I Am Big. It's the Pictures That Got Small

for those wonderful people out there in the dark

30 April 2007


Back from the greater Western Massachusetts tour, and thanks to my friends Donna, Brad, and Chip for being such great hosts. I had a ball.

In the little bit of down-time we had, Gerri and I ventured to Amherst, where I bought Ger a beautiful pre-birthday scarf at the Fiber Art Center. After that, we went to a wonderful small Indian place for lunch.

Of course, we spent most of our time at the Emily Dickinson Homestead.

To my left, on the second floor, you see two of Emily's bedroom windows (they are unshaded), which look out to her sister-in-law's residence, The Evergreens. From that vantage, she could watch her nephew and nieces play.

And here is Gerri, walking in the backyard--what really was a garden way opening up to some farm and meadowland during Dickinson's lifetime. The oak tree behind Ger was alive during Dickinson's lifetime.

We took the shorter tour, led by a most delightful and knowledgeable docent, Joni, and at the end of the tour, we read a few Dickinson poems aloud. So naturally, I'm going back to my collected poems of Emily Dickinson (the 1955 edition), and rereading her work. Lucky me.

25 April 2007

Cool Paper by One of My Students

A student in my contemporary African-American poetry class, Jonathan, has posted his anthology on Spoken Word Poets on MySpace. The assignment was to create an anthology of ten poems by ten living African-American poets and write a critical introduction to the anthology. While I don't grade on presentation, these students typically go all out, making their own hand-made books. Jonathan's paper, obviously, makes use of YouTube postings, but his essay is very sharp as well.

What I love about this assignment is that I always end up discovering dozens of new, young writers. Thanks, Jonathan!

24 April 2007

Springfield Bound

Will be going up to do a reading at Western New England College later this week--thank you Brad Sullivan for setting this up for me! Anyway, I was hoping to be able to get over to Boston, but it appears my timetable is all eaten up (sorry, January!).

Actually been a rough couple of weeks at school, with the usual end-of-the-semester hoo-hah, but also the annual disappointment of my school not setting aside sufficient money for our graduate assistants and the inexplicable lack of faculty support for creating promotion opportunities for our "unranked" instructors. So much for the progressive politics of academics. I'm not really whining about my home institution, but more about the general state of higher education, a subject I try to steer away from.

It's not all piss and vinegar, though, as I regard students who are about to graduate, having gone through their own considerable trials, many having done something rather remarkable for themselves. It's easy to lose sight of that, too.

Anyway, I'll be traipsing along some other college's green, thinking a little how much greener it seems there. Yes, I know how it's all one big pasture--and really, just how refined can a bovine's palate be, especially one who grew up eating Idaho sage and bitterbrush? So it'll be sufficient to traipse, and think about my really long summer break before me. Nothing but to loaf, loaf, and loaf away.

19 April 2007

Poetry Thursday: Guerilla Action

This week's Poetry Thursday was to undertake some kind of poetry guerilla action. Here is what I did:

The Cut-Out

I decided to print my poem from last week's exercise (see below), print it on the Poetry Thursday template supplied by Dana, printed off 100 copies, and cut them out in handy 3" X 5" sizes. Oh, I recycled all the scrap paper.

Planting Lettuces in the Dark, October 1962

Beneath the waning gibbous moon, next to the bunker
her husband back-hoed, cinder-blocked, concreted,
my mother is planting lettuces in the dark, a red Sedonan
release of heat softening the ground, before the monsoon
desert season. Everything can grow. Even these
special-ordered seeds of exotics, Limestone, Lollo Biono,
Rouge d’Hiver, Paris Island Cos, Sabine, Bronze Leaf, Mission,
and Little Gem, names that could be places
in California or Florida or Arcadia, where the most
tender-leafed romaine could be coaxed from the soil
by native rains. Through her own birthing and mothering
years, she thought of this salt-packed scape of land
whenever she thought the world was vile, her word
which she also released in an exhale of cigarette
smoke, a word that spelled EVIL as readily as LIVE,
a word so perfectly reconciled to this desert,
so perfectly a coyote at the edge of the moon-shadowed
arroyos. Even the moon-dimmed sky with its oceans
of stars seems so poorly fed that the lettuces must be planted
in this darkness, for new words, new bitter and sharp and
green flavors, lined in 60-foot rows, to break earth and unfurl.

* * * * *

The poem appeared with the Poetry Thursday logo and URL, but I decided to leave it anonymous, just to heighten the intrigue.

Interior of FGCU Library

I took the poems, along with my camera, to the Florida Gulf Coast University Library, which aside from its perpetually full computer lab, is the most vacant place on campus, even during the week before finals.

In the Stacks

I went up to the second floor.

A Likely Shelf

Looked for a likely shelf.

Insert This!

Selected a likely book, inserted my poem, and replaced the book on the shelf.

Yes, I picked a few predictable books: my own, Toni Morrison, Shakespeare, but then I found I had to put them in unlikely books by Ann Coulter and Ayn Rand, in dozens of books on business ethics, in education books on phonics and reading, in art books by Matthew Barney, Rothko, and O'Keeffe, in texts on Florida flora, in books on font styles, in guidebooks to graduate school, in manuals on documentation, in books on yoga and peace studies, and in the books of poetry by poets I really, really dislike--no, I will not name names.

I did target books that were recently checked out, too. Who knows? Maybe we'll bring in to Poetry Thursday those avid readers of biographies of Nikita Dolgushin and other mid-century Kirov prima ballerinas.

17 April 2007

Lucinda Roy of Virginia Tech

This will be my only post about the Virginia Tech massacre, because it is such an unspeakable atrocity.

Poet and novelist Lucinda Roy, as the chair of the creative writing program at Virginia Tech, evidently removed Cho Seung-Hui from a colleague's creative writing class for his distressingly violent and inappropriate stories he was writing; this was a year and a half before the shooting. She duly reported the incident to police and to the university's counseling service, but little could be done because there were no concrete or direct threats. As it is, students volunteer for counseling (as it should be), and so there was no institutional alternative available in dealing with this student.

Roy, rather than expose students to this venom and to take the weight off her colleague's shoulders, instructed Cho in one-on-one tutorials for the remainder of the semester. What an awful situation for her, and it's clear she was trying to do all she could. I know, too, that student services are often caught in these kind of impossible situations, where they cannot expel a student and cannot force him or her into counseling. That an administrator tried to go the extra mile with this very disturbed man, encouraging him to seek counseling, encouraging him to find another voice, and telling him what is and isn't proper self-expression, essentially not giving up on him, is both frightening and admirable.

On a few occasions, very few, I've had to guide a student to seek counseling--always for revealing signs of depression. By the way, this has happened only in my composition courses, where students do have opportunities for journaling and free writing. In creative writing classes, typically, students often adopt "poetic" voices and follow scripts (from emo, to beat, to goth, to urban, to thug, to whatever), and so even when they are writing something "personal," it's filtered through this posing. Anyway, I've never received work as vile as what Cho apparently wrote.

Back to Roy, no doubt she is spending time with her family, students, and close friends and colleagues, and I'm hoping she is finding comfort, having done the right thing--it's impossible if the heart and mind you're trying to open, to let breathe, is mangled, ossified. I am wishing Lucinda Roy peace tonight.

16 April 2007

Natasha Trethewey

Very cool that Natasha Trethewey won the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for Native Guard. For those of us who've been around the poetry scene, it's very neat to see the daughter of Eric Trethewey come very much into her own as a mature, full-voiced poet.

This semester I'm teaching a class on contemporary African-American poetry, and we studied her wonderful book, Bellocq's Ophelia; I didn't order Native Ground because it was only available in hard cover (I had my students buy seven books of poetry by living Black American authors, and I didn't want to set them back too far), and I have a prejudice in setting aside books of poetry by small independent publishers. Those big media corporate publishers, such as Houghton Mifflin, publish poetry only to give themselves "street" cred in producing "serious" literature. I'd rather give my support to Graywolf, Copper Canyon, Anhinga, WordTech, Steel-Toed Boots, etc.

Anyway, my students responded enthusiastically to Trethewey's poetry, her building a narrative around both sonnets and free verse meditations, as well as her rather complex and fluid views surrounding identity.

On a side note, I was also rooting for David Wojahn for Interrogation Palace, who had been very generous to me at Indiana University. I actually never took a class from David, but he sat on my dissertation committee and gave me exceptional advice and assistance.

14 April 2007

Step It Up

Attended the Step It Up rally in Fort Myers, one of 1500 such demonstrations today in support of changing U.S. policy on global warming. The event in Fort Myers specifically focused on a proposed coal-fired power plant to be built in an adjacent county, on the threat of global warming to the Everglades, and on its magnfication of hurricane intensity. A number of businesses and local envirnomental groups were also there to share information. Almost 400 people showed up on a very warm (mid 90s), humid afternoon.

There, I ran into many friends and colleagues. Best of all, Fort Myers seemed a little less sleepy, a little less disengaged, and that is very heartening. It was also very nice that our chapter of the Audubon Society was one of the principal sponsors--my Gerri is a board member of the chapter.

The highlight of the event in Fort Myers was the appearance of John Edwards, the only U.S. presidential candidate from either party to speak at a Step It Up rally. I'm not yet decided about which candidate I will vote for, but Edwards is one of the few candidates offering bold statements about the Iraqi war, health care, poverty, and the environment. He's very dynamic, forceful, and engaging, and he seems to be willing to take risks that the front-runners are too calculating to make. It's not that he's entirely idealistic, but he seems convicted and unapologetic for his views.