Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Why must the dog die?

A teacher friend told me a story from her new classroom. She likes to read to the kids after lunch, a soothing practice, and started by holding up the book she had intended to start with. The cover showed a dog and a boy. Now:  by this time, she has some impressions of which kids are going to take which roles in the classroom society. The kid who had looked as though he would be the sullen tough guy puts his head down on his desk and starts to cry. “What is it?” she asked him. “It has a dog in it,” he sobbed, “and the dog always dies.” She bethought the many children’s books with dogs in them—and the adult books too—and put down the book and told him, “I think we’ll read something else.” Budding lit student, he’s right. The dog always dies. Someone, find another plot device and let the dog live!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014


The latest easily-foreseeable gun death in the United States took place in Arizona at a family-targeted (pun intended) facility called “Burgers and Bullets.” The idea, I suppose, is that families, adults and their children, would spend the day out in the open eating kid-friendly food and having a wonderful time learning to shoot guns. I read about this in the Los Angeles Times, saw references to it also in the New York Times and the Guardian.

Apparently the fond parents shot a video of their 9-year-old daughter having her first encounter with an Uzi. An Uzi. An instructor had set her up with protective ear mufflers, and can be heard encouraging her enthusiastically after her first single shot. He warns her about the recoil from a repeated-shot firing of the Uzi. Some people, like me, might say that he can warn her all he likes, because 1) she’s only 9, so probably won’t quite understand what ‘recoil’ is, and 2) she’s only 9, and won’t be strong enough to manage the recoil.

My husband was drafted into the Army and sent over to Korea. He tells me that he and the other soldiers (young men in their late teens and early twenties) were all astounded by the power of the recoil from their repeat-fire automatic weapons, and needed to practice bracing against it when shooting. (FYI, he could read and write, and volunteered for company clerk, thus getting pulled from the front lines, protecting his life and taking him out of the position of trying to kill others.)

So, the instructor warns the 9-year-old girl, hands her the Uzi, shows her how to fire. Predictably and horribly, the barrel of the gun arcs up as the recoil pushes the girl back, and the instructor is shot in the head. Mercifully, the video stops before that point. I am utterly at a loss for an adequate comment on this event, except to say that my friends in Europe will no doubt learn of this incident and think, once and yet again, “Are they nuts?”


Monday, August 4, 2014

It's a real poem

This poem received an Honorable Mention in the Muriel Craft Bailey Memorial Poetry Contest (pant pant), and was published in Comstock Poetry Review earlier this year. And, since you can't find it on-line...

Real Poem
Open mike, she comes up to ask me, were those real poems, or did I just make them up. I confess:  I just make them up. Her look says I thought as much. So many years I have faked it, getting credit for stuff I just made up. What you are reading here, for instance. It's not a real poem, just one I made up. This poem did not come from a certified breeder, someone who could vouch for the pedigree of the parents. Nah, it's a mutt, a Heinz 57, a tabby-tortie-tiger-cat, maybe even missing a tail. At the computer it will not leave me alone. Make a real poem out of me, it hisses, prowling across the keyboard, make me a real poem. At my desk, I made a nest for it from my grandmother's shawl, the one she crocheted even before she married my grandfather the head baker of Lodz. The poem deliberately lies sprawled across the paper I'm trying to write on, or it swarms up my shoulder, then lodges under my chin. I can't even see what my hand is going. Sometimes I try to write without looking, but my hands crawl a row up or a key over, and the whole thing transposes into code, spilling out and leaking onto the table, disappearing into the carpet. Sometimes I lose track of the lines and go right off the rails, maybe even over the edge. But when the poem is satisfied I am not ignoring it, it lets me write. It curls up in the shawl-nest and sleeps, breathing in quick little bursts, snoring tiny snores, feet twitching as it dreams.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Four Questions (nothing to do with Passover)--or--the nature of work

Women making dumplings to order
--right there, on the spot, before your eyes, not until you have placed your order--
at FFY Noodle House in Rowland Heights, California

A long-time poetry friend tagged me to post on this my blog my answers to four questions about my writing. As soon as I figure out how to access her blog I'll read her answers too. Here are mine:

1. What Are You Working On?
A book-length collection, The Book of Knots and Their Untying; three different sestinas that resist closure; poems about death; poems that are not about death.
2. How Does Your Work Differ From Others In Its Genre?
I keep bringing in the psychological angle. Actually, I don’t have to bring it in; it shows up as soon as I start thinking. Also, when I seem to be most ironic, then I am being most accurate and direct. Also also, I write a lot of sardonic sonnets and literary limericks.
3. Why Do You Write What You Write About?
I write about what I notice. I write about why I notice what I notice. I try to explain to myself why something is remarkable, or weird. I write to give voice to what we are not supposed to notice.
4. How Does Your Writing Process Work?
Sneakily, mostly. Kicks in at the last minute. Maybe I’ll circle around and around, returning to some draft for three years. Or write a sonnet in an hour. Or free-write, and return to it months later. Or play Minesweeper for an hour and then write what I was trying not to think about. Or I’ll achieve that semi-trance state in which I am following an imaginal thread, swinging and grabbing the next metaphorical vine, almost taking dictation, ignoring what seems to be a disjunctive image or thought and then swerving back to it and hearing it out. All the while ducking the voice that says, That’s not a real poem. Or telling it to shut up.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Have a nice day: weird quote of the week.

Blunderbuss Magazine @BlunderbussMag
Go outside. Read a book. It'll help distract you from the yawning maw of death that eventually swallows us all.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Update: Dr. Bob in da house, moving in mysterious ways

Dr. Bob arrived yesterday afternoon and sat down next to the computer. I booted up and opened the manuscript document. Before he had touched the keyboard, or even said anything, the document unlocked. We asked him if he'd be willing to attend our next family party.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Curse you, Microsoft Word 8.1!

I've been putting together a manuscript for a book-length collection of poems. This is the kind of fussy task that I find staggeringly difficult, also somewhat stupefying. Finding, inserting properly, not incorporating any unintentional commands--so many ways to go wrong. It is easier only than doing the same thing entirely by hand. THE PROBLEM is that, when you work virtually, your virtual collection is subject to the weirdnesses of MS shortcuts, those unhelpful intrusions that you didn't want in the first place. I worked over the weekend and had the document in shape to be printed out so I could work on the sequence of poems, something I can do only with the physical piece of paper laid out (or moved around) next to the other physical pieces of paper. I called up the document to print it out--had a new cartridge of ink and everything--and discovered that somehow I had 'locked' the document. 'Locked' means that I can make no changes. Actually, 'locked' means that I can't do anything at all with the document except read it on the monitor. Can't even print it out. We googled the problem and found it to be familiar to many folks. Unhappily, we found also that the proposed fixes were at best pointless, at worst incomprehensible. I called our computer guy, Dr. Bob, who wrote the manual used to train the folks at Microsoft U. Dr. Bob is in the middle of recovering from cataract surgery. Take your time, Dr. Bob, take all the time you need, and enjoy the recovered colors of our interesting world. And when you are recovered, call me and come over and free my poetry manuscript from its weird dimensional shift. Help me unscrew the inscrutable.