Category Archives: General
Here’s me reading “The Hunters” at Monday Night Blues. It’s one of the poems I read on-air today on Questions That Bother Me So with Katrina Murphy.
This afternoon I was on Questions That Bother Me So, an Internet radio show hosted by my dear friend Katrina Murphy. Somehow Katrina and I have actually only known each other for about two years, though I don’t know how that’s possible as we have such a rich connection. Perhaps we both recognized that God put us in each other’s lives for a reason, and so we were immediately open to each other. Whatever the reason, I am grateful to have her in my life and was delighted at the luxury of chatting with her for two hours.
I just read a Facebook post from the writer Anne Lamott. She was writing about a reading she just gave in a small bookstore. Not having yet published a full collection, I have read at numerous small venues—churches, bars, a classroom on an HBCU campus, the back room of a store that used to be a restaurant.* I am used to the intimate audience, the audience that shows up because they truly love you or they truly love poetry or, in the best cases, both.
Katrina and I met at such an intimate venue—Charleston’s East Bay Meeting House, where the indefatigable (and talented) James Lundy, Jr. hosts Monday Night Poetry. My MFA classmate and ace poet and occasional cocktail buddy and sweet friend Sandra Beasley had read there, and she posted a Facebook note encouraging folks to find their way to Charleston. So I sent Mr. Lundy—as he used to be known once upon a time till I started affectionately and joshingly just calling him Lundy—an e-mail asking to read there, chock full of the assorted credentials I’ve pulled together over the years. Surprisingly he said yes, and I found myself heading to Charleston that October.
Katrina read at the open mike portion, and afterwards warmheartedly invited me to go out for cocktails with her and some of the other poets and friends of poets who were there. I can’t describe how well taken care of—to borrow a phrase from Katrina—I felt. These people who had not known me at all the day before, and knew only what they could know of me after listening to roughly 45 minutes of poems (which included the fact that I could carry a tune, write about blues musicians sometimes, and have a perennial crush on Christian Kane) welcomed me as if they had been waiting for me to come along and be their friend the whole time.
That’s the beauty of small venues—that you can make those connections, some for a lifetime (no way am I ever giving up Katrina) and some just for a moment, but all authentic and real and powerful and lasting in influence. It was at another small venue that I, for the first time, viscerally understood that something I wrote could be meaningful to someone else. It was at a small church on Cape Cod, and I can’t imagine for the life of me how I received an invitation to read as I hadn’t yet even published a chapbook. I think perhaps someone heard me on a Provincetown radio show that had been kind enough to have me on while I was living in town on a writing fellowship.
One of the poems I read that night was called “Poem for the Two Jemimas,” inspired by a beautiful story quilt by Faith Ringgold that features two robust, colorful women. The poem is a blues mourning the loss of identity that can be one of the down sides of losing weight. I myself had spent the better part of about a year, or maybe a year-and-a-half losing 75 or so pounds. I had moved from the city I’d lived in for six years to this little town on the edge of the world, and I was still coming to terms with my new body and how I was perceived by myself as well as others. All of that had percolated into this blues. After the reading, many in the audience—which was mostly women—offered kind words and congratulations. One woman asked if “The Two Jemimas” was published somewhere because she wanted to share it with a friend. I was so touched that I gave her the copy I’d read from. More than a decade later, I’m still stunned that she wanted to give someone else a page of my poetry.
On the show today, Katrina asked how a little girl from Queens grew up to be a poet. As I answered her, I was so aware of all the hands that have pushed me, prodded me, pulled me forward as I have loved, hated, grappled with, and cherished this talent God’s given me. I am grateful for all those many touches—some fleeting, some continuing, all profoundly life-changing. Ultimately, that’s why I write, to honor what they have done for me. The poet Sterling Plumpp once told me that for every poet and poem, there is a reader. I take that to mean that I may never command large audiences, or be invited to read for an hour at the National Book Festival. I may never even publish a full collection. But even as I long for those things, I keep in mind that the important thing is not that I have the world’s largest audience, but that the poems find their way to the people who need to read them. And, perhaps a bit selfishly, that the poems also help me to find the people who I need to keep pushing, prodding, pulling, and making me know, without a shadow of a doubt, that I am well taken care of.
*Full Disclosure: I did read in Barnes and Noble two or three times when I lived in Chicago. But Chicago is an unusually receptive city for poetry events. People there have been known to given readings in the middle of restaurants standing on chairs while diners make their way through their courses. Ah, if only it weren’t so cold there…
For April—National Poetry Month—I’m trying my darnedest to write a poem each day. I don’t plan to post them here; the poor darlings will be too newborn to be out in the world any time soon. I did, however, want to share the draft I wrote today as it was a direct result of the “ecstasy of looking” I wrote about here. (And it’s also part of the Love Poems series I’ve been working on since last November. At least, I think it is…)
Poem Left in His Pocket on a Page Torn from a Book
I admit you still feel strange to me
in the most ordinary of ways:
how, for example, you look at me
as if I were enough or
how when I put the white tulips you sent
on the kitchen window sill and wait
for the sturdy light of morning
each yellow heart glows
and still, I do not weep.
On the one hand it’s appropriate to use this image because his words (albeit chopped up, shifted around, and taken completely out of context) have been influencing my work the last few weeks, and this is a post about being under the influence. On the other hand, I feel bad using it because maybe he’s the faithful type. (Michael Fassbender at Prometheus premiere by BollywoodHungama)
1. I think sometimes I am influenced less by poets than by poems: the repetition and imagination in Joy Harjo’s “She Had Some Horses” and Denise Duhamel’s “Mille et Une Sentiments,” the mingling of grief and anger and love in Robert Hayden’s “Those Winter Sundays,” the actual words of Federico Garcia Lorca’s “Casida of the Weeping.” But there are poets too whose way of writing, whose gestures constantly leak into my work: Maureen Seaton (who started everything and made me unafraid to play with language, even if it wasn’t mine), Carl Phillips (he is not the first poem to use the construction “Consider…” but it stuck after I first read him, not to mention he told me it was okay to binge write). This may not mean anything to you if you’re not a poet or you don’t care about poetry. But still, it bears thinking about—what sticks and what doesn’t? What do we hold onto and what do we let go?
2. I have written a lot of love poems for someone who has never been in love. I mean maybe I loved a young man once but even at this distance of decades, I don’t know quite what it was we had. He made me angry and I felt pretty when I was with him, but if we ever kissed—especially the night I asked him to “give me a real kiss”—I don’t remember.
3. All the men I grew up with cheated—my father, his father, his brothers. On my mother’s side, too (though maybe not her stepfather). They thought only that they could make themselves enough if they had many women. Nobody considered that the little girls who adored them would learn to never trust a man who was supposed to love them.
4. Another man, a man who played the clarinet,grabbed my ankle as he crouched on the floor closing up his clarinet case, my hands full of the kitchen props that had to be washed up next door after a performance of the show we were both working on. We went to bed together, and I could have loved him, I think, if he hadn’t moved to New York a few days later, and that was true I think even when I saw him in New York years after but couldn’t understand that he was saying he worked at Cafe Wha.
5. In the mid to late 1990s, the poet Ed Hirsch wrote a book of love poems, some of which were in the voices of different people from history—like Colette (strange to think now there was a time before I knew and revered her). Maybe I am writing these poems in persona too, as someone who knows a thing or two about love. I hope it’s not really my voice that’s bleeding through. I’ve used the words grief, hunger, shame too much already. I suppose I could blame the source material (half the poems were found in interviews with an actor some of whose movies were called shame and hunger, some of whose movies involved men who were only robots or who would flirt with a teenager even as they bedded her mother), but I was the one who decided to use those texts. I was the one who wanted to reap love poems from those rocky words.
I spent last weekend in Charleston, South Carolina. To quote Fairground Attraction, “I ate too much, drank too much, penniless again…..” But I also featured at Monday Night Poetry & Music at the East Bay Meeting House hosted by Jim Lundy. Here are a couple of videos from the reading (thanks to my wonderful sister and ace cameraperson Debbie Beete!).
“Blues for a Pretty Girl”
A lovely morning of drinking coffee, writing (a way crazy poem!), and reading Living Etc.
Spoils form the farmers market: broccoli, spinach, and asparagus. Also picked up radicchio for grilling, corn, and lots of fruit from Whole Foods.
The lovely Monica from Sugar Paperie was at the Fenton Street Market this morning, and I was happy to stock up on some cards. Tomorrow she’ll be downtown again, I think, at the Handmade Mart. Can’t wait!
May 15, 2010
Silver Spring, Maryland
I’ve been working on converting my “junk” closet into a walk-in clothes closet. Surprisngly simply changing which closet I hang my clothes in has made a huge difference in me actually hanging them up (as opposed to piling them on the bed for weeks and weeks as the sleeping space grows smaller and smaller. . . but I digress).
I bought this poster years ago on EBay—before I’d even been to Au Bon Marche for real—and had it mounted “billboard-style.” I almost gave it away as it’s been in storage for a few years, but I’m glad I never got around to it. The letterpress print is by Dylan Fareed courtesy of 20×200.com in a giltwod thrifted frame. I’m also rebuilding my milk glass collection, which sorta disappeared somewhere between Takoma Park and Silver Spring.
This was my weekend project. This is one side of a triptych of framed screen that was made for hanging jewelry. I think it works better as a one-sie myself. (The ceramic tile is also thrifted—I bought it because it reminded me of how much I loved visiting New Mexico.)
The screen on this panel was ripped, so I just tore it all off and jerry-rigged something from strips of fancy yarn and hookeye screws. I had actually seen something similar on one of the blogs I follow—an empty photo frame with the earrings hung from wire stretched across the back.—and I’d been dying to try it. (BTW, the middle section, which also has five pegs for necklaces, is currently under the coffee table awaiting its final upcycling.)
As you can tell I sorta buy green earrings obsessively. Seeing them all hanging in a row every time I walk by the closet (both earring frames are on the outside walls of the closet) is making me very happy indeed.
“Self Portrait with Strong Brows and Red Lips,” 4/25/10, Silver Spring
So you may have noticed a suspicious number of not-really-home posts popping up on the blog. Like that crazy pair of heels I was drooling over last week, or my latest musing on why I like taking self-portraits. The more I write The Home Beete and the more I explore the web in search of items to feature, the more apparent it becomes that the range of things I want to evangelize about are way broader than I ever imagined. I considered for a while starting a separate style blog and another blog for “musings,” but in reality—that’s not the way my brain works. I’ll happily jump from raving about a great dress to ranting about a wonderful piece of art to running on about my “uniform” all in the same conversation . . . and, sometimes, even the same sentence. Soooo, the new expanded definition of The Home Beete is that it’s a place to find me at home — where, usually from my magazine strewn bed, I’m looking, learning, shaking my head, and making long long wish lists that I then share with you. Hopefully even with this more diverse focus, you’ll still have as much fun reading along as I do putting together The Home Beete!
That being said . . . I think I need to bid adieu to William Carlos Williams as a tag line. Any ideas for a replacement?