Saturday, October 24, 2009

What I'm reading...

I seem perpetually incapable of finishing what it is I'm reading. I have about 20 partially read books laying about my apartment, and what's more is that they are extremely good books. I have always had problem with distraction, but I think also that the more excited I am during something, the more I want to leave it. Whether this is because I don't want to be disappointed, because I want some sort of subconscious reflective period to let everything sink in, or something altogether strange and individual, I have no idea.

Does anyone else have a hard time finishing books?

It's especially strange given the fact that were I to enumerate the page counts of what I have partially read, I believe I'd probably be considered considerably well-read by most accounts.

But what I'm reading now. Absent Magazine, which has a series of poems by Matthew Klane which I have been taken by. Their sense of rhyme and rhythm is very interesting to me. I lately have been focusing very much on the rhythm of my poems. I've experimented with a number of different things, including occasional internal rhyme, and I have a feeling Klane's poems hold some answers for me.

Additionally, I have been reading both Native Son and The Invisible Man for lord knows how long. They are both potentially life changing reads for me. I can't know yet, since I haven't lived much life since having started them. haha.

And finally, Bill Bryson's The Mother Tongue, which has the greatest chance, currently, of being completed. I love the English language, and this book makes me think about and love it so much more, that it seems actually to have the potential to inspire my poetry, despite being a book of non-fiction.

My new job starts in 2 days. We'll see how drastically that affects my writing, my blogging, and my ability to afford (hopefully non-junk)food for the pantry.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

I am a walking stereotype

Today I interviewed at Borders for a position. A poet who works at a bookstore/coffee shop. I can't wait to hear back from them. Cough.

But money has never been more tight, I don't think. Which is a shame, because this will be my second job, if I get it (my first starts the 26th) and next month is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), something I'd like very much to participate in. And I may still, but man that's going to be one hell of a month. I already have a little bit of a novel written, and some outline done, so maybe it won't be so bad. Yeah.

But even the prospect of writing a novel brings about a certain amount of unease which poetry doesn't bring me. For instance, what I have written is potentially humorous, and would probably be classified in fantasy, though not high fantasy. And I'm already wondering, were I to sell the book to a publisher, would I want to use a pen name. There's that kind of a prejudice for genre fiction. I know it's stupid, and stupider (ha!) to worry about what I'm going to do when I break big on the novel I plan on writing in 30 days. But poets are daydreamers, when they aren't around a pen, aren't they?

In other news, I went to a reading by Frank X. Walker yesterday, and had to stand in the hallway to listen in. There is something very heart-warming even in seeing someone else get that kind of reception for poetry. At one point, someone asked Frank what kind of prejudice had he received as an African-American poet (people love that question, don't they? I think everyone revels, a little, in our struggle. haha) and he answered something along the lines that he didn't get a lot of prejudice for being black, but sometimes quite a bit from fiction writers. Anyone who is a poet will know why I think that's hilarious.

Onward, into more writing, more reading, more studying, more working, more applying for jobs. Always more, and seemingly, always for less money.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Memorable poems

I feel simultaneously well-read, and lacking in that department, and it's because I spend so much of my time reading literary journals and so little time reading poetry books. I rarely get to read a full collection. But I have been reading "Don't Let me Be Lonely" by Claudia Rankine and so far (about halfway through) it's one of the best books of poetry I've ever read. I don't even know why I bought it. There was a time where I would buy books on a whim, and this book was born of that.

I'll maybe give it a book review when I'm done, but for now, I want to talk about a blog entry from one of my favorite online purveyors of poetry, Linebreak. In this blog, Carolyn Guinzio notes that "“Memorable” is a quality that may have nothing to do with greatness." And she's right. I have read classics that while impressive upon reading them, I have since wholly forgotten, and banal songs from commercials that will sleep with me in my grave. So what makes a poem memorable? Or better, what makes a poem both great, and memorable (since a sufficiently terrible poem might become memorable in itself)?

It's the sort of question I imagine does more harm to poetry than good, if it is sought after. It's the sort of thing which I imagine musicians are thinking about when they write their next bubblegum hit. But I recognize that this may be some sort of inherent bias I have: that greatness can't be manufactured, it must be organic. And perhaps that isn't true.

It is a frightening thing to imagine that one might go his entire life writing only one or the other type of poem, the great poem which doesn't stick with us, or the memorable so-so poem.

Or can a poem truly be great if it can be forgotten?

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Poetics of Class

One of my favorite blogs, for southern boys who consider poetry, recently posted a blog about class in America. Class has always been an interest of mine. I've always believed that while race has been one of America's most persistent problems, it has constantly been used to justify another of our problems: classism. I think that we often have a dangerous amount of things in common with members of our own class, and that racism promotes the fracturing of our numbers so that we rarely remain dangerous to anyone but our own.

This isn't to say that I believe that when racism shows its face that the person behind it is choosing to promote classism, but that ultimately, a racist is helping to ensure that the gap between classes remains firmly set.

But the aforementioned blog notes that while class is a central issue in our politics and our day to day lives, we have very little language to describe those gaps.

Says the blog:

Most Americans refer to themselves as “middle class” while statistics show that most us aren’t “middle class” by a long shot. The language of class seems to be hyperbolic at best. Sure, we can name what it means to be exorbitantly wealthy or extremely poor, but where are the words to describe the rest of us?

It goes on:

If I accept the idea that poetry emphasizes creative and innovative use of language; that poetry allows us to name what, previously, was beyond the grasp of words, how can I not think about class?

I found myself thinking about that divide, and how here in Northern Kentucky, as blissfully ignorant as I try to remain about social class, and as successful as I largely have been able to be, this sort of thing creeps into even my daily life.

The blog mentions, at one point: "Who among us will write poems for Gary, Indiana? Who among us will write poems for Detroit, Michigan? Who among us will write poems for Newark, New Jersey?" If that's not a call to action, I don't know what is. So following is my response in this conversation about class:

First Day of School, Bus 95

Where do I live? I'd pause a second,
then say Villa Hills, watching their eyes.
Because you can tell by them. If they bristle,
it's more than they'll ever say to my face.

And I'll want to say how in California,
we were robbed during school hours,
our piggybanks shattered, their hearts stolen:
10 dollars, maybe, in quarters.
Say that we only had a single floor,
how there was no sidewalk, no real yard,
that the side of the house was a graveyard
of dirt that would grow no grass, how the pungent
smell of weeds reminds me even now of childhood,
and how I'd watch our neighbor every morning,
walking barefoot back from the liquor store,
with a brown paper bag in her hand.

But my uncle left us this house
to give us a chance. So I say nothing.

Or upon hearing where I live,
the eyes will remain calm
as indoor swimming-pool water,
warm and familiar; they live there too.
We'll become cordial , but won't ask
where the other lives, won't ask why
we've never seen one another,
because unlike Ludlow or Covington--
where kids walk the broken sidewalks,
and play football in the streets,
and in the warm days of summer,
sit in lawn chairs at the stoops--
you can go days looking out the windows
in Villa Hills and see only an occasional
jogger, or a homeowner trimming
their trees or edging their lawns.

It is not yet 8 o’clock, the first day of school,
and I've already sworn to myself
that I will never mention where I'm from
without having been asked, and even then,
however it is that I really feel,
I will never say it with a smile.

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Carolina Chocolate Drops at EKU

Went on a mini-road trip with my brother and my friend Ashley to see the Carolina Chocolate Drops at Eastern Kentucky University. I am somewhat adverse to sharing music, since it seems like I never agree with anyone as to what constitutes good music (okay, that's not entirely true, but here in Northern Kentucky, I just don't know many other people who listen to rap, period). But in any case, here it is:

The Carolina Chocolate Drops were featured in issue of Pluck!, so there's some Affrilachian connection there, but beyond that, they're just a really amazing band. Besides the sheer range of instruments each person can play, Rhiannon Giddens danced the Charleston at one point. I mean. Seriously. Danced the Charleston.

A part of me doesn't want to go into this, because I know as artists, they are probably like me; simultaneously proud of their black heritage, but unwilling to be the token example of diversity.

But I don't know, something about performing your art outside of where you are 'welcome,' and still winning over the audience has always really inspired me. TCCD performed Hit 'Em Up Style at the Grand Ole Opry and got a standing ovation. I'm not just talking about blacks performing in mainstream, though. Or in this case, blacks in an old-time string band, which you might not expect. No, I mean any culture pushing into any other, and being appreciated for what it has to offer.

And it's not the classic underdog situation. Not to me. It's more about how art, done well, can so often bridge gaps between us. Often, that bridge is as transient as the band playing, or the poem being read, and the people who willfully hate a culture or people will go on hating, despite that one good memory they have of something that transcended them.

But every so often, art proves to be what connects us, no matter the distance we engender between us, or any real physical separation that we can do little to overcome. It's much harder to hate, or to misunderstand, someone the more you find to love about them. Which is why it's so easy for someone to steal from a stranger, and is often so hard for them to do it from their own mother. Art can complete us, as a people.

And I think that's the truest testament to good art, and the noblest notion that it can achieve.