Saturday, November 30, 2013

Free Feels Good

Good for dry skin

I won a gift certificate to a creole restaurant months ago.  Fresh 102.7 called and told me I could have this instead.  Okay!

For visitors who don't shake like crazy from the amount of caffeine in this coffee.

Good for dry hair

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Can't Take These Dang Kids Anywhere

Display in the middle of the large hallway
My parents
And of course, in husband
This is my life.  Wouldn't change it one bit.  Now I'm wondering what my brother is up to.....

Saturday, November 16, 2013

What ModPo Means

Before this past summer, I heard about this massive online course about modern and contemporary poetry through Coursera out of UPenn from one of the poets in my virtual workshop group.  There was also some information about it in some of the messages of WomPo, a poetry listserv to which I subscribe.  I looked it up and saw it began on my birthday, which was around the time of the beginning of this Fall's semester.  I was to begin my stint as Creative Writing Project Coordinator, and I'd be teaching a brand new course, Early British Literature to 1800 online.  Lots of new things were already planned, but this course sounded so interesting.  Oh, and it was FREE.  We all know my feelings about all things FREE.

A MOOC is a massive open online course.  Lots of higher ed banter has been emerging about the effectiveness of MOOCs as true educational paths.  Can anyone actually learn on a MOOC?  What does it say about the need for teachers in a classroom?  Will MOOCs take over the world?  Will the computers win?  You know, typical hyperbolic commentary in the world of academia.

I was in a place of wanting to do something different.  I wanted to brush up on contemporary poetry.  I wanted to take a class again.  I've been involved with online education. I like free. This ModPo thing seemed like a good choice.  And so, on my birthday, I signed on and started posting.  Since I live my life on the computer, it was natural to click around, start typing, read around, type more.  I found interesting threads.  I found the syllabus.  I began reading my assignments.  I broke out a new notebook and took notes.  Simple class.  Interesting poems.  I liked it.

Then I clicked on the video discussion.  There was Professor Al Filreis and his merry band of TA's.  He quickly broke down the poem into parts, assigning words and phrases to each of the eager and willing TA's.  The next 20 minutes, I took notes feverishly, pausing and reading the closed captioning at some points, and then going back to the poem, making a-ha notes mentally.  This was more than I'd expected.  I was in a virtual classroom.  I couldn't respond to the group in real time.  However, the discussion boards were a click away.

The video ended and took me to a link for the forums for that week, and more specifically, to the poem's subforum.  To earn a certificate, I needed to post just once to one subforum for the week.  The certificate will go into my file for promotion, to prove I did something to improve upon my knowledge and skills, to prove I've developed myself in some way professionally.  However, just one post?  Nonsense.  Unheard of.

Sometimes Eddie and I do really stupid things when we're alone at home.  Sometimes we fence with those twirly sticks you're supposed to use to change the direction of the blinds.  Sometimes we see who can make the most annoying noise for the longest amount of time.  Once, I jumped into the middle of the living room and yelled, What if I danced like this in public?, and then crouched down and popped back up while wildly flailing my arms and biting on my lower lip.  When I stopped, he said to me, Sometimes you scare me because you get really into it.  I responded, What's the point of half-assing it?  You've got to be committed.  He agreed, I should be committed.

So there was no way I was going to post only once to one subforum.  This was something I was committed to, just like the fencing, the annoying noises, and the purposefully bad dancing.  It was going to be fun and passionate.  I was going to read and respond.  I was not going to teach.  I was going to learn.  I have shared a lot of my previous knowledge along the way, but I've also learned so much.  So very much.

Since September 7, I've spend my Sundays glued to the computer, reading all the assigned poems, watching the corresponding videos, and posting to each discussion board, almost every subforum, over and over.  I've virtually met some of the most interesting and intelligent people I've ever encountered.  I've also found people who understand the kind of humor involved in joking about poets and literature and the English language.  It's not everyday that you can make a pun with the word "it" and have people rolling in the aisles.  They get me.  I get them.  It's a nice little community there on those boards, even if it's not in real time and we haven't physically met.

I completed several writing assignments, and I've offered peer feedback.  How long has it been since I've been assigned to write an essay?  Ha!  Approaching the page to write a top-down thesis-driven essay from the learner side of the desk excited me.  This is why I'm a teacher.  I get excited about writing critical essays.  This is not the experience of my students, I'm sure, but I was able to tell my writing classes, Hey, I just wrote an essay on Monday and I followed the guidelines I'm telling you and it came out successfully, so I know what I'm talking about.  It was nice affirmation that I actually do know what I'm doing in the classroom. 

Then, week by week, I kept checking into the discussion boards, day by day, getting involved in deeper and longer discussions, so that each week started to flow into the next, poem by poem, poet by poet, analysis by analysis.  The world of poetry became my world, and I encountered some of the same people in other circles like Goodreads and Twitter.  Small world.

I've missed the live webcasts.  This thing called work has gotten in the way of my ModPo learning.  These webcasts happen while I'm in class, teaching about sentence boundaries and paragraph structure, or while I'm grading papers, lots and lots of papers.  I still like doing those things, but I missed out on the full experience of the course.  However, even as soon as this semester, I've used what I've learned.  For my Comp II class, writing about literature, I've always taught a William Carlos Williams poem; I re-learned that same poem at the beginning of ModPo, and when I taught it, it was a brand new lesson complete with soundbites and a new perspective on plums.  Though I missed out on the webcasts, I've still gotten what I hoped--a fresher view.

I have a fresher view on poems I've read and taught before.  I have a fresher view on contemporary poetry in poets I've never heard of.  I have a better understanding of different movements, especially the Modernists.  I have a stronger grasp on language, its uses and its drawbacks.  I have a better sense of the poetry world and its pedagogy.  I have an up-close perspective on MOOCs and how they function in education.  I have a new understanding of what academia can be.

I got much more than that, though.  I never could have imagined or expected this outcome.  I have greater emotional connections to poetry.  I have greater emotional connections to my own thoughts.  I feel a new creative spark.    I have higher hopes for the world of writing, the world of academia, and the world at large.  I'm a different person, a better person, and even though the language is out there, I simply can't put into words how thankful I am to have experienced this ten-week journey.

I suppose simplicity is sometimes the best language: Thank you, Al Filreis, Julia Bloch, Anna, Max, Kristen, Emily, Amaris, Dave, Ali, and Molly...and from the boards....Mandana, Judy, Allan, Tracy, Tracy, Eleanor, Sangeet, Massimo, Therese, Michael, Anthony, Carol, and everyone else who welcomed my opinions and offered your own. Simply, thanks.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Finishing The Maze for the First Time

It took three tries and extra help to get all the stamps and crossword answers to finally complete the maze at Queens Farm.  AF and SMM proved to be really helpful to Eddie and me in navigating through corn stalks and finding mailboxes and clues.  AF, fired up as usual, ran around the maze, finding the first five boxes in a matter of five minutes.  Pretty impressive.  We continued to find box after box, clue after clue, passing by women with carriages who looked down-trodden, one woman in particular looking as if she were about to pass out, and some women and children who we began the maze with who somehow finished and waved to us from the bridge while we were mid-search (I think they did not get all the stamps on the puzzle--it's impossible).  Then there was the guy who was roaming around on his own.  We passed him several times.  AF and I decided he was a murderer.  I think he was practicing how to run from the cops.

After what seemed like ten hours, SMM claimed that he was having fun but just wanted to get the fuck out of the maze.  That pretty much sums up how we all felt.  Really, it's fun at first, but then when you pass the same boxes and clues about 87 times, it wears you down. Not helpful were the folks who sit in the tower in the middle of the maze who play bad music and make unfunny jokes.  Also not helpful are the folks on the bridge who congratulated us on finding the beginning of the maze when we tried backtracking and indeed found ourselves at the entrance (which is actually next to the exit, so we were so close yet so far). Then the folks in the middle asked everyone, I bet you're all looking for number four.  Yes! Yes we were looking for number four.  They said, Yup, that's the hardest one to find!  Then they said nothing else.  So instead of help, they were really rubbing in the fact that we couldn't get the fuck out.

Plus, part of the maze smelled like horses.  Horses smell gross.  We needed to find the end.

Somehow, as if they were touched by the maze gods, SMM went one way and AF and Eddie went the other, and they all came back with new information.  SMM  had found four and AF and Eddie had found the exit.  I had found nothing and was standing there, sweaty and confused.  BUT we quickly got stamp four and then quickly made our way out and avoided having to be interviewed by the woman on the bridge.  Instead, we watched all the flags moving throughout the maze back and forth back and forth, lost and confused as we had been.

The rest of the farm was simple.  Picked a pumpkin.  Pet an alpaca.  Left without having to deal with too many screaming children. 

Live band at the casino!
With the morning fun over, a few hours later, we found ourselves at Resorts World Casino.  The first thing I did was sit at a Wheel Of Fortune slot machine, hit a spin, and then hit $100 on the spin.  I cashed out.  The best time we had was watching SMM play The Hangover slots.  He hit on a bonus and then sat there for about five minutes while the machine basically did its own thing.  Its own thing included lots of winning without any effort.  I didn't have much luck after that, lost on a Sex and the City game, and left thirty bucks lighter than when I arrived.  Still, we'd been entertained by a large man in a white suit singing Justin Timberlake and Bruno Mars at the bar, so it was like paying for an impersonator concert.  Not too bad of a deal.

This year, we did not carve a pumpkin.  Instead, we drew on it and glued things to it.  Less mess.  Still a great pumpkin.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Sitting Next To My High School English Teacher, Thinking About Poetry

Poets Forum is becoming my annual poet getaway for a day.  Heading into the city on a peak train.  Walking through the rush of tailend of rush hour.  Sitting all day listening to poets talk about poetry.  Ooh, and they serve flavored tea.  It's a little bit of heaven.

And, walking through the city, I get to see things like this:

Kevin Larimer, Editor of Poets & Writers spoke first. He told me a lot of what I already know, but lots of the audience scribbled down his every word, so it was obviously stuff people don't know.  I know that people don't know it because I'm an editor, and almost half the submissions are proof that people cannot follow instructions.  What he did say that was helpful, something I've never really thought about, was if you submit to a hard copy journal, research their distribution.  If they have none, then no one will be reading your work.  Hmm.  Tru dat.  He also said some things that made me think I should update the Nassau Review guidelines again, so it actually did help me in my professional capacity, which is what I wrote on the paperwork to get my job to pay for my train ticket, which means I wasn't lying.

Poetic Explorations with Kevin Varrone, Lee Ann Brown, and Rachel Eliza Griffiths: this panel discussed the use of organizing principles and themes to develop work.

Kevin Varrone discussed box score: an autobiography.  It's his recent collection available as an app.  His poems are in the form of virtual baseball cards.  They can be read in any order.  They include music.  This is a poet who has crossed the verge of something wonderful, creating something wonderful.  I downloaded the app.  Uh. May. ZING!

Lee Ann Brown discussed how coverlets and patterns and the Appalachians influenced her collection.  She has a river poem in her collection; it runs line by line across the bottom of the pages.  I am a lazy poet.  I would never do that.  Because I'm lazy. 

Rachel Eliza Griffiths discussed her obsession with fictional characters and their possible alternative outcomes.  Her collection offers poems in persona; she climbed into the minds of these fictional characters and wrote from their perspectives.  When she read from her collection, she made me feel like I couldn't possibly ever put together a worthy sentence again.

The Poetic Impulse with Lia Purpura and Ken Chen: this panel discussed what drives a poet to write poetry instead of using other art forms.

Lia Purpura reminisced about a quote book she and her friends mailed back and forth to each other when she was a teenager, collection overhead conversations, movie titles, and headlines to collect language.  She discussed playing the oboe, leading me to wonder yet again, "what is it with writers and oboes?"

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Allure Of The Oboe

Lydia Davis has long been one of my favorite writers. Since college, I've followed her tales of quirky, funny, sarcastic, witty banter. Last year, I saw her at the Y and was psyched (she read with Per Serstead, whose name I'm spelling wrong who read an awful book about a horse that was named one of the best books of 07 by the NYTimes--seriously, a horse?). Now, I finally finished The Short Stories of Mary Gordon. I am convinced that she and Lydia Davis share a brain. At times I had to remind myself that I wasn't reading Davis, I was reading Gordon. They have the same tone, same point of view. Only Gordon's book was over 400 pages and there were only so many stories I could take.

The oddest similarity I found was that when they speak of music, they both speak of the oboe. Is this a common thing among writers? Am I missing a very important part of the writing process? Should I take up the oboe? Aside from the oboe being very phallic and funny to say, is there a greater symbol I'm missing? Does anyone really play the oboe anymore? 
She pondered, "What sparks a poem?," indicating that the answer of "I don't know" really does not help others who want an answer, so instead of not paying attention to where her poems come from, she made a list of things that sparked her poems in her most recent collection, which included: events that have no language in an attempt to find language for them; odd kinds of sadness; attempts to describe emotions never felt before; sound.

Finally, she indicated that diligence and desire make up a poet's work.  Sitting down creates a space for work even if sometimes nothing comes to fruition.

Ken Chen pointed out that non-poets and non-poetry-readers have a difficult time figuring out what makes a good poem.  He recalled the first poem he really enjoyed about a cave boy, stating that metaphors in a poem have an intuitive logic that makes poetry. Poetry models a certain kind of thinking; poetry is an art of intimacy. The spark of poetry is subject matter plus inspiration, and we can easily steal from other art forms as well as lines of other's people poetry that create the materiality of language.

He then said something about poetry that is true but I'd never really thought about: a poem's perspective cannot be wrong.  Hm.  How about that?  This is when I really started to like Ken Chen (I liked him already when he began his talk by saying he ran away as a kid, he hated all this language stuff because English was not his first language, and then said he thought it was all bullshit--heh heh).

Finally, he said that we are in an age of poetics rather than poetry.  We are learning how to become more embodied in writing that than intellectualizing poetry itself.  We are getting in touch with the scrappy trash side of language.

Blaney Lecture: Carolyn Forche's "Not Persuasion But Transport: The Poetry Of Witness"
Carolyn Forche began her lecture by saying she was so nervous because she didn't realize how large of an audience she'd have.  Then she talked about how when she was abroad, she heard automatic gunfire going off and was told that was how they applauded.  She's been in the presence of automatic weaponry, yet we made her nervous.  She discussed the life of wandering and how the poem is ghosted language carrying images of suffering.  The role of the poet is to have responsibility to support all writers and their writing, especially those who face political struggle.

Also from her lecture: knowledge and wisdom require time and evaluation; literature requires sustained contemplation.  We live between two unknown realms: before birth and after death.  The art we make is communication for our descendants; what we leave behind is what we hope for the future.

In the morning, as I sat sipping my first cup of orange tea, I saw two familiar faces, two women who had taken my poetry workshop at the Graphic Eye Gallery this past year.  They sat with me.  We chatted about how our writing has been going.  The caught me up on things going on with women in the group, all of whom are very busy and most of whom are nearing or past the age of retirement (one is in her 90s, and during our workshop, when I prompted them to revise the poems they'd written during the first half, she announced, "Well, I liked what I wrote so I didn't change anything."  And because she's in her 90s, she can totally do that.  Who's gonna fight with a 90-year-old?).  

What made this day even better was that for most of the day, I sat next to Ms. W.  After the first panel, there was a longish break during which I sat tweeting and eating a sandwich I'd brought in with me because I travel nowhere without food.  When the second panel was about to begin, I looked up and saw her standing in our row of seats.  We  hugged.  It was delightful. 

This is why I love Ms. W.  After the third break, we were discussing how the room was filling up with more and more people.  There were two empty seats in front of us, but one had been occupied, so I said, I wonder if that woman is coming back.  She replied, Oh, you mean Coughing Woman?  Heh heh heh. During the previous panel, the woman had been clearing her throat and trying to do that thing where you quietly take out a cough drop when we all know that cough drops come in the loudest packaging ever so not only does your cough interrupt everything, but so does your trying not to.  So Ms. W called her Coughing Woman just as I would refer to her as Coughing Woman, which is why we get along.  And when I indicated my lazy-poet status after seeing the river in the collection her friend bought, she laughed at me, and I like when people get me. She was the first person to publish my writing in our high school literary journal, so she totally totally gets me.  We also shared a love for Mandy Patinkin when he starred in Chicago Hope.  We totally get each other.

On my way home, I was inspired by this:

And puzzled by this:

as it was still October.  Twas the season of pumpkins, not Christmas trees.  Now tis the season of turkeys.  Jack's is a little ahead of itself.

Regardless of the season, Poets Forum proved inspiring and wonderful yet again.  Now I should go write some poetry.

Friday, November 1, 2013

You Want Free? I Got Free

This month, the mail made me happy. 

Free to give away to someone else for free.  Do people really tweet at Kotex?

With these, we saw Captain Phillips.

Turns shower time into Fairy Tale time.

Sometimes free is dangerous as in I was shaking all day after drinking this.

This did not smell good. 

Yummy.  And no shakes.

 The cold brew Keurig stuff has me puzzled. You brew it in the machine, so it comes out hot.  You pour it into a cup that's filled with ice.  Somehow this is supposed to make it cold.  It doesn't.  Only the sips you take that crowd around the ice cubes are cold, but the rest streams around the cube hot, so it's cold/hot.  Then the next few cups of coffee taste like ass. The box suggests you run water through the machine once before and once after, but I suggest you do it once times one hundred.

Ah, Jordan Catalano
There's more on the horizon.  I can feel it.