Wednesday, December 7, 2011

People I Love- Sinead O'Connor

I love Sinead O'Connor. I have for a long time. She's the kind of crazy I aspire to, a crazy that comes from not filtering enough and from not being afraid. Which is to say, not really crazy at all. I've seen her a couple of times in concert and she's so there. And not just there to entertain you, but there to tell you what her songs say, to share with you where she is at that exact minute, what they are saying to her and to us in that atmosphere. I find it so heroic and inspirational and it's what I hope to have happen in every reading I give, even in every poem I write.

I love that she's been a lesbian, a Rastafarian, a Catholic priest, the Virgin Mary, and seemingly "got better" from all of them. I love her calling out the Catholic Church for pedophilia decades before anyone else (that was almost 20 years ago now. And if I ever meet Joe Pesci, I'll give him sucha smack. That fat fuck will remember it too.) I love that she isn't ashamed of telling the truth. I love her when I'm not ever sure what she's talking about. (The peeing dogs confuse me but I love the tone, the "on the edge-ness" of the whole piece.) Like Dolly Parton and Rosalyn Carter, I just feel better because she's in the world.

I love that she's had a running series in the Irish Independent about how she's in her 40's, horny, and unable to find suitable male companionship. This is the most graphic discussion of female sexuality I've read in awhile. The unexpurgated versions run on her blog but you can see parts of the series here where she discusses the possibility of fucking a truck she's so frustrated. I can't imagine the good people of Ireland reading these but I suspect they have taken Sinead at her barking best much better than we in the US did from the start.

And really, who would do this anymore? There isn't an artist now that would have the ovaries or the imagination. I still love what she's recording but I also love reading her blog. Keep up to date with her blog here. Hot Press has a new interview with her here that's totally worth checking out as well. She plays the Olympia in Dublin on the 18th of Dec so I hope that means she'll be back around our way soon.

And to end, one of my favorite moments with her. It's a living model of bravery and integrity.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Samuel The Giant

I'm working on a poem about Andre the Giant- research fell on the fun side of things, as research often does. I watched some WrestleMania clips, read some background, and thought about the role of giants in America in general. Fun.

And then. I found out. The fact that changed my life. That will change your life. That ripped apart the space-time continuum to the point I feel like I no longer really live in the same world. This.

I was going to prattle on about research in poems and how brilliant Susan Howe is and how much I love just drowning in a subject for awhile.

But really. That can wait. Because now we live in a world where there is a direct link between this and this.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Writing Groups

Last night, I met with my writing group, the Black Socks. They've been around in one form or another for 25 or 30 years and lots of good folks have moved through there. I joined maybe 6 years ago (??? Note to self- do research before starting blog posts) and they've been a huge help in my growth and success as a writer, such as it is. I get good, solid feedback about what is and isn't working in a poem, I hear a steady stream of poems in all kinds of stages from talented poets with very different voices and goals, and I have a twice a month deadline to have something done worth bringing. Never underestimate the pressure of showing up empty handed as a motivational tool.

All 3 of those factors are huge. We've all been in the middle of a poem and you can no longer tell what's working and what isn't. In fact, being able to identify what's functional and what's not in a poem is probably the biggest thing I've learned. That doesn't mean I don't get surprised sometimes by feedback, but I have a much better sense now of where poems need work and what's "done".

Seeing other people's poems in progress is powerful too. It's very intimate and you begin to get a sense of what order they build in and how the engine of the poem works. That helps me know what drives my own work and what's simply offlimits to revision. Last night, someone didn't like my timekeeping in the poem, it's sort of steady heartbeat, but I wanted that particular heartbeat in that particular form, so I knew I wasn't going to change it.

I'm also a huge believer in exposure and appreciation of radically different types of poems and poets. I know what I want my poems to do right now in my life (live large, evoke big thoughts, feelings, reactions) but I also know I might not always want them to do that. Nor does everyone have to want their poems to do that. Seeing all the things poems do and all the ways they do them helps me a lot, even if I don't always get it or buy in.

I probably get asked more often about writing groups then anything else- do I know one to join, any that are forming, how to start on. I feel lucky I stumbled into one that works for me so I don't know how I would go about joining, finding or forming one, except to say think about diversity of styles (which might look like diversity of age/sex/race/class or might not) and having rigorous feedback. Say what rings with you and what doesn't. Don't let your feelings get hurt and remember the poet is not his/her poem.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

What You Should Be Watching on Streaming Netflix- Poetry

Last night, I watched the Korean film, Poetry. It was long, but not too long. I'm not sure what I would have cut from it and many of the long, slow scenes were beautiful and felt worth the time spent in them.

The film is as much about art in general as it is poetry specifically, but I thought it was a lovely reminder that self-awakening and discovery is as much painful and devestating as it is enlightening and invigorating. Perhaps the best part about it was this focus didn't come off as nihilistic or anti-art. It was just a reminder that should you dare to look and create from what you see, the risks are as mighty as the rewards.

Watch the trailer here. The lead actress (Yun Jung-hee) was brilliant and I loved the director's (Lee Chang-dong) statement.
These are times when poetry is dying away. Some lament such loss and others claim, “Poetry deserves to die.” Regardless, people continue to read and write poetry.
What does it mean then to be writing poetry when prospects of
an ongoing future seem dismal? This is a question I want to pose
to the public.
But in fact, it is a question I pose to myself as a filmmaker: What does it mean to be making films at times when films are dying away?

Friday, September 30, 2011

2010 Discovery/Boston Review Prize

I'm going to start with some good contest/submission experiences. In 2010, I won a Discovery/Boston Review Prize. Receiving a prize always makes it a nice experience, admittedly, but I also like the purpose of this prize and the way it was run.

It used to be the Discovery/The Nation prize and it has a nice list of winners from its past- John Ashberry, Marilyn Hacker, Mark Strand, Katha Pollitt, and Mary Jo Salter were all through there at some point as winners and I know that's just a partial list. And that's it's purpose- to find good, emerging writers and put them in front of a slightly larger audience, give them a boost.

That's a huge help as an unknown poet. Having someone stamp you as "authentic" like it or not, helps other contests, residencies, and competitions take you more seriously. Whether that's the way it should be is a great question. But that's the way it is.

I also really liked the way it was run. There was no notice of who the judges were so you couldn't choose to enter because you had a connection with someone. And I think it really was blind judging, at least my year. They choose 4 each year out of between 800-1000 entries and I had no connection to any of the 4 folks. I suspect it was true for all 4 entrants, but I know I was pulled out simply because of what I submitted.

Even nicer was the treatment we got. We had a reading at the 92nd St. Y (exciting enough) and got put up at a swank Manhattan hotel down the street, the Hotel Wales, which even gave me a free upgrade to a suite. I bet the 92nd St. Y puts a lot of folks up there so they treated us very well. Before the reading we gathered at the Y and met the judges-  Nick Flynn, Susan Howe, and Claudia Rankine, as well as Timothy Donnelly who is the editor of the Boston Review, as well as the author of the outstanding The Cloud Corporation. Each winner got introduced by a judge.

And honestly, that was probably my favorite part. Nick Flynn had insightful, thoughtful, kind and accurate ideas about who I was as a writer. It's the first time I've ever had an introduction beyond "Tanya lives in Durham, blah blah blah." To hear someone talk about your work as if it were, well, real work, was so moving. That made me feel like a real poet more than hanging out backstage at the 92nd St. Y ever did. And it was a thrill to meet all 4 folks, but particularly Susan Howe, whose work and career I admire. We are very different kind of poets, but I love her work  and love the way she goes about her work.

And that's how they treated us. We may have been emerging, but they acted as if the work we did mattered, that our work was important, and that we, and our work, and poetry in general was to be treated seriously. It was beautiful. A contest I highly recommend entering.

Monday, September 26, 2011


I'm starting this blog to track the travels and life of my first poetry manuscript, Boyishly. (I'll also tell you what you should be watching on Instant Netflix- it's just a skill I have.) I finished the manuscript in at the end of August 2010 and have spent the last year sending it out to the big contests, particularly first book contests. So I'll try to write an entry about each place I sent it and note what happens/happened. But first, a little on why anyone would (a) write a book of poetry (b) attempt to get it published in this era of the poetry game.

I have spent the last year emerging as a poet on both coasts. In 2010, I won the Discovery/Boston Review award (used to be the Discovery/Nation award). In 2011, I was named a Lambda Fellow in poetry. I'll write more on winning each of these contests, what happened, and what they did for me soon, but for right now, I'll just note that both of these contests identify emerging voices in poetry. Winning the Discovery Prize gave me the idea I might be able to make it on something larger than the local stage; being named a Lambda Fellow helped me believe I had a book that was good, had an audience, and did important work.

But I also feel like I've now emerged on both coasts and have a viable manuscript that is ready for publication. And I'm ready to be a poet on a stage outside of North Carolina. But then there's the question of how to get there and in 2011, you get there via a contest. So in this blog, I'll track my experience of trying to be a poet through that path. Will it work? I don't know. Should it work? Maybe. The contest mode is horribly flawed and frankly, seldom brings out good poetry. What it does bring out is a lot of poetry that all sounds alike. And that alike doesn't sound like my poetry. So let's find out what it's like to be an emerging poet in 2011 in the U S of A.