Piecing the Scraps Together

I don’t know why the world falls for the recluse writer, but it’s so often I find myself turning to those that stuck their heads in ovens at the face of immense grief, or wrote in the library basements lacking even windows due to distractions.  For someone who can’t seem to write a book, or even a poem, honestly, I think the fact that I become obsessed with the journals of those that do is a quiet jealousy. They do it in the dusty silence of a tiny corner of their world and the chords I need to drag my own pinky knuckle across a page, hum.

From Virginia Woolf walking into a cold river (which I always imagined was a sea until I Googled it), to Dickinson with her corner windows and desk just tight enough to fit a pen nib, I love the underdog.  These women who, for reasons we may never know, had gaps in their relationship with society.  Gaps that kept them behind walls or within overcoats.

I think I’ve defined the term madness and almost wanted it at times in my life because of these women.

Emily Dickinson's poem scraps @ Amherst College Digital Archives

Emily Dickinson’s poem scraps @ Amherst College Digital Archives

So when I read the story in this issue of  The New Yorker about Dickinson’s line scraps of poetry, I couldn’t help but want to piece them together to build the string pieces of the woman behind the curve of each letter.  It may be a memory that I actually own, or a memory that was put in my head by repeated family stories, passed down memories, that my family member’s mother had scraps of the Bible taped to the walls all over her house.  They weren’t cited, and they were on everything from tissues, to post-its, to patterned holiday napkins.  Her mother passed away from a brain tumor and so I can’t be sure if her need to have the Bible so close that it looked at her daily was due to this or other reasons.  I used to tell people this story when I wanted to define “crazy,” (as a teenager) but as I came of age I realized the authenticity of holding words in your hand, surrounding yourself with their tight verses, and carrying them literally.

Image from The Oxonian Review (Emily Dickinson's poetry scraps)

Image from The Oxonian Review (Emily Dickinson’s poetry scraps)

How often is it really that a girl in a bar, smacks a kiss on a napkin with her phone number and hands it to a boy across the room?

What have we lost by sending emails instead of envelopes?

Where is the receipt where my mother wrote me directions to the house on 5 Marlow.

How can I read my dad’s handwriting except from his yellow pad of finance keepings.

Vintage McDonald's Booth @ Ebay

Vintage McDonald’s Booth @ Ebay

And the note folded in my wallet, every wallet from the cusp of adulthood forward, my Mom’s list of what she needed to discuss with me before going to college in a McDonald’s glittery booth. And my Dad’s note on the counter the morning that I left with my Australian visa.

Beej flowers note from a month(ish) ago.

Beej flowers note from a month(ish) ago.

These scraps, pieced together, are a life. The calling card at the top of sent flowers. I have the last one from Beej taped into my planner. I can’t let go of even one single word.  The more my mother’s eighteenth birthday list gets folded, it gets creased, and becomes like an over-washed jean.  I hope that the pen never fades and I can always read my mother’s beautiful cursive and imagine her hand in the air working shorthand words in her head.  One day I will literally need this note and I keep it for two reasons: the memory and the real product of my mother’s love.

Wikipedia Image of Emily Dickinson

Wikipedia Image of Emily Dickinson

This blog kind of got away from me, but I wanted to share this tiny reading obsession.  My favorite moment of the linked article above is this quote about Dickinson from a family member, “A younger cousin recalled her reciting the “most emphatic things in the pantry” while skimming the milk.”  Also the fact that Dickinson, like most female writers, didn’t really become known until after death and only published a scant number of poems anonymously in her lifetime.  She did, however, write letters with lines of poems.

I wonder if she planned to test them out on her friends, see their response.

I wonder if she just had to get them out like a visceral response, an allergy.

I wonder if she just wrote like this, across all spaces and genres. I wouldn’t be surprised.

Lines like “the thief, compassion for integrity” reside in Amherst College Digital Archives. They’re beautiful standing alone or folded into an apron. I’m sure in some sense Emily Dickinson knew this, unless she was just humbled by the need to put nib to paper.  Just another scribble like forced labor. Folded half into a paper airplane and left for a letter later.


Take it on, Hold Your Own.

These poems are for the in-betweeners. The Tiresias’. The sometimes, but. The now, and the then, but not until right now.

Somehow, and in the most beautiful verse, Kate Tempest in Hold Your Own weaves the story of all her separate lives into the myth of Tiresias, the blind prophet that lived both as a man and a woman after seeing mating snakes. She goes through the stages of her life thus far (she’s only thirty) through three sections; childhood, womanhood, manhood, and blind profit (which for me is the peanut butter, paying bills, adulthood section of the book).  It very much reminded me of Emily Dickinson’s poem “Because I could not stop for Death (479)” with the lines:

We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess – in the Ring –  
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –  
We passed the Setting Sun – 

Vanity Fair cover of Caitlyn Jenner by Annie Lebowitz.

Not only does Tempest recognize the stages of life, but it’s very clear that she has felt, at times, out of her own body, and unrecognizable to her self based on the gender divides of our society. This book incredibly explores the way our society (first world, democratic societies) categorize things as opposites and then “an other.” I imagine Kate Tempest rolling her eyes at what I’m about to say, but I found this book oddly well-timed for me because of the Caitlyn Jenner transformation. In their life, Bruce and Caitlyn Jenner will have lived two separate lives, a modern day Tiresias for the masses.  And through this, Jenner will more than likely get insight into the way both genders are viewed in society giving him superior sight, much like the blind prophet who knew Odysseus before even drinking the sacrificial blood, his second sight was so strong even in death.

In my eyes sexuality and gender are separate entities.  I also believe in the idea that both salve their own spectrum where the extremes are on both ends and everyone else falls somewhere in the middle.  I believe that society has “ideals” for both men and women that usually become stereotypes at some point in any cultural history … but, I believe truly people are a mix of many gender ideas and a mix of many sexuality ideas and in a perfect world, there would be no categories and people would be free to test these different sides of themselves and find their true “belonging” of their soul and body.

(Soap box over).

Picador poetry tour flyer for Kate Tempest with ATC Management

Picador poetry tour flyer for Kate Tempest with ATC Management

With only knowing her verse, I can’t say what Tempest believes, but I can say that she explores this gender identity in the most beautiful and human way.  With lines like the following:

“The best boys would feel like a lady in your arms.
The best girls would fuck like a man, given half the chance.
The good ones are good ones because they are whole ones.
We’re at our best when we mean it.
We all start part of a much bigger notion.
And lock ourselves down like we don’t have a say. [Man Down, 81-82]

Tiresias as a woman with the intertwined snakes (Creative Commons – Wikipedia)

Another poem in the collection “The woman the boy became” explores the discovery of gender and how it teaches us, whether wrong or right, our role.  In the following lines, I thought about a student who came to my room and paced for twenty minutes saying, “I don’t know how I’m going to tell you this.  I don’t think I can tell you this.  I don’t know how you’re going to react.”  It was one of those moments that I imagine all mother’s fear, a daughter, stomach not yet bulging from the light bulb lit within from some boy who ‘didn’t mean anything, Mom, I swear.’ But it wasn’t that at all.  She said, “I like a girl. I like a girl, Ms. M. I like boys too, though. But I’m going to hell aren’t I? I can’t tell my Dad.  But she’s so cute. I like a girl.”

The portrait of Kate Tempest on the back of the book.

And I was immediately sad and jovial.  As her teacher, all the things I wasn’t allowed to say, but as her mentor, all the ways I just wanted to hug her and tell her that we only get one of these little life things, and she has to make herself proud, she has to manage her own worth.

I wish yesterday, at that moment, I had these lines:

“Growing is what anyone would do.
Given the particulars
She knew what she knew
She was ridiculous.
Born too smart and too dumb.
Born to hold the world under her tongue.

Don’t swallow yet.

She felt

All the things that others didn’t feel,
Of if they did,
They did a lot to conceal what the feelings were. [The woman the boy became, 45-49]

There were poems in the collection that I knew I could read with my students and lines that I had to read to my boyfriend, and small points that made me discover my own truth, like:

“Give her a face that is kind, that belongs
To a woman you know
Who is strong
And believes in the rightness of doing things wrong.

Give her a body that breathes deep at night
That is warm and unending; as total as light.

Let her live.”

And later in that same poem:

She grew expert in the field
of love
She learned to see and feel
The deepest secrets lurking in
The hearts of those who came to swim
In her dark waters.
She knew things.
She knew Kings.
And she bore daughters.
She knew love, she made her fortune.
Till she met her match.

Kate Tempest Portrait in The Guardian (2014)

Those lines are from the opening poem which can reach any single person at any single time, it’s called Tiresias. This poem also shows Tempest’s way with language. She finagles the sounds through enjambment and unexpected rhyme. I was particularly excited to see a working sestina in the collection because I thought that was a dead trade, left at sea. (Bringing it back!). I’m sure this comes from her beginnings as a rapper in Britain.

My boyfriend went on a Facebook rant yesterday about word play in rap lyrics and how repeating “Shower Me With Money” in a song called “Money Shower” wasn’t hip hop. (I just had to ask him from the other room if I could interchange the words rap and hip hop, he’s much more knowledgable about music than I am). And his friend replied with “incredible lyrics and word play are not easily digested by the masses.”  While I know this is true, but I hope that it’s not, I believe Kate Tempest’s rhythm and blues should be experienced by the masses.

Here’s a stanza that I penciled for rhythm:

“She turns and retreats.
Finds herself deep
In the smog and the heat,
The fog and the meat
Of the bodies that beat out their lives
In the throb of the street.
She learns to be small and discreet.
She learns to be thankful for all that she eats.
She learns how to smile
without meaning an inch of it.
She learns how to swim in the stink
And not sink in it.
It’s as if this is all she has known” [opening poem, 5]

In the poem “For my niece” she says:

“No flower bends its head to offer
teaching to a seed.

The seed will grow and blossom
once the flower’s ground to dust.

But even so, if nothing else,
one thing I’ll entrust:

Doing what you please
is not the same

as doing what you must.”

Sculpture in bronze and marble of Tiresias by Ralph Brown. Click Image for link.

I realize that I haven’t really posted any lines from the manhood section, but it’s just as good, and moving, and reaching, and traces the human history, as the womanhood section.  I read this entire collection in one sitting because it was speaking on every page.  Ideas in the middle of pulse and throb. Constant.  And it was exciting.  There wasn’t a train moment, a dull chug, it was more a poke and prod.  Take it on, Hold Your Own.

If nothing else, her poem Brand New Ancients won the Ted Hughes Award for Poetry in 2013 which makes her the closest 21st century poet to Sylvia Plath.  Since their both directly connected to the asshole that is, Ted Hughes.

Story Anthologies That Don’t Suck | O. Henry Prize Stories 2014

I have to confess that I don’t subscribe to any literary magazines.

I’m a hypocritical book mongrel.

I rally for the short story form, even flash fiction if it’s done right, but then I don’t actually support the magazines that provide and establish authors that try to keep that form alive.  My only way of giving back is to read as many anthologies as I possibly can, particularly contemporary fiction anthologies.  I also try not to stick to the ones that Barnes and Noble carries because they never actually choose any weird ones.

Usually, when you read an anthology it’s because you either A. like the genre, B. you are starting your own small marathon of writing flash fiction to the early morning, or C. you want to know what the “best of” contains for that particular year, or in this case, century.  (Yes, be alarmed, someone actually believed they could put together a fair and righteous anthology of fiction for the CENTURY).  I would turn that book over in bookstores, hoping no one would buy it.

The O. Henry Prize Stories 2014

Anyway, also per usual when reading an anthology, not all of the stories are good.  There are few that really spark and then only because one particular line changed how you viewed the world.  Then you read everything by that author hoping to get that sick feeling again (like a woman in a bad relationship) and it’s all for naught. Those feelings come quickly, and spaz out before we can even realize what’s happened.

Westinghouse Time Capsule @ Wikipedia Commons

This is NOT the case for The O’Henry Prize Stories of 2014.  There were only two stories that I didn’t feel were up to par and the rest were brilliant.  I found myself unable to physically write down (due to hand cramping) all of the quotes that I highlighted.  And the stories are new and fresh.  They don’t center around one genre, or one betrayal from the world. They are like a little capsule that we can fling into space and hope that some extraterrestrial with a sense of compassion finds to explain this world of love gusts and expectations that don’t meet fantasies.

Or we can bury it, for the future. I’d be willing for this book to be my message to the next world along with a long composition of why they should try to recreate the dinosaur, read Emily Dickinson, and take up Twitter.

  • The collection begins with mounting tension when two boys play with a gun.  One without a mother, and one who holds secrets tighter than he can hold a fist.  I’m not sure now which is which because they both blend together as children, and only when they become adults do they realize their differences (as most of us do with our childhood friends).  My favorite thing about it is that it repeats itself multiple times, through multiple ages of childhood and adulthood.  There is a “cathedral of silence” during every year of this man-boy’s life.  He faces this silence like an open wound and it leaves him questioning who he was, and who he is now.

“Later when he tells the story to people they won’t understand.  Why didn’t he run away? His friend had  a loaded gun.  He will be repeatedly amazed at how poorly everyone remembers their childhoods, how they project their adult selves back into those bleached-out photographs, those sandals, those tiny chairs.  As if choosing, as if deciding, as if saying no were skills like tying your shoelaces or riding a bike.  Things happen to you.  If you were lucky, you got an education and weren’t abused by the man who ran the fife-a-side.  If you were very lucky you finally ended up in a place where you could say, I’m going to study accountancy … I’d like to live in a countryside … I want o spend the rest of my life with you” (“The Gun,” Mark Haddon, Granta)

  • The next story, “Talk” by Stephon Dixon (The American Reader) plays with the idea of point-of-view in a story, the inner voice that we all communicate with after we stop trying to talk to our cats for most of a lonely day. It also plays with growing old when that inner voice might be the only person that we talk to in a day’s time.  Even when you think of talking to someone, that inner voice can hold you back, be it the voice a friend or a foe.
  • Art by Sejnow @ Deviant Art (Creative Commons)

    “Valentine” by Tessa Hadley (The New Yorker) just made me never want to have a daughter.  I’m not too far away to remember what I put up with from boys in high school, but I am too far away to meet that girl and shake hands like an acquaintance.  The girl in this story doesn’t “do bad all by herself,” but “does bad” for the boy with all the wrong angles.  He’s a writer, but he’s a wanderer.  He’s a bit grunge, but he’s haughty in philosophy.  It really just tells the story of the girl before the boy, during the boy, and then plays with the idea that you can go back to the girl who was the “before” version of yourself. (Hint: You can’t).

“There was a rare blend in him of earnestness and recklessness.  And he seemed to know instinctively what to read, where to go, what music to listen to.  He was easily bored, and indifferent to anything he didn’t like” (Tessa Hadley).

  • “Petur” by Olivia Clare (Ecotone) broke my heart more than a little.  It’s a mother and son story, the son is an adult on a vacation with his mother when a volcano goes off in Poland and they are forced to live in ash.  The ash becomes symbolic for their relationship and his mother’s scattered mind as she walks through the (not wreckage) but fall, and he watches her own odd unfurling.

Sparks Royalty Free Sparks Images (Creative Commons)

“Nights after her afternoon walks, she’d sit with a field guide.  I have a bird heart, she’d say, your mother, the bird.  Precise knowledge of a fjall’s origins, or of the call each bird made, was the closest she felt she had, she said, to wisdom, because lang, because details, were important.  They were solid and finite and felt infinite” (Olivia Clare).

  • Abuse. Roadtrips. Racism. Lingering unresolved, but unpracticed feelings. Old towns. Father’s who still protected their daughters from men who drank too much and leaned too crooked over stoves thinking. Trees with names. Tradition.

“You remember your mother saying you had to learn to use the Lexicon because words were both tools and weapons and the difference between the right one and the almost-right one was like lightning and a lightning bug, and when you said the lectern was higher than you could reach she showed you the step stool hidden underneath” (“You Remember the Pin Mill,” David Bradley, Narrative).

  • “Nemecia” by Kirsten Valdez Quade will stay with me the same way the movie, “Black Swan” stays with me.  They both have similar disturbing skin scenes.  Nemecia is an almost older sister to Maria, but in the end, they become neither sister nor friend.  It’s really the story of how grief creates competition in us.

Black Swan by It’s Too Dark @ Deviant Art (Creative Commons)

“Nemecia had an air of tragedy about her, which she cultivated. She blackened her eyes with a kohl pencil” (Narrative).

  • Most disturbing story in the collection is easily “Trust” by Dylan Landis (Tin House).  I was so uncomfortable with this story.  It felt a little bit like someone giving you a creative writing prompt like “If your house burned down, what would you take.” And immediately you start to live through your house burning down, and how the flames flicker, but they don’t flicker and you realize you’ve never experienced a fire and they probably gust like a parachute.  It’s just like that except it’s a teenage robbery and I just wanted it to end (in a good way…in a good writing way).  It’s also like every Law & Order episode that you live in fear of, except this is MID-DAY and you start to realize that this could happen at anytime of day, not just when you’re sleeping (which is terrifying).
  • “Old Houses” by Allison Alsup (New Orleans Review) tells the old neighborhood folktale from the perspective of a barbecue.  It’s just creepy enough to not really affect you personally, but add an edge to your day that wasn’t there before.  It wasn’t as strong as the others in the collection, but it did stand tall.
  • My favorite story in the entire collection is “Fatherland” by Halina Duraj (Harvard Review). I think that’s because I thought it was just going to be another World War II story, but it was beyond me giving you any account of why it’s so good.

“I tried to stop my father’s words at my ears but they would not stick.  I knew they weren’t meant for me, but I was half my mother, my father had said so himself.  Like any good soldier, my father shot bullets through the air toward a target, but did not understand collateral damage” (Halina Duraj).

  • Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show @ Wikipedia Commons

    “West of the Known” by Chanelle Benz (The American Reader) was the story that has stuck with me beyond reading the last story in this collection days ago.  I’m not sure why.  Maybe it’s the quick moves between innocence and horror.  It’s (strangely) a Wild West story, but it doesn’t have any of that gun-slinging bullshit.  Well, it does, but it’s believable.  It ain’t no John Wayne rodeo if you know what I’m sayin’. At the end of the story, something bloody terrible happens and it’s truly believable.  I can feel the rope burns still.

“For in the high violence of joy, is there not often a desire to swear devotion? But what then? When is it ever brung off to the letter? When they come for our blood, we will not end, but ton on in an unworldly fever” (Chanelle Benz).

On second thought, maybe I like this story so much because it uses the word “brung” which I obsessively, and unconsciously used for the majority of seventh grade, while my father corrected me every single time.

  • Finding who you are in the grace of picked flowers, that’s “The Women” by William Trevow (The New Yorker).
  • Snake Handling @ Wikipedia Commons

    “Good Faith” is about snake handlers during a revival and how sometimes one person can’t change the ideals instilled in us since birth.  It’s a fantastic story, truly.  It might be one of my favorites from the collection because the ending is beyond powerful.  It’s the longest story in the collection and I wouldn’t mind if it was transformed into a novel. I would read these characters again and again.

  • Guy dates Asian girl.  They disembody one another. Life goes on.  A short summary of “The Right Imaginary Person” by Robert Anthony Siegal (Tin House).

“Parents and teachers agree to forget that children are in fact lunatics, and that what we call growing up is just learning to hide it better so nobody will lock us away” (Robert Anthony Siegal).

  • “Nero” by Louise Erdrich (The New Yorker) was just depressing.  I didn’t really fall for this story, but the dog got to me.
  • Golden Light @ Pixa Bay – Free Illustration (Creative Commons)

    The way light is fractured through a window is retold in the story “A Golden Light” by Rebecca Hirsch Garcia (The Threepenny Review).  It’s one of the rarely hopeful, but then hope-squashed stories in the collection.

  • “Fairness” by Chinelo Okparanta is a disturbing story that immediately made me worry about my students and the “salt and ice challenge.”  It should be read after reading a “Cosmopolitan” magazine or obsessing over people you don’t know on social media.  Or, just listen to some Beyonce and then read this story.  A girl is obsessed with lightening her skin based on the standards set by overseas societies. BLEH.
  • I hated “The Inheritors” by Kristen Iskandrian (Tin House).  I’d almost even skip it if reading this book again.

“I like being sad, which mystified her; I like it until I reach the nadir where sadness changes, as if chemically, to repulsion and self-loathing, making me wish that I was “capable” of “handling” things instead of turning away from them in disgust until my disgust disgusts me, and my anger at my inadequacy as a human being angers me, and all of that pure, easy, delectable sorrow gets squandered” (Kristen Iskandrian).

  • “Deep Eddy” by Michael Parker (Southwest Review) is the only flash piece in the collection.  It’s about virginity and dating and how both of these things make us question everything.

“She’d lost her flower with the first of a string of boys and she liked me only in the way girls like those boys who make them forget, temporarily, some pain I hoped was only temporary” (Michael Parker).

  • The next story was kind of sad because the girl character was the worst version of myself. It’s set in Venice (I think, but I’m questioning myself now), called  “Oh, Shenandoah” by Maura Stanton (New England Review). I often say to my boyfriend, “I just want to hug you so hard it hurts” when he does something incredibly annoying.  This chick is like me in that situation, but to the extreme. And the boy, just daydreamy and unable to understand any of her cues.
  • “Opa-locka” by Laura van den Berg (The Southern Review) is about a team of sisters who fulfill their childhood hopes by becoming personal investigators. At the time, they don’t understand their need for this odd job, eating gas station snack foods on roofs in a stake-out, but as the story progresses, the reader is clued into their past and why they might need these rooftop rendezvous, for each other and just for themselves.

This O.Henry Prize Collection is one of the best I’ve read in a long time.  Not only were most of the short stories meaningful and worth the read, but I can mostly remember each one even though I read some of them as long as a month ago.  This is a collection of stories that linger and each story gets redefined as you think of it again.  I HIGHLY recommend this book. HIGHLY, HIGHLY, HIGHLY, Mountaintop.




Poems: The Coming Together of Words Without All The Useless Bullshit


This is cause for celebration.

Poetry Foundation National Poetry Month Posters

Poetry Foundation National Poetry Month Posters

In my exuberance about National Poetry Month let me just explain to you why this is a cause for a giant party, that probably involves a lot of whiskey if we’re going to invite those fiction writers that DON’T stick their heads in ovens, coat themselves in blood from tuberculosis, jump from fifth floor buildings or straight off steamships after being beaten for making homosexual advances at a male crew member (because the world is not always tolerant or accepting), or lock themselves in the car in a two-door garage and die from carbon monoxide poisoning.  Ah, poetry.  What a beautiful blooming thing.

It caused Anais Nin to allow women the opportunity to have flaws, jobs, and multiple partners.  Sylvia Plath successfully compared a man to a Nazi and put real measure behind the phrase, “Off with her head.”  Not only that, but she wrote a poem that remains forefront in my mind when I hear the name “Ariel” instead of that awful Disney movie.  Beware. Out of the ash/ I rise with my red hair/ and eat men like air.  (Sylvia Plath). Billy Collins got named America’s most well known poet, for the seven hundredth time.  Joseph Bathanti convinced locked up criminals to fashion knuckle ink.  The proper study of mankind if man. (Alexander Pope).  Poetry took Dr. Seuss from WWII cartoon artist to Mulberry Street, the Zoo, and Hopping on Pop.  The sidewalk never ended for Shel Silverstein although I didn’t want to play hopscotch anymore after I listened to his adult poetry. Tupac wrote a collection of roses growing from concrete that cause the thorns in my students to wither away. O Romeo, O Romeo, Wherefore Art Thou Romeo (Shakespeare) To this day, everyone is still confused about Shakespeare, and Hamlet doesn’t know whether to be, or not to be.  That really is the question though, isn’t it?

Without poetry, Emily Dickinson would have never gotten out of the attic.  The time has come/ the Walrus said,/ to talk of many things (Lewis Carroll). Zelda Fitzgerald might have actually saved herself from F. Scott.  Robert Frost might have taken the wrong road, and Gertrude Stein would not have any tender buttons, just cloth covered homemade buttons.  Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold (Yeats). Milton wouldn’t have journeyed to hell, so we wouldn’t have either.  What you say, a frozen hell?  Not with a bang but a whimper (Eliot). Doesn’t that just open our minds.  Anis Mojgani wouldn’t have told us to shake the dust, stopping millions of teenagers from slicing their wrists open only to watch them drip.  There would be no petals on a wet black bough. None. Just people on a subway looking forlornly at the lights that alert them to the next coming train.  I would be searching for love in all the wrong places if I didn’t know that men would turn down immortality to be with mortal women, especially ones named Penelope.  That blind seer could tell a good story.

Poor Pablo, no odes.  Those lemons, those old, mismatched socks.  No women like cherry trees. Those odes hanging on my giant peach wall in my classroom made by students, one about their cat, gone.  Middle school love letters would be empty with just those simple boxes asking for simple check marks – no mystery, no guile, no Cummings. I carry your heart (I carry it in my heart). Dinner parties full of white people in smart dresses would have no American dreams if it weren’t for Langston Hughes.  We might not even have jazz, and holy shit, that’s a blessing. I wouldn’t be able to ask Oscar Wilde to my dinner of dead people.  Longfellow would not look cheeky down on me from his above the bookcase post, Cisneros would not teach my students how to write about their homes, themselves, their language that is different from the world because it is their own. Smith wouldn’t have snapped her fingers and TOLD BUSH about his Katrina stain. Sir Walter Raleigh might not have become interested in one of the queen’s ladies in waiting and survived to run his now ranked city instead of losing his head over a woman.  He is a poet though, after all. And Sappho. What history museum would be complete without your sculpted head.

Poetry has given so much to the world.  It is not prose, it is a whole other animal.  Poetry gives voice to the concise, the words you can fit in your pocket that can kill just as easily as the final fight scene in Moby Dick, or that time that George kills Lennie in Of Mice and Men.  People have been trying to make the claim (for years) that poetry is dead, or dying.

See these traitors here:

*Washington Post Blasphemies

*The Daily (wrinkled) Beast

*Salon fought back, thus why they have Megan Mayhew Bergman as a feature writer.

*Flavorwire bringing the spice with a list, as per usual.  They’re the magazine at the grocery store that has to call their editor to figure out which kind of turkey to buy.

It’s very much alive.  Today, I gave my students 15 words from Jamaica Kincaid’s poem, “Girl.”  They claim it’s prose, but let’s be honest here, it’s written in one very complete sentence, only a poet could do that.  The day before yesterday, I gave them 15 words from “Exile,” by Julia Alvarez.  This lead to poems about deception, the country lifestyle of clotheslines and calloused hands, NYC, and the Domincan Republic.  Through poetry, I can show my students the world at large.  How it feels to be lost and how it feels to be found again.  Because somewhere in a stanza, the paragraph of the poem, as I teach it, there is a little white picket fence that speaks only to the things that they want to plant there.  Without metaphors (from epic poems told as stories in arenas) our brains would not work.  Our whole function as people comes from making comparisons.  An apple is an apple because it isn’t an orange.  A friend is a friend because they don’t act like __________.  My heart beats, small pebbles thrown at a window.

When children are learning to read, science has proven that rhyming works the best, especially for learning disabled children.  It is the gateway to vocabulary, to phonemes, and phonics.  Unlike novels, you can collect poems, you can memorize their ticks, where it’s best to pronounce words with deliberation, and where it’s best to shout.  You can own them.  You can take them in your month and bite down.  Poems, those little monsters inside of our head, the words we write on foggy windows, the napkin stories in small diners, the inside jokes, the graffiti artist’s last words, the small print inside our tennis shoes, the beginning of rap music, the way Vietnam passes on storytelling, the coming together of words without all the useless bullshit.

Welcome to National Poetry Month at Books & Bowel Movements, it’s going to be a

a. happy union

b. complete ruin

c. production from a curly-headed human

d. something to make you loosen (your pants)

e. a magic illusion

f. a tiny nuisance

(See, what I did there).

It will be: Poetry everyday. 

Newsday Tuesday


Favorite Tweets:

Screen shot 2013-01-07 at 5.14.00 PM Screen shot 2013-01-07 at 5.14.06 PM Screen shot 2013-01-07 at 5.14.12 PM Screen shot 2013-01-07 at 5.14.18 PM Screen shot 2013-01-07 at 5.14.24 PM Screen shot 2013-01-07 at 5.14.43 PM Screen shot 2013-01-07 at 5.14.50 PM Screen shot 2013-01-07 at 5.15.01 PM Screen shot 2013-01-07 at 5.15.18 PM Screen shot 2013-01-07 at 5.15.47 PM Screen shot 2013-01-07 at 5.15.56 PM Screen shot 2013-01-07 at 5.16.11 PM Screen shot 2013-01-07 at 5.16.59 PM

Favorite Search Terms:

  • tooth fairy coloring book: I can only imagine a child finding this under their pillow and being upset it isn’t a quarter.   I still think you’re a good parent.
  • hobbit coloring sheets: We’ve got some crayons on the blog recently.  This was too exciting not to post.  How would you even begin to color those hairy feet?
  • open windows and books: This is a lovely sentiment.
  • what dr seuss books really mean: Little did you know he was a political cartoonist during WWII.

Book News:

Newsday Tuesday

Favorite Tweets:

Favorite Search Terms:

  • find out what you love and let it kill you bukowski: He was such an Eeyore.
  • eliot five foot shelf of books: Eliot must have shopped at Ikea (DING DING!)
  • Dr. Suess dirty poems: Who the heck googles this?  A few fish and ham rhymes aren’t good enough for you.
  • lego movie theater decals: My nephew would GEEK OUT over this search term.

Book News:

Newsday Tuesday

Favorite Tweets:

Read bottom to top:

Read normally:

Favorite Search Terms:

  • bowel movements in history: if someone hasn’t written this book, they should.  I will review it with honor.
  • ihop receipt: I just thought that this was interesting.  I must know the story of this googling.  If you are out there anonymous googler, please email.  Yes, this has become a want-ad.
  • disney princess epiphanies: I have this all the time, then I sing, “Ah-ah-ah, ah-ah-ah” like golden rays are coming out of my hair and I’ve become little mermaid, minus the fin.
  • feminist background: Is anyone really born a feminist or do they become one after many years of silent rage?
  • a re-imagined Florida in which the citizens of the state are born with magic talents: Listen, I lived in Boca until I was five and the only magic talent Florida needs is better driving schools.  My faj flew over a grassy median once and said, “it’s okay, we’re in Florida, they all do that.”
  • spark notes Claire Keegan Foster: Shame on you.  I’m guffawing.

Book News:

Of Cats and Men

What’s not to love right?

My Cat and I, Jasper Dean

The two things that are, and one day will be, most important to me feature heavily in this book of short stories by Nina de Gramont.  I picked this book up, 1. because I wanted to attend Wilmington for my MFA and 2. because with a title like that I knew there would have to be a short story written squarely about me, and my cat, Jasper.  While what I found dealt mainly with the Cape Cod area and all of the women were befuddled and in transition (much like me actually) only a few of the stories really struck a cord the way a good story should.

Now, I’m not saying I didn’t like this book, I did.  I only loved a few of the stories though.  I think my favorite story was “Human Contact” because it most depicted me.  I’m going to be honest, I can be quite the narcissistic a-hole and so a story that closely resembles my life will always be my favorite.  In “Human Contact” the heroine is in love with a man, who ends up moving and changing lifestyles from guitar-playing-swooner to ranch-hand.  She can’t cope with his new-found, flannel, man-hood and she moves cross country, first with a dog who she saves from the ranch and then, with a cat.  Throughout the story, the dog plays a pivotal role, but it is the cat who finishes the story strong.  It is the cat that saves her from her rut of a man she may love right now, but not forever.  Is is always the cat who saves, is it not?

Obviously, the reigning King.

The rest of the stories range in topics.  I think most people will pick up this book and think it’s a niche book, or a “gimic” because it centers around men and cats.  But, how many books have you read that centered around men?  Isn’t their a whole genre titled: romance, or chick lit, that centers around the man-hunt.  Or, in the case of the romance, a death and kiss you back to health?  But, most of this book can be felt very deeply.  It does center around almost only, actually maybe only female main characters who are coping in some way; some with the birth of their children, others with the loss of their loved one, one woman even the murder of her husband right before her eyes.  They all range in emotional intensity, and story-telling.  A few, I was very wrapped up in and sat at the coffee shop way past my whip cream and coffee was slurped from its plastic cup.  (One included a woman who wore her husband’s shoes to his funeral – what a great story piece, it gives me full imagination to dive right into both of these characters; the husband and the widow).  Then, there were other stories I had to concentrate all my might on just to finish.  Sometimes it’s just not enough being a woman, reading another woman character – sometimes a deeper level of understanding is needed and I didn’t always get that in every short story.  It is a quick read though, especially for a cat lady.

Jasper Muffin

If you are the following kind of person, I urge you to re-evaluate your life and think of yourself from now on as a cat lady, and also read this book.

  1. You prefer porches. (If you’re asking yourself, “to…” then you don’t understand what I’m saying).
  2. You do not like to be in bed alone and/or you have a fear of ghosts (even though your dad sleeps across the hall from you in his creaky bed, with the creepy picture of your grandmother on the bed side table…nobody? Just me? Oh, okay…)
  3. You are always donning a warm blanket when laying on the couch.
  4. You read. (This can by Stephen King, to Peanuts, to Charles Darwin, to Nora Roberts.  Nora Roberts is obviously a dead-ringer though).
  5. Your friends have started realizing you may not marry.  Or you have Emily Dickinson syndrome which means you stay mainly in your room (or an attic) at a desk writing poetry…
  6. You have big hair. It explains itself really.

And then, while googling around with the search, “of cat and men” I found a few gems.  I think my favorite discovery was this one. It claims that the bond between cat lady and cat is real.  If my life could be explained in a short website article – it would be this one.  Let me help you all out: I’m a Capricorn – who’s archetype is the “grandmother,”  I refuse to spend the night at most people’s houses if my cat can’t tag along, and I let him cuddle my head while I sleep.  He eats only the best food, is perfectly manicured, and looks like a mixture of a slinking tiger and a wild mole rat.  (I wish I could claim he looked like a naked mole rat, but I haven’t shaved his luxurious stripes).  Literally, he will run through our kitchen window one day when he speeds down the stairs, disrupts all my mother’s rug laying, and synchronized flowered carpets and runs smack dab into his window perch (can be found at most pet stores), barely missing the glass of the window, and the birds he’s most hoping to chomp on.

Jasper in his favorite place: atop the fridge in the water box.

So, obviously, the thing I liked most about Gramont’s book was her use of cats in every story.  I’m not sure men played such a strong role in every story, but cats never took the background.  From one cat lady to another, I can definitely appreciate a book about the Egyptians Gods.

Did you know:

    • Egyptians who killed cats, accidental or not were always punished by death.
    • In Egyptian mourning rituals, when a cat died in the home, all the people living there would shave their eyebrows.

I found all of this information from this lovely website. You can decide if you personally want to believe in the significance of Cat-God’s in ancient Egypt on your own.

My favorite show that had a cat: Binka (BBC).  Followed closely behind by Catdog because it had a catchy tune and put an end to the argument of which is better, a cat or dog, forever.  It did this by allowing cat to come first in the name, with dog a close second.  (I like dogs, but nothing can replace my spoiled, aloof, mysterious, violent cat).

Here’s my favorite cat video.  (This video was brought to me by CK, who has a sick obsession with Inception, even though he would never admit his secret love of Leo).

WARNING: If you click the videos to the side, under “suggestions,” you will spend two hours with cats, and your own snarky giggles.