November 4, 2012

New Website

I have a new website now:

I'll be moving my blog over there and redirecting this site, so if anyone has this blog in their Google Reader and would care to continue reading my babble, update your RSS feed.

October 26, 2012

Warming Up from the Chill

The temperature in the Bay Area has dropped to a moderate 65 degrees, and Californians all think it's fall. People are walking around in scarves and wool hats, the signs outside coffee shops promise to warm them up from "the chill" with chai teas, and the fireplace in my apartment lobby now always has a fire. Meanwhile, I'm still wearing shorts because its sunny and 65 degrees and where I come from that's still summer. Being here in October--my favorite month--has made me homesick for foliage and the northeast.

To remedy this, I've been making apple-and-root-vegetable everything, despite the fact that avocados are still growing nearby; I carved a pumpkin; and Brandon and I have been spending the month watching horror movies. I hadn't seen many before now, and am catching up: Silence of the Lambs, The Exorcist, The Blair Witch Project, Rosemary's Baby, etc.

I feel a bit silly watching horror movies to fix my nostalgia for New England when I could just watch Gilmore Girls, but I've found myself absolutely thrilled by them. The ones (or moments) I like the best aren't necessary "horror" so much as "creepy." Their attention to mood, atmosphere, and suggestion are things I think about a lot with poetry. How, with a movie like Blair Witch Project, a second-long shot of a (spoiler) wall with tiny bloodied hand prints (that the filmmakers wisely know needs no further explanation) does more for the imagination than anything they could show us directly. It reminds me of the use of metaphor and white space, and how to evoke an emotional reaction with a single image, or even better yet, without one.

I suppose all this makes me a nerd. I suppose having a blog about poetry also makes me a nerd.

September 26, 2012

Terrible Similes

In California now. I had written a whole blogpost about the last bit of summer, about Bread Loaf and the cross-country trip over here, but it's been over a month and now it feels too late. Let's just say that Bread Loaf was magical, like a glossy colored-picture insert in the middle of a long book. Like living inside a peach, surrounded by a fuzzy skin. I could go on with these terrible similes, but the point is, I'm glad I got to go, and I'm glad to have met the wonderful folks I met.


Now I'm in California. I can't stop saying that. I'm in California. I walked across the Golden Gate Bridge. I went to the Folsom St. Fair (if you don't know what that is, google image it. Or don't.). Tomorrow, I have my first workshop with Ken Fields. The weather is always the same: cloudy in the mornings, sunny in the afternoons, high of 66. The apartment is small but beautiful. The cats have eaten all my plants. I couldn't be happier.


The poems have been coming slowly. I was worried that I would get here and become paralyzed creatively. And I was, for a bit. But I wrote a bunch of crap-drafts, and now better work is beginning to rear its face, a face only a mother could love, and I feel relieved. These things can be so fleeting.

I reordered the manuscript. I know I say that each and every time I post. But I did. I cut it down to only the poems I believed in, that I still believed in after reading them a gazillion times over, and I had 46 pages, which is two pages too short. But the book feels more honest now than it ever has. The discarded poem pile is over 300 now. I feel like the book is nearly done, like I have no more poems to write on this theme. I'm already working on a second project that I'm excited about and am thinking of assembling it into a chapbook. Those poems feel less personal and more precise. But now I have two projects I'm trying to wrap up, and manuscript submission season is upon us. I wish I had just two more months.


It's been weird living in a city. It's a first for me, as Madison never felt like a city (part of the reason why it was so easy to call that isthmus-oasis home). It's loud here, crowded, and I've seen more people pee on the streets than I ever thought possible. It's also strangely rhythmic, comforting. Still, I've been escaping urban life as much as I can. I walk to Lake Merritt nearly every day. Brandon and I drove to a redwood forest one weekend. This past week, we walked through Mountainview cemetery where on top you can see all of Oakland, Emeryville, San Francisco, the two bridges, the bay, the Berkeley hills. The best part for me is that moment when we drive north out of Oakland, start to rise in elevation, and the air shifts--you can smell it, you can smell how much thinner and clearer it is. The older I get, the more like this my life becomes.

August 4, 2012


A drought lifted for me today. I hadn't written a poem since the end of May. I could give excuses (living at a  summer camp for seven weeks does not conduct creativity; I never write as well or as much in the summer months; I've been spending most of my creative energy combing through the manuscript; yadda, yadda, yadda). Either way, it felt good to break rain. The poem I wrote today in a strip mall Starbucks is in terrible condition, but it exists, and for now that's enough.


Brandon and I packed up our tiny life into tiny boxes and packed those boxes into a massive truck. We had ordered a 10' (which was much more space than we needed) and got a 16' instead. I've got an arm-out-the-truck sunburn. I've got acid reflux from eating too many granola bars. We've been making good progress across the country and have stopped in Oklahoma City for a few days, where it's been as hot as 117 degrees, a dust-bowl-breaking record. Southwest of the city, prairie fires have been sprawling out of control, aggrandized by the country-wide droughts. This fire, authorities believe, was started by an arsonist.


On Monday, we head out again and will be in San Francisco by Wednesday to look for a place. The week after next, I'll be at Breadloaf. Then it's back to the Bay area, hopefully into our new place. Onward and onward.


For someone who doesn't believe in writers' block, I think creative dry spells are acts of self-sabotage.


I gutted the manuscript again. I've declared that I've done this, it seems, every other post on this blog. I'm into it's 24th reordering and there are still 2 or 3 poems I need to replace before I'll feel good about sending it out again, and this time I'm not sending it out until that happens. It's hard to know, though, when a poem is a good fit for a gap. It's been so much easier to write a large stack of poems and find a book inside that stack than it has been to write to fill in a hole. And my summer of not writing hasn't helped. Also, I don't write poems the way I did during my MFA, which I think, in general, is a good thing. The poem I wrote today won't go into the manuscript, and neither will the last three or four, but one day I will write one that will. I know it.


I've been saying too many goodbyes lately: to my Madison family, to my Duke TIP family, to the place where Brandon lived this past year. I feel very divided, and a bit listless, during what should be an exciting time. It'll get better. The summer has been just too damned hot, and it seems everyone and everything is ready for this heat to break.

June 24, 2012

Somewhere Between

I left Madison over a month ago. Now, I'm halfway through a 7-week stretch of teaching Creative Writing at a summer camp for gifted youth, which has been a lot of fun (and a lot of work, but mostly a lot of fun). Middle schoolers are hilarious, awkwardly somewhere between children and teenagers, and surprisingly aware of the world around them.


I totaled my car on the way down from Wisconsin. It wasn't a collision, thankfully. Apparently, the Wisconsin winters rusted out my undercarriage, which collapsed, essentially, and there's no fixing that. It happened less than an hour into our 17 hour drive. Brandon and I repacked a rental, sold my poor Effie White for a few hundred bucks, and continued on our way, pulling into Athens around sunrise. 


So now I'm in Davidson, NC, without a car, which is a lot like being in rural Maine without a car, which is a lot like spending most of my money at CVS for things like packaged food because that's all there really is here. It was a good lesson in letting go of control and adapting. I came here from Athens to Davidson on a Megabus with my backpack and have been improvising since. 


As soon as I leave Davidson, it's going to be a fury of miles: Driving a U-haul and Brandon's car from Georgia to Oklahoma, dropping off three sassy cats, driving the U-haul and Brandon's car to California, hopefully securing a place, dropping the U-Haul off and unloading everything into a storage unit, and driving with Brandon in his car back to Oklahoma. Then I'm flying to Vermont for Breadloaf, driving to Maine for the quickest visit home ever, flying back to Oklahoma, collecting those three sassy cats and Brandon and  moving to the Bay area for good. If anyone has a better plan, please let me know!


My birthday is in 5 days. Quarter-century! It's a weird age. I feel too old to be reckless and do stupid things, like smoke cloves on a fire escape with my best friends until morning. Too young for the old milestones that defined adulthood: houses, careers, babies. It's an age of between. 


Being 25 is like being a middle schooler, in most ways.


I've gotten used to being unsettled. I was at a baseball game with the summer camp last night, and I couldn't care less about the game, and I couldn't stop looking at the moon, which was beautiful last night, and thinking about how we live on a planet, and how that planet is always turning, and how we're always in motion, even when we stand still. 

May 8, 2012

Unsuitable for Public

Lately I've been prone to weeping a little in public. I wept a bit when I came to the end of Alice Munro's "The Bear Came Over the Mountain." I wept a bit when I heard about Maurice Sendak passing away. I wept a bit when I read this piece. Frankly, I don't think I'm suitable to be out in public anymore.


I'm giving a reading this Thursday! Then another in Milwaukee the following Friday. First order of business was picking out my outfit. Now that's taken care of, onto the poems.


I've been thinking about intelligence in poetry lately. Mostly that my poems are not 'intelligent' enough. This semester I've been reading smarter books, trying to push myself to write poems that are driven less by the heart and are more cerebral. And I've enjoyed the variety to my reading this has caused and have been given a new set of poets to admire.

But fuck it. I've hated writing that way. I write the poems I write because it's what I would want to read. Yes, my poems wear their little black hearts on their sleeves, and my work doesn't push against the confines of language or challenge the perimeter of our linguistic understanding. I admire poets who have done this kind of work well. I think it's important to always be pushing yourself to new goals, and to always be evolving as an artist. But I wasn't drawn to poetry for scholarly reasons. I was drawn to poetry because it made me more human.


Ha. I can't even write a defense of my work without becoming over-sentimental.


I've been reading through Legitimate Dangers, which is an anthology of poets whose first books came out between 1999 and 2006. It's a great anthology and the work is diverse and exciting. One thing I noticed is that just about every poet in there had their first book published when they were in their 30s, 40s, or 50s. It made me a bit more aware of how young I still am, and how young I am in relation to writing poetry. I've only been writing poetry seriously since 2007. I have a theory about how my favorite books take a decade to write, and I'd like to write the best book I can, so I have more time. A lot more time. I can be patient.

But of course, if my book gets taken in the next year, the first thing I'll do is delete this post.

April 27, 2012


The folks at Potomac Review asked me to write a blog post about why I write a poem a day in April.


I wrote a review of Melissa Range's terrific book Horse and Rider for Devil's Lake


Tracy K. Smith wins the Pulitzer for Life in Mars! Last year, I asked Tracy some questions about her award winning book.

March 20, 2012

Nothing Collapses

There are a few poetry books I read annually, mostly out of nostalgia but also because I find something new to appreciate each time. Every fall, I read Robert Hass's Field Guide. Each winter, Brigit Pegeen Kelly's Song. Spring, Mark Doty's My Alexandria. And in the summer, I read Song of Myself. The last in particular is so vast, there's only so much one can  absorb on a first, second, or third reading. I've read it each year since 2007, and since Madison has recently been struck with summer-like weather, I'm picking it up again.

It amazes me that it was first published in 1855. It could have easily been published 100 years later. How can you not love a poem with lines as fierce as this: "All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses, / And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier"?


I found out earlier this month that I've been named a 2012-'14 Stegner fellow at Stanford. My mind is a bit blown and my immediate life plan has taken quite a shift. Brandon and I are now moving to the Bay area. I've never been to West coast, and aside from a summer I spent on a Navajo reservation in Arizona, Wisconsin is as far west as I've really explored. I feel very lucky and very grateful.

In other good news, my manuscript was a finalist in the Yale Series of Younger Poets prize. I'd been hoping my book would place as a finalist somewhere this year, if only as validation that it's on the right tack. Many congratulations to Will Schutt, this year's winner and whose work I admire greatly. I read his poem "Sussing out" for linebreak a few years ago.


Mark Doty gave a reading last week here in Madison, which was such a treat. He's one of the most important living poets to me. I first read  "The Embrace" on the top floor of the UMF library in the fall of 2006, and it was the first poem I really loved, the first poem that made me want to write poetry, and also the final impetus for my coming out. If I may be so sentimental, I would say this poem saved my life.

February 16, 2012


Blog, forgive me; I've been neglectful. It's been 4 weeks since my last post. Either my life has been too full to take the time out to post, or the opposite and I have nothing to say to you all. I'll post more. I promise to try better!


Lately, I've been reading poetry that's less concerned with narrative elements or has less of a situational backbone. Although its influence hasn't yet surfaced, I think it'll be good for my work. I rely so (too?) much on narrative in my poems. I'm also trying to fill the gaps in my reading list, poets I should have long ago read. I'm reading A.R. Ammons and Gertrude Stein for the first time in my life, Dear Reader. Can you believe that?


I landed a summer job teaching creative writing in NC for gifted teenagers. It's nice to push back unemployment by another 8 weeks.


I'm participating in another poem-a-day challenge. More than halfway through, it's hard to tell what I will end up working with once the dust settles. So far there's 3 or 4 poems I'm excited about, and if that's all I get out of the month, it will be a month well-spent.


On Valentines day, Glitter Tongue launched: a collection of 30 love (or anti-love) poems from queer and trans writers. I'm proud to have a poem included.


Spent a long weekend in Athens with Brandon. We made a gourmet vegan dinner that took hours and hours but was absolutely glorious. We also saw a pair of black bears.

Quinoa, avocado, and sweet potato timbale with roasted tomatillo dressing.

Artichoke ricotta tortellini with saffron cream sauce.

Black pepper shortcakes with blackberry basil sauce and cinnamon cream.

January 20, 2012

Revamp, Revamp

Once again, I'm revamping the manuscript. I thought I had been writing toward The Next Thing, but I've decided that all those poems were was actually still The Old Thing. I reread the manuscript after putting it away for three months and found four poems I wanted to cut, and I added 11 poems from the new set I'd been working on. So the book's longer now, which is fine, as it still only clocks in at 59 pages. I reordered it significantly, and retitled a lot of older poems to fit the newer poems. I feel good about it but it's still so new that I'm having a hard time looking at it objectively. Whenever I come across a new poem, I know it didn't used to be there so it feels very out of place even if it's not.

Sometimes I wish I could pay someone else could go through all my poems and find a manuscript. I've written about 250 poems for this book and have cut all but 53. Which is a good thing. But a different reader might have picked different poems, and I always wonder about some I've left behind.  I know, I know; if I didn't order it myself it wouldn't really be my book anymore...

I got a copy of the Naked Muse calendar in the mail a few weeks ago, and I love it so much (but not too much). A great project and a beautiful product.


One of my New Year's Resolutions was to do more urban homesteading, so I've been making more a lot of staples from scratch and trying to use less products that have ridiculous and terrifying ingredients. My first experiment was to make my own deodorant, using coconut oil, baking soda, cornstarch, vitamin E oil, and tea tree extract (as adapted from Bonzai Aphrodite). It works super well! No residue on my shirts, and I like the way it smells. Other items on the list: soy yogurt, lip balm, cologne...


As of yesterday, I've been a vegetarian for 5 years. Couldn't be happier about that. By this time next year, I intend to be vegan.


Life in Wisconsin this week (via Underground Weather): "feels like -13 degrees," "5-7 inches of snow accumulation," "bitterly cold," "ice pellets," etc., etc.

I somehow always forget how walking outside this time of year is like your face falling off.


Speaking of Wisconsin: 1 million recall signatures were collected, twice more than were needed!