Monday, March 26, 2007

Poem by Christa M. Forster (c) 2007

The Friend that Tried

Dear You Know Who You Are,
Dear beautiful dreamer,
nightmare to trial,
guild and denial-
pit of frenzy, where roosters
hack and peck each other
where daisies strap and
lace each other, where
bees hover and flowers
doomed to a room
mate each other,
How are You?
What's new?
I miss you,

--2007 Christa M. Forster

My publications (rev. April 20, 2012)


Ana Verse at since January 2006.

Ana Verse, a b-l-o-o-k. Blurb: color, hard cover (3 copies) and paper (4 copies), 362 pp., May 24, 2009.

Ana Verse, Volume 2.  Blurb: color, hard cover (desk copy) and paper (desk copy), 146 pp., Feb. 5, 2011.


Fictionaut 2009-2012.

"The Cool Report," Mad Hatters' Review, 13, Marc Vincenz, Ed., May 2012.

Review of Carol Novack's Giraffes in Hiding at Books at Fictionaut, April 26, 2012.

"First Sex," Altered Scale, blog, Jefferson Hansen, Ed., April 9, 2012.

Monday Chat at the Blog of the Fictionaut, Bill Yarrow interviews Ann Bogle about her "Letters, notes, conversations, partings," March 26, 2012.

"Animals in Reverse," "Curfew," "Rock Band Days," "The Code is on the Street," and "Meryl Streep Laughed at That," Altered Scale, Jefferson Hansen, Ed., 2012.

"Meryl Streep Laughed at That" with the photo "Lake Harriet" and "The Code is on the Street" with the photo "Grey Nuns" printed as broadsides by Altered Scale, Jefferson Hansen, Ed., 2012.

"Credo," "Lake Onegin," and "The Writer to Her Lawyer in Siberia," OtherStream anthology, Marc Vincenz, Ed., forthcoming.

Review of Larissa Shmailo's In Paran at Books at Fictionaut, March 8, 2012.

Review of Ann Beattie's Mrs. Nixon, Rain Taxi, Eric Lorberer, Ed., Spring 2012.

Review of Meg Pokrass's Damn Sure Right at Books at Fictionaut, February 2, 2012.

"Letters, notes, conversations, partings," THIS Literary Magazine, Other issue, January/February 2012.

"With a Sense of Disclosure: Molly Gaudry's We Take Me Apart," American Book Review, November/December 2011.

"Dream About Leo," Annandale Dream Gazette, November 2011.

Country Without a Name, 24 stories and prose poems with ten illustrations by Daniel Harris, designed by Marc Vincenz, edited by Bill Yarrow, Argotist Ebooks, Jeffrey Side, publisher, 44 pp., July 13, 2011.

"1974, What I Wanted," fwriction : review, Danny Goodman, Ed., June 2011.

Gerade rechts zum Volkszimmer, Big City Lit, Nick Johnson, Ed., Spring 2011.

"Un(en)titled," excerpt, reply to Claudia Rankine's Open Letter, March 11, 2011.
"Unclear Antecedent (Uncl./Ant.)," column, Mad Hatters' Review, issue 12, Carol Novack, Ed., 2011.

Prakash Kona's Nunc Stans and Bobbi Lurie's Grief Suite, reviews, Mad Hatters' Review, issue 12, Carol Novack, Ed., 2011.

"Inaccrochable," Wigleaf, Scott Garson, Ed., October 23, 2010.

Solzhenitsyn Jukebox, ebook containing five fiction and nonfiction stories with cover art by Rachel Lisi, Jeffrey Side, Ed., Argotist Ebooks, 33 pp., July 27, 2010.

"Driving Years," Wordgathering, Mike Northen, Ed., 2010.

"at 'night' any night is can't": Leslie Scalapino's Autobiography, Chant de la Sirene, Laura Hinton, Ed., June 2, 2010.

"On Free Verse: The Collaborative Artists' Book," a report from the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Chant de la Sirene, Laura Hinton, Ed., April 20, 2009.

“Tighten, Tighten, Tighten,” “How It Makes Sense,” “A Note on Modernism,” “Go Home,” and “Cut It Up,” columns in Mike's Writing Workshop and Newsletter, Mike Geffner, Ed. at, 2009.

"Dreams-in-Progress," "Dream in Snow Circle," and "Dream about the W.A.S.P.s," Annandale Dream Gazette, Lynn Behrendt, Ed., 2007-2008.

"The Secret Fall of Constance Wilde" by Thomas Kilroy at Guthrie Theater, review, The O Scholars 45, July/August 2008.

“Steady Keel: A Perennial Review of Leo Kottke’s Thanksgiving Concert at the Ordway Music Theater in St. Paul, Minnesota,” The Lyre, Arthur Bernstein, Ed., 2007 (1999-2000).

Excerpts from Work on What Has Been Spoiled, grouped as This Was Called War at One Time: “Typing Practice, “Bastille Day,” “Theft,” and “Scream,” Black Ice, Ronald Sukenick, Ed., Neuromantic Fiction Issue, 1999 (1991). (See online archive at Also included in an anthology of 25 Black Ice writers, Neuromantic Fiction, July 2001, available as an ebook and by print-on-demand (1991).

Excerpts from Work on What Has Been Spoiled, Big Bridge, 14, Michael Rothenberg and Vernon Frazer, Eds., 2009 (1988-1993).

"Conditions of a Narrator," foreword to Work on What Has Been Spoiled at Ana Verse, Oct. 2, 2008 (1994) and Birthdays of Poets by Andrew Christ, Dec. 30, 2008.

Short Fiction

Fictionaut, 2009-2012.

"Dumb Luck," Asymptote, Lee Yew Leong, Ed., April 2012.

"In a Basket," Thrice Fiction, R.W. Spryszak, Ed., March 2012.

"Still Life in a Bowl," Intellectual Refuge, Christopher Schnieders, Ed., April 6, 2012.

"Mariposa," "Virgo," and "Hysteria," Camroc Press Review, Barry Basden, Ed., forthcoming 2012.

"Hymen," Ragazine, Metta Sama and Mike Foldes, Eds., 2012.

"Time," Thrice Fiction, R.W. Spryszak, Ed., 2011.

"Free Country," "She lets her intentions guide her," "Hooker," and "Two Hundred Fifty," Thrice Fiction, Perfect issue, R.W. Spryszak, Ed., July 2011.

"Po-cash," Mad Hatters' Review Blog, Marc Vincenz, Ed., June 29, 2011.

"Members of the Story," BLIP magazine, Gary Percesepe and Sara Lippmann, Eds., fall issue, Oct. 1, 2010.

"She lets her intentions guide her" at 52/250 A Year of Flash, Michelle Elvy, Ed., June 7, 2010.

"Tinges of Envy or How You Learn" with Metaview no. 1, Metazen, Frank Hinton and Julie Innis, Eds., May 25, 2010.

"Raisins" with Metaview no. 2, Metazen, Frank Hinton and Julie Innis, Eds., June 17, 2010.

"Fiancée," Istanbul Literary Review, May 2010 Edition.

"The Housecoat" and "Mugabe Western," Big Bridge, 14, Michael Rothenberg and Vernon Frazer, Eds., 2009 (1985-1987).

three short fictions: "Red Squirrel," "Jungle," and "Trent Kesey," Minnetonka Review, issue 2, Troy Ehlers, Ed., March 2008, pp. 14-16.

"The Sitzer," Big Bridge 13, Vernon Frazer and Michael Rothenberg, Eds., online archive at, March 2, 2008.

"The Gift," Ana Verse, July 24, 2006 (1991) and at Mad Hatters' Review, Carol Novack, Ed., issue 10, music by Brutus Filius Ioannis, Novo Iorco, online archive at, fall 2008.

“Cigs, ,” Ana Verse, June 5, 2006 (1991); Mad Hatters' Review (ibid.).

“Rule Out Euthymia,” Ana Verse, March 8, 2006 (1995); Mad Hatters' Review (ibid.).

Primary Creative: “Cyril in Texas,” “Blind Date,” and “Rut,” Big Bridge 11, Vernon Frazer and Michael Rothenberg, Eds., online archive, 2006.

“Almanac,” Poetic Inhalation, Vernon Frazer, Ed., online archive February 2005 and at Ana Verse, May 25, 2006 (1985).

“Hogging the Lady,” Poetic Inhalation, Vernon Frazer, Ed. online archive February 2005 and at Ana Verse, May 25, 2006 (1999).

“Cousin,” Submodern Fiction, Mark Wallace, Ed. (Washington, DC) issue 1, 2003 (1991) and at Ana Verse, Nov. 8, 2007.

“Texas Was Better,” Submodern Fiction, Mark Wallace, Ed. (Washington, DC) issue 1, 2003 and at Ana Verse, June 6, 2006 (1990).

“Influence,” Cool Hearts, Jason Sanford, Ed., with interview (Minneapolis, MN: The Cool Hearts Collective) Issue 1, Winter 1999 (1991).

“My Crush on Daniel Ortega,” Washington Review, Heather Fuller, Ed. (Washington, DC: Friends of the Washington Review of the Arts) vol. xxiii, no. 5, February/March, 1998 and at Ana Verse, June 11, 2006 (1990).

“What Kiss,” Gulf Coast (Houston: U of Houston) Vol. VI, i, 1993 (1991).

“Hors-d’oeuvre,” The Quarterly, Gordon Lish, Ed. (New York: Vintage) No. 10, 1989 (1987).

“Tinges of Envy or How You Learn,” Fiction International, Harold Jaffe, Ed. (San Diego: San Diego State University Press) Issue 18:1, 1988 (1985). (See online archive

“Fairness,” The Quarterly, Gordon Lish, Ed. (New York: Vintage) No. 8, 1988 (1987).

“Chinese,” The Quarterly, Gordon Lish, Ed. (New York: Vintage) No. 6, 1988 (1986).


"XAM, Paragraph, May 22, 1998, Houston, Texas," "Frontiers Yugoslavia Thirty Notwithstanding," "Lesson 38," "Basal Distance," "This is Why I Loved You," "Bitter Tide," and " 'Bitter' (Revision)" and others at Fictionaut, 2009-2012.

"Florence's Weekend," Big Bridge, feature on tree poems, Thomas Devaney, Ed., forthcoming.

"Get Me to the Church on Time," reprinted at October Babies, 2011.

"Acceptance is to her a phenomenon," group recording, Whale Sound, Nic Sebastian, Ed., 2011.

"Another girl to figure out," "Catnip," "Haiku Romance," "Head," "Key of James," "Many how are seid," and "This is Why I Loved You," The Argotist Online, Jeffrey Side, Ed., 2009.

Dog barks up a tree at the apple left in it under a deerslim moon, chapbook (18 poems), Orium Press for Dusie Kollektiv, 2008-2009 (1983-2007).

"Frontiers Yugoslavia Thirty Notwithstanding," "Get Me to the Church on Time," and "Graffti non gratis," onedit, 12, Tim Atkins, Ed., 2009.

"One Vowel Trafficking," "Evening at Christa Forster's with Tim Liu, Dave, Eddie Selden, and Chuck Scott," and "The Question Was What You," The Mad Hatters' Review, Mad Hatters' Revue (New York, NY), May 4, 2008 and at Ana Verse.

"Dime," The Facebook Review, 2.2, Jacob McArthur Mooney, Ed., Nov. 27, 2007, and at Ana Verse, July 28, 2007.

"Hallowe'en," Ana Verse, Oct. 31, 2007 (1984).

"Key of James," "One Vowel Trafficking," and "Many how are seid ...," Ana Verse, Feb. 10, 2007.

“It’s the end of a cycle,” ars poetica, Dan Waber, Ed. at 2007 (1996).

“Basal distance,” MiPOradio, The Countdown 20, Bob Marcacci, Ed. at 2007 and at Wordgathering: A Journal of Disability Poetry, Mike Northen, ed., 2010.

“Poem for Spring” and “Get Me to the Church on Time,” P.F.S. Post, Adam Fieled, Ed. at 2007 (1996 and 1991, rev. 2006).

“Borgo Was 29 on His Birthday,” ~*~ W_O_M_B ~*~, Michelle Detorie, Ed. at January 2007 (2001).

"Freundinnen: Her Lost Friend Poem," Ana Verse, Jan. 29, 2007.

Six Poems: “Catnip,” “Graffiti non gratis,” “Wiener,” “Evening at Christa Forster’s with Tim Liu, Dave, Eddie Selden, and Chuck Scott,” “The Question Was What You,” and “SSMARQUEE.SCR” at Ana Verse, February 2, 2006.

“Head,” Ana Verse, February 1, 2006.

“Frontiers Yugoslavia Thirty Notwithstanding,” Ana Verse at January 25, 2006.

Four Poems: “Get Me to the Church on Time,” “Poem for Spring,” “It’s the end of a cycle,” and “Florence’s Weekend,” Ana Verse, January 21, 2006.

“It’s the end of a cycle,” untitled first-line poem, selected for inclusion in The Best Poems and Poets of 2005 (Owens Mills, MD: The International Library of Poetry), 2006 (1996).

XAM: Paragraph Series (1998), chapbook containing fourteen prose poems, lithokons (2001) by mIEKAL aND, Ed. (LaFarge, WI: Xexoxial Editions) at, release date: 18 November 2005, featured at Cartier Street Review, Bernard Alain, Ed., March 2009.

“Florence’s Weekend,” Touch of Tomorrow, Howard Ely, Ed. (Owens Mills, MD: The International Library of Poetry) hardcover, 2004 (1985).

My latest book

I have written to an agent to ask whether this weblog (now at 136 pp.) could be a book, and they wrote back that they weren't interested. Foreign writers have published their weblogs as books, but I suppose that is because writing a weblog in their countries is dangerous. It feels dangerous to write notes here. One difficulty is in knowing what to do about names. People have names, and my storytelling would be far more intriguing and there would be more of it and the stories of romance and friendship would be more loving if I felt allowed to write freely, but I do not feel particularly free nor am I interested in fictionalizing real life stories. I use instinct to guide me on these subjects: I use "signs" in the backyard -- stones of different shapes and visages, trees, animals and their tracks -- to tell me what to do. I wrote in the foreword to Work on What Has Been Spoiled (second in my not-a-book series) that a stable domestic life and sex are necessary if one is to write fiction. I am afraid that if I start to ask widely for a "book," that I will cease to look for a paying job.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

What is missing here

I read poetry four hours a day and have been involved recently with publishing poems. I don't want to get fatigued by it. Forgive me that this goes away from poetry as a discussion.

There seem to be two threads in the teachers' discussion as it evolved. One of the threads is set in Minnesota, so I'll chime in there, since I live there and grew up in the public schools there. When I traveled, first east then south, I had a few things to say about Minnesota: "Good schools, clean environment, and fine arts." In reality, I was glad to be setting off for faraway destinations -- to be leaving -- and if I were 18 today and trying to be "ambassadorial," I might say those things again. There was something then (maybe now) called "brain drain." The best and brightest, helped by a strong school system, left the state.

What I left out in remarking Minnesota was "violent boys," and that is hard to mention wherever you roam. After I returned, I realized that if our schools had taught sex education and say, the Civil Rights Movement, positive changes hoped for in the 60s might have come about. If they had taught sex education to the parents, a positive change might have come about. In junior high, boys grew violent wanting to see nakedness learned directly from Playboy, though pictorials in Playboy didn't represent violence. I had Our Bodies Ourselves and Ms. Magazine to educate me.

. . .

The western suburban schools collect money for education at the check-out at Target, thus creating the impression that they're going broke, as in reality some of the parents are, living in re-mortgaged housing and suffering lay-offs and divorce. Houses, including buildings that were there in my childhood, have increased in price tenfold since the early 70s. We have gambling. The divorce rate is sky-high, and most children (besides about a third?) are growing up in two (or more) apartments or houses. As far as I know, the schools are still not teaching sex education, and there is still no class in quitting smoking available to the young people. What there is, something we didn't have then and that I endorse, are Japanese and Chinese. The school three miles west of my house hired 12 football coaches. Sports were always a priority.

Most of the divorces I became privy to -- by attending various types of support group -- came about as a result of the pair's desire to have sex with someone or with someone else (1) or: (2) were initiated by women unhappy with their husbands' earning power. Marital cruelty, housekeeping, and money are the most common reasons for divorce, in that order. I have never been married and have turned down what amounted to five offers -- I asked for written proposals that described what our lives together would be like and an engagement ring. Never did I get that. The proposals came out sounding like "Come on up," (meaning 1,000 miles north); "Come on down," (meaning a 1,000 miles south), and "Come on over." The most recent one is, "Take care of me ceaselessly. I'm sick."

I visited IKEA today, and I heard a cluster of young people, perhaps in their early 20s, discussing whether one of them ought to be allowed to be around children, a joke, and I thought, "It's court talk. These kids' families were regulated by courts." Unhappy family life has resulted from almost everyone's ineptitude re: love and sex, and no amount of "therapy" will undo it. Flocking to non-denominational Christian churches has been one of the replies. Going by observation, I would say that sticking to an original or explored observance of a religion (or enlightened atheism) are best. If I were teaching sex education in the schools, I would teach that sex and marriage, though related, are separable. I wouldn't divorce to have sex. Or impeach a president for it.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Learning the lessons of school

I attended the sixth-ranked high school in the country, based on National Merit (I was a 99th percentile semi-finalist), and I didn't know a thing about the Holocaust, except Anne Frank, which I took to be a girl's diary vaguely set during war -- until I was visiting Germany at the end of 9th grade, the end of junior high, with our German class. The family I stayed with sat in a formal den and watched their version of PBS -- programming about WWII and the Holocaust -- every week. I struggled to keep up with the documentary -- things I was hearing for the first time -- with only one year of German under my belt. We obviously must have seemed naive -- though the Germans loved and feted us in the village. We didn't even know why Americans were stationed there. I am of a Christian background, of European, but not of German descent. Our parents were being protectionist about childhood but also about the U.S. itself; they knew more than they told us. We didn't know about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, nor did we sit down as families to watch documentaries about it each week. Once high school started, I asked my Jewish friends to tell me more, since they had never talked about the Holocaust, either. They were making trips to Israel. They talked about "Zionism," yet there was no mention of "anti-semitism." In the African-American department, we were worse. Ours was the kind of community and school that had one black student per grade. We might be friends, but we didn't know psshit about it. We were expert musicians; we knew foreign languages, and calculus, but most of us had had few exposures re: race. This was in the mid-70s. Everyone watched "Roots" on TV, but about the Civil Rights Movement? Who knew? No history.

In seventh grade, we had a beautiful, mature-woman English teacher named Bev Smith. Bev was 22 and wore a different outfit every single day of the school year; she had kept all her clothes since 9th grade in St. Louis since she stayed so slender. We tried to imagine how huge her closet must have been. She had long, curvy decorated fingernails, so long that we marvelled that she could grip her pen with them. She was from the "Black is beautiful" era, and she taught it to us by example. She wore her hair in an afro. She had us begin each hour of English by writing in journals, which she collected and read. If we didn't want her to read a particular entry, we could write "don't read" at the top of that entry, and she would not read it. We trusted her. Once I wrote in my journal that I wanted to be "a writer and a model." Later, she wrote in the margin, "don't let anyone tell you you can't be both."

My nicknames in high school, given by two close friends, were "Bogstein" and "Mature Bogue."

My religion

In our religion, a branch of Christianity, we didn't have "good girls" and "bad girls." There was behavior, simply good and simply bad and gradations. There were children and adults. It was difficult, as grown women in advanced studies programs and offices to be asked to conform to the Catholic insistence that we were all "practicing" girls of the types "good" and "bad." If we said "women," they demanded that we become -- instantly -- gay or old. We have the human right to our unique personalities. It's in the Humans Rights Declaration. Anyone who wants to improve her behavior or to understand the effects of her behavior on someone else, is welcome to become aware of herself and change. In the realm of human affairs, I was lucky enough to have a mother who is a genius of privacy, decency, and liberty. She is a good judge of reality and an able reader, who feels a shudder of horror at the thought or practice of condemning anyone else.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Kamau Brathwaite

Kamau Brathwaite is from Barbados. His talk and poetry reading tonight at The Loft reminds me of the generosity of all authors: he told us about his life, but not his life only, the life of a poet from a place, in questing for another place, for a home, for Palmares. This generosity is of sharing that life story with its sensitive kinds of information, too sensitive for most authors to be willing to share. His brushes with the supernatural are a sign of his suffering as a poet, and his dreams and actual writings serve as his guide. He spoke to us as interpreter of intuitively-based decisions he made to move. After ten years in Ghana, he dreams that he is to go back to Barbados, as the dream appears in his poem.

I say I am "not superstitious," but I had no difficulty understanding or believing Brathwaite's travel narrative and even thought that his real encounters with spirits and surreal encounters with everyday life were persuasive, as they could only happen to a deeply authentic poet, who quests on behalf of poetry. His poetry itself is rhythmic, comforting, and instigative. He played his hands on the wooden podium to give an indication of drumming, a sacred art he learned in West Africa.

In Barbados, following a death and a hurricane, he was visited in the night by four horsemen of the apocalypse, of the spiritual world, who "shot" him in the head, an experience he survived intact but that changed him forever. On another journey in Barbados, he learns that developers want to turn a particular pasture he is working on into a golf resort; it is where he has hoped to establish an archive and library. He decides that he, like one of Barbados' famous singers, might have to leave. First, with the assistance of his wife, he begins to photograph as much of the pasture as possible, including each blade of grass. In the course of photographing, they meet an African female spirit in the guise of a spider who reveals her sexual nature and native religious positions in the next wave of his poetry.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

An auspicious debut

A bookseller in NY, who makes a decent living reading poorly-written Ph.D. dissertations in the field of Education, wrote to me to ask for the SPD (Small Press Distribution) catalog, that I had slipped into my conference bag at the AWP in Atlanta.  From his own funds, he plans to buy a selection of SPD books for spring, perhaps for Poetry Month.  His sales are woefully meager, though his designs for bookselling are exquisite.  He is a genius, a musical prodigy at age 3.  He wrote, conducted, and produced his compositions for orchestra in Pittsburgh, while he was yet a graduate student.  I say "yet a graduate student," because an auspicious debut, in a realistic world, would lead to a next life as a composer.  Unfortunately, ours is an unrealistic world.  With so much mediocrity in teaching & academe -- and who can deny it? -- the debut in certain very talented people is the finale.

I genuinely believe that poetry is better than that, that it is a better community, whether inside or outside academe, and that is probably why my prodigious composer friend has turned to it out of love.  I happily gathered up catalogs I had gleaned at the conference.  I took out a mailer, filled out the mailing sticker, selected the best materials, and prepared to ship them to him.  I was full of useful happiness because I get to go to the post office on official poetry business today.  I want to be a paid secretary in poetry (again -- ).

They laugh!  They always laugh.  I know who they are and they laugh.  I say "paid secretary," and they think of nothing but laughter.

The Daily Bread of Poetic Justice

[Excerpt: title link above leads to full article.]

by Karen Hering

“Words can be a weapon against injustice.”     —Richard Wright

Despite Richard Wright’s bold assurance of the ballistic potential of language, I would have to say, and sadly so, that when we in the United States swagger out onto the frontiers of injustice, it is not often poetry that we put in our holsters. No. Whether we pack a Smith & Wesson or go out into the world wholly unarmed, we are more likely to treat our poetry like a collection of keepsakes in a curio cabinet than to use it as a weapon or tool in the cause of justice. Every so often we take a few poems out for dusting and buffing; we might even hold them up for admiration at inaugurations and other occasions of pomp and circumstance. But to actually employ poetry in a cause, to aim it, load it, and fire it like a weapon, with injustice squarely in its sight, this has not often been our way. Political engagement, the argument goes, will at best tarnish the poetic impulse, and at worst it will leave a smoky trail in our verse where instead we seek more effulgent, if potentially irrelevant, scents and aspirations. (We do have exceptions, of course, even in the United States, including the poetic response to our current war, and I am grateful for these.)

In other parts of the globe, however, poetry has a more practical—and sometimes more political—presence. Nicaragua, Central America’s self-proclaimed “nation of poets,” is one example. Forget about innocence; here is a place where it is said, “Everyone’s a poet until proven otherwise.” Here is a place where poetry is right up there with the fork and the spoon as a utensil of daily living. It only makes sense that poetry would also be used as a tool by those working for justice. “Poetry,” Ernesto Cardenal once said, “can serve a function—to construct a country and create a new humanity, [to] change society.”

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Vernal equinox

Q: By the way, what is your favorite flower? What kind of flower are you?

A: My favorite flower is lily-of-the-valley. We have them here in the early summer, late spring. I also love crocuses and daffodils and tulips and lilacs -- all the spring flowers; we have roses, too, and peonies. I love wild grasses and aspens and maples and evergreens. My mother gardens expertly, and when she is no longer here, I fear there won't be flowers anymore. I did not inherit her green thumb, but I inherited a love for the garden, for botany, for fragrances ...

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Barthelme's Ghost

In early 1997, the night of the ice storm in Houston, my boyfriend-fiance's mother was dying, but I didn't know she was dying. I thought she would recover; she had had a small stroke. My boyfriend turned cruel -- due to his distress -- and I left their house to stay at Sonia's while she stayed at her boyfriend's. The ice was dripping from the evergreens. It was very beautiful, but hard on the trees. The planes were grounded. Electricity was out in her apartment. The temperature indoors seemed to be about 40, outdoors 25. I got in her bed, piled all her clothes on top of me, and tried to sleep. An animal was in the window, between the glass and the screen. I could hear it but not see it. I fervently hoped it wasn't a rat so high up -- a tall second-story. In the dark, I lay covered under garments. In a previous year, Sonia's bedroom had been our friend VC's office. It was the room in which he had written his first, long, well-received novel and composed his short stories for The New Yorker and Paris Review. There had been parties in that apartment; I had met Marion Barthelme, the widow of Donald Barthelme, there. I thought of those nights, of literary parties, to cheer myself as I lay in worst forms of physical and emotional discomfort, steeling myself to it, and cringing at the animal's digging sounds. Just before I slept, I was aware of Donald Barthelme standing in the room away from the bed, facing it. I could perceive his brown shadow, his hands folded in front of him, a patient stance, a grave expression. I live with a name that means "ghost," yet I am not superstitious. Partly, there he stood, a brown ghost on the dark, fantastical night of an ice storm; I knew it meant Barthelme, that this shadow of a father, a man, was not condemning me, not more than anyone is ever condemned, one day, to die. Partly, it was the father in Hamlet, the ice palace in Fitzgerald.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Twill skirt

S., the beloved dog, is 10. A Weimaraner with a club foot, his annual budget is as high as mine. At the vet, he is "private-pay," never humiliated. In his house, he is loved, never neglected. He and my sister live in a love-bond. A love-bond could be made with just about any living animal. Our Wally, a younger cat from the humane society, is our love-bond. My mother and I share him. As a middle child, I am very intrigued by sharing. Who loves what is human, what is female? We would not all have to live as neglected. Religion is not-law. Last summer, the lawyer called my knee-length, beige brushed twill skirt "licentious," as if he were on duty, scouting arguments, seeing resources, at Caribou. I looked too hour-glass in it, I thought sadly, knocking on wood against ceilings and jailings. I rarely watch TV. All our negotiating for our own lives went in defiance not of law but of property.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


A work of writing is old and new. It's old because words are old and meanings are familiar. It's new because words move causally and causelessly to new tempos and creeds. Creeds are old and new. A creed is an issue. A child is an issue. A writer is a child. An issue is a word. An issue is: I miss you. Or a political issue, the old insoluble. Or a personal issue, I miss you. All the same issue. In writing there's meaning, bent, and shape but there's you and I miss you. I missed you is the same issue. We missed the boat, or also, we missed the landing. We missed church or switched church. The practitioner misses tea for church or God for earth, some combination like that. Some missing, which is a word for fail. Failing is saying no to grace. Missing the boat or the landing, one of those. Grace is letting issues be creeds, new, old, too many to name, all the same.

(ca. 1982)

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Stripped of all precious illusion ...

as what happens. Someone very dry and pan-black did this: He stripped me of all precious illusion then of grace, while two women approached me and attacked. It could only have been death, not mine. Examples of my precious illusions until then: "life matters," "friends love one," "people want each other's health." Slowly, each of those -- now flat and dry but before that light and delicate -- returns in gray outline, like someone's idea of "aging." "Life matters," "friends love one," "people want each other's health" in relearning my spirit. Deaths: love/animals. I reject atheism. One day, I feel it: hope.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Sonia's Rock Band

The names of Sonia's rock bands were "Shiksa" and "Shag." I had suggested "Gash," but she rejected it. One night the men who backed her in the band surrounded me where I sat at Cecil's to ask me a question. They acted like they had come there to find me. All were smiling. All were "Mr. Nice Guys." They reminded me of a barbershop quartet. I thought they might start singing. "Why won't you have sex with Sonia?" they asked as one person. That goes against friendship. "Because her nipples," I said, "are too pale. They're the color of a number 3 pencil eraser," and they laughed.

What mothers want


One of my writing friends, an Ivy graduate who has worked for women's magazines, who has experienced and travelled the "glamorous" world, has become a Marxist. I feel challenged by the new direction in her mind: I don't have enough money to become a Marxist. She is not rich herself, but she is at last comfortable, happily married, and can afford to teach part-time -- the lot of many women in our field. She drives to her school as often as the fully-paid men professors do, but she earns much less. Is that why she became a Marxist? No. The reason she became a Marxist relates to her research on global wages paid to produce consumer goods for Americans. I told her that I had shopped at our beautiful department stores as a girl, at Dayton's, in particular. Now that Dayton's is no longer, and we have mostly Macy's, and the glamor of Dayton's is past, and I am poor, I go to Goodwill. As children, our mother brought our used clothing there; now I shop there. Call it "clothing recycling," and it works. I cannot afford to buy much at department stores, and this way, we donate old clothes and give money to charity for the ones we buy; I find wearable clothes, a little fashionable, without causing further manufacturing hardship overseas. Am I already a Marxist?

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Poems by J. D. Smith

As Art Springs from a Wound

There's no need to stay up, planning death,
or push away full plates.
No need for the other symptoms,
the familiar list,
because a pill dissolves them.
Then nothing's good or bad
but thinking makes it so,
and nothing's that bad when there's the will
to write a letter, even post it,
and begin another, asking a friend
what if salesmen -- of anything -- are right,
and, with them, cheerleaders,
the evangelists of tall hair,
the televised prophets of real estate?
What if all is bounty,
for the taking with a smile?
Then all art and craft
is happenstance and shining scar,
canopy over a ground of grief
that gives way, toppling statues,
symphonies, and poems.

All these years we could have been taking sun.
We should have have been making money.
But we didn't, and must count it loss.
Pale and broke, we settle for beauty.


I must have wires
instead of bones;
instead of flesh,
congealed shadow
like clay pressed
on a sculptor's study
or the pressed resin
of action figures.

A cage of angles,
I turn with a jerk,
and part crowds.
A point extending
from a finger-tip
might draw blood;
another, from a shoulder,
could summon lightning.

from Settling for Beauty by J. D. Smith, a Cherry Groves Selection.

Polemics (def.)

po-lem'ic, po-lem'ic-al, a. [Gr. polemikos, from polemos, war.]
po-lem'ic, n. 2. an argument or controversial discussion.
po-lem'ics, n. pl. [construed as sing.] 1. the art or practice of disputation or controversy.
2. a dispute.
3. that branch of theological science dealing with the history of ecclesiastical controversy.

po-lem'i-cist, n. a skilled debater or writer of polemic discussions.

po'le-mist, n. an argumentative person.

from Webster's New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, deluxe 2nd edition.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

A week later

My AWP is lasting longer than other people's who had to get right back to real life and to work. I saw Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie last night with my mother at The Guthrie. It was a gorgeous production that had me weeping at play's end. Am I like the unmarried "crippled" daughter who can only appreciate her glass ornaments (vis-a-vis "poems") and whose anxieties are so severe she cannot see through a typing class? Ah, but I have so many years of work experience. Could "old maid" be the word for it? What about "crippled?" My mother dropped her hearing device during the play and said out loud, "Damn!"

I saw Rosellen Brown outside the Hilton on the night of our arrival to Atlanta, a Wednesday, and thought she looked more beautiful than ever, though we are all "older" now than we were then. I heard her panel discussion about "different ways to tell a story" and learned that she sometimes writes fiction from poetry, that she drafts in poems first.

A list of writers from the panel of late-career bloomers, starting with Wallace Stevens, made me cry. Dorianne Laux was on the panel. She had been a waitress until she was 38. From the dais, she seemed to call out that some older people "are tired!" and "55-year-old women have sex!" and "Gerald Stern is so alive!" I had read some of her poems about lovemaking in a publication of The Loft during one of her visits to the Twin Cities. Later, I met her to talk with her, and she said that Rosellen Brown is the second smartest woman in the United States.

I met a poet from Washington, D.C., named J.D. Smith. Besides Yusef Komunyakaa, he was the most humble man I met at the event. He wrote me a dedication of his book called Settling for Beauty. I was taken by the title because I had realized at the conference that I had left off the Romantics, except for Blake, and that I would need to consider my relationship to truth and beauty. My other question, "what is experimental writing?" I had placed first.

I saw Phil Brady and co. from Youngstown, Ohio (he and his cw colleagues play in a great Irish band together), Bob Mooney, Eric Miles Williamson, Tom Williams, Ardyth Benfer, Robin Reagler, Lance Larsen, Tim Liu -- all old friends from the past -- and met Amy King, Evie Schockley, Susan Steinberg, Janet Holmes, Deborah Poe, Larry Fondation, his friend Jessica, Nancy McKinley, and Brian Clements. All of it made me happy, at first.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

International Women's Day: Work

Women are admitting to sins that are not sinful: such as their love for poetry -- in trying to account for how men discard them and ignore their talent. "Work" was shorthand for something I wrote called Work on What Has Been Spoiled. My list of paid jobs runs to 30 and covers 20 years. Work is a topic: What is it and who is allowed to do it? Not long ago, on our poetics listserv, a woman poet wrote that she had been taught that work is a privilege. I have read her writing to discover whether she is among those who deserves paid work or not. "Privilege" always means 2 per cent to me; I don't know why. She might remain sanguine if it did mean that. I was taught that paid work is a requirement. Imagine, we came from such different sets of instruction ... from our families, and in particular, our parents. In requiring paid work of me, my parents required it of the world. Work is an acknowledged human right -- a secret, perhaps -- further, appropriate paid work based on training is a human right. That these are rights suggests that people denied them suffer human indignities. People have begun to say to me that I might have to leave my native country to have these human rights honored. Is it a right to stay in one's country? Citizenship in one's native country is a human right.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007


I returned from Atlanta with a cold and am just now noticing it loosening. For years, I have slept only 4 or 5 hours per night, but when I returned from the conference, I slept 10 hours in a row. I like having colds -- I get one per year -- because it loosens my lungs, which very probably get too tight due to smoking. I like coughing once a year during a cold and blowing my nose.

I am the personal care attendant to an alcoholic who refuses to pay a regular salary and who instead throws perks my way, perks I accept, like a trip to a convention. My job is to answer the ringing phone all day, all hours, and to give succor.

I know of no way out. That there are employed women has me dumbfounded: how did they achieve it? Was I friends with women? Yes. Were they sex objects? Yes. Are they mothers? Yes. Am I? Mother of men.

Women at the convention I overheard saying the word "blog," said it with disdain, but they were women who keep blogs.

Each morning of the conference I rose at 5 a.m. and took a long time waking up, until I was ready to act at 8 a.m. By 4 p.m., I was too tired to find a stranger to eat dinner with -- the thought of it overwhelmed me, so I ate appetizers or alone in a hotel restaurant. I wanted to discern which women knew women there. The evidence suggested that many of them did. I wondered how they had met, found employment, agreed to be friends, to eat together as friends and to attend the conference as friends. In most heterosexual arenas, female friendship seems secondary, and sex performance the particular emphasis, something I secretly reject in favor of "meaningful relationships," what men still protest not to like. I wish we could understand this better: what about "meaningful relationships" dissatisfies men and what about sex-as-performance without solid friendships dissatisfies me.

Reports from the conference have mostly all been positive -- people are connected to each other in different ways. I studied short fiction most. Poets dominate at the AWP. I always managed to get along fine with poets.

Alternative poetry

What is it alternative to? It is alternative, for one thing, to a top-down system that rewards a tiny per cent of writers near the top -- and most of them deserve greater recognition for their work, their bearing, and their position -- and turns the majority of the rest of writers, especially young writers, into lifelong paying customers, if not of poetry and writing, then of therapy for it, and into audience. The alternative poetry scene operates in cities around the country, possibly the world, and continues its work more as a collective based in poetic friendship. There is love in it.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

A poet from San Francisco

Before going to the AWP convention in Atlanta, I had started dating a beautiful African-American man in Minnesota. Caught in the hotel lobby at the Hilton, as if at a station at the metro, my head swivelled each time I saw anyone of African-American descent -- man or woman. Each time, it wasn't him, of course; and each time our eyes grazed, I asked myself, what am I doing? Staring at all these people. Back in the hotel room, the man himself asked on the telephone how many African-Americans were in attendance, and I tried to guess. I couldn't guess, but I explained that I had kept an African focus when I attended panel sessions -- so maybe I had seen or met more African-Americans than were "there" by other measures --who were not invisible.

I had gone to the conference with the question, "What is experimental writing?" A decade or even two have slipped since I first started asking that question. "Experimental," to the establishment, I realized, by the end of four days at the conference, means writing about or for the underclass of America. That isn't what it means to the avant garde itself, whose writings tend toward elliptical and cerebral. The establishment poets suggest that "experimental" is merely a matter of technique or aesthetics, perhaps of technology, and seem to side against it. They sidestep rivalry with braver writers and their own mysterious gaps in comprehension. Consistently, they balk when the poet or writer is writing about people who are disenfranchised.

I used to write short stories about people who drink beer. Had the people in the stories been sipping wine, they might have become a book, and I might be employed. My stories were said to be "experimental," and that meant that "most readers" could not be expected to understand them very well. "Most readers" later came to mean people who had been sitting in that workshop, who could understand them.

A white poet from San Francisco, Jay, landed at my bar table, where I had just landed. We talked. He advanced a theory, based on his recent viewing of The Departed, the ghastly movie I had suffered alone in the hotel room, that the poet Gerald Stern was like the Godfather of creative writing. I countered him. First, I clarified that I like Gerald Stern's poetry -- a thinner and thinner qualification, I believe, as time is passing -- like saying you like rock n' roll no matter how it is made or to what end; second, I said creative writing reminds me more of the Olympics than of organized crime. Then I suggested he write fiction instead of poetry. He admitted that he had won fiction prizes in the beginning. "There you go," I said, confirming for myself that I would have made a good "doctor" of creative writing. Before the conversation was over, Jay had called me a cow, appropos of my having told him that I am a Taurus. And he accused me of thinking more highly of my work than anyone else does. It was too late. I had let myself be insulted by him, "the employed."

Later, I mentioned the conspiracy aspect of this exchange to a few other "employeds," alums drinking in the bar -- men who had gotten jobs a decade or two ago -- and one of them said that comparing the field to a crime syndicate was the "product of a sick mind." The Catholic I was talking to was diagnosing the anonymous writer from San Francisco with a serious mental disorder, whereas I had diagnosed him as a fiction writer. Had I been hired, and Jay had been in my class, I would have said the same thing -- that he should write a novel, not that he was suffering a world's worst form of mental illness. Since The Departed was chosen as the year's best film, Jay is no sicker than the Motion Picture Academy and not the only one with an affinity to unbearable violence in the movies.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Writers who don't love enough

Love was missing in number at the Associated Writing Programs Conference in Atlanta, attended by 5,000 writers. If anyone there loved anyone else on earth, she had invariably stayed at home, especially to tend children and pets and plants. Writers don't love. Once I met a maestro who guessed, "You don't like love very much, do you?" And I thought of going home and writing a bestseller called Writers Who Don't Love Enough. It was a jest, but someone should write a book called that for writers who don't love enough. The happiness lasted an hour. The happiness lasted in the eyes. The eyes teared at readings; the cupped hands clapped echoingly for C.D. Wright, gratefully for Yusef Komunyakaa, Stephen Dunn, and Evie Shockley.