several family members had spoken so well of his mobility, I had thought he was farther along in his recovery, but I only saw free movement on his left side; while he does have some movement on the right, it is very little, slow, and heavy in comparison. I helped him drink, and Mom helped feed him, but he doesn't have much appetite. He looks rather thin, except in his right arm and leg, which are swollen.

He is speaking fairly well, but he has difficulty with his short-term memory and is confused about where he is and when various points in his illness occurred. He also can't handle much detail. I began explaining to him when next week I and Mom will visit (coming and going at different times), and soon he began shaking his head a little, clearly overwhelmed, just as he was when I switched the weather channel to a film, wrongly thinking he'd appreciate more stimulation.

My sister Sandra and her husband Charlie drove Mom and I there, and both spoke about how much improved he was. From what I've heard, I realize that's true, and I was pleasantly surprised by how good his color was, but it was still shocking and disturbing to see my ever-active father as an invalid. At one point Dad asked for a banana and some V-8 juice, but as the kitchen was closed, I offered to go to the vending machines to see if they had either. I took the elevator from the fourth floor down to the basement and followed the signs to the cafeteria, passing a door labeled "Mercy Room" along the way. It feels wrong to be leaving here in another ten days, just as it has felt wrong to be away all this time. I'm not sure how to do this.

Friday 6 April 2007

Upcoming Courses

I've received a few emails lately asking about upcoming courses, so I thought I'd post the information here.

The Poetry School (Bath)

The Opportunities of Form, in its summer 2007 term, will look at the structures of free verse, beginning with the stanza. I believe there are a few places available. The course meets alternate Wednesday nights, 7-9 p.m., beginning 25 April for five sessions, and it takes place at The Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institute on Queen Square in Bath. See The Poetry School website or email me to find out how to enroll.

Publishing Your Poetry is a one-day course running Saturday, 19 May, from 10:30-4:30, also at BRLSI. This regular course of mine addresses submitting one's work for magazine publication: how to gauge which magazines are appropriate for your work, how to prepare submissions, inside experience and advice, etc.

The Kingcombe Centre (Dorset)

From Friday, 17-Sunday, 19 August, Gerard Woodward and I will hold an intensive weekend workshop for poets--like a mini-Arvon. Activities will include workshops, readings, discussions about the contemporary poetry scene (including publishing), exercises, etc. The Kingcombe Centre is a wonderful retreat, and catering's included. From the website, select "Holidays & Courses" from the menu, then choose "August," and scroll down to find Gerard and I's course.

If you have questions about any of these courses, feel free to email me at carrie (dot) etter (at) gmail (dot) com.

Monday 2 April 2007

Underlying Propositions

for Richard Kerridge's paper, "Public and Private Environments," delivered at the Poetry and Public Language Conference at the University of Plymouth on Saturday, 31 March, 2007 (all written by Kerridge):

"Environmental crisis (abrupt and catastrophic climate change, intensifying conflicts over natural resources, desertification, loss of water, environmental refugees, loss of fish stocks, loss of biodiversity and natural habitat) is likely to transform the world in the next one hundred years.

"To perceive this crisis clearly and act effectively in response to it, people will need to change a number of assumptions common and traditional in literature and culture: assumptions about human responsibility and about the meaning of the natural world.

"Our customary habits of mind 'are no longer adequate and appropriate for understanding and responding to the kind of below-the-surface, beyond-the-present, time-distantiated hazards that have arisen (Barbara Adam, Timescapes of Modernity, 1998, p. 59). 'I suspect we're reluctant to think about it because we're worried that if we start we will have no choice but to think about nothing else.... We deeply don't want to believe this story' (John Lanchester, London Review of Books, 22 March 2007).

"It isn't that people aren't persuaded, nominally. The impasse environmentalists face, with increasing urgency, is that environmentalism can be found all over the place in culture but has made only tiny differences, if any, to behaviour. The government's inconsistency in simultaneously proclaiming climate change as the greatest threat the world faces and planning huge expansions of British airports reflects similar inconsistencies in the behaviour of individuals.

"Some literary traditions, most obviously Pastoral, Romanticism, Nature Writing and Apocalypse, are relevant to this crisis and of great potential in relation to it, but problematical in their characteristic motifs and plots, and the values and characteristics they assign to nature.

"Ecocriticism (literary and cultural criticism from an environmentalist position) has often sought to challenge biblical, Baconian and Cartesian traditions that assert a strong distinction between humanity and nature, with other binary oppositions in train (mind/body, thought/feeling, rational/irrational, sciences/humanities, culture/nature, civilised/primitive, modern/premodern, masculine/feminine). This Cartesian tradition is frequently identified with Western industrial modernity, the bundle of beliefs and practices held responsible for global environmental crisis. Ecocritical anti-Cartesianism is itself problematical as a response to environmental crisis, but it has prompted ecocritics to be interested in literary traditions and forms that attempt to break down the oppositions mentioned here.

"Ecological perspectives are required right across culture; perspectives that foreground the interdependence of all life forms, the relative positioning of the different niches they occupy and the common ecosystem they constitute between them in continual dynamic action. Analogies between natural ecosystems and cultural dispositions are valuable if they demonstrate that, for example, the love of nature is confined to a cultural niche in which it has no power to touch other assumptions and behaviours. 'Leisure' is such a niche. Or pastoral lyricism about rural England can still co-exist with brutally industrial farming methods that imply and seek a totally managed and instrumentalised environment; these two discourses are rarely obliged to confront each other.

"As an antidote to Cartesian dualism, some ecocritics have turned to phenomenological traditions, especially the work of Heidegger, whose late essays expressed a kind of explicit environmentalism, and Merleau-Ponty, whose account of embodied perception opens up possibilities for increased awareness of the body's continual material exchange with its ecosystem. These traditions seem to promise a way of getting underneath the problem rather than confronting it ideologically. The possibility they hold out is that our physical senses, once liberated, will make us environmentalists where direct persuasion has failed (failed at least to change behaviour, however it may have changed professed views). Some innovative poets in the Modernist tradition have also been deeply interested in these phenomenological ideas. The literary forms these poets have used--forms of utterance not attached to a particular superintending speaker--have been associated by critics with phenomenology (see, for example, Tony Lopez on Heidegger's influence on W. S. Graham).

"The problem with that phenomenological tradition, from the ecocritical point of view, is its renunciation of long term and long distance perspectives, its continuation of Romantic wistfulness for escape from self-consciousness, its Heideggerean horror at shrinking distances. Environmentalism arises from long term scientific and global perspectives; that is its own modernity. The 1970s slogan 'Think globally, act locally' captures the movement's modernity well: its basis in a perspective that moves between local ecosystems, porously bounded by specific conditions of climate, geology and land use, and the global ecosystem that contains them. Global warming tells us, if we didn't know already, that no corner of the earth can hope to be unaffected by events elsewhere. The global perspective that environmentalism needs and is generated by is distinctively modern, depending on forms of communication that send abundant information and images rapidly around the world. Environmentalism cannot relinquish either the global or the local perspective. It needs some form of dialogue between them.

"Poetry could not have any subject matter more important than this."

Wednesday 21 March 2007

Updated list of readers for student reading at The George

Sue Boyle
Sally Carr
Sue Chadd
Ellie Evans
Stewart Foster
Donald Gibson
Zoe Howarth
Richard Lambert
Helen Pizzey
Rebecca Preston
Emily Reb
Lynette Rees
Sebastian Rigler
Mark Sayers
Andrew Turner
Tom Weir
Ros Weston
John Wheway

...and more to come!

Monday 19 March 2007

Gala student reading, 26 May

I proposed a reading by my Poetry School seminar students for the Bristol Poetry Festival, only to learn that they'd have to be vouched for by a "promoter" to be considered. Only I and one student can obtain such a reference, so I'll have to let it go for now.

Wanting to give those students a showcase for their work, and feeling that I'd been unusually fortunate this year in the quality of my students for both The Poetry School and Bath Spa, I've arranged with The George in Bradford on Avon to hold a reading on the evening of Saturday, 26 May. So far, I've had confirmations from Donald Gibson, Richard Lambert, Ros Weston, and John Wheway, and expect many more by Saturday, when I'll have seen all the students again (those are heavy weeks, when I'm teaching all four groups--Poetry School Opportunities of Form, Poetry School seminar, Bath Spa Sudden Prose, and Bath Spa MA poetry workshop).

Updates to follow in due course!

Wednesday 14 March 2007

The Moderator

Last week, as part of the Bath Literature Festival, I served as the moderator for a "Poets in Conversation" event with Tim Liardet and Gerard Woodward at the Victoria Art Gallery. The venue, with the current Keith Vaughan exhibition all around us, provided a pleasant and intimate atmosphere. As moderator, I felt it important to do two things: to keep the conversation rolling and interesting; and to provide useful introductions to each author's work, to guide the audience when they heard the poems read. With Tim it was easy--he always has something to say, but with Gerard, I was glad I was prepared, e.g. when he said he hadn't thought about masculinity much in reference to his poetry (and let it stop there), I told him how I saw it working in his poem "Norfolk." I mention this not to compliment myself; it's just that I've seen panels badly moderated often enough to know how to avoid the same.

I am pleased with how my introductions turned out, so I'll include them here:

"Gerard Woodward has published a trilogy of novels, the last installment of which, Curious Earth, was launched just last week. He has published four books of poetry, and the most recent, We Were Pedestrians, was shortlisted for the 2005 T. S. Eliot Prize.

"In each poem in We Were Pedestrians, the opening lines plunge us into a new predicament. The style spare, the narrator regarding his situation with both care and aesthetic detachment, the poems proceed slowly, carefully, toward unexpected, convincing conclusions. The poems do not celebrate the ordinary so much as appreciate it for itself, for its commonness and hence its claim on our lives. His style reminds me of the work of Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope, in that in both their works, the apparent effortlessness evinces the authors' delicate, self-effacing skill."

"Tim Liardet has published five collected of poetry, to critical acclaim. His most recent, The Blood Choir, won an Arts Council England Writer's Award in 2003 and was shortlisted for the 2006 T. S. Eliot Prize.

"Where Gerard's style is spare, Tim's is lushly analytical, in the density of description used to apprehend the world, part by part. The Blood Choir presents poet as anthropologist, interpreting an alien culture by describing behaviour and environment in meticulous, exquisite detail. Importantly given the book's focus on prisoners, the narrator understands his relation to his subjects in a way that does not privilege his own position or viewpoint, but tries to appreciate theirs through the nuances of a common language."

After the event, it occurred to me that moderating is like reviewing: sometimes tedious, sometimes onerous in preparation, it's a real pleasure once the work is properly underway.

Thursday 1 March 2007

Okay, I found something stranger....

This is what happens when I search my name on Google to see if someone's reviewed a magazine and mentioned my work, if someone's posted a poem of mine on her website, etc.

At what appears to be a Hungarian language school, there is a competition to translate various poems from English into Hungarian, and one of the three is my prose poem from New Writing 14, "Drought"! What's perhaps stranger (yes, this one just builds) are the two other poems people can choose from: a Roald Dahl poem, "The Tummy Beast," and "Choosing Names," author unknown, about God naming the animals. The competition details are here.

I think that's all the Googling I can take for today.

I never thought I'd be compared with Carol Ann Duffy, but

In the online book review Book Munch, Claire Mapletoft, complaining generally about the poetry in New Writing 14, writes, "There are some real belters here however, for example Carola Luther's Possessions and Carrie Etter's Divorce, reminiscent of an early Carol Ann Duffy."

I suppose stranger things have happened....

Wednesday 28 February 2007

Current Issues and Forthcoming Readings

I received an acceptance yesterday, and that returned my attention to poetry; I hope to spend more time on my work now that I'm healthy again, my father's on the mend, and the semester's underway.

"Reckoning," an enigmatic little poem, will make its first appearance in The Liberal, and Orange Coast Review will reprint two poems that were first published in UK magazines, "As If to Say" and "San Fernando Valley Love Song." I am glad to see poems gaining a longer shelf life and a larger audience in this way and wish more US magazines would consider work that's previously appeared only in print in the UK (and not at all on the web). When both magazines are primarily available only in their country of origin, I don't see why they shouldn't reprint work from abroad.

So it's been a good if slow start to the year, with acceptances also from TLS (for "The Diagnosis," which appeared only weeks before my father's illness, strangely) and Great Works. There are also two prose poems up at Free Verse. A handful of magazines have held my work for 5+ months now, and that's starting to feel like the norm, unfortunately.

There are several events coming up. I'll be moderating "Poets in Conversation" at the Bath Literature Festival, with Tim Liardet and Gerard Woodward as the conversing and reading poets. I've heard it's sold out. That will be Thursday, 8 March, with a 7 for 7:30 start, at The Victoria Art Gallery. It should be a good event.

I'll be giving a paper on Peter Reading's -273.15 (which I can't recommend highly enough) at the Poetry and Public Language Conference at the University of Plymouth, 30 March-1 April. If you're in Bath that weekend, you might want to check out the Globalisation and Writing conference at Bath Spa--I'd be there if I weren't in Plymouth. For details of the latter, e-mail conference organiser Jonathan Neale at j (dot) neale (at) bathspa (dot) ac (dot) uk.

There are two readings for June. One will be a benefit for Macmillan Cancer Care at the Italian Garden at Westonbirt Arboretum in Gloucestershire (what a location!), on the evening of Friday, 8 June (details forthcoming). Fellow readers include Sally Carr, Linda Saunders, David Hale, Sue Chadd, and Matt Bryden. The next will be for the Bath Spa reading series at the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institute, on Thursday, 14 June, with Moniza Alvi.

Monday 26 February 2007

Just breathe

At last, some good news--and it's great news. Dad's now breathing on his own. He won't have to go away to a special rehab clinic to retrain his diaphragm; whatever recuperation he needs, he'll be able to be home with his family and friends. They've also removed the dialysis catheter, so his fluid levels must be sufficiently lowered and manageable now. In the next few days he'll be moved out of ICU.

I can hardly believe it. His downturn was so bad, so fast, that I prepared for the worst and imagined myself spending my April visit between his clinic and the family home. Just two days ago a clinic representative came to speak to Mom and evaluate Dad's condition, to decide which rehab centre he should go to.

The last big question is whether he will be paralysed in his lower body. That seems small beer in contrast with what we anticipated, but of course it is huge and I am hoping the fact that he has pain response means that in time he'll be able to walk again. Oh, I can't wait to hear his voice again--that will be wonderful.

Thursday 22 February 2007

Michael Benedikt, American prose poet and promoter, has died

I will remember him for his contribution to the promotion of prose poetry through his anthology, The Prose Poem: An International Anthology (1976), and publication of his own prose poetry.

Wednesday 21 February 2007

An update, or from bad to much, much worse

My father went into hospital to be treated for a rare kidney disease that was causing him to retain a terrible amount of fluid--up to forty pounds at one point, and because of an abscess that developed on his upper spine during his stay, that was not caught in spite of his increasing immobility, he may leave fully paralysed, even unable to breathe on his own. How can this be possible?

As the pulmonologist has confirmed that Dad now seems unable to breathe without assistance, there will be a tracheotomy this morning Illinois time and a feeding tube will be installed in the afternoon. Yesterday the pulmonologist spoke to my mother about moving him to a special rehab facility in St. Louis, Chicago, or Indianapolis--hours away from home and family. How long the rehab takes depends on the extent of his paralysis, which we don't know yet. The scary part is that one doctor compared the location and nature of the injury to Dad's spine to Christopher Reeve's injury.

My father is probably the most restless person I know, always moving from errand to errand, task to task, event to event, in and about the house, the yard, the town. The thought of his spending the rest of his life immobile (and he's a very fit 66, cycling 25 miles most days for over a decade) grieves me more than I can express. Of course I still hope, but each passing day seems to bring news of greater debilitation. I stare at nothing and ache.

Friday 16 February 2007

A few things about my father, I

Two weeks ago yesterday, my father went into hospital for what appeared to be a kidney problem. He'd never been in hospital in my lifetime, so just his going in seemed a little surreal. For the first week, we were focused on the diagnosis of the kidney problem, then something else began: he became increasingly pained and paralysed. I'd call my mother to learn his progress and hear his yelps in the background (literally, "Ow! ow! ow!" in rapid, vivid succession).

Last night, an abscess in his cervical vertebra (i.e. his neck) was discovered as the cause of the unusual paralysis and excessive pain, and he was rushed into surgery. Today, I received a call from my mother, and until I could finally ask whether he were alive, I thought it was the archetypal dreaded call, the news of death from a distance.

All week I've had the worst illness in some time--a high fever with a chest infection; I was sure it was bronchitis again, but yesterday the GP told me, before noon, she'd seen seven people that day with the same horrible virus. To my mom I called it a "sympathy illness" as a half-joke, but the more I think of it, the more I believe it.

So, this afternoon, the phone call. I am alone all day, half-sleeping, half-striving to revise my lesson plans so Annie McGann can teach my Sudden Prose class tomorrow. Consciousness comes in patches. The phone rings, and I think WORK. I answer, expecting it to be Steve May, brusque while kind, but I hear Mom's voice, gentle, tentative, and familiar.

The words "Intensive Care" have had no meaning in my life until now. No family member, no friend has been there before.

I want to tell you a few things about my father.

My father was born in Washington D.C. but grew up in St. Louis. This manifested in his love of custard and of the Cardinals, and something I came to think of as “the St. Louis stop.” Once I was in the back seat, my father driving, my mother on the passenger side, and we came to a street sign. Dad touched the brake—no more—and we were headed through the intersection. Mom chastised Dad about it and he asserted that that was the way they did it in St. Louis. In spite of the many years he has lived in Illinois, he always stops at empty intersections like a man in St. Louis—or so I have come to believe.

My father should have lived in another country. If he had lived in England, say, he might have believed more readily, more deeply that it was not his fault that he was laid off, that it was a matter of economics. I don’t think my dad ever completely got over that. He took a pride in being a company man, in racking up years of service, in watching his responsibilities progress over time.

My father is proud of his own father. He brought me Dale Etter’s poems in typescript and in print, musty from the attic, pages not yellow but brown and often crumbling. Perhaps it was part of Dad’s way of saying that I, though adopted, was as much an Etter as any of his other children. Perhaps his father’s old manuscripts were proof of that, and of a kind of fate in my becoming his daughter.

My father never stops talking—never. Even in his sleep, he snores, which is to say that even if you will not grant that he never stops talking, you must concede that he rarely stops producing noise. I remember sitting on the sofa in the living room, my heavy U.S. history book splayed on my lap as I studied for a final exam. Every four or five minutes he popped in with something to say—about the weather, about the news, about dinner, whatever. After a number of these interruptions, I told him he had to leave me alone if I were going to do well on my final. There have been too many times I have said, “Stop, Dad. Just stop talking.” Now I wish I were, and had been, more patient.

My father’s never ceasing to talk, or make noise, has frequently embarrassed me, especially when I was a teenager. This is to say, he talks up strangers on the slightest opportunity. I remember it mostly happening with gas station attendants and waitresses, who had no choice but to smile at his banter. Many in the Midwest responded genuinely to it, conversing with him easily for a few minutes before they had to excuse themselves to continue with their work. But I remember a waiter at Biaggi’s, where we’ve had a number of perfect meals together, who replied to Dad’s comments with tolerance rather than grace. Given my own behaviour, I understood his response, but I was divided between recognising myself and feeling indignant.

Thursday 15 February 2007

Not poetry, but poetries

In his blog of 25 January 2007 (which, if you're not familiar with it and are interested in different poetries, I can't recommend highly enough), Ron Silliman writes:

"I always try to avoid the term 'experimental' when discussing post-avant writing, not just because of implications of the retro scientism in this age of stolen nuclear missiles, genetically modified corn & weaponized anthrax – that by itself is problematic – but because of the insinuation that the writers of an experimental work (e.g., The Grand Piano: An Experiment in Collective Autobiography, on whose subtitle I was outvoted) don’t really know what they’re doing. That’s the flip side of the same complaint Bob Perelman makes in IFLIFE:

the gestures that Language poetry triumphantly says are still radical are actually super-codified

which is in fact true (even tho I don’t hear any langpos 'triumphantly' making any such claim). With the plausible exception of Rusty Morrison’s grammar sampling, all of the co-authors here are using literary devices that are considerably older than language poetry, some decades older. They aren’t so much 'experimental' as they are in the experimental tradition. I know that last phrase will cause a few readers to choke, but since Blake & Baudelaire it is clear that an evolving and expanding community exists, of which these five writers represent certain aspects of the current generation. The value of the devices they employ isn’t that they’re 'new,' but rather that they empower indeterminacy and surprise."*

I've called one vein of my work experimental, avant, post-langpo/post-Language Poetry, and conceptual, but have never settled on one term. The problem with conceptual poetry is that some of what goes for "mainstream" poetry (another problematic term) is also idea- or concept-driven, i.e. the work of Peter Reading and Geoffrey Hill, and possibly also Christopher Logue's
War Music. In agreement with Silliman's statement above, I've tended to find "experimental" the least descriptive; and I regard "post-langpo" as too school-centred for definitional accuracy. I suppose for now I'll use avant and conceptual as placeholders while I hold out for a more precise descriptor or name. Any thoughts, ideas?

*Used here with Silliman's permission.

Sunday 4 February 2007

Take 1: Claire Crowther's Stretch of Closures

Were Claire not a dear friend of mine, I'd be warmly reviewing her first collection, Stretch of Closures. As she is one of my favourite people, I cannot ethically review it, but I still want to tell everyone what an intriguing, accomplished volume this is. In lieu of a review then, I'll be posting a number of poems from the collection (with her permission, of course). Enjoy!


O Source du Possible, alimente à jamais
Des pollens des soleils d'exils . . .

Jules Laforgue, Complaint du Temps et de sa Commère L'Espace

Broken red slats of a blind horizon
behind a rope
between an oak and a concrete post in a clearing
light up a honey-green leaf of girl
down the line. Once, boys grasped the handgrip and
into a draft of unsure sky.
Such machinery of
to the ground once made a cloud
of men, a storm that
in from a sea. The sun has no time
left for fire. A torch
spots of gold, tiny as pollen grains.
The slats are
off from the sky, worn out.
She runs beneath them while they
fly down
again and again like rare Red Wakes.

Claire Crowther

(If you'd like to buy a copy and read the book entire, you can do so here for the UK, here for the US.)