Story/Stereo - Friday, March 4

So I am back in DC, after a spate of wandering that began--oof--all the way back before Christmas. Although I have missed the comforts of my little apartment, it's a little tough to come home to a mountain of unopened mail and a to-do list a mile along, including the drudgery of taxes. What makes it all bearable are the pleasures of returning to my literary community, including the Writer's Center. This Tuesday, my spring workshop meets for the first time. This Friday, I look forward to hosting Story/Stereo.

The evening will feature readings from two of our winners of the Spring 2011 Emerging Writer Fellowships, Matthew Pitt (Attention Please Now) and James Allen Hannaham (God Says No). Our musicians are the Caribbean, celebrating the release of Discontinued Perfume--and you can check out Pitchfork's review of the album here, which includes this take:

They are bound to confound your expectations several times on any given album, and if you're into that, they're good enough at putting these weird songs together that they can pull you in with surprising ease. Discontinued Perfume is the band's fifth album, and on this record they've struck a nice balance between building moody, memorable songs and keeping listeners off balance.

Those with good memories might recall that the Caribbean played the very first Story/Stereo back in 2008, before the series was even called Story/Stereo. The reading was actually a celebration of 32 Poems, featuring my work and that of another fantastic local poet, Bernadette Geyer. The evening was so fun that a series was born. On Friday, come find out what all the fuss is about. Their music is vibrant, literary, and amazing.

Also, can I just note that James Allen Hannaham's book was blurbed by no less than Steve Martin? How cool is that?

This is a free event, requiring no advance RSVP; the program begins at 8:00 PM. The Writer’s Center is located on the Red Line at 4508 Walsh Street, Bethesda, MD, with metered parking available in a lot across the street. I hope to see you there!


Artists are contrarians at heart. We don't let ourselves feel at home until it is just about time to leave.

Thanks to all those who in the last 48 hours...

...cooked an amazing squid-ink/bacon/scallop pasta;
...sailed me past the seaside mansions of the stars;
...trusted me to help word a statement of their artwork;
...orchestrated a fun reading inspired by the game of Clue;
...remembered to offer me almond milk (not soy) for my coffee;
...talked real poetry over real beer;
...split an entire box of peanut brittle;
...traced our favorite words in the grime of late-night windows;
...was so proud to show off his Smart Car's newly tinted windows;
...forgave and gave me a book of inspiring graffiti;

I will miss this place. I am proud to be a part of this community & to have met so many in such a short time. LegalArt, you are making things happen in Miami!


John Keats' life mask
by Benjamin Robert Hayden, 1816,
Photo by Joanna Kane

Severn's letter announcing the death of John Keats on February 23, 1821:
Rome. 27 February 1821. 
My dear Brown, 
He is gone--he died with the most perfect ease--he seemed to go to sleep. On the 23rd, about 4, the approaches of death came on. "Severn-I--lift me up--I am dying--I shall die easy--don't be frightened--be firm, and thank God it has come!" I lifted him up in my arms. The phlegm seemed boiling in his throat, and increased until 11, when he gradually sunk into death--so quiet-that I still thought he slept. I cannot say now-I am broken down from four nights' watching, and no sleep since, and my poor Keats gone. Three days since, the body was opened; the lungs were completely gone. The Doctors could not conceive by what means he had lived these two months. I followed his poor body to the grave on Monday, with many English. They take such care of me here--that I must, else, have gone into a fever. I am better now--but still quite disabled. 
The Police have been. The furniture, the walls, the floor, every thing must be destroyed by order of the law. But this is well looked to by Dr C. 
The letters I put into the coffin with my own hand. 
I must leave off. 
J. S. 
This goes by the first post. Some of my kind friends would have written else. I will try to write you every thing next post; or the Doctor will. 
They had a mask--and hand and foot done-- 
I cannot get on--

Severn's sketch of Keats who lay dying. The inscription at the bottom reads:
"28 Janry 3 o'clock mng.  Drawn to keep me awake - a deadly sweat was on him all this night."

[This living hand, now warm and capable]

This living hand, now warm and capable
Of earnest grasping, would, if it were cold
And in the icy silence of the tomb,
So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights
That thou would wish thine own heart dry of blood
So in my veins red life might stream again,
And thou be conscience-calmed—see here it is—
I hold it towards you.

John Keats
from The Complete Poems

Other Keats @ Against Oblivion:

Poems About Keats @ Against Oblivion:


In recent years, I have been able to frame my food allergies in an advantageous light. How else could I have gotten a nonfiction book deal that let me make the jump to full-time writing? (As my grandmother said..."Finally, a silver lining!")

Some of my allergies are quirky and mild enough to become fodder for humor. I can wax poetic on the prevalence of tofu, knowing that I can still sip miso broth safely--as long as I don't chew on it. I can bitch about the regional mysteries of BBQ sauce recipes (some states = mustard; some states = no mustard).

But then there are the other allergies. The one that will probably kill me one day: dairy. The ones that have intensified in the past few years, waking me in the night with a swollen throat: shrimp, cashew, mango. And though I love to be a touring poet, though I love to be the Strong Independent Woman, this is my Achilles heel. This is why I can never be a travel writer.

The agony was not in the slow boil of my stomach last Sunday night, after a single half-bite of the first accidentally cashew-buttered entree, trying to make my way through the replacement entree knowing that the damage was already done. The agony was not in downing those first two Benadryl before I'd even felt a hint of reaction, knowing the danger I was in. The agony was not in trying to drive back to the residency bleary-eyed, only to have to pull over at a random intersection of South Beach to vomit out the car door. (First words to the neighboring hotel manager: "I'm not drunk, I swear.") The agony was not in having to summon my fellow LegalArt residents--though poor folks, they barely know me--from all corners of Miami so that someone could get my car home, and someone could get me to the ER.

No. The agony was in forcing myself to check my phone messages, just now, 48 hours later, and hearing the words of a father and boyfriend whose voices are tired with fear. Asking if I could give them the contact info for someone who was with me--a first, even after all these years of reactions. Asking if I am OK. By the time these messages were left I was already at Mount Sinai, in a reception-free zone closed off to the outside world. On Prednisone. Sleeping for four hours, curled up on a cot. Fine, right? Fine.

Not fine. Not dying does not equal "fine." It's a tough way to live, and it's tough to love someone who has to live this way. I can rally, and rationalize, and write about it. But I'd trade all the book deals in the world to not have to fear each bite I take.

Oklahomagraphy by Joey Brown

Joey Brown’s Oklahomagraphy, published last year by Mongrel Empire Press, is one of the best books of Oklahoma-themed poetry published in recent memory.  So, I thought I’d use this space to promote it, with no hidden agenda, as I do not know Joey Brown personally and am not financially invested in Mongrel Empire Press (I just want to see them prosper as they deserve). 
Here’s the review I left on the book’s Amazon page:
“This is Oklahoma poetry at its finest. Brown employs a refreshing variety of techniques - from longer-lined narrative poems in the spirit of B.H. Fairchild to more compact and meditative lines that are reminiscent of some of Jim Barnes' poems (to make comparisons to other Oklahoma poets) - but her approach to content is all original. One could say, in fact, that the best thing about this book is Brown's "eye," her unique sense of what to make a poem out of. These poems hum with finely observed detail framed by the poet in highly original ways. One of the highlights is the twelve-part poem "July," which appears near the end of the book and in which Brown achieves both deft characterization and thematic richness with the lightest of brushstrokes, as she conveys not just the physical but also the emotional and spiritual landscape of small-town Oklahoma. This book is a must read, especially for fans of poets like William Stafford and Ted Kooser.”

Interview with Sandra Soli

Read a great interview with my friend, and one of Oklahoma's best poets, Sandra Soli on the poemeleon website HERE.

More Poems Accepted

I am very pleased to have a poem forthcoming in Measure: A Review of Formal Poetry.  I've been a fan of this journal ever since it picked up the banner of the old Formalist publication several years ago.

I've also got two poems out online at Numinous Magazine.  Read theme HERE.

Elegy for Trains is a finalist for the Oklahoma Book Award

A good day today:  I received notification this morning that both The Mayo Review and Westview have accepted some of my new poems for publication. 
Then, this afternoon, I learned that my book, Elegy for Trains, has been named a finalist for the Oklahoma Book Award for Poetry. 
And there’s the reading tonight at Benedict Street Marketplace.

On The Count

Cheers to Amy King and all at VIDA for putting in the hours necessary to publish The Count--and cheers to all the subsequent discussion it has sparked in the publishing industry. I could spend a looong time on this subject, but in the interest of timeliness (I need to be getting ready for tonight's LegalArt Open Studio down here in Miami), there is just one thing I want to respond to here and now. In a reply from Rob Spillman, the editor of Tin House, this section jumped out at me:
Of solicited writers, I see a distinct gender difference. When I solicit male authors, the only ones who do not submit are those contractually bound by other magazines. For female authors it is closer to 50% submit after being asked. 

I believe this. Though it may seem incredible that writers would ever "waste" the opportunity of being solicited (as one blogger put it), I believe it. There have been some moves to trace the gender disparity in publishing back to a feminine hesitancy to submit--and thus to risk being rejected--but I can't get behind that. It doesn't match my experience, or the attitudes I get from the many fine, confident, accomplished, ballsy women writers I am proud to call friends. 

What then, to make of this statistic? Well, solicitation is a funny thing. Usually it means you have reached a certain stage of prominence in your career. You have one or two books out, some high-profile publication credits, enough time spent at residencies and conferences to have created a professional network. This work is often accomplished during one's 20s, when both genders usually have some flexibility afforded in this era of MFA and PhD programs. 

So, let's say you're lucky enough to be a young 30-something who has earned your first round of solicitations from magazines. In my opinion--and this is a national cultural issue, NOT a complaint toward our literary culture per se--if you're a man who reaches this point, that's when people start to take your self-identification as a writer seriously. People start to treat your writing as a real part of your career. They help you make the time you need in your schedule for it. 

But when you reach that point as a woman...well, usually that's right when a lot of us start families. Real life post-grad takes over. Our productivity hits a lull. Even if you have a supportive partner, something has got to give. And so when we get the solicitations--as thrilling as they are--we don't have the work to send. At least, not the worthy work. And no one is going to send the second-tier stuff that didn't make the last book to Tin House or Granta. 

I'm not afraid of rejection. But I want to know I gave it my best shot and in the absence of that, yeah, I'd rather not send in at all. So in my mind, the question is How do we create a support structure that encourages women to prioritize and privilege their writing during their 30s? Because I think that's where the gap is really opening up. Same as so many other professions--law, business--we're losing a very specific decade of incredible women to the demands of their loved ones. 

The closing of Spillman's post was encouraging, and so I want to share it here:
The bottom line at Tin House is that we are aware of the gender disparity, we are concerned about these numbers, and we are committed to redoubling our efforts to solicit women writers. Personally, I am deeply tuned into the reality of gender inequality: I am married to a short story writer, and my fifteen year-old daughter is a drummer in a feminist punk rock band. Since the start of Tin House twelve years ago, I have been committed to publishing the best work I can find. Agents of female writers, publishers of female writers, and especially female writers, please send us your work. We really want your work. 

If there is one thing I'd like to see emerge from the post-Count discussion, it is the understanding that at the end of the day, the responsibility is in our hands. I could share anecdotes of crushing dismissals by editors that seemed, in some ways, based on gender. I could share stories of realizing too late that I was being held up as a token woman in the mix. I could share inspiring realities of fair, equitable, and generous treatment by magazines who honored my work without gender ever being an issue. 

And all of this just leads me back to: Get to work, Sandra. Get writing. 

Arthur Smith on Poetry Daily

There's one helluva poem by University of Tennessee Professor Art Smith posted at Poetry Daily today. Art has become a good friend and mentor during what I am now affectionately calling my "Knoxville Nickel," and I'm so happy to find he's getting even just a part of the recognition he deserves. Congrats, Art!

I'm not going to post the poem at here because it's already up at Poetry Daily, but here are links to three other poems of Art's, and you can read them by clicking the links below. Enjoy.

Reading at Benedict St. Thursday.

Tomorrow, Thursday the 17th of February, is OBU night at the Benedict Street Marketplace monthly poetry reading, which means I will be the featured reader.  I'll read poems from Elegy for Trains, along with some material from my new project.  I will also highlight three of my advanced poetry students reading work they produced in my class over January term. 
There will also be an open-mic portion of the evening, so bring something to read (your own work or just a poem you love).  Come by 6:30 to order a delicious dinner and help support one of the best local eateries in Shawnee.  The Benedict Street reading is always a lively gathering of friendly people.

Rachel Richardson poem

The Horses

Under the live oak, and out along the stretch
where the moon lights the gravel white—
they're blinking, flanks brilliant,
they're turning their heads. See them

not going anywhere particular, just standing now
outside the gate because the gate is open again
and the road what's beyond.
Some tilt their snouts up to the branches

to nibble at clusters of mistletoe; one shakes
her mane, loosing flies. Someone left the gate open
so they've walked from the dewy field;
see them gathered, scattered all over the road

under the stars, directionless, blowing warm air
from their nostrils. They have no debt to anyone.
Who knows how long they've stood
there, askew in the night, shuffling

and huffing steam. By morning a man will find them
under the low trees by the river
or in flower beds near town. Not because
they are parched or starving. They walk

because night stretches out, and there is a road,
and someone has opened the gate.

Rachel Richardson
from Slate, October 20, 2009

Call & Response

No sweeter celebration of Valentine's Day than to share this exchange, which fills my heart with hope. Sometimes, when we put our energy together, we can get it done. 


February 14TH, 2011

Dear Mr. Shallal,

Various characterizations of Busboys and Poets, your own and others', suggest that it is a space created and named in honor of the late Langston Hughes, his work and his legacy within and beyond the District of Columbia. It is true that wonderful things happen in the Langston Room. We have all, at one point or another, been present to witness the wittiness, the bravery, the signifying and the song that characterizes Hughes’ work as it emanates from the stage and the various poets who have graced it over the years.

As poets who have sat in those chairs and booths as well as stood upon that stage, we ask you to consider the ways in which placing a cardboard cutout of Hughes within Busboys and Poets—making of him a character, a mascot, more than a presence—unfortunately does not honor his legacy.

Our objections to this display are varied. Some of us feel it is improper that Hughes be physically reduced to a gimmicky object within a space commemorating part of his experience as a young writer in Washington, D.C. Others hope that if you must have a cutout image of Hughes in the space that it be an image that aspires to communicate Hughes’ greater significance rather than the unsophisticated semantic connection to your business’ name. Even with our mélange of concerns about this matter, we all agree that it is a gesture that does not suit Busboys and Poets’ relationship to Hughes’ legacy and its relationship with the poets, local and national, who continue his work and who patronize Busboys and Poets.

The poet Ethelbert Miller this week asked the following on his blog: “POLITICS AND POETRY? What would Langston do?” Fortunately for us, Hughes’ words are still present. Your staff attempted to answer the question of how he would feel about this moment, and respond to the week’s events, by posting the following quote on the Busboys and Poets twitter feed and attributing it to Hughes: "I am glad I went to work at the Wardman Park Hotel (as a busboy), because there I met Vachel Lindsay." Firstly, the parenthetical in the quote is not Hughes’ language but an addition on the part of whoever manages the Busboys and Poets twitter feed (and should therefore be marked with brackets). Secondly, while this quote does suggest Hughes appreciated the opportunity to slip his poems to the critic Vachel Lindsay, the following excerpt from Hughes’ autobiography The Big Sea makes it fairly clear that he did not appreciate being made a spectacle as a “bus boy poet”:

The widespread publicity resulting from the Vachel Lindsay incident was certainly good for my poetic career, but it was not good for my job, because from then on, very often the head waiter would call me to come and stand before some table whose curious guests wished to see what a Negro bus boy poet looked like. I felt self-conscious and embarrassed, so when pay day came, I quit.

If Busboys and Poets is in the business of honoring Langston Hughes and, of the utmost importance to a poet, his words, we suggest that you seriously consider his own words about his own life as they pertain to this matter.

Some of us saw the physical cutout. Many of us only heard about it or saw pictures before we, as a group, could come to you and ask that it be removed. As a showing of good faith, we have enclosed with this letter a check for $150.00 (the stated price of the cutout in the 02/08/2011 Washington Post column detailing its disappearance) to compensate you for your lost property. We only ask, respectfully, that this image not be replaced. It is not necessary and, for us, serves as more of a deterrence than a welcome.

In the interest of strengthening the relationship between Busboys and Poets and the local, active poetry community, we extend the offer to help initiate and sustain a dialogue between you, your management, your advisors and the poets whose work and organizations fill Busboys and Poets. To date, it has been a fruitful yet unexamined relationship. We want it to continue, but in a manner that fosters open lines of communication and a mutual mindfulness.


Kyle G. Dargan                        Michael Gushue                Bettina Judd
Sandra Beasley                        Laura Hartmark               Gregory Pardlo
Reginald Dwayne Betts          Melanie Henderson         Joseph Ross
Cornelius Eady                        Randall Horton                Myra Sklarew
Thomas Sayers Ellis               Reuben Jackson               Sonya Renee Taylor
Brian Gilmore                         Fred Joiner                       Dan Vera


[Letter hand-delivered to the Busboys & Poets at 14th & V Streets.]


February 14th, 2011

dear poets and friends...

i want to thank you for your measured response surrounding the issue of the langston cut out.  i sincerely appreciate your thoughtful words and your wisdom which i am humbled to receive.

i want to preface my remarks by saying that it was truly my intention to honor langston hughes as i saw him in all his manifestations.  as someone who has worked in restaurants most of my life, i find no embarrassment to any work in the business however i do understand being respectful to a legacy that is far larger than i and which i feel a greater sense of mission to protect and honor.

i would like you to know i have no intention of replacing the cut out.  i will respectfully return the check to you.

as a follow up i am convening a meeting with our poets in residence this coming week to discuss many of the issues that have been festering for too long.  issues related  to compensation and other concerns that the greater poetry community may have and has had even before busboys and poets came into existence.

my own personal story is also much deeper than busboys and poets.  i will share it with you and others in due time.

respectfully yours,

andy shallal


The heart is a bird. The heart is a swooping eagle. The heart, when motivated, is a really powerful thing. Is there work to be done still? Sure. Lots. But damn, I love my city.


When E. and I first started dating, we used to spend hours in a downtown Spokane cafe drinking coffee and reading each other poems by Jack Gilbert and Tess Gallagher. These were two of our favorites, and still are. Happy Valentine's Day.

Finding Something

I say moon is horses in the tempered dark,
because horse is the closest I can get to it.
I sit on the terrace of this worn villa the king’s
telegrapher built on the mountain that looks down
on a blue sea and the small white ferry
that crosses slowly to the next island each noon.
Michiko is dying in the house behind me,
the long windows open so I can hear
the faint sound she will make when she wants
watermelon to suck or so I can take her
to a bucket in the corner of the high-ceilinged room
which is the best we can do for a chamber pot.
She will lean against my leg as she sits
so as not to fall over in her weakness.
How strange and fine to get so near to it.
The arches of her feet are like voices
of children calling in the grove of lemon trees,
where my heart is as helpless as crushed birds.

Jack Gilbert
from The Great Fires

Infinite Room

Having lost future with him
I'm fit now to love those
who offer no future when future
is the heart's way of throwing itself away
in time. He gave me all, even
the last marbled instant, and not as excess,
but as if a closed intention were itself
a spring by the roadside
I could put my lips to and be quenched
remembering. So love in a room now
can too easily make me lost
like a child having to hurry home
in darkness, afraid the house
will be empty. Or just afraid.

Tell me again how this is only
for as long as it lasts. I want to be
fragile and true as one who extends
the moment with its death intact,
with her too wise heart
cleaned of that debris we called hope.
Only then can I revisit that last surviving
and know with the wild exactness
of a shattered window what he meant
with all time gone
when he said, "I love you."

Now offer me again
what you thought was nothing.

Tess Gallagher
from Moon Crossing Bridge

Are you in Miami?

If so, please come on out for this! It is free & open to the public. (But bring a tie...)

Join us at the LegalArt Residency
for Open Studios and Reading

Thursday, February 17, 2011 / 6:00 – 9:00 PM
Corner of N Miami Ave and NE 11th Street

6:00 PM - Reading by Sandra Beasley, Visiting Writer in Residence

Local Artists in Residence: Jiae Hwang, Manny Prieres, Pachi Giustinian, TM Sisters (Natasha and Monica Lopez De Victoria), Viking Funeral (Carlos Ascurra and Juan Gonzalez)

Visiting Artists in Residence: Alfio Demestre, Laura Hita (Buenos Aires, Argentina)

***Request for Ties***

Laura Hita, Visiting Artist in Residence, is working on a large wall installation of recycled neckties. In order for this project to be fully realized, your participation is very important. Please bring a tie, for donation in support of Laura’s project, to the Residency Open Studios and Reading. Upon completion of the project, everyone who donates a tie will receive a high resolution digital photo of the piece. Donate a tie and be part of the art!


While you're in the neighborhood...Enjoy CIFO’s Extended Hours: 6-9 PM

Currently on view through March 6, 2011 at CIFO: Inside Out, Photography After Form: Selections from the Ella Fontanals-Cisneros Collection, curated by Simon Baker and Tanya Barson, curators from the Tate Modern in London. 

Film screening at 7:30 PM: The Woodmans, the life and work of the late photographer Francesca Woodman. Directed by C. Scott Willis, a Lorber Films Release. 

Parking: LegalArt is located on the corner of N Miami Ave and NE 11th Street. CIFO is generously providing parking in their lot located across the street from the building at 1018 N Miami Ave, (the entrance to the lot will be on your right). Metered parking is also available on N Miami Ave and on 11th and 10th Streets.

Last Night's Reading/Some Books You Should Have

I had a great time reading with some of the “Wood Guthrie Poets” at the Fred Jones, Jr. Museum of Art at OU last night.  It was a small but exceptionally warm crowd:  “fit though few” to use Milton’s oft-quoted phrase.  Of course, I would have done it even if no audience showed up, just for the pleasure of reading “round-robin” style with four poets I admire and whose company is always delightful.
Nathan Brown read from his new book in honor of the late, great Jim Chastain, Letters to the One-Armed PoetBuy it on Amazon. 
Carol Hamilton read from a variety of her many books.  If you haven’t read her latest, Contrapuntal, yet, then get it on Amazon.
Ken Hada treated us to some new poems on the recent snow –very good stuff—and also read from Spare Parts.
Jim Spurr was amusing and thought-provoking, as always.  Don’t miss him reading every third Thursday of the month at Benedict St. Market in Shawnee.

Reading in Norman, Feb. 11th

I’ll be reading tomorrow night (Friday, Feb. 11th) at the Fred Jones, Jr.  Museum of Art on the Oklahoma University campus, along with some of the other “Woody Guthrie Poets” as part of the “2nd Friday Art Circuit.”  The reading starts at 6:00 P.M.  There will also be music and, obviously, art on the premises.  If you have cabin fever, poetry, music, and art can cure that!

The trend continues

Is this a message from the Left or the Right? Either way, I think we
can all agree that the tagsmanship exhibited here is of the highest

New Methods of Observation

For 2011, subtlety is out.

Belated Bishop Birthday poem

Electrical Storm

Dawn an unsympathetic yellow.
Cra-aack! – dry and light.
The house was really struck.
Crack! A tinny sound, like a dropped tumbler.
Tobias jumped in the window, got in bed -
silent, his eyes bleached white, his fur on end.
Personal and spiteful as a neighbor’s child,
thunder began to bang and bump the roof.
One pink flash;
then hail, the biggest size of artificial pearls.
Dead-white, wax-white, cold -
diplomats’ wives’ favors
from an old moon party -
they lay in melting windrows
on the red ground until well after sunrise.
We got up to find the wiring fused,
no lights, a smell of saltpetre,
and the telephone dead.

The cat stayed in the warm sheets.
The Lent trees had shed all their petals:
wet, stuck, purple, among the dead-eye pearls.

Elizabeth Bishop
from The Complete Poems 1927-1979

Other Bishop poems posted @ Against Oblivion: "Filling Station"

When Busboys Become Poets (& When Poets Walk Off with Busboys)

I appreciate Busboys & Poets on many levels. They provide a lively stage for poetry in this town. They provide partnership and shelter to such groups as Teaching for Change (which is responsible for the bookstore) and Split This Rock. They employ awesome people like Derrick Weston Brown and Holly Bass as poets in residence. They have a menu that is sensitive to vegan and allergy needs. You can order a carrot juice instead of a cocktail and the waiters don't look down on you. 

But they're getting some things wrong as they grow bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger, and I think A Certain Poet was right to call them out on it by liberating their incredibly tone-deaf cut-out of Langston Hughes. I think the follow-up comments from Kyle Dargan, Dan Vera, Brian Gilmore, and Fred Joiner (in a separate forum) further underscore the importance of this moment as being an indicator of a larger tension. 

People are labeling the theft as amateurish. I don't think so. Defacing it would have been amateurish. "Liberating" it was ballsy. The loss of the cut-out is of little material damage to the venue (frankly, this kerfluffle will get more people in the door). Let's use this opportunity to articulate ways in which Busboys & Poets could even better serve the artistic community that it wishes to champion. Here is what I would like to see:

-A doubling of the honorarium for featured readers, from $50 to $100. Some have suggested per capita, but I think that is too difficult to calculate--overflow from the main dining room gets seated in the reading rooms, people who are just there to eat. But as any poet will tell you, $100 feels like real money. Revenues attached to poetry events would easily absorb the additional cost to the venue. 

-Meaningful wages for the Poets in Residence. When I was serving as the Literary Chair of the Arts Club of Washington, the number one misconception was that I was getting paid for my work--planning programs, publicizing, hosting. The truth was that I was not being properly compensated, and so I burned out. This is a very sad and common pattern in the arts world. I don't know what folks are being paid, but let me put it this way: unless it is $500 a month, it is not enough. 

Note that the Poets in Residence have not complained about their honoraria. That doesn't mean the amounts aren't paltry; it just means they are gracious and grateful for the opportunity. Still, if we don't advocate for our fellow poets, who will? 

-Adaptation of the BB&P venue spaces to allow ALL writers and performers to access the stage regardless of physical disability. This should be a no-brainer, right? An ADA issue? But ask yourself: has it been done?

The comment stream in today's Reliable Source chat tells me that people are looking on from a distance and dismissing this as a bunch of whiny poets. Apparently we should be grateful we even have "one" venue in town. What the hell? We've got The Writer's Center, among other places. The Center is *scraping* by to pay its Sunday series readers $50 each, even though we are a nonprofit with NO income tied to food or drink sales. But we're making it happen, because that's the very least we should do for artists.

Andy Shallal is not a bad guy. I am not interested in taking down an independent business owner. But I think this is a really valuable chance to gut-check and correct a few things that have been slowly, surely getting off track in the past few years and alienating the community. Please, don't let it all get swept away with yesterday's news.

Oh, and in case you're thinking "Flat Langston" is akin to a cut-out of Obama--or James Dean--here is why the particular image selection is offensive...

I'm all for playful photographic tributes to poets. Dan Vera and Michael Gushue organized an "Ednafication" a few years back that resulted in the following photomontage, based on an iconic shot of Edna St. Vincent Millay. The result is an apt tribute to a woman who loved dogwoods in life, and chose to use them as a recurring motif in her work.

Does Langston Hughes have some affectionate ode to his busboy days that I have missed? The man who in his autobiography, I Wonder and I Wander, spoke of the difficulty and loneliness of those years, the wretched segregation of this town? Who said "I did not want a job," who wanted to support himself with his writing, but was forced to take a gig bussing tables that paid only $55 a month? Hughes did not want to be known as "The Busboy Poet," any more than he wanted to be known by the jobs he worked before that one, in a local laundromat or as a research assistant at the Woodson Institute. Hughes absolutely celebrated the working class (as have other poets, such as in Philip Levine's tributes to his blue collar industry days), but I don't think he celebrated his days as a busboy, per se. 

Langston Hughes posed for the above photo (the one used for the cutout) because it was the only way he could capitalize on the momentum of a newspaper article that had announced "Russian Poet Discovers Negro Bus Boy Poet." It would have been nice if Hughes had been able to enjoy the actual moment of having his work shared with an audience at the Wardman Park Hotel, after slipping his poems under Vachel Lindsay's plate. But he couldn't--because the hotel that employed him kept their auditorium closed to African Americans. So he had to play into the cute story of being "discovered," the exoticizing of an accomplished poet whose first book, The Weary Blues, been already accepted by Knopf a few weeks earlier. 

The name of the restaurant honors the balancing act all working artists are trying to strike: the hustle. But this? If BB&P really needed a life-size image for a birthday celebration, then they could have shown Hughes in one of the countless suits he wore to readings later in life, after his star had rightfully risen. He was a dapper man.

Would you have a cardboard cutout of Tillie Olsen standing there, ironing?

Keegan reading is postponed

Due to weather conditions, Abigail Keegan's reading at OBU will be rescheduled for March 3rd, (6:00 PM in room 212 of the Geiger Center).  In the meantime, look for her new book, Depending on the Weather, on Amazon or order directly from Village Books Press (

Poems for a Snowy Day

Stuck at home again, thanks to snow.  So here’s my top five snowy day poems:
5.  “The Snow Man” by Wallace Stevens.
4.  “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost.
3.  “Shoveling Snow with Buddha” by Billy Collins.
2.  “The Bear” by Galway Kinnell.
1.  “[Zeus Rains Down Winter]” By Alceaus (early 6th cent. B.C., Greek):
Zeus rains upon us, and from the sky comes down
enormous winter.  Rivers have turned to ice. . . .

Dash down the winter.  Throw a log on the fire
and mix the flattering wine (do not water it
    too much) and bind on round our foreheads
         soft ceremonial wreaths of fleece.
We must not let our spirits give way to grief.
By being sorry we get no further on,
   my Bukchis.  Best of all defenses
       is to mix plenty of wine, and drink it.

                                                                trans. Richard Lattimore

The Monday Tape (on Wednesday): AWP Review Edition

Not really much to add here re: AWP 2011 since I'm coming to the review/wrap-up game a few days late. I was under the weather for the first couple days and that stunted my enjoyment some, and limited what I was able to do with friends in the evening, but I was able to get around the Book Fair and meet some publishers and editors, check in with journals where my work appears, and see the books of many of the presses that currently have my manuscript.

Top 5 Highlights of AWP 2011 (non-ranked):
5. Transforming virtual/Facebook friends into 3D: Sandy Longhorn, Keith Montesano, Brian Brodeur, Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum, George David Clark, and Luke Johnson, among many other wonderful people there. Also hearing T.R. Hummer eloquently talk seemingly extemporaneously and without notes  about this phenomenon: inspiring and enthralling. 
4. Delivering the Pedagogy Forum Keynote: always surprising when people seem to genuinely be interested in what it is you have to say. I also may have made a fruitful connection because of one member in the audience, but I don't want to discuss it now so as not to jinx it. 
3. Grist / 32 Poems table at Book Fair: Thanks to Deborah Ager, John Poch, Georgie David Clark and the other editors for sharing the expense and for the good times, and the wine! 
2. Claudia Rankine / Charles Wright Reading -- looking forward to reading the reviews of this event, especially of Rankine's "performance." 
1. Carnegie Mellon Reading / Tribute to Gerald Costanzo: Readers were John Hoppenthaler, Cornelius Eady, James Harms, Dzvinia Orlowsky, Jerry Williams, Michael Waters. All very impressive.

But I spent most of my time walking around the Book Fair and chatting with folks. Made sure to visit all the presses that have my manuscript. Not necessarily to promote it, though. At the presses where I've been a finalist, I stopped by to put a face on my name. And made sure to stop by the tables of places where I'm considering sending, and those presses from where I've already sent the manuscript and am waiting to hear back. Picked up the following books along the way:

Megan Harlan - Mapmaking (BkMk Press)

Kevin Prufer - National Anthem (Four Way Books)

Rachel Richardson - Copperhead (Carnegie Mellon UP)

Bettsy Sholl - Late Psalm (U of Wisconsin P)

I also got copies of a few journals: Copper Nickel, American Poetry Review, and the new issue of Willow Springs, which I've been enjoying, especially poems by friends Matthew Nienow and Laurie Lamon.

Here are two of Laurie's poems that appear in the issue:

Leave us alone, the dead might say,
hearing another poem or prayer.
We’re tired of memory’s book, tired
of insomnia’s TV. To remember us,
dump the drawer that holds the box,
the envelope, the baby curls of hair.
They’re better off with birds. Forget
the sun and then forget the moon.
At sunrise, say nothing of the work
of trees, impossible nests, water’s
reach from first to last. Leave us
alone, the dead might say. We’re over
the moon. We’re floating on air.
It’s wordlessness that loves us here.
This Poem Doesn’t Care That It Isn’t a Sonnet 
This poem doesn’t care about the movie Avatar,
doesn’t care about iPods or Notebooks or
the divorce of reality from reality; it isn’t
thinking of animal shelters, three million plus
deaths per year; this poem isn’t thinking
of oil or children or ice melting with climate
that is here or not here; this poem has nothing
to do with the bodies of women which have
ceased to move on cots or sidewalks; this poem
doesn’t know the legal age of marriage for
girls in Ethiopia, Sri Lanka, Saudi Arabia etc.;
it has stopped looking for the name of the one
killed in a bus by a bomb, in a car by a sniper,
on the path by a tripwire, in a house, in a crib.
This poem isn’t waiting for pain’s reprieve,
for grief to pack up its tools for another heart’s
pale. It is hungry for milk, for the messages
of pillow and sheet; it wants the drowse
of the egg in the open nest, a plain thing, in-
effable brim of shade, yellow apples ripening.

Laurie Lamon
from Willow Springs #67

AWP in DC: The Aftermath

That'll do, DC, that'll do. 

We managed to not bombard the conference-goers with ice or snow. The connection between the Marriott and Omni was labyrinthine, and some panels in obscure locations, but at least you didn't have the claustrophobia of overcrowded elevators struggling to reach both programs and participant rooms. The totes were good; the guides were helpful. Water was in supply. The Marriott hotel bar's open layout made it a worthy place to meet up. (I can't vouch for the speed of their service, because that's what flasks are for.) The bookfair lacked flow but from this point onward that's going to be an issue every time we don't host in a conference center. 

The Omni was the redheaded stepchild of the two hotels. That's a shame; from the velvet-swagged windows to the opulent foyer, its style is much more distinct (if throwback) to DC than the Marriott, which has scrubbed away identifying elements of the Langston Hughes/Vachel Lindsay days. Did you know that when the Shoreham first opened, it had an ice rink in the lobby? And a furniture factory in the basement, to provide custom pieces? FDR had his first inaugural ball there. Helen Hayes used to bring her kids to their Easter Egg hunts. The Beatles stayed there the first time they came to DC--they were given an entire floor to themselves. I hated hearing people dismiss it as the lesser hotel. Sure, the Omni bar was a ghost town, but therefore ideally suited for discreet AWP hook-ups. There's a fine & honorable tradition of those.  

It's impossible to wrap my head around the conference in a narrative way, so I'll just mention some highlights. Apologies in advance for the gratuitous name dropping...

Most moving moment: Hearing Sonia Sanchez read Langston Hughes' work and reflect on his legacy. I got the shivers. Afterwards she told me that the first time she ever met Hughes, she waited for an hour in line at one of his readings--only to panic when she finally got up there, leaving without saying anything of substance. We've all been there!

Best fiction readings: Alix Ohlin ("Fiction and the American Scholar"), Jennine Capó Crucet ("Potomac Review Celebrates Best of 50"), and Jessica Francis Kane ("Greywolf Press Reading"). These readings weren't particularly edgy or bombastic; they didn't have the buzz attached to readings from Mary Gaitskill or Junot Diaz. But they were captivating pieces with funny, memorable voices--from authors I might otherwise have not known about, but whose work I will now look for. That, in my mind, is the main purpose of an AWP reading. 

Best poetry readings: Brian Teare (Blackbird/Diode Offsite Reading), Nick Flynn ("Greywolf Press Reading") and Eric McHenry (Waywiser/Entasis press Offsite Reception). My motives are different when listening to fellow poets, whose work I already know and love. In these cases I heard new poems that are going to get a LOT of praise in the coming days. Brian's long poem was bracing, brave, sophisticated in its thematic execution; Nick deserves major credit for clambering back from the world of memoir; Eric's poems, based on observations from his "Evan Said It" blog, are going to draw flattering comparisons to Ogden Nash.

Book I was most excited to hold in my hot little hand: Maureen Thorson's Applies to Oranges, a gorgeous new release from Ugly Duckling Presse. Watch out, world! 

Personal pride: Watching Richard McCann being a consistently thoughtful, witty presence on panels. Being able to say, "He was my teacher." 

Personal joy: Having Ed Skoog call me his "Virgil", i.e., his poet-guide to DC in the time spent here as a Jenny McKean Moore resident. Any time, Ed, any time. (I must have missed the part in the Inferno where Virgil divines the location of good beer on draft.) 

Personal mortification: Bumping into a poet-friend and realizing, at last year's conference, I'd had a foot-in-mouth moment--upon learning of an honor she'd received, assuming aloud that it was another, lesser opportunity--and she had carried that moment around as a hurt ever since. You know who you are. I'm really sorry. 

Best conversation of importance: Being counseled by the amazing Jessica Handler on a bad run-in with a big magazine (versus her awesome and well-deserved run-in with Vanity Fair). 

Best conversation of no importance: Helping Brian Turner plan how to better accessorize his black velvet sport coat (we settled on a paisley shirt and some purple-tinted glasses, possibly with an amping up of the facial hair).

Jaw-dropping moment: Having Carolyn Forche come up and start asking a series of intent questions on how my memoir was coming along, with her premising comment of "ever since we met and you told me about it, it's been on my mind." 

Lesson learned: That red heart-shaped lollipop may look like a good idea at the time, but you'll regret it as you're trying to have a serious conversation with Sven Birkerts at the AGNI table and it's still in your hand, half-licked. 

Funniest panel: "The Road Less Traveled: How to be a Writer Without a Full-time Academic Gig," in large part because of Steve Almond's totally unfiltered contributions, which at one point characterized Ru Freeman as "humping on the bare floor" because she and her husband were a few years into marriage before being able to afford a proper bed. As Ru was quick to point out (indignantly), there are plenty of places to have sex that aren't on a bed. This was a packed session, but I'm glad I insisted on hunkering down in the aisle. 

Most rewarding Q&A of a panel: "Women on Wanderlust: Travel Writing," when people gave very honest (and not entirely harmonious) answers and offered the audience editorial connections for the future. At so many panels, the Q&A marks the end of meaningful content. This one was great. Another full house. 

Most awkward politic: Every year AWP has a thriving and visible community of African-American writers paneling, reading, representing. DC has a thriving community of local writers (of all ethnicities) who devote their energies to furthering the literary culture of their city. DC has a thriving community of people who love Busboys & Poets as a venue. These groups, while certainly not being mutually exclusive, don't entirely overlap either. 

Best non-book item in the bookfair: The Rumpus's "Write Like a Motherfucker" mugs. 

Best perk: Realizing my apartment building shares a zone number with the conference, meaning I could park my DC-registered car on the street for unlimited stretches. 

Best getaways: Chicken soup at Nam Viet with Erika Meitner on the eve of the conference (my ONE meal out); a bloody mary in the hotel bar with Jehanne Dubrow instead of the not one, not two, but three panels I'd meant to attend in that same time slot; a pint of Smithwick's with John Griswold when all was nearly said and done. That last one involved, oddly enough, a story about putting Jennifer Egan in WW-II-era diving suit. 

Event I was sorriest to miss: Claudia Rankine's exchange/confrontation with Tony Hoagland as presented at her featured reading, in part following up on an incident involving Hoagland's appearance at last year's AWP. I can't say more because I wasn't there. But I hope someone else does because from what I hear, she was on point. 

Table I was sorriest to miss: New Issues, where wert thou? 

Who I was sorriest to miss: Mary Biddinger. That girl is just walking sunshine to me. 

Most silly fun: The dance floor at the Black Cat, during the party to support 826DC. I was coming off a fantastic Copper Nickel reading in the back room below (thanks to all who made that). I had found some Ole Miss friends to dance with. The DJ was doing some inventive transitions; people were wandering around in costume. That's what I like to see--writers getting down with their creative, shy, arrogant, dorky, seductive selves. Rock on. 

Abigail Keegan to Read at OBU

Abigail Keegan's new book bears the timely title "Depending on the Weather," and she will read from it, depending on the weather, this Thursday evening at 6:00 in room 212 of the Geiger Center on the OBU campus as this year's final guest for the English Dept. Reading Series.

I got to know Dr. Keegan through our mutual involvement in the "Woody Guthrie Poets," and I have been really enjoying her new poems. She is a poet of vivid images and straight-forward emotional impact. Her work is imaginative and playful but also lyrical and meditative. If you are around Thursday, don't miss this great evening of poetry at OBU.