Saturday, March 25, 2006

pile of reading

The Martians, a collection of short stories by Kim Stanley Robinson, his follow-up to the Mars trilogy

A Scanner Darkly, a novel by Philip K. Dick

Walden / Civil Disobedience by Thoreau

Of Men and Monsters, an exploration of the role of the serial killer in contemporary America by Richard Tithecott

The X-Men, a reprint of the first ten issues by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

Choteau Creek, a "Sioux reminiscence" by Joseph Iron Eye Dudley

8 Men and a Duck, "an improbable voyage by reed boat to Easter Island" by Nick Thorpe

Bitter Fame: a life of Sylvia Plath by Anne Stevenson

The Collected Poems by Sylvia Plath

American Elf: the collected sketchbook diaries of James Kochalka, 1998-2003

The Best Spiritual Writing 1998, edited by Philip Zaleski

an issue of The New Yorker from March 2005


poetry notebook

I last listed my pile of reading about a month ago. You might note that there are books that are still in the pile. I've moved some pages forward in each but even with my new parttime schedule I'm not devoting a big chunk of my new time to reading. I'm a slow reader in any case. I like to hear the voice of the text.

Friday, March 17, 2006

American Elf

I've started reading the fat volume of James Kochalka's sketchbook diaries, Oct 98 - Dec 03. I remember reading somewhere a collection of the diaries he drew around the time of the 9/11 attacks.

"Each day I pick," Kochalka says in a drawn introduction, "one of [the little things that happened that day] and draw a comic strip about it. ... The days go by, the pages fill up, and the row of black sketchbooks grows on my shelf."

He draws himself as a big-eared, buck-toothed elf because, he says, "it reflects my relationship with the world. The magic & mystery of life and my awkward grappling with it." The strips are typically 3 to 4 panels, presented in a square. Kochalka doesn't try to tell a joke, does not necessarily go for a unity of effect. In the strip for Nov 18, 1998, for instance, the first panel depicts elf walking through melting snow, the caption, "All around me, sounds of melting snow" and word balloons within the panel cry out, "Gurgle" and "pitter patter" ... the day's other two panels show elf tapping away at a laptop computer. He glances askance at the reader, "Email is boring."

I find the dailiness of these charming.

Today at my new branch library gig Karen (my new boss) said to me she was working on a Christmas story but was dissatisfied with it because there wasn't any conflict in it. Her story was about a real Christmas, one that sticks with her because it came not long after her parents died and she spent the time with, I think, her sister & husband. She was trying to apply to her personal tale advice she's read in books on how to write.

There are different kinds of writing. Even if Karen succeeded in producing something commercially salable, it does not mean therefore she had produced something that would please her audience, for her audience is family and friends. And some of those people would be pleased by her writing because it included them and what happened happened to them and to people they love. Should the group of them walk into a bookstore together would they all agree on what book to buy? Surely not. One would go for racy romance, one for hard SF, one for experimental poetry, and one would quickly get bored and bow out for a cup of coffee.

Unless you're a staff writer or a freelancer whose bills will go unpaid without the sales of the ancillary rights, when you write you write for yourself first. You are your audience. And usually your worst critic.

I've been reading Anne Stevenson's biography of Sylvia Plath and Stevenson quotes from Plath's diaries many times. Plath was ambitious, determined, and methodical about marketing her work. She gnashed her teeth over rejection, probably dropped to darker depths over them than most of us can handle, yet she kept putting her work out there because that was damned important to her. She did not, however, write the diaries for publication. Much of what she did write for publication included scenes and details from her daily life and the lives of her loved ones and the result could be brutal, lacerating, and cruel. Full of conflict, mostly figurative but sometimes literal.

You can read today's American Elf here.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006


I was going to reward myself for a successful first day at Claremont by checking out books. Go figure! I'd put aside Elmer and the Dragon, Alan Alda's recent memoir Never Have Your Dog Stuffed, and Craig Thompson's European travelogue in sketchbook/comic book form Carnet de Voyage. But then the computers went on the blink and were down more than up for most of the afternoon. When closing time rolled around I returned the books to the sorting trucks. They'll be there another time. It's OK. And I have books piled up here at home anyway.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

The Best Poems of 2005

I got a note from Val Gerstle, one of the poets whose poem I'd included in my list of the Best Poems of 2004. She thanked me for liking her poem.

Since I haven't yet posted my favorite poems of 2005 I might as well do that now. The list is in the order I copied them out. I won't bother mentioning where I found them. Usually it was an anthology. A poet's own collection. Occasionally a magazine. I don't think there were any last year that I discovered on the web. They are listed in the order in which I found them.

Oni Buchanan ... "The Walk"

Kenneth Koch ... selections from "The Man"

Al Young ... "Third Street Promenade"

Gary Rosenthal ... "Ghetto Dokusan"

Tassajara Zen Center ... parking a car gatha

Lawson Fusao Inada ... "A Nice Place"

Czeslaw Milosz ... "Gift"

Leslie Scalapino ... poem beginning "A man getting on a bus..."

Dale Jensen ... "A New Ring"

Albert Goldbarth ... "The Bar Cliche"

Marcelin Pleynet ... "The New Republic"

Philippe Soupault ... "Sporting Goods"

Dave Etter ... "Bueno"

Nezahualcoyotl ... "Can it be true that one lives..."

Anonymous (Korean) ... "Wind Last Night Blew Down"

Allen Ginsberg ... "On Neal's Ashes"

Dorianne Laux ... "Late October"

Dorianne Laux ... "Aphasia"

Dorianne Laux ... "Twelve"

Kirmen Uribe ... "Notes on a Loose Piece of Paper"

Saturday, March 11, 2006

which book should I read to the first graders?

I volunteered to read to a classroom of kids on Drop Everything And Read (DEAR) Day. That'll be this Tuesday. Have I ever read to a group of kids before? Hmmm. Nope. Guess not.

Last Thursday the Children's librarians had a workshop on choosing a book. They spread lots of their favorite read-alouds across the tables in the Children's Services Room. And gave a little demonstration on how to read and when to turn a page.

I took five books home. Which should I read?

And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson & Peter Parnell, illustrated by Henry Cole

The Eye of the Needle a Yupik Eskimo tale by Betty Huffman, retold & illustrated by Teri Sloat

Traveling Man: the journey of Ibn Battuta, 1325-1354 by James Rumford

The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs by A. Wolf as told to Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith

CLICK, CLACK, MOO: Cows that type by Doreen Cronin, pictures by Betsy Lewin

Possible problem with the last one: having to explain to the kids what a typewriter is.

Leaning toward Tango, the story of the gay penguins that raised a penguin chick in the Central Park zoo, and Needle, because it's a book my mother owned, I think she got it from Teri Sloat herself, and because I was born in Alaska and interviewed a Yupik dancer/storyteller for a school project. I read Tango to Kent. He teared up. Me, too.