Sunday, November 10, 2019

a poet’s accounting

I’ve never before seen an accounting of a poet’s earnings for a poem. So when I came across the one below in the notes at the back of the Best American Poetry anthology, I took note. 

Thomas Sayers Ellis writes:

I was paid $2,230 for the publication of [my poem] in Poetry magazine, $250 for the recording of the poem for the Poetry Foundation’s podcast; and $500 more, by the Poetry Foundation, when the poem received the Salmon O. Levinson Prize. The appearance of ‘Vernacular Owl’ in this anthology will add $100, bringing the total to $3,080[.]

The poem takes up seven pages, so the original payment works out to about $320 per page. Not bad! I know the Poetry Foundation is awash in money due to a bequest from someone superrich, so I’m glad to see that they are paying poets decently. And they don’t charge reading fees. It would be nice if they took a little less time to make a decision, though. It’s been six months since I sent them poems. 

source: Best American Poetry 2015 Sherman Alexie, editor; series editor, David Lehman. Scribner Poetry / Simon & Schuster, New York

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

notes toward an autobiography by others

When the [yoga] class is small, the teacher gives instruction and walks around helping students make adjustments. When she came to help me as I struggled with a posture she asked me if I had any injuries. 
“Well,” I said. “I had a really difficult childhood.”

When I read this passage I had an intense feeling of deja vu. I said exactly that in answer to the yoga teacher’s question. Different yoga teacher (I’m sure), different class. 

Have you had any injuries? she asked. 

“An unhappy childhood,” I answered. 

source: Look Busy: one hundred 100-word stories by and for the easily distracted by Jane McDermott

2014. Fourteen Hills Press, San Francisco CA

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

the only reason you need rights is cuz you’re ugly

“We women . . . . !”
A skinny creature
Stands there.

— Chinchabo

“It is no accident that most suffragettes and women workers are unattractive people. Beautiful women have their privileges which they properly value more than their rights,” adds editor and translator R. H. Blyth in a note appended to the senryu. 

This isn’t an argument. It’s merely a taunt. Ha ha! You’re ugly! If you were pretty you’d be happy. 

If you want to classify the fallacy, call it ad hominem; as Wikipedia has it, “genuine discussion of the topic at hand is avoided by instead attacking the character, motive, or other attribute of the person making the argument.” Fits this one to a T. 

Blyth follows up by elevating “rights” over “privileges,” which basically translates to I Got Mine So Shut Up, in Blyth’s version of What Women Want.


source: Senryu: Japanese satirical verses
translated and explained by R. H. Blyth

1949. Hokuseido Press

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

another possible epigraph

A year ago I put up a post that included a few lines I thought might make a good epigraph for “Autobiography of a Book.”

This poem by the Greek poet Strato of Sardis has good possibilities as an epigraph too:

Lucky little scroll, I am not jealous. Some boy
while reading you might squeeze you, touch his chin with you,
or press you to his dainty lips, or even place you on 
his tender thighs to roll you up, most blessedest of scrolls.
You will often rest there on his bosom, and when he puts 
you on his chair, fearless you will dare caress his bottom.
You will hold conversations all alone with him.
I beg you, little scroll, put in a word for me quite often.

Scrolls were the book equivalent of the time. Strato was writing in the second century A. D. The translation is by James J. Wilhelm.

source: Gay and Lesbian Poetry: an anthology from Sappho to Michelangelo
edited by James J. Wilhelm
1995. Garland Publishing, New York

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

David Wagoner changes his mind about simultaneous submissions, maybe

In the introduction to his number of Best American Poetry guest editor David Wagoner writes: 

On December 1, 2007, the first day this anthology was assigned to cover, I submitted poems of mine to fifty American magazines. I hadn’t been sending out work recently and had been prolific for a while, and I thought I’d find out how prompt the poetry editors in this country were being nowadays. The prizewinner … took only four days to reply. After three months, I’d heard from one-third. After six months, I’d heard from a little over half. The losers are the nine magazines who still haven’t replied, though thirteen months have passed. The editors in the last group are difficult to excuse. … It’s no wonder many poets have turned to multiple submissions: sending the same set of poems to two or more magazines at the same time.

The term of art these days, as I understand it, is “simultaneous submission.” The term “multiple submission” seems to refer to sending more than one submission in a short period of time, that is, before the editors have dealt with the first poems. I remember back in my Berkeley Poetry Review days writing to a prolific poet and asking her not to send more than one batch of poems during our reading period. This was after we editors had gathered together three to five of her fat poem-stuffed envelopes. (How could she afford that much postage?) 

I edited Poetry Northwest for thirty-six years [Wagoner continues] and made it my policy early on not to consider [simultaneous submissions] if I could help it. I also made it my policy not to make any poet wait longer than a month — usually it was closer to two weeks — for a decision. But I became more and more lenient as the years went by and I learned how long most other editors were making poets wait.”

Lenient? Wagoner means he started allowing simultaneous submission? Did he ever explicitly change the policy, or did he just decide not to ban the simultaneous submitters he found out about? Poetry Northwest was by no means unusual in hating on simultaneous submissions. In fact, the method was long anathema to editors. Editors are jealous of their time and efforts and hate loving a poem only to find someone else loved it first, thus depriving them not only of the poem but of making them waste their supremely valuable time and joy. On the other hand, a simultaneous submissions ban shows little respect for the time and effort of the poets. 

Wagoner prides himself on a turnaround time of less than a month. Respectable, yes. But it still means that if a poet has a ten percent acceptance rate it will take a year on average to place a poem. I guess that’s okay with David Wagoner. 

In the bio and notes section in the back of BAP poet Michael Johnson writes of his poem, “How to Be Eaten By a Lion” : “[The poem] ended up getting turned down over fifty times …”

That’s five years of rejection under David Wagoner’s respectable time frame. And fifty years if the poet sends to magazines edited by those Wagoner calls “the losers.” Yet Michael Johnson’s poem ultimately so impressed the editor(s) of Best American Poetry that it got featured in that highly exclusive annual. So it’s not like it was just a bad poem, naturally being rejected due to its obvious unworthiness. 

source: The Best American Poetry 2009 David Wagoner, editor; David Lehman, series editor. Scribner Poetry / Simon & Schuster, New York

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

my favorite errata

In the Errata section at the back of volume 39, number 3 of the Haiku Society of America’s journal Frogpond appears this correction:

Bruce H. Feingold’s poem, ‘Egotesticle,’ was a 2012 HaikuNow! finalist in the Innovative Haiku Category, which should have precluded Cynthia Cechota’s submission, ‘egotesticle,’ from being published in Frogpond 39:2.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

“the solid permanence of publication”

I share some of Anne Trubek’s puzzlement here:

As a writer myself, I must admit to being somewhat confused by dancers and stage actors and chefs. All that work, I think, all that practice and preparation and effort, for what? An ephemeral product, an hour or two on stage, a meal to be eaten? How does one put so much into something that will only dissipate and dissolve into the slipstream of unreliable memory? Writers choose words as their metier partially out of a desire for the solid permanence that publication, reading, and rereading provide.
“[T]he solid permanence of publication” is only solidly permanent in comparison to a dance performance or a soup slurped up. Libraries burn, books sop up flood waters and feed mildew spores. Even the bestselling and awardwinning fade from cultural consciousness. 

The poets in my poetry group have a running joke. “What does it matter?” someone says, usually me. Then comes the attempt to come up with a reason why it matters. This got started when one of my poet friends, in frustration, asked me whether I thought publication in little magazines or ezines “matters.” I stammered that book publishers like to see a track record of publication. They want to see you’ve built an audience, a reputation. They want to see that you are acting professionally, putting your work before editors and, presumably, learning from the experience. They look at prior publication as evidence of commitment, as a publisher wants the writers they publish to participate in the marketing of the finished book. These are things I’ve read in all the years I’ve been reading advice to writers. 

But do publishers really care about prior publication? If they love the work, does prior publication matter? I suspect publishers like the reassurance that their favorable opinion is not unique. They’re human, too! 

But does a book matter? Does it matter whether anybody reads what you’ve written? 

This is when I slide over to spiritual justification. Everything matters. Each breath, each bowing of a leaf before the wind, each turn of the red storm on Jupiter. Because every thing that happens makes the world. And we make ourselves and each other and art is one of the intentional and careful ways we do that. 

source: A Skeptic’s Guide to Writer’s Houses by Anne Trubek

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

queer brains aren’t strange brains

Among the people Helen Thomson interviews for her book on “the world’s strangest brains” are two gay men. She does not interview them because they are gay (or “queer,” as the title of my post has it). She does not seem to find that aspect of their brains to be something that makes them stand out, that makes them objects of her curiosity as a science reporter. Thomson herself is in a het marriage; she doesn’t say whether she experiences any non-het attraction. In fact, Thomson does not address sexual orientation in the book at all. 

It wasn’t that long ago that same sex sexual attraction was considered perverse, bizarre, at the very least strange. And researchers would struggle to explain it, to understand it, to seek out its causes — with the presumption that something had gone wrong — and the goal of the research was to effect a change in that aspect of the person, to fix what was obviously broken. (And, of course, before scientists got into the business, law and religion were all up in it, mostly sticking to denunciation and punishment.)

Presumably the respectable consensus in the scientific community these days is that there’s nothing wrong with gay people. We don’t need to be fixed. We’re not even strange any more. It’s nice to see that. 

Research into how people come to have same sex sexual attraction is still being done. But the focus isn’t usually on how to undo it. There is even research into how sexual attraction of any kind comes to be. Why study heterosexuality, an aspect of humanity that must perforce be the dominant way of being else the human species would go extinct? Why study how the human species came to have feet when if we didn’t we couldn’t get from place to place and the human race would go extinct? Why study anything?

Science explored the weird and unusual before it got around to the obvious and taken for granted. 

Anyway, back to the strange brains Helen Thomson interviews. In my last pile of reading post I quoted a Spaniard with synaesthesia who described the color he saw when the thought about his ex-boyfriend: 

’[T]he first time we met, I remember thinking he was this bright red. But he had this amazing voice and these blue, almost green, eyes — and those two things, the color of his voice and the color of his eyes were so distinctive that they mixed and that became his color. It was this pale gray. No one else had that color.’

The other gay man Thomson interviews is also a synaesthete. But Joel Salinas has another ability as well. Salinas feels what you feel. If he sees you poke yourself with a needle he flinches, smarting from the prick. Salinas also “feels the same emotion as the people around him,” Thomson writes. “If he doesn’t remove himself from a situation or focus his thoughts on something neutral, he can go for hours experiencing an emotion that has no relation to his own state of mind.” He feels happy around happy people, you see, and sad around sad people. That doesn’t sound unusual, though I will grant that the extent to which he feels these vicarious emotions must be. Salinas is very good at reading body language, he says, because he feels the emotion that is making your body do what it’s doing, even if you’re not conscious of the emotion yourself. 

Spend enough time with Joel and it’s hard to ignore the strange sensation that he knows you like a best friend. He finishes your sentences and immediately senses when you’re confused or troubled. But sometimes this can make relationships difficult. Over the past year, he’s been going through a divorce — a difficult situation at the best of times … [W]hen you’re trying to iron out your difficulties, too much empathy for another person’s feelings makes it difficult to keep your own feelings straight.

His ex-husband [the first (in fact the only) place Thomson refers to Salinas’ sexual orientation] lives in Seattle and at the worst point of the divorce they talked by FaceTime. It helped, says Joel, to have an image of his own face in the corner of the screen in an argument. … ‘The minute that I did something, it was affecting him, which was then affecting me and it turns into this really turbulent spiral.’ [Being able to look at his own face during the conversation helped Salinas separate his own emotion from his soon-to-be-ex’s.]

Some of the people Thomson describes only discover they are strange by happenstance. They’re listening to a lecture in which synaesthesia (or whatever) is defined, and the definition fits, and the listener suddenly realizes that most people aren’t like that, and that to be a synaesthete is unusual. Here they’d thought themselves perfectly normal. 

source: Unthinkable: an extraordinary journey through the world’s strangest brains by Helen Thomson

Friday, March 01, 2019

Kurt Vonnegut fly killing system

I’ve read about this fly killing system elsewhere, I’m pretty sure. But I can’t remember where.

The tumbler-and-soap technique worked like this: A woman would look for a fly hanging upside down. She would then bring her tumbler of suds directly under the fly very slowly, taking advantage of the fact that an upside-down fly, when approached by danger, will drop straight down two inches or more, in a free fall, before using his wings. Ideally, the fly would not sense danger until it was directly below him, and he would obligingly drop into the suds to be caught, to work his way down into the bubbles, to drown.

Of this technique Eliot often said: “Nobody believes it until she tries it. Once she finds out it works, she never wants to quit.”

I don’t think I’ve tried it. We just don’t have many house flies around here. Anybody?

source: God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr

Thursday, February 28, 2019

pile of reading

It’s been two years since I did a pile of reading post. Two years! Wow. I used to do them pretty regular. The pile I have going right now is small. These are the ones I’m in the midst of. Several books are piled up, totally ready to be in the reading, but I haven’t actually gone beyond putting a placemark at the first page of text. So they aren’t technically in the pile of reading. So I won’t list them today.

The Best American Poetry 2009 David Wagoner, editor; David Lehman, series editor
This one barely counts, according to the above criteria. I’ve read the first page of Lehman’s intro. He’s talking about poetry criticism. I don’t get that he likes it. But maybe the argument will develop beyond that. For the first several years of BAP I read each volume as it came out. Then I let that annual ordeal go. I’m catching up on unread volumes. If you don’t like the poetry of the guest editor, you probably won’t like the poems the guest editor chose. They like to read what they like to write. 

Deaf American Poetry: an anthology edited by John Lee Clark
I’m also not far into this anthology. Past the intro! Four pages into the 19th century verse essay by John R. Burnet. You can’t make a deaf person hear, Burnet agrees. “We cannot bid the long seal’d ears unclose, / Nor give the nerves to thrill when music flows[.]” But you can educate their minds and stir their souls!

Unthinkable: an extraordinary journey through the world’s strangest brains by Helen Thomson
I like this sort of thing. Thomson says the writings of neurologist Oliver Sacks inspired her to pursue an interest in science journalism. Sacks writes with a literary bent. Thomson not so much. Her prose may not be particularly evocative but I liked her casual rapport with some of these strange brains. One Spaniard who sees auras, among other synaesthetic experiences, talks about red and how men he finds sexy look red to him. “‘I had a boyfriend up until a few years ago and the first time we met, I remember thinking he was this bright red. But he had this amazing voice and these blue, almost green, eyes — and those two things, the color of his voice and the color of his eyes were so distinctive that they mixed and that became his color. It was this pale gray. No one else had that color.’”

Haiku, vol. 1: Eastern Culture by R. H. Blyth
Blyth’s books on haiku, this first volume was published in 1949, have been in my hands a few times, but Blyth surrounds the haiku with so much interpretive prose that I’ve been put off up to now. I prefer to form opinions without a whole lot of handholding. The handholding starts to feel clammy and uncomfortable when I find myself disagreeing. But the Blyth books are comprehensive, a serious and thorough discussion of the topic, probably the best up to that point and, perhaps, since. Blyth has spent many pages on religion and philosophy, not just Eastern but Western as well. It’s fairly interesting. “They spoke no word, / The visitor, the host, / And the white chrysanthemum.” — Ryota

The Weary World Rejoices by Steve Fellner
At only 57 pages, it’s a pretty brief book of poems. There’s a batch toward the end about Matthew Shepherd. “I am at the Hole in the Wall alone. / Forty years old. Twice the age that you, Matthew, were / before you died. You can see the lines under my eyes, / the gray in my hair, my flabby belly. Here I like to pretend / that everyone is looking at me. I like to pretend a lot of things.”

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

"nauseatingly love-rotted and psychotic"

In an introduction to a collection of his comics dream diary (or dream-like tales), Jim Woodring talks about childhood influences. Like me, Woodring found a real sympathy for L. Frank Baum’s Oz. 

I believed that Oz was a place, a real place a person could visit … Magic … was extensively and convincingly documented in the Oz books. In the great The Marvelous Land of Oz, a rough and tumble boy learns that he is really the flouncy, frilly, flower-bedecked Princess Ozma, and he accedes to the retransformation willingly! That’s real magic. You can’t make up something like that.

All of the Oz books had unpleasant magic in them, but The Tin Woodman of Oz was by far the grimmest, the most nauseatingly love-rotted and psychotic. For one thing there was a fifty-foot woman who was completely amoral. I vomited right on the book. For another there was an invisible monster called a Hip-po-gy-raf, which I suspected was covered with blinking eyes … And there was a lot of cutting and gluing of human flesh in the book.

The Oz creature’s being covered with eyes seems to be a vision unrelated to Baum’s description or John R. Neill’s illustrations. It’s not the only thing Woodring says he imagined was covered with eyes. On the other hand, Woodring doesn’t go into one of the weirder scenes in The Tin Woodman of Oz, the scene in which the Tin Woodman converses with his old meat head, after he finds it stowed in the tin smith’s cupboard. The head has a sour disposition and you don’t blame the Tin Woodman for feeling well rid of it. 

source:Jim by Jim Woodring
2014. Fantagraphics Books, Seattle WA

Wednesday, January 30, 2019


Stephen Jay Gould introduced me to the idea of “neoteny,” in regards human beings, that is, we retain features of juvenile apes even as we become sexually mature adults. Our faces are relatively small (like chimp infants). Our brains stay large (chimp infant brains are relatively larger than adult chimp brains). We’re gentler and more playful into adulthood. Stuff like that. 

When I read Gould it just seemed that having a super big brain maybe required bringing along other baby-like features. 

I have read that domesticated animals are relatively neotenous compared to their undomesticated brethren. But note that domesticates have smaller brains. 

Carl Safina makes a connection I hadn’t. Our relatives the Neanderthals had bigger brains than we do. I knew that. And I wondered at it. After all, Neanderthals long had a reputation for being brutish and stupid because they left behind little material culture, whereas one can trace the progress of anatomically modern humans by the material culture they left behind — tools, art. Perhaps, even before the discovery of a reliable agriculture, humans had begun to, in Safina’s words, “domesticate themselves.” 

Compared to Neanderthals, the first modern human, at 130,000 years ago, ‘had a much smaller face,’ according to American anthropologist Osbjorn Pearson. At the end of the Pleistocene, certain human groups and their associated animals begin progressively to show parallel reductions in size and stature, shortening of the face and jaws, tooth crowding, and reduced tooth size. … Experts debate whether human brain size relative to body weight has declined. But regardless, we have smaller brains than did Neanderthals. … Our modern brains, with a volume of about 1,350 cubic centimeters are 10 percent smaller than the 1,500-cubic-centimeter brain formerly possessed by Neanderthals.
As people provided safer, more sedentary conditions for their livestock, they did the same for themselves. … [W]e became in a real sense just another farm animal. … [H]umans domesticated themselves. We now depend on others to provide food and shelter. … Domestic creatures don’t need to live by their wits. It behooves them to be accepting of their lot, not uppity. Cows and goats don’t seem very alert to their surroundings; they don’t have to be. And neither do the people who keep them. … [S]ecurity has cost us a certain dulling of senses [blunting] our awareness of the natural world. [all italics Safina’s]

In the last bit Safina highlights human obliviousness relative to the wild. That’s probably less true of people who live in and rely on the wild; there remain small populations of hunter-gatherers who do. But it kind of goes without saying how ignorant, how unobservant civilized humans are of the non-human world. We should look at that. 

source: Beyond Words: what animals think and feel by Carl Safina
2015. Henry Holt & Co., New York

Monday, January 14, 2019

“We are special”

Naturalist Carl Safina addresses a stubborn notion among scientists:
[P]rojecting feelings onto other animals can lead to us misunderstanding their motivations. But denying that they have any motivation guarantees that we will misunderstand it. [Safina’s italics]
Humans are hardly unique in having legs. All the bones of our legs have homologues in the legs of many other animals. It would be silly to presume that feelings, as essential as they are to human functioning (even more than legs!), would be absent in non-human animals. And yet that feared bugaboo for a scientist — anthropomorphism — must be assaulted, bashed at so furiously that the violence becomes its own spectacle.
Professional animal behaviorists inserted a hard divider between the nervous system of the entire animal kingdom and one of its species: humans. Denying the possibility that any other animals have any thoughts or feelings reinforced what we all most want to hear: We are special. We are utterly different. Better. Best.
I don’t know why we all most want to hear this. I don’t think this is a universal. As I’ve noted before, though, this human superiority fetish is close kin to other superiority fetishes — sex, age, race, class, etc. Not everyone is invested in these hierarchies, but those who are are deeply invested, and fiercely defend their investment. I’m not sure what return they expect on this investment. A feeling of superiority? An absence of the shame of being associated with what is considered inferior? If there is no superior or inferior the investment of resources in maintaining the belief in them is a misallocation of resources.

source: Beyond Words: what animals think and feel by Carl Safina
2015. Henry Holt & Co., New York

Friday, January 04, 2019

Best Poems of 2018

Brad Bennett …… haiku “rain clouds”

Natalie Diaz …… Other Small Thundering

Peter Duppenthaler …… haiku “falling leaves”

Paul Eluard …… The Evil

Bruce H. Feingold …… haiku “better than”

Tess Gallagher …… Crepes Flambeau

David Gershator …… haiku “after the break-in”

Angel Gonzalez …… I Look at My Hand

Jonathan Hayes …… Backyard

Jonathan Hayes …… “Watching the white cat watch …”

Christopher Herold …… haiku “trail dust”

Owen Hill …… from The Selected Poems of George Saunders: “every now and then …”

Sy Hoahwah …… Before We Are Eaten

Marc Elihu Hofstadter …… Rain

Joann Klontz …… haiku “dim light”

Rutger Kopland …… Bay

Rutger Kopland …… Time

Jessica Malone Latham …… haiku “loneliness”

Hart L’Ecuyer …… In the Absence of a Boyfriend

Layli Long Soldier …… Obligations 1

paul m. …… haiku “below the falls”

Pierre Martory …… Prose de Buttes-Chaumont

Cole Mitchell …… haiku “our parrot shrieks”

Henrik Nordbrandt …… Evening Sun

James Schuyler …… Thursday

Anis Shivani …… from Soraya: 30. “Akhenaton, uninvited wedding guest”

Norma Smith …… How the Light Changes

Norma Smith …… Lunch Date

Peter Tchoulhov …… haiku “drought”

James G. Tipton …… Jettisoned

Julia Vinograd …… Anniversary Party at People’s Park

Julia Vinograd …… Justice at the Courthouse

Julia Vinograd …… Old Blues

Paul O. Williams …… haiku “gone from the woods”

Paul O. Williams ……. haiku “whatever comes down”

Maw Shein Win …… Ruins of a Glittering Palace

** There are poems I don’t want to leave behind after I read them. All the poems in the list were poems I read and reread until I decided I had to have them available to read again. I hand copy each poem and add it to a loose leaf binder. 

The poems were found in anthologies, collections by individual poets, magazines and online. I know a few of the poets personally, and that always makes me happy. 

I read many poems that I like and admire that I do not copy out. These “best poems” are personal choices, poems that work on me. Every person doing a list like this would have a different list, even using the same sources. 

Early in a new year I read aloud, usually to myself, all the poems I have copied out in the previous year. Some years it takes a while. My voice this year was rough with a cold. But it feels good to put the words into the air. I love these poems! 

Thanks, poets!