Wednesday, May 31, 2006


Kabul in Winter: Life Without Peace

Recommendation from my friend and former writing teacher Patricia Lee Lewis:

Kabul in Winter: Life Without Peace in Afghanistan is Ann Jones's trenchant report from the city where she spent the last four winters working in humanitarian aid. Helping impoverished war widows, training Kabul's ill-equipped English teachers, and investigating the city's prisons for women, Jones encounters women and men from every layer of Afghan society. She unravels Afghanistan's complicated history as a proxy battlefield for greater powers and confronts the ways in which Afghan politics, education, and culture have repeatedly been hijacked-by Communists, Islamist extremists, and Western free marketers-always with disastrous results. And she reveals, through small events, the big disjunctions: between U.S. promises and performance, between the new "democracy" and the still-entrenched warlords, between wha''s boasted of and what is. At once angry, profound, and starkly beautiful, Kabul in Winter brings alive the people and day-to-day life of a place whose future depends upon our own.
For more information, go to

And a nice article in the New Orleans Times-Picayune about E. Ethelbert Miller and Langston Hughes.


No Biggies Today

Some updates:

Read Kim Roberts' fabulous report from Book Expo here.

Esther Iverem's wonderful site, SeeingBlack, has a new look. Check it out. The letters section has an interesting letter about Billy Collins' recent comment on NPR that Robert Hayden wasn't popular with Black readers "because he didn't write about race." The letter writer argues that these are both patently ridiculous statements. Check it out here.

I'm reading in the In Two Tongues/ En dos lenguas series tomorrow night. Here are the details.

In Two Tongues/ En dos lenguas: A Bilingual Poetry Evening
Featuring award–winning poets Sarah Browning and Gladys Ilarregui
Thursday, June 1, 2006, 7 – 9 p.m.
Arlington Arts Center, 3550 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, VA 22201. At the corner of Wilson and Monroe Streets, one block south of the Virginia Square/ GMU Metro station on the Orange Line.
Free and open to the public
703.248.6800 or
Second in a three-part series of bilingual poetry readings featuring established poets and emerging voices from the Mid-Atlantic States. Featured poets this evening include Sarah Browning and Gladys Ilarregui and emerging poets Mona Nicole Sfeir, Christine Stoddard, Porter J. Schiavone, and Jose R. Ballesteros. Works will be read in English and Spanish. The finalists were selected from a pool of over several dozen applicants, and will have both their original and translated works published. Dr. Rei Berroa, professor at George Mason University, is a lead coordinator of this program. En dos lenguas is made possible through the generosity of the Arlington Community Foundation. The event is preceded by a Master Class at 6 pm with Browning and Ilarregui that is also open to the public.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006


Fort Worden, PAW Board, Rain

On my last full day in Port Townsend, I drove to Fort Worden State Park and took a hike. A large, turn-of-the-20th-century fort, the park now holds Centrum Art Center, Copper Canyon Press, a youth hostel, conference center, gorgeous beaches, and miles of hiking trails. It holds sadness for me, though, as Sam Hamill built Copper Canyon there over many years, only to be forced out last year.

Still, Sam's impact can be powerfully felt. I hiked up behind the Copper Canyon building to Memory's Vault, an art installation incorporating the original concrete vault that held the architectural plans for the fort. The artist placed plaques with several of Sam's poems on pillars at the site -- poems of the natural landscape that surrounds the viewer, poems of contemplation. The effect is very moving, all the more so, knowing that Sam is essentially in exile from that place. You can read two of the poems here: (scroll down).

I took a walk along the beach: Shore birds, the Cascade mountains occasionally peeking out from the clouds across Puget Sound. I called my family on my cell phone so my son could hear the sound of the Pacific Ocean lapping at the beach. I sat at a picnic table and wrote this:

I hold the cell phone to the waves
so Ben can hear the Pacific. But he thinks
it's the whoosh, whoosh of a bad connection.

I tell him I'm on the beach,
a barge is passing, full of red containers,
a ferry, shore birds, dark clouds
across the bay -- it's raining on Whidbey.

Wait, I tell him, the clouds are parting --
just one moment's view --
snow-covered mountains.
I've always wanted to see that, he says,
and sighs. I promise to bring him.

I tell him Sam's poems are on pillars
in the woods. I tell him: shore birds
and driftwood. I make promises.
I miss his Hi, Mom indifference.

You are so lucky, he tells me
when I say I'll bring him here.
And I am, am lucky.

Just as I got back to Gray's car, the skies opened up and it poured down in earnest, raining hard for several hours. I picked up Gray and we collected pizzas for the PAW board meeting that evening. As we headed back to their home, we spotted a complete rainbow over the town, drove toward it in search of gold. We approached the end of the rainbow and it disappeared, of course, as rainbows do.

The meeting was wonderfully productive, outlining the many steps for recruiting more activists and volunteers into the organization. I volunteered DC Poets Against the War for several roles, including being the liaisons to similar, local efforts by other poets around the country. A newsletter is coming soon, feauring updates on the international connections Sam's made and the important efforts by poets in Latin America and India. You can sign up to get the newsletter, if you don't already get it, at the PAW website here.

Friday, May 26, 2006


Port Townsend, Washington - Poets Against War, Sam Hamill, Sake, Shore Birds

I'm just back from several days staying with Sam Hamill and his wonderful wife Gray Foster for a national Poets Against War board meeting. They were both lovely and generous. My first time meeting Gray, a painter and the director of the local Habitat for Humanity program. Port Townsend, WA - rain, occasional sun, Olympic mountains peeking through the mist, ferries, slugs, Puget Sound, shore birds, more rain.

One night we stayed up late celebrating the news of a second printing for Sam's book Almost Paradise: Selected Poems from Shambhala. Sake. Many, many cigarettes. Sam asks if I like Cow Jazz. Not understanding, I give a look like Lay it on me. Gray smiles her wry smile: Country music, she says. I do! And Sam's got Waylon Jennings on the stereo, he's singing along, telling how one time he drove 1,500 miles from San Francisco to Phoenix just to see Waylon. Sam says Waylon does much more interesting things with language - sly rhymes and double entendres - than Billy Collins does.

The conversation turns to the Black Mountain poets: Robert Duncan, Robert Creeley. I admit to not knowing Duncan's poem, "My Mother Would be a Falconress," so Sam goes out to his enormous library behind his writing studio (6,000 volumes destined for Ohio State University), comes back and reads to us this extraordinary poem. And I agree with him: it should be in every anthology of 20th century American poetry. Shocking, stunning, heart-wrenching poem. (Follow the link above to the Academy of American Poets' site to read the poem and hear audio of Duncan reading it in 1969.)

The conversation shifts - ambition for the writing comes up. Sam, who was responsible for Copper Canyon publishing June Jordan's Collected Poems (which just won a Lambda Literary Award), even though it came out after he left the press, talks about admiring Jordan's ambition, the willingness to fall flat and get back up and succeed brilliantly, sometimes in the same poem.

I say I think it's harder for women to be ambitious in their poetry than men and this elicits a howl of protest from Sam, who has misunderstood me, thinking I mean it's harder for women to publish. In fact, says Sam, it's too eay - we're all writing for our little niches, a disastrous turn for American poetry. It takes a long time, and a good deal more sake, for me to convince him that I mean it is an internal struggle for women to be ambitious in their writing; that I, for one, am constantly battling the powerful injunctions of childhood to behave, be a good girl, not put myself on display, not make a spectacle of myself. The constant tut-tutting of the British ladies in my head (two elderly such gals played a big role in raising me) mean that it is hard, hard, hard to make a fool of myself, to have big goals for a poem; the small successful poem is much easier.

So we toast the second printing. I tell Gray and Sam again how wonderful it is to be here. And it is. I think. I learn. I stretch. I say goodnight, head to my comfy room behind Gray's painting studio, curl up, sleep the satisfied night away.

Tomorrow: Report on Day 2: Fort Worden State Park, the Poets Against War board meeting

Sunday, May 21, 2006


Book Expo, the Capitalism Report

The actual convention site at Book Expo was much as anticipated: Huge, corporate booths in the center, university presses with more modest displays as you moved toward either end, and then, out on the far edges, the very small presses in exile, as Richard Peabody of Paycock Press described it (finding himself there). The huge displays by HarperCollins, Farrar Strauss & Giroux and the other megapresses featured ridiculous amounts of swag, giveaways often with gimmicky tie-ins to their books. I picked up cardboard binoculars with "Look out for unfortunate events" written on them, advertising the Lemony Snickett books (my son Ben's current favorites). I spotted Tracy Ullman signing her new knitting book. I saw lots of white guys and gals in power suits looking intimidating. I was reminded of what a big business so much of publishing is.

The university presses and small presses had some of their poetry books on display, but the few big houses that publish poetry didn't even bother to bring their titles. I talked with a guy at Norton about it and he condescended that they have wonderful editors who bring in great poets, but they don't bring the poetry to trade shows. OK, bye, end of conversation.

What I did see: Graywolf has Tess Gallagher's first book in a long time, Dear Ghosts, which looks marvelous. The Portal Press had just launched in DC with some wonderful looking novels. West Virginia University Press was displaying Vivid Companion, a collection of poems by Irene McKinney, a former poet laureate of WV. Looking forward to reading it! And LSU Press had info about how to help rebuild New Orleans Public Libraries, still devastated by Hurricane Katrina. The libraries are now more in need of financial support than of books, so if you can give, please click here to do so. I'm hoping DC Poets Against the War will hold a one-year commemoration fundraiser to support the libraries in September. Let me know if you want to help out and stay tuned for details.

Other activities this week: I had to miss the coffee klatsch that I normally host for folks who work at home on Thursday in order to have my teeth cleaned and consult with my dentist about my TMJ problem. Dan Vera graciously hosted and wrote me this about the afternoon: "One woman from Latvia studying at Georgetown [came]. Great conversation about China/Russia that went into feminist biblical critique and then cosmology. Wonderful mind stretching stuff." Sounds even a little beetter than a teeth-cleaning!

Great reading of place poems at Busboys & Poets today. Even in the gorgeous sunshine at 4 pm, we had a full room. I am continually impressed with the talent here in D.C. Reading today were Deborah Ager, Louise Beach, Jody Bolz, Grace Cavalieri, Rose Solari, Jeneva Stone, Josh Weiner, and myself. (Sadly Naomi Ayala wasn't feeling well and had to pass.) We traveled from Florida to West Virginia to Vermont and back to D.C., with Josh finishing the afternoon with a little-league-on-the-White-House-lawn poem, a great new genre I hope to see more of.

I'm headed to Port Townsend, WA, tomorrow morning for a board meeting of the national organization Poets Against War. I'll be staying in a little studio in the woods 1,000 feet from the house Sam Hamill built for himself 30 years ago. So I don't know how much access to the Internet I'll have. I'll try to write from the left coast, but if not, look for a report back at the end of the week. Enjoy the spring weather!

Friday, May 19, 2006


Book Expo, the Party Report

Last night I went to a dinner organized by the Poetry Foundation to introduce their new web site. Emily Warn, who organized the poetry reading in front of the White House on the first day of poetry readings against the war, February 12, 2003, is the editor of the site and our host. Take a look: they're building a very impressive archive of poetry as well as an on-line magazine of interviews and features about the poets with work in the archive. They'll also be reviewing poetry readings, hosting guest poetry bloggers, and reporting on news (and some gossip, I hope!) from the world of poetry publishing.

The site looks great, but I was disappointed that their first run of features only included one woman and one person of color among 9 poets profiled; since their goal is to promote the breadth and variety of American poetry they'll need to do a better job. (Women and people of color being the majority and everything...) I spoke with the features editor about it, who promised better representation in the future. He also pointed out that the guest bloggers have been a much more diverse bunch, which is great. I hope to do some writing for them in the future, so you know the kinds of poets I'll be profiling!

The social scene was nice; I got to sit next to Ethelbert Miller. He's just back from New Orleans and is still shaken by the devastation. We came up with the idea of a one-year anniversary fundraising reading in September. Stay tuned for details...

Then I dropped Ethelbert on 16th Street so he could take the bus home and headed to Busboys & Poets for a book party put on by Hyperion for Amy Goodman and David Goodman's second book, forthcoming in September. Celebrity sightings: the columnist Maureen Dowd, Medea Benjamin from Code Pink. Probably lots of other folks, but the free wine was flowing - oy. Amy gave a rousing speech about the role that the media is supposed to play in a free society - actually to question and challenge those who rule - then we were entertained by the sweet and funny Andy Borowitz.

David G. is an old friend, so it was lovely to spend a little time with him, after prying him loose from the adoring fans and the publishing and book selling people. (I tried, and failed, to be nice to a woman from the corporate office of Borders.) Also converging there was my friend Edwin Frank, editor of the gorgeous New York Review of Books Classics series. He's staying with me now and in a few minutes we're going to walk up to see the Clover Adams memorial by Saint-Gaudens in Rock Creek Cemetary here in beautiful Petworth. I hope to get into the actual convention center today. I'll let you know!

Thursday, May 18, 2006


Proud Mama Moment

We just learned that my son Ben won the local Pitch, Hit & Run Competition in the 7-8 year-old category for the Northwest D.C. Little League. He advances to Sectional Competition on May 27, for a chance to advance to the Regionals at RFK Stadium. You can see his awe-inspiring score here. Go, Ben!!!


The publishing hordes are upon us

BookExpo USA has arrived in town, with all its attendant selling and debauching. Last night I had dinner at Yosaku with my high school friend Steve Tager, who heads sales at Abrams, and his brother Evan. Then took Steve to Busboys & Poets to show the place off and share a chocolate mousse cake. (Run, don't walk, to B&P and order this incomparable cake!) Steve was duly impressed - with B&P and the cake; confirmed what we in DC have long suspected: that there is no place like it in New York. We are the lucky ones!

Tonight, more events and parties. Then on Friday I hope to get inside the convention center and check out the scene: supposedly a staggering number of publishers' booths, hawking their wares (um - I mean, talking about books...!) I'll report back.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


TV eats the brain or, the staying power of the word, "whore"

TV EATS THE BRAIN. Having said that, I am ready to admit my darkest secret: I am addicted to Grey's Anatomy. So what do they do for the season finale, but give us a two-hour show on a Monday night?!? There goes my brain... especially because, given my addictive personality, I can't actually turn OFF the TV, once it's on. I try, but I am powerless before its might. So, at 11:30, after a half hour spent with the unappealing women of (the watered down) Sex & the City, I found myself watching the first few minutes of Will & Grace. Then I remembered I could be watching the Leno monologue and turned the channel just in time.

However, I saw enough of W&G to witness this scene: Grace's new boyfriend drops by and meets Will briefly. As he's leaving, Grace gives him a huge smooch in the doorway -- it goes on for awhile. She is clearly into it. When the guy leaves, Grace turns to Will and says, "Oh, why do I always do that?" And Will, eyebrow raised, asks, "What? Act like a great big whore?" Canned laughter... "Move too fast," says Grace.

OK, we all know the issues about pace early in a relationship. But why, after all this time, is a woman who shows her sexual interest called a Great Big Whore? In Grey's Anatomy, Derrick/ McDreamy (the smarmy Patrick Dempsey) calls Meredith the W word, when he's the one who slept with her without even telling her he was married. (OK, so it's a soap opera. We knew that. But please remember, before you judge me, or call me a Great Big TV Whore, that I'm the one who admitted to my addiction at the start of this post...)

All this by way of asking, why the persistence of the word, "whore" to describe a sexual woman? I thought all these 20-something women were completely out there with their sexuality, it was all cool, they're taking pole-dancing classes as a way to stay in shape, they write erotica in their spare time -- I thought it was OK now for women to be into sex.

How naive was I? Sexual women must still be incredibly threatening to the culture as a whole, if the messages continue to come at us at such a rapid-fire clip, even on the so-called progressive shows like Grey's Anatomy and W&G. (I'm not even going to comment on hip hop culture here; that's a topic for another time.) Women must still be controlled with humiliations and put-downs. It's the old story. Nothing has really changed.

As an antidote, rent the sweet film, Saving Face, directed by Alice Wu. Women get to enjoy sex with other women, with younger men. There are repercussions within a highly conformist community, but the women are not blamed for their love and their passions. They are celebrated. Except for the couple of moments of bad indy rock on the soundtrack, it's a lovely film.

Monday, May 15, 2006


Spies, lies, and poetry

As many of us suspected, the administration has been lying to us all along about the extent of the NSA's telephone surveillance program. Turns out they have been collecting information on our phone communication all along - quelle surprise! They lie about the reasons to go to war; they lie about the treatment of prisoners; they lie about the very existence of certain prisons and prisoners; they lie about spying on us. They lie. Remember this, the next time you read any official statement from this administration. The odds are - it's a lie.

In this climate of suspicion, it is all the more moving to me to read a poem like "Lavender Wedding," by Shane Allison: a manifesto of celebratory resistance to the atmosphere of fear and conformity. The poem, which I found in Robert Giron's wonderful anthology, Poetic Voices Without Borders, is a stunning assertion of love in the face of all the hatred in the world - just by describing a super-queer wedding:

My husband to be will look stunning
in his lavender Christian Dior wedding dress imported from Paris.
The priest will be a Michael Jackson impersonator.
The reception will be held at the House of Chicken and Waffles,
where Debbie, employee of the month, will catch the bouquet.
Wally, the four hundred pound, stubble-faced cook,
who smokes stink cigars, where the ashes
occasionally fall in the blueberry pancake mix,
will have the pleasure of pulling the garter belt
from my husband's thigh with his teeth.

Please invite me to the wedding, Shane. You can read some of Shane's more pornographic poems here.

Friday, May 12, 2006


A hit of consciousness

I love encountering a poet whose work I hadn't known previously and who knocks my socks off. That happened recently when I read Re-entry by Michael White (University of North Texas Press, 2006). The title poem is about reentering the world after being in rehab - the shock of the world, really. And all the poems give us that wake-up call, that reminder to be open, to be conscious. This couplet has been knocking around in my head the last several weeks. It's from the poem "Everything Adrift":

the world, which calls him, calls him, woos him, till
the heart forgets why it was clenched in the first place.

I know no better description of the self-protective impulse that too often governs our lives than the clenched heart.

I usually have trouble with long poems, but the long ones in Re-entry I think are the strongest and not at all hard to get through; especially "My Bicentennial Year," "Cineplex," and the final poem, "Santa Croce." They give space to the vastness of the perceived world, and to our experience of the world: rich in detail, marvelous in their sympathy for human feeling. You can read "My Bicentennial Year" here.


We're off and running...

I've received so many positive responses to the baby blog already - thank you all! I feel warmly welcomed to the 'sphere. Lisa Schamess even made this blog and my poetry the subject of her Poetry Thursday on her blog. Thank you, Lisa!

Since Lisa's done it before I have, let me say that you can read some of my poetry on Beltway. My poem, The Fifth Fact, won the People Before Profits Poetry Prize last fall and is posted at Burning Bush Publications. You can even hear me read a few poems on E. Ethelbert Miller's site, here.

It was very moving to hear the student winners read their poems at last night's dinner at the Arts Club. The overall quality of the entries was really high; makes me feel optimistic about the future of American poetry. We were given assigned seats, with printed place cards and everything. I got to sit next to David Gewanter and gossip about poets and poetry - fun.

Thursday, May 11, 2006


Getting the hang of this thing

Special thanks to C.M. Mayo and Bernadette Geyer who already added this blog to their links. I'll figure out how to add a blog list and perma-link to them too.

Stopped into Busboys & Poets with Kim today, only to run into the spectacular Dan Vera. He is a Man Who Knits and told us about receiving a letter from a teacher in Arkansas who had received furious letters because she taught her students, including - gasp! - the boys, to knit. How dare she make those boys effeminate?! This confirms my theory that the most powerful and destructive force in the world is men's fear of the feminine -- in women and other men, but most especially in themselves. Men will go to great and horrific lengths to prove they're not gay.

Tonight I'm off to a dinner at the Arts Club of Washington. I was honored to judge, along with Brandon Johnson, their college poetry contest this year. The winners will be reading their poems at the dinner tonight. I found out while at the Club for the judging that the building was the home of James Monroe while he was Secretary of State in the early part of the 19th century. Very cool!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


Luddite Activist Poet Joins 21st Century

Although I have no idea what I'm doing, I've decided that the time is right for a blog: more frequent dispatches; what I'm reading; upcoming events; a minimum of gripes. Let me know if you can think of a catchier name.

So here's what I'm reading that I adore:

Declension in the Village of Chung Luong, by Bruce Weigl. Run out and buy this book (Ausable Press, 2006). I'm going to talk to Don Allen, the bookstore manager at Busboys & Poets, about ordering stacks of it. Read some sample poems here.

Weigl is a Vietnam vet and that war echoes with this bloody and senseless war, until the heart breaks. And yet, still the poems give hope that "the brain could be erased of its angry hurt."

Last week I went with my friend Kim Roberts to hear Adrienne Rich read at Georgetown University. Rich was so frail, but once she was seated, she proceeded to give an extraordinary, densely packed reading -- heady and emotional at the same time. I bought three copies of her latest collection, The School Among the Ruins, one each for Kathi Wolfe and Robert Giron, both of whom have been laid up recently. I have just started to read it, but was weeping on the treadmill, reading the title poem. You can read it here, on the website of Poets Against War. Kathi wrote a great review in The Washington Blade. (OK, so she had a copy of the book already; but she graciously said it was all dog-eared and coffee-stained...)

An upcoming event that I am hosting:

Sunday, May 21, 2006, 4 PM
Sunday Kind of Love: Poems of Place
Featuring D.C. poets whose work appears in Tigertail: A South Florida Poetry Annual, Vol. IV, edited by Richard Blanco (Tigertail Productions, 2006). Followed by an open mic. Readings of place poems encouraged!

Featured poets: Deborah Ager, Naomi Ayala, E. Louise Beach, Sarah Browning, Jody Bolz, Grace Cavalieri, Rose Solari, Jeneva Stone, Joshua Weiner

Busboys & Poets, 14th & V, NW, Washington, DC. U Street/Cardozo on the Green line. For more information:, 202-387-POET or, 202-577-6596.

From Richard Blanco's introduction to the volume: "More than mere travelogues or memoirs, these works examine the complex ways in which memory, landscape, and imagination collide and intersect to form a sense of place."

Hope to see local folks there!

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