March, 2010

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Signing Off

Friday, March 26th, 2010

Cayman IslandI’m terribly addicted to email, facebook, the blog world and the general internets. Seriously. It’s a problem. But for the next week, I’ll be intentionally signing off and staying off while I’m in the Cayman Islands with my wife’s family. And I mean intentionally because the beach house we are staying at has wifi.

I’m going to read some books, bring a notebook to write long hand, a little guitar and swim trunks. Oh, and a big bottle of whiskey. Otherwise, it is family time, suntime and fun time only until I return. I’ll be thinking of you all and sending sunny (but not sunburned) thoughts your way. Be well!

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There’s Nothing Like the Vernal Equinox To Instill the Desire for Lawn Games

Saturday, March 20th, 2010

kubbHello Spring! Though it seems like you’ve been here six weeks already, today is your official birthday. I think we’ll celebrate by cooking meat outside, drinking fermented grains and knocking over wooden objects with other wooden objects. What’s that you say? You don’t know what I’m mean about that last part? Why Kubb, of course!

Okay….enough cheesy fake dialogue with a season. I just got a little excited about this official tilting of the globe. And I wasn’t joking about the lawn games. We’re kicking this thing off with a remarkable day here in the Pacific Northwest. Not a cloud in the sky, mountains sharp as ever, a high of 66°—can’t complain! Kubb, like bocce, relies on a personal technique and precision. Basically, two teams try to knock over each others blocks with batons in one turn…. And it’s addicting—that hollow clock as a baton strikes a kubb! If you clicked on the wikipedia link, you’ll see the game originates in Scandinavia, which means that most folks stateside don’t know what the hell it is. Among other friends in the know, we’ve often been joined by curious onlookers in the park. After a little education we’ve seen the numbers of kubb-heads on the rise.

[disclaimer: I'm really not a crazy person. The game is fun and goes well with a beer in one hand, but my enthusiasm ends there. And I know I've said "kubb" too many times already.  Kubb.]

In addition to the lawn games, we’re working to get our garden started and I’m dreaming of berry picking in a few short months. It’s a good time to be alive, which reminds me: Huge congratulations to our friends Brooke and Jay on the birth of their daughter Charley! What an amazing time to be brand new. Savor it!

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Apprentice & Mentor

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010

[Reposted from my weekly piece at the Toadlily Press blog].

I’ve got about 5-10 pages of a critical essay to write and then I’ve pretty much wrapped up my time as a graduate student at the University of Washington. Overall, I am very happy with my experience. One of the highlights was being in the presence of accomplished poets I’ve admired for a long time. I wrote briefly about my time with Heather McHugh here and I’ve been thinking about my main mentor, Linda Bierds.

Linda, besides being one of the sweetest ladies in the world, is an exquisite poet. She started out as a fiction writer before realizing that poetry was really her medium. The traces of this path are clear to me: she envisions a project of large scope and researches the hell out of it before writing the poems. Hers are truly “books” of poetry even more so than most thematically congruent collections.

When I showed up to UW, I was hoping for a mentor—someone who would know they had something to offer me and wanted to share a little of that space under their wing. I’m here, just under two years later, to say that it hasn’t happened. I got over my initial disappointment, realizing many of the amazing faculty had other ways of showing their generosity, but I am still jealous when I read about folks like Katrina Vandenburg talking about time with her mentor, Pattiann Rogers:

For four months I visited her every other week, sitting in her living room, watching her turn the pages of my manuscript. Each time she turned a page, she looked up, and I had to justify why that poem followed the previous one and how it had earned its place in that particular section. If she was satisfied with my answers, she nodded and continued. If she turned the page sideways, I knew I was coming back in two weeks.

I may not know what Linda’s living room looks like, but I have still learned a great deal from her. Yesterday I was reminded how some of my best teachers are people I have never met—Larry Levis being the main one. His books have traveled around the world with me and have helped to inform my sense of a poem’s shape and the large ambition that can (must?) live within them.

Linda, too, was my teacher before she was my teacher—and I’ll continue to learn from her even when I don’t see her so often. I felt this so clearly yesterday as I reread her gorgeous poem “Burning the Fields” from her book, The Profile Makers. Beyond its luscious textures, precise images and subtle music, the poem closes with a wisdom fit for this conversation. The time for apprenticeship in a young poet’s life may not be like burning fields, but the good work of my true teachers has, graciously, “revealed a kind of path, and then a kind of journey.”

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A New Kind of Reading

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

hmchYesterday was my last class of grad school. The lovely Heather McHugh sent me off into the world with a smile, my mind abuzz with the possibilities of language. Each class session was a two hour walk in her mind, and what a mind it is! It was one of the few times where I feel I really learned through osmosis.

Anyways, we closed out the term with an ingenious event at the swanky Sorrento Hotel thought up by some young fellow at The Stranger. Rather than accepting the normal model of the public reading where literary genius is bestowed upon the audience by the author’s voice, a group gathers to read good works—silently, to themselves!

I spent some time with Louise Glück’s latest book, A Village Life, and Fady Joudah’s, The Earth in the Attic. I’ve read both before, but I liked the idea of connecting the grandness of the space with a lineage I care about (Glück selected Joudah’s book for the Yale prize, and Judah’s book has taught me a lot about ordering a ms.). Plus, I needed a break from Levis as I still have a bit to go on my thesis.

I indulged in good beverage and food, and most importantly, the good company of strangers and friends who had something to say to the world. Reading is important! Books are our friends! (or something like that). Sure, there was some chatter, but the general hush of the room felt special. There was a certain reverence in the room and, ensured by my proximity to Heather, a good and necessary peppering of irreverence, too.

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Beach Baby

Monday, March 8th, 2010

River at Golden GardensWe had plans to head out of town with my folks and a bunch of their college friends this weekend, but my worsening cold kept us home. The weather has been incredible and we didn’t want to abandon all hopes of a special weekend, so we headed down to Golden Gardens for some beach time.

We must have been out there for four hours, just laying on a blanket, snacking a bit, watching the innumerable sailboats crisscrossing the Salish Sea against the backdrop of the razor tipped Olympic Mountains. River crawled around, more content than ever, as I sniffled and coughed and stared out of the mind fog of a true cold.

The beach was mostly populated by families with young children, which, of course, gave us the opportunity to eavesdrop. One particularly loud mother cut through the otherwise peaceful day and got us talking about discipline and public presence. She seemed generally bothered to find herself a parent on a beautiful day, threatening consequences to her sand-kicking daughter only to fail on the follow through. Her monologue got old and was hard to block out, but really, I couldn’t complain. Looking over at River, then at Elle and back at the scene, I knew we had it good. And without any remote claim to perfection, I knew our silent presence wasn’t bothering anyone. Here’s to the hope of continuing that trend.

P.S. River has a bunch of teeth coming in. He’s pulling himself to standing with greater ease and, like most babies around nine months of age, he is starting to realize he is a being independent of us….which is apparently a hard notion to reconcile.

P.P.S. if you haven’t been following my weekly posts over at the Toadlily blog, check out my latest post on the benefits and drawbacks of electronic submissions.

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