Sunday, August 19, 2012


Because some of you1,2 asked, I'll be posting my reading lists here each month. I'm not required—or even supposed—to read all the books on the list for each month ("If you read all of them you're doing it wrong"). I'm also expected to read them interleaved with each other, an approach that makes me more than a little dizzy—four poems from one poet, then four poems from another, and I end up with no idea which is which. I'm hoping to get better at it with practice.
My first month's selections were:

I read Wright, Goldbarth, Levis, and some of Gallagher. I liked Wright and fully expected to, and liked Goldbarth more the more I read him. I'll whine more about my problems finding women poets I love in another post.

But the gem, for me, was Levis. I have the vague sense that I've heard of him somewhere (when I say his name I hear it pronounced affectionately by a former teacher), but I can't remember any poems. As I read through each book, I left sticky notes on the pages with poems that I might come back to at essay-writing time. In The Selected Levis this was close to half the pages in the book. My favorite, and the one about which I wrote an essay, is "Slow Child with a Book of Birds." I can't find it anywhere online, but you can read a selection of work by this poet who takes my breath away here and here.

1 Hi, Ed (I know I owe you an email)!
2 Hi, Mark!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

What Elizabeth Bishop and I Have in Common Besides the Fact That We Were Both Born in Worcester, Massachusetts

Packet #1 is wending its way southward, even as we speak1 and I'm having the expected let-down: everything could have been better. I expect to feel this way a lot over the next two years. It's hard on my grade-grubbing, perfectionist little heart to have sent things that I'm not thrilled with, even when I know it's probably good for me.

When I'm blue about the state of a poem, especially in the early innings, I go looking around the internet for early drafts of Elizabeth Bishop's magnificent One Art. You can see, in those early versions, the glimmer of what is to come and why the poet was excited about this material. But you also see how flat and prose-y it starts out, how it's a lousy first draft just like anybody else's lousy first draft. Just like my first drafts. And I smile, because if even freaking Elizabeth Bishop wrote terrible first drafts, then there's hope that with time and effort my ugly little poems may one day be at least presentable.

I try not to remember that she spent 20 years revising The Moose.

1 Actually, it's still sitting in the bottom of the mailbox, since the next pickup isn't until 6:30 tomorrow morning, but, metaphorically speaking, it's on its way.