For the event, I’ve been attempting to sew a paper dress out of back issues of Poets and Writers. With JJ’s help, all the glue should be dry by Saturday.
Lately, I’ve been obsessed with maps; the obsession is based on a game my son plays with his little friends. These friends create horrific imaginary worlds that they must battle, systematically—these children are mapping adulthood. The maps are nothing short of perfect art.
I want so badly to be near perfect art, but I can’t. I’m too old. I can’t enter such suspensions of reality.
Oh, but I want to.
I’ve been collection the children’s maps and to create my own—a map back to childhood. Of course, it is a failure—my adult approximation of newness. I’ve been mapping my son in order to find something I fear is lost forever—but it feels good to attempt such connections.
Recently, I was looking at a wooden puzzle of the United States (my son love’s puzzles of the United States). This map was a topographical—my son asked, how am I to see a mountain in a bowl of macaroni? This isn’t dirt, he said, this is a bunch of lines. He is right, a bunch of lines.
Once a map is no longer a map, it begins to look more like flesh—the human body stripped of its skin. The map is only an attempt to position the singular identity in reference to others. And oh, how we wish to find each other or escape each other (same things really). I’ve been reading Peter Turchi’s, Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer ; this is such an incredible book on the subject of maps as metaphor.
At 3 A.M. I leave for New York. I’ve been studying maps of the city, trying to decide the cheapest way of finding myself in this city of epic energy. How does something wild, as a girl from the city of all sky, find her way through the maze of skyscrapers? Adventure; it should be fun.
I’ll be reading Friday night at The Players Club. Such an honor, I feel, requires a devotion of time and imagination—it deserves a map.
My dear friend Pavi has hand painted a vintage dress—it is an approximation of a map. I’ve been working with JJ to turn him into a map made of poetry. I’ve also been creating glass chickens as gifts for my fellow readers—you know, so much depends upon…
I want to find New York and have it locate me. I would like to be with New York. The theme of my reading centers on the “want” of location—location me to location you—location me as you—you as me. We’ll see.
The Red Wheelbarrow
William Carlos Williams
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
This summer is vacation-less for me, however my poems (thanks to the amazing Cheryl Gross, Claudia Brieske, and Leslie Huppert) are traveling the world. It has taken me months to finally conclude that Beyond Borders is real. Because I’ve never been, I’m still have to convince myself that most of the world exists—it just seems too beautiful (even magical) to be part of our existence.
I have dreams of traveling one day—dreams of trains and planes, boats and budgie cords, hot air balloons and parachutes. I want to bring J.J.—to lead him through the torrents of story that are in every journey. But for now, poetry is leading the way (as it should.)
Best Summer to All!
For photos of my poems travels, please visit: Virtual Borders
Here is the project description:
Borders are generally seen as nonflexible barriers that restrain and give the illusion of keeping us out of harm’s way. Many borders involve human settlements and through this have the potential to be otherwise flexible. Their presence or non-presence is often based on cultural, social, political, religious backgrounds, and directions, which are always subject to change. This concealed reality is the reason why we refer to borders as virtual.
Virtual Borders is an ongoing project with different stations. The first station is in the Feste Dilsberg, an old castle-ruin from medieval times. It is located in the southwest of Germany, near the City of Heidelberg. For the first presentation in the Feste Dilsberg, we invited artists from different parts of the world to participate. We asked the artists to send videos, animations, and sounds that are connected to the theme of our concept. Whether it is metaphorical or literal, the concept is open to interpretation.
Examples: Borders between body and spirit/soul, real obstacles in landscapes like rivers, canyons and mountains, the border between life and death, borders between countries, between houses, fences, social borders/barriers, cultural borders, borders between races, gender based barriers, etc…
I swing between paralyzing fears that no one will read Circe to dumbfounding amazement that people have read Circe.
At this point, the book feels like a friend–a friend who helped rewrite who I am as a person–a friend who liberated me to make art. I feel like I owe her–I feel like I will always owe her.
I am grateful that “imaginary” friends lead to the creation of “actual” friendships. I would like to be a better friend; I hope to learn how to be a good friend during my lifetime. Being a friend is harder than it seems–friendship is an organic process that feels more like an accident than a choice, but there are choices that ultimately result to the building or collapse of a friendship. I would like to be more aware and proactive when it comes to such decisions. I want to be a friend—a real friend.
I desire to be a good person. But what does that mean? And how does one go about “making” themselves good? I don’t think it can be marked. I don’t think it can be tallied. I don’t even think it can be defined. But sometimes, sometimes, I’m lucky enough to feel friendship—to feel love.
I am glad there are pictures, paint, music, and costume to help bridge the way between people.
I am grateful, deeply grateful for the friends I have found in the Circe project.
Please enjoy the images of Jason Hughes of Pavlina Janssen’s Jellyfish Woman dress.
(Oh, the pink sting ray in the pictures is the best poem I will ever write; he rewrites me everyday.)
The cloud cover is thick over Chicago—our plane is just above the expanse of reflective light—it seems our aircraft is held up by the storm falling below us. It will be good to return to the ground, my son, and sun of the west coast.Chicago is beautiful, vivacious, and fun—but I miss the canvas of desert sky and the erratic travels of tumbleweeds.
My son loves tumbleweeds; he thinks of them as pets. He claims they follow him home. My car is often overflowing with tumbleweeds. People throw looks at my little vehicle crammed full of sticks, but I continue to collect these runaway orbs because my son loves them (and with imagination) tumbleweeds love him back. This interplay between place and imagination is what makes the A.V. interesting—my home is an active mirage.
Perhaps building a home inside illusions seems strange—perhaps I should self-assess if my own personification of tumbleweeds is insane—or perhaps the joy found in an act of love is worth more than the sanity of not keeping tumbleweeds as pets?
Joy placed above sanity is my best description for AWP. This year, over 10,000 writers were contained within four Chicago blocks—making a momentary dream scape: miles (I mean MILES) of books to buy, bars packed with concepts and plot outlines, hundreds of poetry readings around the city. I never sleep at AWP—how could I?—I’m already dreaming.
It is the love affair between reader and books that gives birth to writers.Reading(like other biological impulses such as “s” “e” “x”) is a process that is constantly demanding a larger family. Once a person finds themselves in the recursive practice of reading, writing, reading, reading, writing, writing, rewriting, rereading, there is no way out. This process creates an urgency within a writer that never concludes—it is relentless, shrewd, and exhausting—yet without it…(I can’t even say how lost I’d be without process—to think of losing it brings me to tears quick as imaging the death of my son—which, ironically, the process has trained me to envision in concrete detail). It is a sweet torture that makes me appreciate what I have—while at the same time drives me crazy.
Welcome to AWP—welcome to insanity—welcome to four days of exhausting joy.
You know a writer when you see them. There is a uniform of unexpected color combinations and fabric choices—there are ink stains, laptops, and “the waddle” (every writer, male or female, has the gait of pregnant creature from the weight of the books they carry). Not even the Kindle can save us from the bulk of print because we writers love books. To illustrate such book love, I offered to hand-carry a large bag of books for Red Hen Press on my return flight. While at the Chicago Airport, I found it best to hold the load close to my chest (as I do my son). The bag in fact is heavier than my four-year old son, but rests like a well behaved child in my arms. I found myself clutching the bag tightly on the descending escalators—I must not drop them, I told myself. I must not drop them.
Cradling these books, I remembered how as a child I would call the library hotline—where a recording would read me a story. I would call and call and call and call—hearing the same story over and over again. My favorite story was of a boy who reaches into to a tight-necked bottle for some candy, but takes too much—after a painful struggle with many tears, the boy realizes that by letting go of a few candies his hand will again fit through the opening. Once he realizes this, by process, the boy can take as many sweets as he wants (for this story is not a morality tale against greed)—this story is about process. Then and now, this story mirrors my personal struggles—I must learn to let go, take less, and work harder. I need to stop feeling sorry for wanting and start looking for more productive ways to pursue my desires. This is difficult work—but I have the story from the library hotline giving me hope and guidance.
With an arm full of books, I wonder what potential beckons I might be bringing to their fate- intended readers. I can not drop them, repeating in my head like fear turned to mantra. All that hope and potential in our arms—in this way, books are like children—We can not drop them. AWP is a good remind of the work being done to “take care” of books—it is a visual representation of book-love.
In truth, it takes a lot of work to write a book. It takes a lot more work to publish a book (both for publishers and writers). It take even more work (far more work than writing and publishing combined) for a book to find its reader. But all that work is part of the process—and that process offer’s a small glint of hope that potential can actualize—conversations (like humanitarian growth) continues throughout generations—and somewhere in a far-off desert, there is a little boy who is reading your story to his beloved tumbleweed*.
*It is important for my to thank Charles and Abbey Hood, as well as Red Hen Press, who made it possible for me to go to AWP this year. Thanks also to Pavi Janssen for her beautiful visual art / costume. Great thanks as well to Matt Ryan and Ken Robidoux— who made this AWP an unforgettable experience. And love to my new friend Deanna Plummer. I love my writing family.
The Living Poetry Project extended its reach through other arms. My Valentine hid poems around the desert for me to find–the maze of clues reconstructing our first date.
It was odd to be on the receiving end of The Living Poetry Project–the world inverted, leaving me feeling a little confused, frustrated, and joyful.
Maybe the best part of this poetry gift was having to ask the ladies behind the counter of the Barn Antique Shop for my poetry package? The ladies gave me the bundle with the care and excitement of handing over the world wrapped in a brown paper bag. Maybe the best part was seeing my Valentine’s face when I completed my poetry scavenger hunt–both excited and terrified of my response–hoping I found the world in his gift?
I taught earlier that day and had my students watch Bright Star–a film that reconstructs the love affair between John Keats and Fanny Brawne. The film is dramatic and tragic and full of colorfully winged things and lines like: “I almost wish we were butterflies and liv’d but three summer days – three such days with you I could fill with more delight than fifty common years could ever contain.”
These romantic butterflies had me thinking about the difference between three days and fifty years. This difference–how does it work? Do most of us live fifty years sustained by the emotion found in three days–or do we live like butterflies, living and dying three days over and over again.
The search for Keats continues. Anyone have any ideas where to look next?
(Small side note: a butterfly’s wings move with each heartbeat–they fly by pulse. So do poems.)
Blessing and love to all. -N.D.
Maybe (maybe) the most intimidating reading experience is the always college-assigned, yet rarely opened “anthology.”
I have owned The Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry for nearly six years—but have never opened it. I bought it before I had a kid (even as a single person, the price was steep.) I bought it because it felt necessary—like a bible for poetry. I intended to read the books cover to cover, however the thin paper, small print, and endless pages kept me from engaging with the text. It didn’t feel like a book that wanted to teach me about poetry—it felt like a book designed to show how little I knew about poetry. So, I kept it on my closet shelf like a humiliating secret. That was, until this week.
This week I began teaching my Spring semester. I love love LOVE where I teach!AntelopeValleyCollege students are hardworking, witty, and teachable. They go to school because they believe in education—they go to school to learn how to become better people. I wanted these amazing students to know that poetry belongs to them. I also wanted to remind myself that poetry is approachable—even anthologized poetry.
To inspire feelings of intellectual ownership, I painted 30 t-shirts with poems to give my students for a community event—we would wear poems and share poetry with our community.
Along with the shirts, I gave my students photocopies of the biographies found in the The Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry, so they would be prepared to talk to others about the poems they were wearing. Asking students to spend their Saturday sharing poetry with people on the street seemed crazy to some people—but I knew my students would come and participate with a willingness and enthusiasm that is unique to them. And they did.
They came. They read. They laughed. They played. They shared.
It was good—no—it was great. They gave to poetry, each other, the community, and to me. It was a great gift to see so many people come together for poetry. We ran out of t-shirts, but not poems. (That is the magic of poetry—it is endless possibility.) I’m excited to do more with this anthology (I’m working on making illustrated poet trading cards).
I am grateful to my students, community, and poetry for all the hope they generate.
Best Wishes to All.
P.S. My son JJ wrote his first poem to wear for the event. It reads:
The Most Beautiful Things
Red reminds me of playing toys / White reminds me of fruitloops / Blue reminds me of Toothless [the dragon] flies loops./ But the most beautiful thing is a rainbow / because it has all the colors–/ All the Colors!
Yesterday, we drove from L.A. to Berkley to hear Claudia Rankine read! A total of 708 miles traveled in one day. We got lost twice and almost ran out of gas on the way, but the event was worth every effort to find The End Of The Alphabet.
Along the way, we copied sections of Rankine’s revolutionary book, The End Of The Alphabet, and hid them at various pit-stops. It was a magical experience to journey with the words of Claudia Rankine to find Claudia Rankine.
The “we” of this trip included blooming intellectual, Sean Tracy, and the talents Melanie Jeffrey and Johnny Hernandez. It is easy to see Rankine’s influence in both Melanie and Johnny’s poetry. These poets are not just writing poems, but are reinventing language. I feel very blessed have be born into a world where I get to love, laugh, and be with such people–such art.
I have more to say about these poets, but right now I can’t think–sleep deprivation and happiness make it difficult to be coherent (but such things sure do make me feel alive.)
More about this adveture after a long nap and clear thinking. (Poetry is…ahhh…so amazing.)
Evening by evening
Lizzie met her at the gate
Early in the morning
At length slow evening came:
Till Laura dwindling
One may lead a horse to water,
Life out of death.
This weekend was J.J.’s fourth birthday, which had me thinking about gifts. He had a list of wanted items, mostly unicorns and sea creatures. J.J.’s life is (gratefully) filled with friends who love and know him well—he unwrapped many creatures, but none so vast as a wall-sized-Velcro alphabet. Who could want more than that magical code for endless symbols—endless possibilities?
I didn’t know it at the time, but the best gift I ever received was being read to. I owe a great dept to every adult who read to me as a child, but especially my grandmother Shelia. It was she who was the first to introduce me to poetry. She read (somehow knowing) that I would love it; this made all the difference in my life—saved my life in many ways. Shelia and my Grandfather died too young, too suddenly—the jolt of their deaths made poetry even more special to me, as it is her voice I hear in my head when reading.
The second poem Shelia ever read to me was the “Goblin Market” by Christina Rossetti. This poem continues to captivates me as an adult (in different ways than when I was a child—though as a child I could sense the layers and double Entendre in the poem. As a kid, I worked for hours to understand what made adults giggle and blush when reading it.) As an adult, the poems themes of drug addiction, sex, and the power of friendship have guided me much like a eccentric grandmother would have.
I wanted to give this poem as it was given to me. However, reading is often an private, silent, and intimate process—only the reader and the page know which words are mispronounced and unknown. It takes a certain courage to read aloud. Maybe this is why people don’t read to each other very often? (Maybe this is why I don’t read to people very often?)
Similar to the intimidation of reading aloud, is writing. I can not spell. No; this isn’t exactly true. How to say, the music of words is so fierce in my mind that I loose track of letters before my hand or eye lands upon the page—stupid little bird, whose flight keeps it from the nest. Words are not words to me, but widows (or windows) filled with images. I don’t read, I see words. I don’t write, I attempt to describe a vision. This glitch in me causes endless grief and embarrassment—it makes me feel stupid and incapable of language. Normally, I would avoid feeling stupid at any cost—any cost but poetry. With poems, even insults unfold into stories—stories into contexts—contexts into perspective. If a teacher told me I was too stupid for poem, the poem whispered with the birdsong-conviction of Shelia’s voice, I was written for you.
How could I not love poetry?—that rebel voice saying more with its silence than letters on a page ever could. Regardless of my faults, poetry was written for me. (It is written for you.)
Christina Rossetti is often placed in the company of Emily Dickenson as one of the “odd women,” meaning they wrote, lived alone, screamed loudly when in (spiritual, physical, emotional) pain—odd for acting more like people than ideas. Something about these women reminds me of Shelia. Something about these women remind me of many of J.J’s little girl friends—there is a freedom and confidence that resonates from them.
J.J and I invited his friends to the nature preserve for marshmallows and a poetry reading. (The nature preserve has many trails and bridges which light the kids minds with imaginary trolls and the possibility of seeing coyotes and rabbits.) There I read, not well, Goblin Market. Despite my tripping on the beat and blotching words, the poem did its work. Especially on Z, who was captivated by the lush descriptions of fruit, goblins, and girls. I gave her my book and she immediately went to work on deciphering what it was in the poem that made adults giggle and blush. This poem was written for her.