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Darkness With a Pinch of Sugar Sweetness

Human Dark With Sugar by Brenda Shaughnessy arrived in the mail from the American Academy of Poets and I was pleased because I haven’t read a book of poetry in some time. I think that it is only fair that I review this book on this, the last day of National Poetry Month. This second book of poetry from Shaughnessy won the James Laughlin Award.

The first section of the book is Anodyne, also known as a pain-killer. This section of the book is not euphoric by any means. It is almost as if she is attempting to kill the pain with the sharpness of her words. For instance in “I’m Over the Moon:”
“How long do I try to get water from a stone?/It’s like having a bad boyfriend in a good band.// Better off alone. I’m going to write hard/and fast into you, moon, face-f**king.//”

The second section of the book is Ambrosia, from the Greek mean of food or drink of the gods that confers immortality on the consumer. Is the narrator of Shaughnessy’s poems interested in immortality? One of my favorite poems from this section is “Three Sorries,” particularly the “1. I’m Sorry” section of the poem:

“Soon 1. born 1970
2. Cried: all along
3. Loved: you really so very much and no others

blurred into: 1. begging off for the dog-years behavior
2. extra heart hidden in sock drawer
3. undetected slept with others”

It seems as though she really is not sorry for her actions or the events leading up to the incident. It’s amazing how many of these poems appear apologetic and wistful on the surface, but then turn to sarcasm and bleakness.

The third section is Astrolabe or astronomical instrument to surveying, locating, and predicting the positions of the sun, moon, and stars. I think the best illustration of this concept is Shaughnessy’s “A Poet’s Poem.”

“I will get the word freshened out of this poem.// I put it in the first line, then moved it to the second./ and now it won’t come out.// It’s stuck. I’m so frustrated,/ so I went out to my little porch all covered in snow// and watched the icicles drip, as I smoked/a cigarette.//” The poem ends quizzically: “I can’t stand myself.”

“No Such Thing as One Bee” is another poem that illustrates this need to pinpoint a location. Shaughnessy uses a narrator that is unsure of where they are in life and how they fit into the greater scheme. Where it is a busy worker bee or a bee that goes out to collect pollen. I guess you could almost equate it to the Bee movie with Jerry Seinfeld.

Overall, this is one of the better poetry books I have read in some time. I love the sarcastic and bleak language used by Shaughnessy in her poems. It’s the darkest side of humanity she examines, and she tries not to sugarcoat it, but sometimes, she just can’t help herself.

And the Winner Is…

Anna won this week’s Poetry Book contest for National Poetry Month. She received a volume of Yeats poems and selected plays.

I also want to alert you to the third contest for the month, again a volume of poetry. So it looks like this will be the last chance to win a volume of poetry for National Poetry Month. You’ll have to check out these National Poetry Month links to find out their secrets.

Those interested in the contest, please either post an original poem or your favorite poem in the comments by May 2, and I will post the winner on May 3.

Unfortunately, my aunt and Anna will not allowed to grace us with their witty poems this time around since they both already won a poetry volume. Even if you entered the last contest, please do enter again, with a different poem. Let’s Celebrate National Poetry Month.

2008 Bethesda Literary Festival Poetry Slam


Every Bethesda Literary Festival my husband and I attend the Poetry Slam, where the bravest poets get up, recite poems, and allow audience members to judge their work. The above photo shows you the top three in the poetry slam.

There are two rounds to the slam. In the first round, everyone interested in competing signs up at the door. Each poet gets three minutes to read or recite a memorized poem, for every 10 seconds over, they are penalized a half point. The first round consisted of 15 competitors. The second round consists of the top five or six poets from the previous round. Before readers begin, a calibration poet reads their poem to allow the judges to see what kind of work will be read, and the score received should guide the judges in their scoring of other poets during the competition based upon whether their work is better or worse than the calibration poem.

I want to point out a few things about the first round poets before moving onto the final round. The first poet to read was Paul, who I have equated to Abe Lincoln in the past because of his physical appearance. Usually, Paul bores us all to tears and the judges attempt to be nice and ignore his monotonous reading tone and depressing subject matter. This is the first time his poem was entertaining. The poem touched upon the struggles of a writer when dealing with critiques. The writer gets advice to remove a dune-buggy at first, then a trite romantic couple, etc., until there is nothing left to the story, except “I hate you; I hate you all.” Great ending to a poem, and his traditional monotone voice was replaced by a bit of wit and sarcasm.

Another of my favorites from the reading was Chris August, who started off his poem with “I have four words for you: You Are Not Special.” The poem touched upon the sense of entitlement in today’s society and how those who are truly special are those that need wheelchairs, additional attention throughout their lives, and other accommodations.

Curry and Dwayne B. both recited poems about love and hate and disappointment. Chris Wilson also recited a poem about love, love in spite of heartache. “I’m sorry I broke into your apartment and stole your shampoo:” one of Wilson’s lines. It had some great allusions to the Bare Naked Ladies and their “Old Apartment” song, with an obsessed lover twist. It was quite entertaining.

Tokia Carter, since I couldn’t get her first name either time it was announced, was spectacular. Her AmeriTruth Airlines poem with pilot George “crazy” Bush and co-pilot Dick “trigger happy” Chaney and flight attendant Condi Rice was fantastic. It touched upon terrorism, the terror alerts, the “supposed” freedoms of Americans, and politics.

The final poet from the first round that I have to talk about is Rocky. You’d think it was a man, but it was a woman and she took performance poetry to a whole new level. Rather than rant and rave aloud and scream at the audience, like some, she literally acted out the physical tortures–Strung up by her feet, waterboarded, inside a chicken cage, and others–in her poem.

Candy Rain was the poet to clear the palette. Her poem was powerful. It did reset the mood after the lull of coffee and cookies. Free Caribou Coffee is the greatest.

The final round poets were Chris August, Chris Wilson, Ms. Carter, Jedidiah, Dwayne B., and Ben.

Ben and Jedidiah were first and second and couldn’t have contrasted more. Jedidiah’s poem discussed how education was the way to overcome discrimination, while Ben discussed the evolution from Blues to Alternative Rock when a boy discovers a Blues guitar against a tree and how it is like dying every night on stage. Dwayne B sang a bit, a blue song as a love song to his woman. Chris Wilson’s poem this time around was about his students and how he would kill their dreams by crushing them with the inspiration of creative writing. Chris August’s poem discussed how love and luck are not achieved by forwarding an email to friends and waiting; it’s achieved through actions and changes in behavior. Finally, Ms. Carter’s poem reflected on the justice system. She expressed the defense of death upon contact (DOC) due to self-preservation. A man laying his hands on her dies on contact, which makes it self-defense, and it saves taxpayers and the justice system millions because she does not fill out restraining orders and other paperwork; she takes matters into her own hands–so to speak.

Third Place this time around was Chris Wilson; second place was Chris August, and first place was Ms. Carter. One of these days I will have to find out her real name or at least her full name.

The only other tidbit from the Slam that I have for you is my hubby’s wonderful artwork, which garnered a bit of attention from the crowd and Delrica Andrews. He drew a Mickey Mouse for the first round and a strange, pierced poet for the second round. I think it made the judging much more interesting for him.

***Please feel free to enter the next National Poetry Month Contest here.

The Poetry Contest Winner Is…Another Contest Too!

My Aunt Ann. She will be receiving some love poems by Pablo Neruda, which are in English and Neruda’s native language.

I also want to alert you to the second contest for the month, again a volume of poetry. I may even email the winner with a choice of volumes from which they can choose their prize. We’ll see how many entries I get this time around.

Those interested, please either post an original poem or your favorite poem in the comments by April 25, and I will post the winner on April 26.

Unfortunately, my aunt is not allowed to grace us with her witty poems this time around since she already won a poetry volume. Even if you entered the last contest, please do enter again, with a different poem. Let’s Celebrate National Poetry Month.

Also for those interested, April 17 is Poem in Your Pocket day. If you choose to participate, you are to walk around with a poem in your pocket all day and periodically take it out and read it to friends and family or even co-workers throughout the day. I’ll let you know what poem I decide upon and what poem Anna chooses to share as well.

April 5th Writer’s Conference Recap

Conversations & Connections was held at the Johns Hopkins campus in Washington, D.C. on April 5, 2008, and it was the second annual conference for writers, experienced and not.

The morning came too early for me after the reading down in Rockville, Md., the night before because it was at night, and I get up early for work. Let’s just say I was exhausted on Friday night, but still stayed up to check out what poems I should bring to the conference for the speed-dating session with an editor of a literary journal. Anyway, the sleep did not come easily because of nerves or my brain going over how the day would play out, etc. I’m not really sure. When the alarm finally went off, I shot out of bed and into the shower. And we–Anna and I–got ready in a flash to be dropped off at the Metro and head into D.C.

We were not going to make the 8:30 AM opening registration, but I wasn’t worried that we would miss anything. Registration went smoothly this time around, particularly since we ran right smack into Julie Wakeman-Lynn of the Potomac Review. She showed us the way into the basement. The coffee in the lounge area smelled burnt, so I decided to snag a bottle of water, which is funny considering somehow we ended up dehydrated.

The opening statements were very short and to the point and we ran up the only flight of stairs in the entire building to the first floor from the basement to our first Breakout Session with Amy Holman. I heard her speak to a group last year about a similar topic though related to poetry. This session was better organized and helped show the writers in the room how to seek out the best literary journals for their work, whether it be poetry, fiction, or non-fiction. The separate notebook idea where you keep lists of your favorite authors and examine the publications where they appear helps. I think what I took away from the session more than anything was that I need to start checking journals and seeing what is consistent in their choices. Why are certain poems chosen, and what do those poems in each issue have in common with one another.

The second session, “The Long Haul: Writing the Novel,” was in another building across the street so we had to get out and across the street quickly. We made the session in plenty of time and listened to novelists–Fred Leebron, Michael Kimball, and Carolyn Parkhurst. This session did not have anything eye-opening for me.

The lunch break was to be shared with the speed dating sessions, so Anna and I decided to head out to lunch for the first hour because everyone appeared to be headed to speed dating for the first hour. We had our minds set on Chinese food, but could not find the place on the listing we got in the registration packet. We didn’t dare struggle to locate the Chipotle given the confusion we experienced in Dupont Circle. We settled on Bertucci’s and you will have to check out Anna’s description for the food. I want to tell you how wonderful the ice tea and the cappuccino was for me. The caffeine hit the right spot for me. I haven’t had a good cappuccino in forever.

Speed dating went better than I expected. If anything it validated for me that I can tell when things are not working in my poems. I just have to be more confident in my abilities and fix the spots I know are wrong. The editorial staff of the Potomac Review must be well versed in analysis. I loved the ideas I received and the advice. Perhaps I will submit the poem I brought when it is finished. I haven’t decided.

After speed dating, Anna and I met up with our former co-worker and friend, Gregg Mosson of Poems Against War. We are currently working with him on a review project that will showcase poets and essayists. I will keep you all posted on that once we launch it. We are still planning it out at this point and have to get some things in order first, but it should be a great new addition to my repertoire.

The final session, “The Disciplined Writer,” again did not enlighten me too much. The stories of struggle were entertaining for the most part, but there really wasn’t any practical advice. I think that the general I don’t use an outline or I don’t plan out the novel before I start is very helpful because I think many writers are that way. I would have preferred to hear about what routines they tried to keep motivated and which worked and didn’t and why they didn’t or did work. I think the most I will remember from it in the future is the stories told about Joyce Carol Oates and how she locked the door quickly behind her guests and ran up to her writing room to begin work after a rather long dinner party. Another great anecdote was that Oates tells writers that they do not want to be like her because she has no life but writing. I don’t know about you, but I think I would enjoy being prolific like Oates, who is not prolific in the way some of those other writers are, like James Patterson and John Grisham.

We left the conference chatty and giddy about the prospects we have for our writing now, so I think both of us will be on our way to becoming more productive. Wish us luck.

***Just a Reminder***

The first round of my National Poetry Month contest ends tomorrow. Please submit your poem entry (whether your own or one from a favorite poet) by the end of April 15th here. Thanks to all the participants.

Mid-April Poetry and Literary Events

Every year since I can remember after moving to the D.C. area, I have attended the Bethesda Literary Festival. The events range from readings to fun activities for kids. I enjoy learning about the latest creations from local artists and authors and being exposed to new authors and poets. Please feel free to click on the link above for a schedule of this year’s events.

One of my favorite events will take place on April 18 at 8PM, The Poetry Slam. While I do not participate in the slam as a performance poet, I enjoy the works of the participants. My poetry is more the run of the mill reading or academic event poetry, rather than performance art. I really enjoy performance works and admire the artists that create them, but I guess I am not wired to create them myself. Probably because of my wallflower status for much of my life. I hope some of you blog readers will be in the area and will join me at this year’s slam. I even picked up a self-published book from one of the poet’s last year. I will have to locate it and post one of the poems in homage to this year’s National Poetry Month-30 ways to celebrate.

I will probably attend the following on Sat. April 19 as well:

11am – Distinguished Novelist

Hyatt Regency Bethesda

Join New York Times bestselling novelist, Alice Hoffman, as she discusses her newest book, The Third Angel, a novel that examines the lives of three women at different crossroads in their lives, tying their London-centered stories together in devastating retrospect.

12:30pm – The Government & The Media

Hyatt Regency Bethesda

Hear from Marvin Kalb, award-winning reporter for CBS and NBC News, former host of Meet the Press, currenthost of The Kalb Report and author of The Media and The War on Terrorism, as he explores the interaction between the government and the media during times of war and national emergency.

1-5pm – 15 th Annual Writer’s Center Small Press Fair

The Writer’s Center

Browse displays of literary journals and other publications by dozens of regional presses and literary organizations. The afternoon will include a used book appraisal, and a creative writing program for young children. For additional information, please visit www.writer.org.

2pm – White House Press Corps

Hyatt Regency Bethesda

Meet Helen Thomas, 47-year member of the White House Press Corps, first woman officer of the National Press Club, first woman president of the White House Correspondents Association and author of Watchdogs of Democracy?: The Waning Washington Press Corps and How It Has Failed The Public, as she speaks about her latest book and her career covering Presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton and G.W. Bush.

7pm – CakeLove

Heineman Myers Contemporary Art

Meet Warren Brown, owner of CakeLove and Love Café, host of Sugar Rush on the Food Network, and author of his first cookbook, Cakelove, as he discusses his entrepreneurial bakery business and how he has achieved success.

8pm – Sidesplitting Standup!
The Barking Dog

Come see DC Improv comedian Matt Kazam, who has appeared on Fox’s “Big Red Couch,” Comedy Central’s “Stand-Up Stand-Up,” VH-1’s “Fools For Love,” TLC’s “Two For Vegas” and The Discovery Channel’s “Lux List.” He has served as the opening act for such notable comedians as Chris Rock, Pauly Shore, Robin Williams and Drew Carey. Ages 21+.

Sunday, April 20, I will likely be attending these:

11am-1pm – Authors’ Reception
Barnes & Noble

You are invited to roam the aisles, chat with authors and have your books signed. Authors include: Ron Orol, Extreme Value Hedging; Melvin Goodman, Failure of Intelligence; Jennifer Allison, Gilda Joyce, Psychic Investigator;Jon and Beverly Meyerson, After the Glass Slipper; Kay Shaw Nelson, Art of Scottish American Cooking; Suzanne Mintz,A Family Caregiver Speaks Up: It Doesn’t Have to be this Hard; Harrine Freeman , How to Get Out of Debt; Susan Fraser King, Lady Macbeth; Con Lehane, Death at the Old Hotel; Toby Devens, My Favorite Midlife Crisis (Yet); Howard Eisner, Essentials of Project and Systems Engineering Management; John Dimes, Intracations and E. D. Baker, Wings: A Fairy Tale.

2pm – State of the Unions
Hyatt Regency Bethesda

Join Pulitzer Prize nominated journalist, Philip Dine, for a discussion of his recent book, State of the Unions, to explore what’s happening to American workers and the middle class, labor’s decline, and why a rejuvenated union movement could turn things around.

Many of the Children’s events are on Saturday and Sunday.

Please do not forget to enter the Poetry Book contest this month via the Welcome post, which has all the necessary rules and information.

Pre-Conference Reading

OK, so while I thought the pre-conference reading would be poets, there was not one. The readers were fiction writers.

Mary Gaitskill, author of Veronica, was introduced by the editor of Potomac Review, Julie Wakeman-Linn, and she read from Veronica, which is a very poetic work. I have never read her work, but it is certainly descriptive, poetic, and uses imagery to get to the heart of the matter. I’m not too sure she is my cup of tea, to use a cliche.

She then introduced Dave Housley, an editor of Barrelhouse Review and author of Ryan Seacrest Is Famous, who read “Combat Photographer.” It was a great short story about a combat photographer attempting to re-enter society to find a steadier job with benefits because his wife is pregnant and she wants him to be more stable and not off to war.

The next reader, Nathan Leslie, read from his collection, Madre. “The Towel” was a great story about young families and the adjustments they go through; the main character Norman and his wife have very different views of parenthood. The descriptions of the various stroller models are hilarious. I just had to select the book of short stories for my free conference book. I can’t wait to read the rest of the stories.

Lalita Noronha is the author of Where Monsoons Cry, and she was the third reader. Her descriptions of Indian culture and life were phenomenal. I was torn between this book and Madre for my free conference book. Noronha has a performance-like presence when she reads her prose, and it transported me to India quickly–even though she only read a few pages. I think this book will be one of the next ones I pick up in the bookstore.

Another Arab-American author, Susan Muaddi-Darraj, read last and her book is The Inheritance of Exile. Anna picked this book as her free conference work. I can’t wait for her to read it and I can finish Madre; we’re going to switch off and trade, so we can each discuss them. She was another reader that I really enjoyed, who easily transported me into the world she created.

It was a good reading, and I got to check out Rockville’s revitalization, which is amazing with the new town center. It was a great walk, though a bit chilly. There also was a great Tapas restaurant on the corner near the VisArts Center. It smelled delicious and look reasonably priced. We’ll have to make a point to go there sometime.

You’ll just have to wait for the conference review later.

Please do not forget to enter the Poetry Book contest this month via the Welcome post, which has all the necessary rules and information.

Welcome to National Poetry Month…

Here it is, another April. In honor of April, I would like to invite everyone to share their favorite poem throughout the month here on my blog, and I would like to open the blog up to a contest.

Those interested in winning three volumes of poetry–sorry the authors will be a surprise–please leave a comment below. I will put the names in a hat and then draw the winner on April 15.

I will probably hold another contest for the end part of the month as well. I hope we can generate a lot more interest in National Poetry Month this year.

I will start off with this poem:

THE TIGER

by: William Blake (1757-1827)

      IGER, tiger, burning bright
      In the forests of the night,
      What immortal hand or eye
      Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
      In what distant deeps or skies
      Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
      On what wings dare he aspire?
      What the hand dare seize the fire?
      And what shoulder and what art
      Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
      And, when thy heart began to beat,
      What dread hand and what dread feet?
      What the hammer? What the chain?
      In what furnace was thy brain?
      What the anvil? What dread grasp
      Dare its deadly terrors clasp?
      When the stars threw down their spears,
      And water’d heaven with their tears,
      Did He smile His work to see?
      Did He who made the lamb make thee?
      Tiger, tiger, burning bright
      In the forests of the night,
      What immortal hand or eye
      Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

April Writer’s Conference in Washington, D.C.

On April 5, 2008, I will again be at an all-day conference in Washington, D.C., Conversations and Connections. I cannot wait for another opportunity to network and learn from my peers. It will be great to among creative writers. This is the second, all-day conference in the region. Registration is $45 for an all-day conference.

I may even head out to the readings on April 4th in Rockville.

The first breakout session will have the following:

  • Crafting the Poem (panelists: Kim Roberts, Eric Pankey, Kim Jensen, Sean Conrey)
  • The Business of Getting Published (panelists: Nancy Naomi Carlson, Holly Sneeringer, Mark Drew)
  • Finding a Home for Your Brilliant Work: Amy Holman Workshop
  • Starting Your Own Independent Press (Ed Perlman)

The second breakout session will have the following:

  • The Long Haul: Writing the Novel (panelists: Michael Kimball, Fred Leebron, Carolyn Parkhurst)
  • How Can an MFA/MA Help Me? (panelists: Kenra Kopelke, Geoff Becker, David Everett)
  • Short Fiction: Process and Craft (panelists: Merrill Feitell, Lalita Norohna, Susan McCallum-Smith)
  • Writing Nonfiction (Eric Nuzum, Joanne Cavanaugh Simpson, Lucie Snodgrass, David A. Taylor)

The third breakout session will have the following:

  • The Disciplined Writer (panelists: Michelle Brafman, Jen Michalski, Kathy Volk Miller, Tim Wendel)
  • Poetic Forms (Ned Balbo)
  • The Novella: Form and Potential (Cyndi Reeves)
  • Web Markets and Marketing (panelists: Rachel Adams, Thom Didato, Reb Livingston)

I suggest anyone in the area sign up and join me. It will be a great time. And if you haven’t been to D.C. before, it will be a great time to come because the Cherry Blossoms are expected to be blooming.

I am so excited. It gives me something positive to look forward to, and I definitely need it. Maybe it will get my creative juices flowing more as well.

May Poetry Event Advanced Notice

The Sound of Words: A Scheme to Rock the Writers Center
Featuring: The Caribbean (a rock band) and 32 Poems Magazine (a poetry magazine)
DATE: Friday, May 9
TIME: 8 PM
LOCATION: The Writer’s Center,
4508 Walsh Street, Bethesda, MD 20815

DESCRIPTION

32 Poems Magazine, The Caribbean (an indie rock band), and the Writer’s Center join
together to bring you outstanding poetry from Sandra Beasley and
Bernadette Geyer and songs from The Caribbean

Writer’s Center

32 Poems
32 Poems BLOG

The Caribbean
LISTEN TO THEIR MUSIC

AWP Writer’s Conference 2008

It is that time again. The upcoming AWP Writer’s Conference will be held in New York City, NY, next year. I hope to go to the conference, since I have not been to a writer’s conference, other than the one-day conference in Bethesda, MD, at the Writer’s Center.

I’m excited about the New York City Conference because Yosef Komunyaka, Bruce Weigl, Joyce Carol Oates, Billy Collins, Frank McCourt, Robert Pinsky, Ha Jin, and John Irving, among others will be there. Poets and writers I just love. Listening to their wisdom and possibly meeting them would be a great bonus. Mostly, I just want to see what these conferences are like for myself and determine if they are even worth the money.

While everyone I have talked to says the AWP conference is good and bad, many do not regret going at least the one time they went. The brochure I received yesterday has information about possible discounts on hotel rates and airfare. I will have to call and see how discounted those rates actually are, considering I’m one of the more poor writers in the world. I also have to account for the AWP conference registration, which is quite hefty.

It would be great to go with a fellow writer to the conference, but all of us seem to be really poor at the moment.

Unfinished Business

No, not Poetry magazine again. This time a poem from Issue 44 of Columbia–a Journal of Literature and Art caught my attention. “A Death in the Snow” by Julianne Buchsbaum reminded me of all the to-do lists I have lying around, which may or may not get finished in my lifetime. Not only will these lists possibly live on without me, but I will also not be attached to them in any meaningful way after I have passed. “my list of things to do, leave it lying//in the snow like an old book/” I suppose I could put my name on these lists before I die, but what would that accomplish, except to raise more questions with the person finding them.

While the discoverer could simply shrug off questions as unanswerable, they could also be consumed with a compulsion to find the answers. Would I want to be responsible for that kind of obsession? Would I really incite that kind of devotion in another human being? Those too are unanswerable questions.

Instead, this poem forces me to take an introspective look at the reasons I make these lists. Do I make them simply because I cannot remember all that I want to accomplish or is it that I am too afraid to actually take the plunge and do some of the items on these lists? Right now, this poem unleashes an urge within me to burn, shred, and otherwise to destroy these lists so they can never be connected to me. I would rather everyone coming after I have passed to simply remember “Epitaphs covered with mold,/” A bit morbid I’m sure, but true. When we pass, unless someone cares for our graves throughout eternity, they will indeed be overgrown by nature, making the cycle complete.