July 4, 2011

A Scattering of Flashcards

After deciding against it, I've changed my mind about applying to Ph.D. programs in the fall. I was discouraged, initially, to learn that one of the programs I hoped to apply to (the same school where Brandon will be attending) wants a 95 percentile on the GRE, which felt very much beyond my reach. I did very average the last time I took the GRE. I don't test well at all, and despite being a poet, my vocabulary is pretty conventional. Like Frost, I prefer the common language, the every man's speech. 

But I was elated to discover that the GRE has been revamped, and starting this fall, will no longer (among other things) have analogies and other out-of-context vocabulary, which will help substantially. So I've been spending the last few weeks studying vocab. I've got various stacks of flashcards littering my room. I also re-read D.A. Powell's Cocktails, which is one of my favorites. Here's a sample of the list of words I made from its final section:  Pyx. Dhisced. Tonsure. Cowls. Spurtle. Anaphylaxis. Exuviae. Heparin. Sigmoidoscope. Intubation. Viaticum. Orval. Exsiccated. Berm. Mammillated. Carbuncled. Byssus. The list goes on and on, and even though not all these words are ETS GRE - type words, it's been fun to push myself in that way.

I've been so comfortable using such pedestrian language in my poems, and reading a book as great as Cocktails presents me with the challenge of using these more dazzling, specific words. Additionally, I've started a six month challenge to read a book from an international poet a week. I've read so little of the poetry canon, and most of what I've read has been published in American post-1980. I've read the anthologized work of earlier poets, and all of Whitman, and a scattering of modernists, but when it comes to international poets, I fall flat after Lorca and Neruda. Week One,  I read Mahmoud Darwish's Eleven Plants, translated by Fady Joudah (whose Earth in the Attic I loved). Initially, I struggled with how little narrative elements there were (no characters, no setting), but I grew to love it. I'm too drawn to the narrative sphere of poetry. Sometimes I need to let poetry be poetry, to make strange leaps, to make more sonic sense than linear and comprehensive sense, to deal more with the heart than the head. Here's a great sample from the third section of Darwish's poem "The 'Red Indian's' Penultimate Speech to the White Man" that does just that:
                                                         ...You will lack the lily of longing, you will lack, white ones, a memory that tames the horses of madness and a heart that scratches the rock to burnish itself on the violin's will lack the confusion of the gun: if murder is imperative, then do not kill the animals that have befriended us, and do not kiss our yesterday you will lack a truce with our ghosts in the barren winter nights and you will lack a dim sun, a gibbous moon, for the crime to appear less festive on the movie screen, so take your time to kill God"

The restaurant out of which I catered for burned down this past week, and so once again I'm unemployed. I have a tutoring gig lined up for August, and since I'm headed to Maine and Georgia for most of July, I think I will enjoy the time to learn new words, read new poets, and write better poems.


In other news, I had a birthday, which I celebrated with good people, champagne, and shortcake. Last night, I went on a sunset bike ride (on my new peugeot!) around the shore of Lake Mendota, and onto a peninsula which is a breeding ground for lightning bugs. This week, many of my housemates leave, and the cats continue to bring them parting gifts of rabbit hearts, livers, and heads.


  1. our cats our poets, and their vocabulary consists entirely of guts, curled paws, and purring? And in smokey's case, pointed stares.

  2. ha ha. that should read, our cats are our poets. missing a word there. :)