I haven’t been posting as much I would like – something that is, I hope, starting to change – but I have been reading, and so I thought I’d put up a list of the pieces that have interested me for one reason or another:
It Is What It Is, by my friend Cassandra, about her “round, high, and in your face [butt] — a brazen and rebellious personality that dares anyone, including me, to attempt to silence her. She invites stares, welcomes gropes and revels in praise — she is not one to keep quiet.” Cassandra’s new to blogging, so if you have a chance, go over to LadyCaz and let her know what you think.
The Best Birth Control in the World is for Men: “The procedure called RISUG in India (reversible inhibition of sperm under guidance) takes about 15 minutes with a doctor, is effective after about three days, and lasts for 10 or more years.” But don’t look for it any time soon in the US, since it’s not a big money-maker for the drug companies.
Evaluating the Adjunct Impact: “Using large samples of community colleges, studies find that as colleges use more part timers, their students are less likely to graduate or transfer to four-year institutions. And another study finds that as part-time use goes up, institutional averages in class participation (for all faculty members) go down.”
What Adjunct Impact?: Cites studies that contradict the studies cited in the previous article.
Completion at What Price?: “[T]he debut report…takes on the “completion agenda” and its heavy emphasis on workforce development [at community colleges], a fixation that the report said threatens academic quality and student access, as well as social mobility.
The Disposable Professor Crisis: “[A]s growing numbers of institutions turn to contingent (or adjunct) faculty to cut costs, while keeping pay as low as possible for the support staff who keep campuses running[,] students suffer… [T]he number of available services are reduced, class sizes increase, and educators are less able to provide direct assistance and mentoring to the students they are there to teach.”
‘Dancing Boys’: A Tale of Sexual Exploitation: “The practice of wealthy or prominent Afghans exploiting underage boys as sexual partners who are often dressed up as women to dance at gatherings is on the rise in post-Taliban Afghanistan, according to Afghan human-rights researchers, Western officials and men who participate in the abuse.”
Poetry, Medium and Message: “Here is a question that has been confounding or even infuriating poets for eons. So what is your poem about?”
Ten Reasons Not To Sleep with a Poet: “8. Like other kinds of men, he will never understand the anguish of carrying a phone that does not ring. Unlike other kinds of men, he will seem to fall off the planet for weeks at a time, lost in a place — that goddamned place you know to be a space in his head and not an actual location.”
Cunt: The History of the C Word: “In fact, the origins of ‘cunt’ can be traced back to the Proto-Indo-European ‘cu’, one of the oldest word-sounds in recorded language. ‘Cu’ is an expression quintessentially associated with femininity, and forms the basis of ‘cow’, ‘queen’, and ‘cunt’. The c-word’s second most significant influence is the Latin term ‘cuneus’, meaning ‘wedge’. The Old Dutch ‘kunte’ provides the plosive final consonant.”
Women Publishers in Iran: Farkhondeh Hajizadeh: “The process of growing censorship has reached a point that even the concept of censor does not apply to it. In a time when we all seem to be living in glass houses and have nothing left to hide, such approaches to book publishing is synonymous to a return to the Middle Ages.”
What Do Professors Do All Week?: Introductory post to a series in which one professor logged the time he spent on work-related activities during one seven-day week. It’s worth reading the entire series; the links are at the bottom of the post I am linking to here.
I found this in Barbara C. Sproul’s introduction to Primal Myths: Creation Myths Around the World. It has been a long time since I have thought of myself as a religious person or had much to do with people who are religious in the orthodox way many of my teachers were when I was in yeshiva. The description below would not fit most of those men and women, whose commitment to their faith I continue to respect and even learn from; but there were others for whom Sproul’s words seem tailor-made; and these others, of course, have brothers and sisters in all faiths.
Holding literally to the claims of any particular myth…is a great error in that it mistakes myth’s values for science’s facts and results in the worst sort of religiosity. Such literalism requires a faith that splits rather than unifies our consciousness. Thinking particular myths to be valuable in themselves undermines the genuine power of all myth to reveal value in the world: it transforms myths into obstacles to meaning rather than conveyors of it. Frozen in time, myth’s doctrines come to describe a world removed from and irrelevant to our timely one; its followers, consequently, become strangers to modernity and its real progress. Those of such blind faith are forced to sacrifice intellect, emotion and the honesty of both to satisfy their creeds. And this kind of literalism is revealed as fundamentally idolatrous, the opposite of genuine faith.
but it has been years since I have been able to create at the center of my life a space for the kind of reading that nourishes me as a writer, reading that puts me back in touch with myself just for the sake of that experience, that connects me to language in ways that are challenging and revitalizing, that affirms my right to claim a place in this world simply because I am, that shapes who I am and shows me possibilities of being I would not otherwise have imagined.
His question is a good one, but I don’t really have the time to dig into any of the books I was thinking about when I wrote that passage, so I thought I would answer him by sharing an excerpt of an essay I am working on. The excerpt, though not the essay, tells the story of how I began to read poetry and how that reading led me to want to write poetry, and so it is about reading that took place a long time ago, but the experience it talks about is the kind of experience I was talking about in the post. Regular readers of this blog will likely not need any background to understand some of the larger context, since I have written about it many times before, but for those of you who may not have read some of my previous post, it may be useful to know that part of the context for the excerpt is the fact that I was sexually abused as a boy and that reading and writing played a central role in my coming to terms with that fact. Here’s the excerpt:
The first volume of poetry I remember taking down from the shelf in the public library across the street from where I lived was Conrad Aiken’s Selected Poems. I was fourteen or fifteen years old. I read the first eighteen lines or so of the first poem in the book, “Palimpsest: The Deceitful Portrait” (Aiken’s poem is the first one in the pdf), and I knew I needed to make poetry part of my life.
Well, as you say, we live for small horizons:
We move in crowds, we flow and talk together,
Seeing so many eyes and hands and faces,
So many mouths, and all with secret meanings,—
Yet know so little of them; only seeing
The small bright circle of our consciousness,
Beyond which lies the dark. Some few we know—
Or think we know. Once, on a sun-bright morning,
I walked in a certain hallway, trying to find
A certain door: I found one, tried it, opened,
and there in a spacious chamber, brightly lighted,
A hundred men played music, loudly, swiftly,
While one tall woman sent her voice above them
In powerful incantation… Closing then the door
I heard it die behind me, fade to whisper,—
And walked in a quiet hallway as before.
Just such a glimpse, as through that opened door,
Is all we know of those we call our friends.
To say that I identified with the woman in these lines would be an understatement. I might have been keeping my own door well hidden and tightly locked — I did, after all, have real secrets to keep — but I also needed someone to open it who would hear my voice, as Aiken’s speaker had heard the woman’s, carrying it back into his own life and thus reducing, by however small a degree, her isolation. What I thought consciously at the time, however, was that I wanted to understand how Aiken had made that woman so real for me, how his words had left me feeling that his speaker had heard me too; and so I started reading a lot of poetry, taking books off the library shelf pretty much at random, jumping from Aiken to Frost to Sandberg to Eliot to Williams — I don’t remember if I read any women at the time — and finally to e. e. cummings, whose work, especially his sexual love poems, spoke to me at least as powerfully as Aiken’s poem did. Take, for example, the first three lines of the last poem in & [And], cummings’ second published volume:
i like my body when it is with your
body. It is so quite a new thing.
Muscles better and nerves more.
Nowhere else in my life — not in the pornography I was looking at or the sex education clas-ses I’d taken, not in what my male friends who’d had sex had to say or in the sexual wisdom the adult men I knew occasionally chose to share, and certainly not in own experience — nowhere else had I heard a man state so plainly that, whatever else it might mean, being sexual with someone could also be about liking his own body. I desperately wanted to feel that way myself, and so I de-voured as much cummings as I could, trying to internalize his vocabulary and technique and then to use them in my own poems about sex, which I failed at for years, well into my early twenties, when I was sitting in the workshop where my teacher told us about her “cunt poem” challenge. In part, this failure had to do with my immaturity both as a poet and as a lover, but it also had to do with the fact that I couldn’t just write the consequences of having been sexually abused away. Learning to like my body meant unlearning the self-hatred, physical and otherwise, that I’d been taught by my abusers, and that meant puzzling through the particular form this self-hatred took in me.
I also thought it might be fun to list some of the books and writers that have had this kind of effect on me since then, even though the specifics might be very different. Here are some, in no particular order, that I see on my bookshelves right now, though most of them are books I read years, and some of them decades, ago:
I miss reading. I really do. In a big, big way. And it has, especially over the past couple of days, been making me very, very sad. It started after I read Joshua Bodwell’s article in the most recent issue of Poets & Writers, “You Are What You Read.” “Not long ago,” he begins
I had an unsettling epiphany that probably shouldn’t have come as a surprise but nevertheless left me disheartened for the better part of an afternoon.
I won’t get to all the books I want to read in my lifetime.
For the average reader, this is one of life’s relatively benign epiphanies; as a writer it’s a serious limitation. After all, writers are readers first. Most of us were consuming books long before we ever picked up a pen or pencil, and confronting the fact that there is a limit to the number of them we will read feels a bit like realizing there’s a finite amount of oxygen in the room.
I don’t really buy the oxygen metaphor, but I endorse wholly the idea Bodwell is trying to get at. Indeed, a jolt of regret ran through me more strongly than I have felt in a long time when I read the words “writers are readers first,” because I can’t remember the last time that statement would have been saying something true about me. Sure, I read. I read for school, both material that I am teaching and that my students write; I read the newspaper and articles in magazines; I read blog posts and occasionally the discussion threads they spawn; I read emails and memos and occasionally scholarly articles and other similar material that feeds my academic work; but it has been years since I have been able to create at the center of my life a space for the kind of reading that nourishes me as a writer, reading that puts me back in touch with myself just for the sake of that experience, that connects me to language in ways that are challenging and revitalizing, that affirms my right to claim a place in this world simply because I am, that shapes who I am and shows me possibilities of being I would not otherwise have imagined.
It’s easy to lay the blame for this state of affairs at the feet of my adult responsibilities – having a job, needing to work extra hours because we need money, being a partner to the woman I married nearly twenty years ago and a parent to a thirteen year old boy – and, to some degree, putting the blame there is not inaccurate. Those responsibilities do take up time I could otherwise spend reading. It is also true, however, that I simply have not prioritized reading the way I used to, not so much in terms of how much time I can give to it, but in the sense that I’ve made choices about how to use my time that have pushed the kind of reading I am talking about here to the margins of my life. I did not start this post thinking about New Year’s Resolutions – since I don’t really believe in them anyway – but it is appropriate that I should be starting it on New Year’s Day, the day after I finished the first book in a very long time that I read just because I wanted to read it – though I didn’t start reading for that reason (about which more below) – Stanley Fish’s How to Write a Sentence and How to Read One.
Fish divides his book into the two sections named in the title, treating the first, roughly, as a discussion of form and the second, more or less, as a discussion of content. Of course, since the two are not really separable, his analysis of one often bleeds over into an analysis of the other. Nonetheless, the distinction is useful, since it allows Fish to ground a lot of what he has to say in the notion that a sentence is a material thing, like paint, an object with a structure and characteristics independent of the particular content the sentence has been fashioned to convey. Too many people who want to write – at least this is true of too many of the students I meet who say they “lo-ove” to write (and they almost always turn “love” into a two syllable word) – just don’t get this. Here is the first paragraph of Fish’s book:
In her book The Writing Life (1989), Annie Dillard tells the story of a fellow writer who was asked by a student, “Do you think I could be a writer?” “‘Well,’ the writer said, ‘do you like sentences?’” The student is surprised by the question, but Dillard knows exactly what was meant. He was being told, she explains, that “if he liked sentences he could begin,” and she remembers a similar conversation with a painter friend. “I asked him how he came to be a painter. He said, ‘I like the smell of paint.’” The point, made implicitly (Dillard does not belabor it), is that you don’t begin with a grand conception, either of the great American novel or a masterpiece that will have in the Louvre. You begin with a feel for the nitty-gritty material of the medium, paint in one case, sentences in the other. (1)
There are few pleasures that I enjoy more than getting my hands dirty in the tangled mess that the sentences of my first drafts usually are; and if we’re talking about poems, in which case you need to add to that mess the lines over which the sentences break, and perhaps a meter and/or a rhyme scheme, then the pleasure is even greater. Right now, there are two piece I am working on, an essay and a poem, each one needing revision. I have set them aside until I finish prepping my technical writing class for next semester – I am writing this post to take a break from that preparation – and I can’t wait to be able to pick each one up again and give to revising it the solid chunk of time that it will need (and deserve).
So I have been reading The Hero with a Thousand Faces to prep for my myth and folklore class, and I really like this quote, not so much because I agree with everything it says or implies – that is something I would need to think more about – but because the complexity of what it says appeals to me:
And likewise, mythology does not hold as its greatest hero the merely virtuous man. Virtue is but the pedagogical prelude to the culminating insight, which goes beyond all pairs of opposites. Virtue quells the self-centered ego and makes the transpersonal centeredness possible; but when that has been achieved, what then of the pain or pleasure, vice or virtue, either of our own ego or of any other?
I also found myself thinking when I read this passage, and I continue to think this as I make my way through the book, that Robert Bly and most of those who relied on Campbell in fashioning the ideology of the mythopoetic men’s movement back in the 1980s and 90s really narrowed and impoverished Campbell’s vision when they hung it on the political agenda of recovering and repairing (or whatever) traditional masculinity and manhood. They clearly did not take to heart what Campbell says is the “prime function of mythology and rite:”
to supply the symbols that carry the human spirit forward, in counteraction to those other constant human fantasies that tend to tie it back.
I mean this not as a defense of Campbell, or even, really, an endorsement of what he has to say; but as someone who spent an awful lot of time reading and critiquing Bly and others, I am struck by how wrongly they seem to have read him – at least as far as I can tell from my limited exposure to what Campbell is saying in this book.
I found this on Huffington Post, where they have collected some of the best and worst book trailers. This one is really cool. If my son were the right age – he’s a little too old – I would buy the book in a heartbeat, though I think he would appreciate the humor of it even now.
I am very late in posting this spot on NPR featuring the QUILL reading I was part of last week. I don’t appear in the spot, but there is mention of the QUILL Translation Award, a $500 award to a Queens-based translator in support of a work in progress. I will post the full details soon, but if you know a translator who lives in Queens, NYC and who is working on either a book-length translation of poetry or a novella, tell them to keep their eyes open, either on this website or the website of the Queens Council on the Arts.
This coming Sunday, I will be reading in The Phoenix Reading Series at Bengal Curry in New York City. The event starts at 5:30, and there will be an open mic, but you need to go down to the restaurant on Saturday in order to sign up. For event details, please click here. , and I hope you will come down to hear not just me, but also the two wonderful poets with whom I will be reading, Yuyutsu Sharma and Shannon Kline. Mike Graves is the series host. The bios of all involved are below the fold and speak for themselves. (You can read about me elsewhere on this site.)
Bengal Curry, 5:30-7:30
65 West Broadway
New York, NY 10007-2292
Between Murray and Warren.
1 1/2 blocks below Chambers St
Take the 1, 2, 3, A, C or E trains to Chambers Street
Recipient of fellowships and grants from The Rockefeller Foundation, Ireland Literature Exchange, Trubar Foundation, Slovenia, The Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature and The Foundation for the Production and Translation of Dutch Literature, Yuyutsu RD Sharma is a distinguished poet and translator. He has published eight poetry collections including, Space Cake, Amsterdam, & Other Poems from Europe and America, (Howling Dog Press, Colorado, 2009), Annapurna Poems, (Nirala, New Delhi 2008), Everest Failures (White Lotus Book Shop, Kathmandu, 2008) www.AroundAnnapurna.de — Eine photographic-poetische Reise um die Annapurnas, Nepal, www.WayToEverest.de: A photographic and Poetic Journey to the Foot of Everest, (Epsilonmedia, Germany, 2006) with German photographer Andreas Stimm and recently a translation of Hebrew poet Ronny Someck’s poetry in Nepali in a bilingual collection, Baghdad, February 1991 & Other Poems. He has translated and edited several anthologies of contemporary Nepali poetry in English and launched a literary movement, Kathya Kayakalpa (Content Metamorphosis) in Nepali poetry. Two books of his poetry, Poemes de l’ Himalayas (L’Harmattan, Paris) and Poemas de Los Himalayas (Cosmopoeticia, Cordoba, Spain) just appeared in French and Spanish respectively. University of California, Davis, and Sacramento State University, California. His works have appeared in Poetry Review, Chanrdrabhaga, Sodobnost, Amsterdam Weekly, Indian Literature, Irish Pages, Delo, Omega, Howling Dog Press, Exiled Ink, Iton77, Little Magazine, The Telegraph, Indian Express and Asiaweek. Currently, he edits Pratik, A Magazine of Contemporary Writing and contributes literary columns to Nepal’s leading daily, The Himalayan Times.
Arkansas native, Shannon Kline, is a playwright, poet and performer who has worked in many aspects of the entertainment industry. She is a proud member of both Actors’ Equity Association and The Dramatist Guild. Shannon’s first play, REUNION, a full length drama in the Southern Gothic Style about an adopted woman who searches for her identity, was recently presented at the National Conference on Adoption in Manhattan, and subsequently at The Drilling Company Theater, where it garnered praise and support for a commercial production in 2012. Shannon is also co-Author of Presto-Change-O!, a musical that premiered at Amas Musical Theater in Manhattan. Other theatrical writing credits include PILLARS, at the Minetta Lane Theater, directed by Terrence Mann and revue shows for Gulf Coast Casinos. As a poet, Shannon had the good fortune to study by invitation with renowned poet and translator, Marie Ponsot, winner of the Nat’l Book Critics Circle Award. Shannon’s poetry premiered as part of a political ballet she was commissioned to write for a dance company in residence at the prestigious Jacob’s Pillow in 2009, for Tony nominated choreographer, Dan Siretta. Her first collection of poetry, Lemon Ice– Box Pie is to be published in 2011.
Michael Graves is the author of a full-length collection of poems, Adam and Cain (Black Buzzard, 2006) and two chapbooks, Illegal Border Crosser (Cervana Barva, 2008) and Outside St. Jude’s (R. E. M. Press, 1990). In two thousand four (2004), he was the recipient of a grant of four thousand five hundred dollars ($4,500.00) from the Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation. He is the publisher of the small magazine PHOENIX. Many years ago, he was a student of James Wright and organized a conference on James Wright at Poets House in 2004. And he became a member of P. E. N. a couple of years ago. In addition to leading a James Joyce Ulysses’ Reading Group, he has published thirteen (13) poems in the James Joyce Quarterly and read from them and others of his poems influenced by Joyce to a gathering of the Joyce Society at the Gotham Book Mart.
Persian Arts Festival (PAF) revived Shab-e She’r, A Night of (Persian) Poetry, at the Bowery Poetry Club (BPC) but with a modern spin. Our program expands what tends to be a very classical Persian tradition to feature modern works of literature, ranging from fictional novels to memoirs. PAF and BPC continue to host readings of well-established and emerging authors who are of Persian descent or specialize in Persian literature. Readers have included Nahid Rachlin, Manijeh Nasrabadi and Joe Martin to name a few. Please join us this month.
Sholeh Wolpé is the author of Rooftops of Tehran, The Scar Saloon, and Sin: Selected Poems of Forugh Farrokhzad for which she was awarded the Lois Roth Translation Prize in 2010. Sholeh is a regional editor of Tablet & Pen: Literary Landscapes from the Modern Middle East edited by Reza Aslan (Norton), the poetry editor of the Levantine Review (an online journal about the Middle East,) and the guest editor of 2010 Iran issue of the Atlanta Review which immediately became the journal’s bestselling issue. Her poems, translations, essays and reviews have appeared in scores of literary journals, periodicals and anthologies worldwide, and have been translated into several languages. Born in Iran, Sholeh presently lives in Los Angeles.
Zohra Saed was born in Jalalabad came to Brooklyn as a child by way of Riyadh. She received her MFA in Poetry at Brooklyn College. She is a doctoral candidate in English Literature at The City University of New York Graduate Center. Her work has appeared most recently in Shattering Stereotypes; Cheers to Muses; and Speaking for Myself: Asian Women’s Writings. She has performed as part of the cast of the legendary theater director Ping Chong’s Undesirable Elements in 2000 and in 2007, where the ensemble caste performed at the first National Asian American Theater Festival. She is co-founder of the Association of Afghan American Writers (AAAW).
Sahar Muradi was born in Kabul, Afghanistan. She and her family emigrated to the United States when she was three years old. She grew up in New York and Florida. Sahar received her B.A. in Literature and Creative Writing from Hampshire College, and her M.P.A. in International Development from New York University. Sahar has written extensively about her family experiences, as well as reported on current events in Afghanistan. Her writing has been featured in literary magazines, newspapers, as well as read on public radio. In 2003, Sahar returned to her native Kabul to work for two years. She helped coördinate a donor conference with the Foreign Ministry, as well as managed a small grant program for civil society development. She is co-founder of the Association of Afghan American Writers (AAWW) and an Organizing Fellow for the Open City Project, a community-based writing project through the Asian American Writers’ Workshop.