Thursday, April 10, 2014

AWP Seattle 2014, part 4: How to write a good bad review

That is to say, if you are reviewing something horrible, how do you say so in a way that makes someone want to read your review? The panel had several points to make, and illustrated them with marvelous devastating examples. Martin Amis on Norman Mailer:  "It is clear that this book was written by someone who must come up with $500,000 annually for alimony."

Of course funny is good, but you have to earn it. You must demonstrate (by your own example) that you can tell if something is well-written or not; you must claim some kind of standing, whether as a defender of literature or a disappointed reader of Regency romances; you must not kick lousy or novice writers, but only those who really should know better.

It reminded me of a similar problem that confronted me when I used to review restaurants for the Claremont Courier. I didn't want to kick a modest place when it was already down. In those instances I preferred not to review the place at all (unless the owner insisted--this happened, and they were never ever grateful for the feedback). I needed to show my cooking/eating chops by explaining what had been done wrong, and how it should have been done (e.g., frying pommes frites in a single step rather than in two steps). And damn, it had to be funny, or at least sly. Once I reviewed a sports bar called Heroes. I reviewed it in heroic couplets.

Iambic verse makes not a courtly ballad;
therefore, I sing you now of taco salad.

The whites and browns of food are here most seen,
the least, the bane of little boys:  the Green.
Lettuce, pickles:  these are not unnerving;
Do jalapeƱos (stuffed) count as a Serving?
Why "Heroes"? for no bravery's required
(unless, perhaps, your charge card has expired):
the offerings familiar, their sole daring
a surcharge charged if you're inclined to sharing.
Desserts are straight from Mom, who did not bake
this apple pie, nor yet this chocolate cake.
Boys of all age and gender: here lies bliss!
and comfort food, for some, will taste like this.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Verses in the garden: an all-day poetry event

This Saturday, from 10 am to 3 pm, more than 75 poets will be reading poems about gardens, nature, the environment, life, death, and tomatoes, both others' work and their own. I am very pleased to have been part of organizing this event. I know most of you are far away, but if anyone is within driving distance, come for all or simply part of this lovely day. Plus, a huge sale on tomato plants!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Did the earth move for you too?

Sorry, I was going to post more about the writers' conference, but we just had a 5.4 earthquake, a long rolling one, which means that you sway around as though you were 20 stories up while you are sitting on the couch. My heart is still beating hard and I jump every time my husband sneezes, and it was two hours ago. We had some creaking and some rattling, but no damage, only a phone jolted out of its cradle. The bookcases held, thank heavens. We remember the 1990 earthquake. That one broke a lot of dishes:  they had all slid against the cabinet doors, and when we opened the doors, the dishes made a break for freedom (as you might say). Half the water in the aquarium sloshed out, though no fish. I was in a second-story office with a patient. The acoustic ceiling tiles flapped up and down for nearly a minute. I definitely screamed.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

AWP Seattle 2104, part 3: These 'translators' are traitors


One of the panel discussions I attended was given by people with university teaching jobs, presumably tenure-track, also terminal degrees, who asserted (aided by PowerPoint--I hate PowerPoint) that you did not need strong knowledge of the source language of a work to make a translation of it. While I was struggling with that one, asking myself how you would know if the trot you had started with had correctly dealt with the faux amis, someone else on the panel asserted that you could use the text as a starting point and perform erasures or riffs, and still call your result a translation.

This is waaay too po-mo for me. My big ethical dilemma with translating was more on the order of "should I re-write it so that it's better in English than it was in the original, or just let the author's clumsiness shine on its own?" This is of course regarding translations of technical articles, not poetry or plays. But, not even to know the source language well enough to work through it on your own--! and still to call it a translation--!! I mean, if you don't love the original enough to want to bring it across into another language, why even bother to call it a translation? Why not 'inspired by' or 'suggested by' or even 'provoked by'? It reminds me of a guy I met in my callow youth in the
Sixties, who maintained that it was wrongly narrow to insist that a sonnet have 14 lines and a given rhyme scheme. You could, he proclaimed, have a perfectly good two-line sonnet. No, you can't.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

AWP Seattle part two: I'm more Zen than you are, nyah nyah nyah


Tiny teapot in millefiore glass, seen through glass, next to glass, reflected in glass. In the lobby of the Seattle Sheraton, host to the AWP convention.

 More adventures with writers:  I learned that the gym on the 35th floor had floor-to-ceiling windows, perfect for checking out views and photo-ops. I hopped in the elevator and brightly shared my plan with my fellow traveler. Remote and controlled, he replied that he preferred to experience the moment unmediated, the better to note the experience and use it later in his writing. Pompous jack-ass, I thought, and replied that I liked to do both things. He looked away, smiled faintly.

Friday, March 14, 2014

3-14: Today is pi-day!

forever      and ever       and ever     and ever...

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

AWP Seattle 2014, Part One: How to Tell a Writer

First time I've attended this convention. 12,000 writers in a relatively small space. At least 3,000 poets!! How can you tell the writers out on the street, aside from the convention's tote bags? It seemed to me that writers don't necessarily dress fancy or even cool (it's cooler not to be too cool), until they get to the shoes. Women and men sported truly eye-catching footwear. Many boots, of course--Seattle in February--although the weather was spookily warm and dry, boots with buttons and straps and HEELS, shoes in the latest neon pastels and with more subtle design. I dared take photos only of people with their backs to me, which ruled out most of my shoe-lurkation shots. Still, a person can gawk and nudge her companion and point.