Sunday, December 18, 2005

Any thoughts?

If anyone has any input on the following book, please let me know. I am interested in reading it, but I want more feedback from general folk.

The Asian Mystique: Dragon Ladies, Geisha Girls, & Our Fantasies of the Exotic Orient by Sheridan Prasso

Have a Happy New Year, anyhow...

For those of you who know how much I disliked The Da Vinci Code, you'll also know that this scares me.

Let's just hope the writing is at least good. Note to Dan Brown: it takes more than a little research and a lot of made-for-TV plot twists to make a good book. Please learn how to write.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

the spaces in between

A few things that keep me amused in between my busy times (kinda like grout... it keeps the gaps filled and things from falling apart):

Saturday, November 26, 2005

more ponderable particles

  • Yay! A good source of reading recommendations. The Guardian has its critics and guest authors tell us their best books of the year. Now, if I could just get together a lot of time to read... I'm amazed at how few of these books I've heard of, much less read.
  • I just finished reading Audrey Niffenegger's first novel The Time Traveler's Wife. I really liked this book. I assumed it'd be either bad science fiction or a sappy romance novel. It was neither. It was an amazing charater study wrapped in a touching story with some really interesting speculative fiction tossed in. I highly recommend this book. (And if you want to buy it from Amazon, please purchase it through my links on this page... Heh.)
  • In the "you have got to be kidding" department: Meeting Tom Cruise Helps Chinese Writer Fulfill her American Dream

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Since I seem to have a theme going

Anne Ishii has posted her Finger in the Throat Report #7.

Come one, come all, down to my digestive system, as I consume this very lovely work of asianica, which I am using to coin a new genre of fiction: Phonetic Asianica, or Phonetica for short.

Phonetica is self-explanatory. It's when a writer chooses to represent his/her characters phonetically. When Yummee from Fan Tan says she likes being pushed around, it reads "I rike-ee beeng pushed alound." When the complimentary hooker in Lost in Translation visits Bill Murray's hotel room, and wants to convey a desire to have her pantyhose ripped off her legs, it reads: "Lip it! Lip my hose!"

Funny? Yes. Relatable? oh, I'm sorry, rerataber? iyessss. Always applopliate? Possibry not.

I was laughing so hard by the end of this article, I had people peering into my office wondering if I was okay.

Maybe white men shouldn't write about Asia.

(via Bookslut)

Wednesday, November 16, 2005


The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, Told Entirely in Emoticons


And, for my amusement: Me. As rendered by Googlism.

mona is a fine person
mona island/planeta
mona is mocking me
mona island
mona is an ideal retreat for student travelers and groups
mona is not "busty" exactly
mona is practically flat top
mona is situated in a pleasant area of douglas just 40 yards from the promenade
mona is a truly unlikable and selfish character
mona is a murder mystery parody that doesn't have the gumption to go for the jugular
mona is the ultimate in luxury accommodation
mona is often compared to galápagos
mona is made into a useful object
mona is
mona is shown
mona is a logic
mona is located in downtown los angeles
mona is not confined to any particular project type
mona is seventeen and has nine brothers and sisters
mona is ambitious because she is smart enough to start a small delivery business to finance her pageant dues
mona is now played by minnie driver
mona is a well
mona is the most important technology in the book
mona is 5 percent
mona is a dancer and prostitute
mona is a pointless and horrific dark comedy
mona is rarely by herself
mona is dead in the water
mona is so relentlessly obnoxious she makes roseanne look like mary poppins
mona is approximately 742
mona is going to be one year old
mona is on the air
mona is going headfirst over a cliff
mona is fashion company
mona is largely due to ms
mona is no exception
mona is a solid
mona is never outrageous enough to make you fall into the sort of silly mood a film like this needs to
mona is only about 8
mona is at deirdre?s funeral
mona is the
mona is a substantial woman with an effervescent personality that pops out in loud bursts of joviality
mona is this
mona is drawn to the "glamorous" world of "little miss" beauty pageants
mona is posing near a former slaveholding fortress in west africa for a photo shoot
mona is my sister
mona is retiring and all the nannies are celebrating with her
mona is the only museum anywhere devoted exclusively to northwest art
mona is a pubescent kali on roller blades
mona is a deeply bad comedy
mona is temporarily replacing our secretary
mona is as pretty as a picture
mona is made up of 3 bunnies
mona is tickling herself" by lisa
mona is forced to run several odd jobs to pay off the fees for the pageant entries
mona is an active file system that cooperates with user processes to accomplish tasks
mona is singing and composing better than ever
mona is recognized as an ice environment and information technology specialist
mona is a woman of power
mona is a lot like watching an episode of wheel of fortune
mona is a team player
mona is a trojan horse which deletes files on drive a
mona is now shipping with drivers for windows 95/98/2000/xp/mac/wdm/asio/gsif
mona is somewhat troubled
mona is a divisive hierarchical clustering method
mona is a dark comedy parody of a whodunit
mona is the best tv sitcom i've ever paid seven bucks to see
mona is an adult shepherd mix
mona is merely a registered narcissist
mona is a faculty member at marywood university in scranton
mona is home to giant lizards that can be seen sunning themselves along the 200
mona is foremost the brainchild of bourgeau
mona is basically a very powerful add on similar to a very high end sound card that adds a whole load of flexibility to your studio
mona is the norse goddess of the moon after which monday was named
mona is that the midler character really doesn't act all that differently or all that more outrageously than anyone
mona is a novel approach to file system extensibility that provides heretofore unseen flexibility
mona is presented in a 1
mona is a detector array specialized to detect neutrons
mona is asking for help
mona is certainly self confident and is very much the terrier in personality
mona is a funny and entertaining

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Some Shakespearean particles

Some tidbits on Shakespeare:

Friday, November 11, 2005

Just when I think maybe we've grown up a bit...


Now Dean Koontz is getting called to the carpet for racism. Seems he's been telling a story about letters he wrote to a Japanese businessman that included a lot of racist-sounding remarks. What really annoys me is his assertion that, "there's some political incorrectness in it, but nothing mean". Sheesh. And apparently, he's been telling this story for years!

You'd think a best-selling author would know that there are so many less controversial ways of being funny. Or maybe not.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

more thought particles

A few rants, chuckles and a farewell:
  • I have a few grammatical pet peeves that cause me to grind my teeth. The laziness of people to not figure out the difference between "lay" and "lie," for instance. Whenever I hear my co-worker tell her dog to "Lay down!" I have to bite my tongue. (It reminds me of the comic strip where the man tells his dog, "lay down" and the dog rolls onto its back. The man tells the dog, "speak" and the dog looks up at him and says, "that's lie down.") So when I listen to the radio, I expect a certain amount of proper word usage. I listened to Ed Gordon (an experienced interviewer and journalist) on NPR interviewing a woman about adoption, and imagine my gnashing of teeth when I hear him mis-use the word "reticent" in the phrase, "...people aren't as reticent to take in kids..." Reticent means "inclined to keep silent or uncommunicative. What he really means is reluctant, which means "struggling against; resisting." Ack.
  • A chuckle from my favorite comic site: Shakespeare...
  • The worst phrasebook ever written.
  • And a farewell to John Fowles, dead at age 79. His book, The Magus, is still one of my all-time favorites, and I still get chills if I think about it too much.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Trying to look smart?

It turns out that one in three consumers polled in London admit that they bought books "to look intelligent." And that few actually read the books they buy.

When did reading become a matter of social appearance rather than a wonderfully enjoyable escape?

And what does it say about me that I was seen by dozens of people yesterday when I was reading Poetry Magazine?

Jessa Crispin uses this information to give guys advice on what to be seen reading. Funny stuff.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

a little bit of a rant

I did hope not to use this blog as a forum for ranting, but sometimes you just have to let it out.

As an Asian-American, I'm subjected to a lot of stereotypes. Now, while the actual number of comments has diminished through the years, the fact that I still hear them remains a source of a lot of incredulity. Apparently, I'm not the only one who thinks this. James Yeh has this hilarious little commentary on stupid things people say to Asian-looking folks. And while you're at it, check out his blog. Good stuff.

I have had three proposals from complete strangers. Hello!? We aren't all mail-order brides looking for a way to stay in the country. Some of us were born here and actually speak without accents. Imagine that.

Advice: We (Asian-Americans) know that we look "exotic" and sometimes your curiousity is ovewhelming. Go ahead and ask what our background is, but please don't ask, "What are you?" My standard reply is "Human," or "Female."

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Literature for the mind

A friend (whose opinion means a lot to me) recently recommended I read The Brothers Karamazov. I was never that interested in Russian literature and maybe slogging my way through War and Peace didn't help.

I stumbled across this marvelous article about Apostolos Gerasoulis, the mathematician behind the search engine "Ask Jeeves." It tells a great deal about the creation of and ideas behind the search engine, but the one part that stood out for me was the following quote:

"At first, he was a pretty bad student, until he discovered the principle of abstraction in the stories by Dostoyevsky."

A nice thing to hear about for those of us with a mathematical and literary bent.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

New gadget!

I'm not usually much for gadgets, but I recently received an iPod nano for my birthday. (Yes, it wasn't long ago.)

Heh. No wonder the Apple users are such fanatics. This gadget is easy to use and great for my walks and workouts. Plus, I get the added benefit of seeing people eye it with envy. (I want an Apple computer, too, but that will be years away...)

I've already loaded 117 songs on the thing, and am deciding what part of my large CD collection I want to add. Heh. It seems I can never have too much Steely Dan.


Friday, October 07, 2005

We pause for this baseball note...

It's not easy being a National League fan. Neal Pollack thinks so, too.

"I'm an old-fashioned National League purist. I stand firmly against the designated hitter and believe that NL games are more sophisticated and interesting. Even during the prime juice years of McGwire, Sosa, and Bonds, there was still a pitcher hitting ninth; baseball isn't baseball without the double switch."

Monday, October 03, 2005

Needed a laugh...

And I got one.

I couldn't stop laughing at Gene Weingarten's article...


Sunday, October 02, 2005

A Cask of Whine

Busy busy times for me -- pardon the hiatus. A few notes:
  • My baby brother turned 40 yesterday. Happy birthday, David! We'll be the same age for a couple weeks now.
  • I confess I could NOT finish A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers. I read so many rave reviews and had friends recommend it. Heck, even the gal at the bookstore waxed rhapsodic when she saw me buying it. But I'm sorry. I found it extremely self-absorbed and so full of self-congratulatory cleverness and Gen-X-brand angst, that, after 100 pages and many derisive snorts and rolling of the eyes, I just gave up. I didn't even find the writing particularly catchy. Sorry. I just couldn't do it...
  • The Giants are out of the playoffs.
  • And maybe I'm just having a bad week, but does anyone else actually find this funny? (Really... I am easily amused, usually.)

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Yet another biography...

It's no secret that I love Shakespeare's plays. What a lot of people don't undertand about my love of the work, however, is that it doesn't necessarily translate into a desire to read about Shakespeare himself. I do have a copy of Stephen Grenblatt's Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare in my pile of books to be read. And some kind soul gave me a copy of Harold Bloom's Shakespeare: The Invention of the Humana few years ago. (I am reluctant to admit I haven't picked it up.) But the truth is, I'd rather pick up a copy of a play and re-read it than read a biography or any treatise about his work.

But it seems that there are always new biographies coming out. I don't plan to read Peter Ackroyd's biography, despite the good press on it so far. But I am intrigued that Bill Bryson is working on his own Shakespeare bio. I adore Bryson's writing... I may have to get that one.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

The Secret Life of Bees

I just finished reading Sue Monk Kidd’s novel The Secret Life of Bees. My initial reaction was that it is a beautifully written coming-of-age novel. The descriptions of the American South in the 1960s are tender and lovely.

The story revolves around Lily Owens, a 14-year-old girl growing up in Sylvan, S.C., on a peach orchard with her father and a housekeeper. The story jump starts when Rosaleen, the black housekeeper, goes into town to register to vote. She encounters some white men bent on preventing her registration, and ends up beaten and in jail. Lily helps her escape, and the two of them run away; Rosaleen from jail and Lily from her abusive father. Lily’s mother is gone, dead from a gun accident when Lily was four, that may or may not have been caused by Lily.

Lily’s only clue to anything in her dead mother’s past is a photograph and a picture of a “black Madonna” with the words “Tiburon, S.C.” scrawled on the back. So Lily and Rosaleen head to Tiburon, where they meet with three sisters who run a honey farm.

The story’s basic themes involve Lily’s search for a mother and that love transcends race. The book is beautifully written, with often poetic and achingly lovely descriptions. But, as Lily matures and searches for clues to her mother’s past, the book becomes a bit too pat. The coincidences made me wince a bit and as I pondered the book, I found myself wondering about some of the details in the book. For example, if the setting is the Deep South in 1964, why didn’t anyone say anything when Lily and Zach drove into town? There’s a big fuss about a group of black teens throwing a bottle, but none of the white men involved in the fracas mention Lily. Wasn’t this less than ten years after the murder of Emmett Till, who was lynched for allegedly talking to a white woman?

I enjoyed the book, though it is not usually the sort I like to read. It is rare when I pick up a book that is aimed at the “chick lit” crowd. This book is not necessarily in that category, but the marketing of it seems to be towards the same group. The writing is exceptional, however, and I would recommend it just for the beauty of the prose.

A couple excerpts:

When I looked up through the web of trees, the night fell over me, and for a moment I lost my boundaries, feeling like the sky was my own skin and the moon was my heart beating up there in the dark. Lightning came, not jagged but in soft, golden licks across the sky.

The first week at August’s was a consolation, a pure relief. The world will give you that once in a while, a brief time-out; the boxing bell rings and you go to your corner, where somebody dabs mercy on your beat-up life.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The joy of reading

Yesterday was the first day of school for my kids. I woke to cool air and Morning Edition on the radio. On Mondays they air a series called This I Believe. It is a series of audio essays by various people, famous and not-so-famous, speaking about what they believe.

This morning's essay was from Rick Moody about The Joy and Enthusiasm of Reading.

"I believe in the absolute and unlimited liberty of reading. I believe in wandering through the stacks and picking out the first thing that strikes me. I believe in choosing books based on the dust jacket. I believe in reading books because others dislike them or find them dangerous. I believe in choosing the hardest book imaginable. I believe in reading up on what others have to say about this difficult book, and then making up my own mind."

What a wonderful beginning to a day.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Unstable Particles

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Useless research

I've stumbled across some odd, useless and obvious "studies" done in the name of serious science, but I've finally found one that is obvious as well as apt!

Now I know my profession has a less-than-exciting reputation, but I have never felt the need to justify it. Heck, I can easily get a job almost anywhere. But it's funny how so many accountants get defensive about the work they do.

The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales provided a robust defence of its members.

A spokesman said: "The area of tax accountancy is anything but dull. Our members get to work in all sectors of the economy, including small businesses and the media and entertainment industries.

"Many of our members lead varied and interesting lives, taking part in activities such as trekking around the Alps for charity and being involved in local community projects, such as working in deprived areas. "

Some of them can even write...

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Summer fun!

August 18th is Bad Poetry Day.

Like we need a day for it... I believe there is more bad poetry around then there is any other art form. I realize this is subjective, but it's just too easy to do.

In fact, let's try it! Send a bad poem to cordelia248(at)yahoo(dot)com (in the proper formatting, of course), and I'll post the finest (worst) here.

Go write!

And I'll be back intermittently until the kids start school. Sorry for the days of silence.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

An essay by a poet

I have mentioned before that I have a difficult time writing prose. I lack the organization and the sense of pacing to write much prose.

Vivé Griffith writes an amazingly beautiful essay in The Gettysburg Review that illuminates many of these feelings on why and how I write:

"I never learned how to tell a story. Try as I might, I can never quite place a beginning, a middle, an ending on things. I get confused, and my endings become beginnings, my middles endings. Or I forget what happened and make something up. Or I think I can see the full sequence, but I get impatient on the way there.

I have learned instead to create moments. I am in love with moments.

Her love of moments is illustrated in the the subject of the essay, her father. She uses her poet's sense of word-painting to give us a sad, sweet picture of him.

"Here’s the thing: my father uses my poems to sell timeshare. He sits across those cheap metal folding tables that seem to be a staple in every timeshare office and says, “Let me show you a poem my daughter wrote.”

What kind of poems sell timeshare?

It is this sort of writing that sets my fingers itching to write. We'll see if it helps...

Saturday, July 23, 2005

And on the lighter side...

I just finished The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, a book I discovered later than I'd planned due to the fact that I thought his name was either a typo or something made up. Apologies to Mr. Fforde.

I loved this book. I admit, when I heard the premise for the book, my first thought was that it would be either eye-rollingly ridiculous or too clever for the average reader. It may have been the latter, but I loved it. (I consider myself an average reader, but my friends and family tend to disagree.)

I am not a huge fan of alternate histories. While I believe they are good as exercises in stretching our historical perspectives and cultural imaginations, many I've read take themselves too seriously. There is little serious about The Eyre Affair.

The setting is England in 1985. Time travel is routine, and the French have revised much of history. Literature is serious business. The heroine is Thursday Next, a Special Operative in Literary Detection (a LiteraTec) who is chasing an evil criminal, Acheron Hades, who's just stolen the original manuscript of Dicken's Martin Chuzzlewit. He has also kidnapped the inventor of a device - the Prose Portal - that allows people to cross into the literary world. After Hades removes and kills a minor character in Chuzzlewit (only remembered thereafter by people who've read the book before 1985), he acquires the original manuscript of Jane Eyre and kidnaps the Jane.

I had a delightful time reading this book. It did, occasionally, get a bit caught up in being clever and scholarly, but the pace and wit were fast and addictive. The book is sprinkled with literary references throughout, but being well-read isn't necessarily required to enjoy the book. I loved the hilarious names (a corporate bigwig named Jack Schitt...!) and not-so-subtle jabs at literature. When a zealous Baconian knocks on the door to preach about dubious Shakespearean authorship and distribute literature (they heckle performances of Hamlet, too), I knew this was my kind of book.

After I finish the new Harry Potter book (yes, yes... I have kids and I happen to like the books), I plan to start in on Lost in a Good Book, the next Thursday Next novel. Heh.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Particulate matter

Sorry for the silent period. I've been out of town visiting parents, in-laws and other wonderful people. Or I've been enjoying Reno in July (this really is a great town...!).

I've always loved reading a good book review. This, however, is the first book review that made me laugh hysterically and made me wonder about this ummm... book.

And a brief interview with poet Juliana Spahr brought a smile.

"I like poetry because it helps me think. It helps me resort data. It lets me list things and then think about the shape of the list. I am not sure I can make poetry do much more than this. I don't trust poetry when it tells me what to do without resorting the way I see things first. "

Check out her poems, too. Simply lovely, in my opinion...

And does anyone want to finance a year-long trip to Stratford for a poor accountant/blogger who happens to adore Shakespeare? Sir Ian McKellen as King Lear... Patrick Stewart in The Tempest... I think I may be salivating on the keyboard.


Friday, July 01, 2005

Sublime prose

If you asked me to list my five favorite authors, who made it on the list would usually depend on when you asked me. But (aside from Shakespeare) the list would always include Mark Helprin. I've read Winter's Tale five times, and A Soldier of the Great War and Memoir from Antproof Case twice.

Mark Helprin's prose is sublime. He can transport me like no other author can.

Harvard Magazine profiles Helprin:

"The study where Mark Helprin writes his novels and short stories, essays, speeches, letters, and Wall Street Journal columns is a spectacular room. Fifty feet long and nearly 30 feet wide, it holds two desks; there’s a fireplace at one end, and some fishing rods hang aloft on display. Everything is in immaculate order."

I wish I had the time to rave about his writing, but I need to get ready for a trip. Just go out and read his work (his new novel, Freddy and Fredericka is just published). You won't be sorry.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005


I never should have put a stat counter on this site. I see just how much it doesn't get read. And I get no feedback unless I prod and bully my friends. Is this normal? Is this a problem with a lot of people? Is there so much out there that what I do gets lost in the noise? Do all the well-written literary blogs offer enough that I don't make a dent?

I don't get feedback, so I have no idea if the few people who read this even like it.

And all the good literary blogs link to each other. And all the really interesting news I stumble across is already yesterday's news. Is it a conspiracy? Someone stop me before I get paranoid!

Okay. I got that off my chest. Whew. Go back to your lives...

In some news that's actually worth mentioning: poetry can save your life. Or at least it can in novels. Are there actual instances of this, I wonder?

And in baseball news... Johnny Damon reads and writes, too. Heh.

And a short poetry interlude... brought to you by Samuel Menashe. Lovely.

Monday, June 27, 2005

No thank you

I have an extensive list of books I want to read before I die (and no, I'm not going to go into them here), and even more I can probably go without reading.

Now, I love science fiction, but it is so easy to find bad sci-fi, that I choose my books with care. The Traveler by John Twelve Hawks isn't set to be released until tomorrow, and I admit I was a little intrigued by it. I suppose I shouldn't have read how they were going to market it.

Interest in "The Traveler" can be traced partly to its editor, Jason Kaufman, who edited "The Da Vinci Code"...

Uh oh.

And speaking of books I am not going to run out and buy...

Robert James Waller has a new novel.

"He bent her like the wind bends sienna wheat in a high plains summer," Waller overwrites, "and eventually came to know that loving Susanna Benteen took you as near to Truth as you can get without dying."

Why is it men can get away with writing like this and not have to have Fabio on the cover?

Wednesday, June 22, 2005


More randomness in one place:

Sunday, June 19, 2005

I'm just glad they're still writing things like this...

If I could be sure it was there, I'd rush out to my favorite local bookstore and buy The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Gödel by Rebecca Goldstein.

David Kipen reviews the book in the SF Chronicle, and it is filled with the standard non-mathematician fears of the complicated world of theorems and number theory. (He even has a great parenthetical apology stating, "and any mathematicians out there are now respectfully beseeched to leave the room, in the justifiable fear that any paraphrase will likely contain more factual errors than it does words.") But Kipen goes on to state that the book is, "a deeply confounding book -- brainbustingly hard in some stretches, beguilingly empathic in others."

Nothing like that sort of statement to really get me wanting to read.

I'll be back with a review.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Better than spelling bees

Why didn't they have National Poetry Recitation Contests when I was in school?

"More than four thousand students at ten Washington-area schools, and thousands more at approximately forty schools in Chicago, participated in the program. The events featured several rounds of competition, in which students recited poems and were judged on stage presence, inflection, accuracy, and how well they appeared to understand the meaning of the poem. "

Very cool. I hope this increases the number of readers of poetry. There are so many good poems out there...

Friday, June 17, 2005

May the force be with all of us

An interesting piece in today's NY Times by Neal Stephenson (Cryptonomicon, Snow Crash, etc.) states about Star Wars:

"Twenty-eight years later, the vast corpus of "Star Wars" movies, novels, games and merchandise still has much to say about geeks - and also about a society that loves them, hates them and depends upon them."

Now, it's no secret that I am attracted to geeks and to the geek side of non-geeks.

"To geek out on something means to immerse yourself in its details to an extent that is distinctly abnormal - and to have a good time doing it."

Stephenson makes a good analogy between the geeks of our society and the fading Jedi knights:

"Scientists and technologists have the same uneasy status in our society as the Jedi in the Galactic Republic. They are scorned by the cultural left and the cultural right, and young people avoid science and math classes in hordes. The tedious particulars of keeping ourselves alive, comfortable and free are being taken offline to countries where people are happy to sweat the details, as long as we have some foreign exchange left to send their way. Nothing is more seductive than to think that we, like the Jedi, could be masters of the most advanced technologies while living simple lives: to have a geek standard of living and spend our copious leisure time vegging out. "

Go hug a geek this weekend. Or, better yet, explore your geek side.

Thursday, June 16, 2005


This post is late because of a Bloomsday celebration. I raised a Guinness to James Joyce.

Or you can follow another's celebration as they walk through Dublin.

I am off to put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls...

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Some aimless thoughts...

Just a few random mentions:

  • This morning, I heard an interview with Nick Hornby where he mentioned his regular column, "Stuff I've Been Reading," in the The Believer. From what I've perused on the website, it makes me want to subscribe. (Though, frankly, not what I've read in Hornby's column...)
  • And here's an interesting article on baseball and astrology. Nice to know that Libras make up more Pulitzer and Nobel prize-winning writers than any other sign. (Note: I found this article when I Googled, misspelling Hornby's name, "Hornsby Believer Column" Heh.)
  • Whoa. A book of poetry wins book of the year?? Cool.
  • And I'm sure some people close to me will wonder if it's possible to shut down certain parts of my brain...

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

A concert to remember

I don’t like to go to concerts, as a rule. Usually they are too loud, and no band or singer can ever sound as good as they do in a studio recording. I have been to a handful of concerts, as Reno attracts a good number of big-name acts (especially for such a small town). I’ve seen Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Hornsby, Seal, Kenny Loggins, and a few others. Good concerts, but I’d often rather stay home and listen to recordings.

Last Saturday night was a glorious exception. Holly Cole and her ensemble were amazing.

If any of you don’t know about Holly Cole, you should. She’s a Canadian singer who’s been doing jazz standards and pop covers for at least 15 years.

I didn’t find out about the concert until the Wednesday before (it was on a Saturday night), and I called to see if there were any tickets available. Not only were there good seats, but the price was less than half of what I’d paid to see much glitzier, less interesting acts. I got third row center seats for $20 each.

Saturday after a nice sushi feed, my husband and I drove out to Fallon (about an hour’s drive) to the theatre. The venue was a two-story old brick building that had once been a school. We went inside, not quite sure if we’d come to the right place. The theatre was small and there were only a handful of people there. Fifteen minutes before the concert, and it was nearly empty. I was astounded.

The theatre did fill up, but not completely. But the smallish crowd in a remote desert spot didn’t keep Holly Cole and her ensemble from giving one of the best shows I’ve seen or heard. My husband, a musician, was equally impressed.

If you get a chance to go see her, do it. If not, I highly recommend getting a CD or three. I like “Temptation” where she covers Tom Waits songs, but all her stuff is amazing.

Monday, June 13, 2005

A shameless plug for my town

The New York Times had a nice article about Reno in this weekend's travel mag. Check it out. And come visit. Especially in July. And in September.

Nice place to live, too.

Friday, June 10, 2005

For you non-sports fans...

Now, it's no secret that I'm a baseball fan, but most of my friends do not like or even get sports.

This is for you non-sports fans: The Complexities of Human Sport.

You know who you are.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

My next job

When I was dating a nice white boy in high school in small town USA (very very small town), I will never forget my first hint that maybe his parents weren't prepared to deal with a foreign sort, even just a foreign-looking sort. Either that, or his dad had a sense of humor I failed to appreciate...

We'd just finished a good deep-fried supper of Texas-style food and there was an awkward silence at the table. His father broke the silence by saying, "I'd offer you a cookie, but you'd crumble it up trying to find the fortune."

There really is nothing like the tension in the air caused by an attempt at being funny and failing.

So, in a clumsy segue, I did find the perfect writing job. I hope it's not too stereotypical.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Bits of Shakespeare news

So, it appears that one of my favorite authors is writing a biography of Shakespeare. Quote from the English Heritage interview with Bill Bryson:

What are you working on next?

I'm doing two biographies - one on me, one on William Shakespeare.

I am not much on reading about Shakespeare as I am reading his actual works, but I am currently enjoying Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare, despite the many reviews I've read stating it isn't very accurate, even for speculative work. And I won't miss Bryson's when it comes out, but just because I love the way he writes.

And the critics are not too keen on The Stratford Festival's mixture of As You Like It set in the US 1960s and a musical score featuring the Barenaked Ladies. Maybe you should go see another production.

A school in Utah has decided to cancel all Shakespeare courses. Apparently it "doesn't sufficiently advance the state core curriculum." And why do courses have to "boost students' chances for jobs, college, human development or improved test scores," to be worthwhile? And who decides what boosts human development? Apparently power-lifting doesn't either.

Friday, June 03, 2005

The quest continues...

And I'm glad I'm not the only one who seems to have trouble coming up with good book recommendations.

I think I'll stick with reading other blogs for now.

And on a side note, I'd be happy to take any recommendations you may have. If I don't know you, make sure you back up your recommendation with a good reason.

Thanks in advance.

Ten things I meant to do

I regularly read the blog of Terry Teachout, arts critic for the Wall Street Journal. He is a wonderful writer and is good at popping the clutch when my brain needs a push start.

He recently wrote about "Ten Things I Always Meant to Do." And I have since seen several posts passing along the meme.

Most folks will read these and come up with their own lists. Some just musing, some writing them down. It reminds me of a poem I wrote a few months ago that actually contains things I mean to do. (Though, frankly, most of them are things I would like to do, but never will.)

Things to Do Before I Die

  • Forgive the blond poet
    who broke my heart with his pen
  • Sing torch songs in a smoky bar
  • Own a python
  • Have an affair in London
    with a British man who is much much too young for me
  • React badly to insinuations
  • Learn to rhumba
  • Tell my mother what happened to that bottle of vodka
    on our senior trip
  • Find my double
  • Shave my head
  • Wear a strapless ball gown
    with long satin gloves
  • Sweat beneath a Tahitian moon
    wearing colors Gauguin would paint
  • Shed angst in silk narrative poems
  • Learn how to tell a quark’s flavor
  • Cultivate joy

7 February 2005

Later, perhaps, I'll come up with an actual list of things I mean to do.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

A sense of wonder

The Washington Post has a wonderful piece about Dan Rockmore, author of Stalking the Riemann Hypothesis : The Quest to Find the Hidden Law of Prime Numbers.

The author of the piece, Linton Weeks, spend a day talking with Rockmore about mathematics in general. About how mathematicians see the world.

Now, I am not necessarily a bona fide mathematician, but I have a deep love for it and often read books and articles about math to renew my sense of wonder. Weeks writes about seeing the city with Rockmore:

On this clear blue, purified spring day, Dan takes a postprandial stroll and Manhattan becomes a three-dimensional chalkboard. Between the geometry of architecture and calculus of urban life, you begin to see the sidewalks and the skyscrapers through a mathematician's eyes and somewhere along the way, theoretical math becomes, well, more concrete.

A sunflower at a florist's shop helps illustrate Fibonacci numbers. A stack of tomatoes at a greengrocer suggests Kepler's Conjecture. A stand of seven trees leads back around to a conversation about the Riemann Hypothesis. It's like taking a tour of a familiar place with a foreign-tongued guide.

I remember taking an undergraduate course in multi-variable calculus and struggling with a proof with a small group of classmates. We were in the library, in a private study room, and trying to ascertain the properties of a certain equation. One classmate expressed his frustration with how the equation could map something from 6 to 5 dimensions. Suddenly, one young man leapt from his chair and pointed at the window. He saw that his reflection in the window was a mapping from 3 to 2 dimensions. Using this crude visualization, we were all able to solve the proof and determine the properties of the equation.

I relate this small incident for two reasons. First, the sense of discovery was something I'd never felt before, and rarely since, then. It was where I developed my lifelong search for the sense of the mysterious, for wonder. Second, the group of students was, in my estimation, a microcosm of what I consider mathematical-minded people. One was a musician, one a sculptor, two were programmers, and I was working on my degree in business. Our ages ranged from 19 to 37 and we remained close friends through the next couple of years.


An aside: Weeks, in his article, tries to describe Rockmore, "He's not one of those fluky-flakey number nerds you read about." I took a little offense to that since I've rarely met a mathematician who could be remotely described as a "fluky-flakey number nerd." Nor have I read about many.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Intelligent Story-telling

I've been a fan of Umberto Eco for many years. I read The Name of the Rose (aside: a great list of SIPs for this book!) about 20 years ago while I was in college. It made for perfect summer reading. It was fine story-telling combined with amazing research and a fantastically imaginative intelligence.

I was also captivated by Foucault's Pendulum and The Island of the Day Before and a collection of essays called How to Travel With a Salmon and Other Essays. I still have Baudolino sitting in my pile of books to be read. And I know I'll have to run out and get The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana very soon.

I loved Foucault's Pendulum. I read it twice (the first time with a dictionary and an encyclopedia next to me) and ate up the complicated plot and twisted conspiracy theories. I am one of those who thinks The Da Vinci Code was a poor (okay, awful) substitute for Eco's amazing look into secret societies.

The Telegraph has a wonderful profile of Eco (who, I was surprised to learn, is 73 years old!) where he muses about his reputation as the thinking person's writer and his surprise at his fame.

On a side note: am I the only one who thinks The Da Vinci Code was a horribly written book? Most reviews I've read gush about what a page-turner it was and how astounding the premise was. I had already read the premise in Foucault's Pendulum and I barely made it through the book with my husband nagging me through it (he loved it). He actually ends Chapter 64 with "And then everything went black." Gah!

How do I make it onto this article?

I stumbled onto this great article about what they term "Litblogs." I like to think, perhaps wrongly, that this is what I am attempting to do here.

The big plus is that I have more places to go to look for good reads that might have missed the mainstream.

I'm still looking for any help in this department...

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

I recently discovered that May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. Seem like a long name, but I suppose it’s sufficiently inoffensive and descriptive.

There seems to be some who take offense at the “celebration” of it. I remain noncommittal about it.

When I was younger, I didn’t make much of an effort to read books about or by Asian Americans. It wasn’t until my 20s, when I actually went to China, that I decided to seek out those books. The first book I picked up was The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan. It is a delightful book exploring the lives of four Chinese immigrant women and their daughters. And while I loved the book, it didn’t have as profound an effect on me as the next book I read, The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston. It is probably one of my favorite books of all times. Her story-telling and use of the language is amazing, but the way she parallels old Chinese tales with modern life as an Asian American is where she astounds me.

Li-Young Lee is an amazing poet. I love his work as a poet, not merely as an Asian American poet. Also, check out the work of Marilyn Chin. She writes poems that are almost painful in their approach to being Asian.

I don’t write many poems that start to slip into the political, but this is one I wrote that I think would be appropriate for this month.


Dark Feel in Yellow Skin

being neither white nor male
as artform

raise my gaze
my arms
peel labels from my back

at imagined mailorderbrideclothes
footprints off my forehead
and sitting

I carry my lack of accent
in my purse
next to social security

in case anyone asks

23 April 2003

Thursday, May 26, 2005

He was grrrrreat

Thurl Ravenscroft has died at age 91.

I know most folks remember him as the voice of Tony the Tiger. But my enduring memory of him is the voice of Kirby, the vacuum cleaner, on The Brave Little Toaster. And one of the singing dogs (the bass, of course) on Lady and the Tramp. And he sang the original Grinch song in the animated How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

Such a great voice. He'll be missed.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Bad poetry lives...

Oh man. All you need is a weblog and a famous name.



2 night
i was the actor
on james liptons show
inside the actors studio
he is a charming man
with a beautiful wife

he wondered y this blog
is as it is
comma and capital free
hard 2 explain
but i tried

It almost makes me want to give up writing poetry if the world's going to stand for this stuff...

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Baseball and Literature

I wasn’t always a baseball fan. My love for the game developed about 3 or 4 years ago. I had watched an occasional game, and even enjoyed it. But it wasn’t until I began discussing it with a friend, who knew a lot more than I did about so many things, that I began to see the art and science behind the game. I asked him about the finer points of baseball. What is considered a hit? How do you calculate ERA? What constitutes a good slugger?

He answered me without embarrassing me or gave me his well-thought-out opinions and commentary with patience and kindness (his puzzling love for the *gulp* Dodgers is a subject for another time). (Thank you, Frank.)

For my birthday one year, he sent me a book.

Now I have often pondered why the sport of baseball (among all sports) seems to have some of the best movies made about it. But I never realized that there was so much good writing as well!

As for baseball books, I do recommend The Brothers K by David James Duncan (who also wrote one of my all-time favorite books, The River Why); and a delightful book that combines poetry and baseball, Shakespeare Bats Cleanup by Ron Koertge (it’s a teen book, but anyone who loves baseball and verse will grin a lot while reading this book).

And imagine my delight when I discovered THIS! Good writing and baseball... what more could you ask for.

Go Giants…!

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Literature as theatre

It seems someone in New York found a great idea of what to do with bad literature.

Performers -- comedians, authors, even drag queens -- get up in front of an audience and read selections from bad literature. "Since the series began in February, more than 40 books have been skewered. A $5 cover charge is imposed and, because of the subject matter, heavy drinking is encouraged."

Lit Lite is the brainchild of Kevin Malony and Grady Hendrix, both of whom stage productions for the Off Off Broadway theater company Tweed. Mr. Hendrix began the evening with a recitation from "Mission Compromised," Oliver North's military thriller.

"I am unfortunately one of those lonely sad people that reads a lot," said Mr. Hendrix in an interview, "and I've always been drawn to bad books." Asked why he prefers cringe-inducing texts to works from the literary canon Mr. Hendrix said, "Good literature is a little bit boring and precious." He pointed to Jonathan Franzen's "Corrections" and the works of David Foster Wallace to illustrate his point, saying he would rather curl up with "I Was a White Slave in Harlem," the autobiography of the drag queen Margo Howard-Howard.

It seems like someone could start a movement. Though I'm not sure I want to support anything that encourages bad writing.

Florent Morellet, owner of the popular meatpacking district diner Florent laughed through much of the show. "You know we could be doing this for centuries," he said, "There are so many bad books - it's an endless gold mine."

Though... it is nice to know the ones out there aren't going to waste...

Sunday, May 15, 2005

And oddly enough...

In the previous post, I'd just ranted about a book seen everywhere. It turns out the authors have their own blog, too. And a good one.

Check it out.

What about the little guys?

I always love finding a good book. I rely, mostly, on word-of-mouth to find worthwhile reading material. If someone whose word I trust recommends a book, of any genre, I will usually try to find a copy to read. Sometimes I'll go out on a limb and pull something off the shelf just on curiousity (judging it by its cover at times! For shame...).

But I love to stumble across obscure books, unknown poets, or eclectic essayists and find gems. Here's where I have a difficult time.

I love book reviews, and I scan them frequently for suggestions for reading material.

So why do all the "respectable" reviews all like to cover the same books? What happened to variety? What happened to the small presses? There must be books out there that aren't found on the front shelves of Borders that I can read about...

This weekend I scanned my usual litany of review sites and found a review of this same book in the LA Times, in the New York Times, and It's not that I don't think it'd be a good book to read, but I get tired of seeing the same titles again and again as I scan pages.

So does anyone have a suggestion for a site with reviews of less mainstream books? I don't want forums of people saying, "Good book! Read it!" or the like. I want insightful, well-thought-out opinions. Let me know...

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Short essays about songs

Read a few of these. I had a blast...

My Proustian madeleine...

was a fried plantain.

I've always wondered about people who go to extraordinary lengths for seemingly trivial research. But there's something endearing about Edmund Levin's "reverse-engineering" of Proust's madeleine in Slate magazine.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

NPR rocks

I'm addicted to Public Radio. I listen to it all day at work, and in the mornings, and when I can on weekends. In the car, I listen, but I have a tendency to channel surf. Apparently, Garrison Keillor likes to surf, too.

And of course, this book was written by a man...

And, finally, I know what I'm doing this weekend. Writing poetry. Join me.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Not that you need to remind me...

But every once in a while it's nice to know others know just how great he is.

Science and Art

This afternoon I got to listen to an NPR interview with Alan Lightman. He wrote a book I read a couple of years ago called Einstein's Dreams. It is a beautiful novel full of astounding insights and imagery and melds physics with poetry in a breath-taking walk through a point in time in Einstein's life. (Aside: SIPs include "giant clock"and the Flesch-Kincaid index is 7.3)

The interview was about Lightman's new book, A Sense of the Mysterious: Science and the Human Spirit, which is a series of essays about science and art. I, of course, ran down to my local independent bookstore (Sundance Books!), and immediately picked up a copy of the book.

I am only 20 pages into the book and I am enchanted. This man can write! He discusses things such as the importance of metaphors in science, words, and meditations on our wired world. I can't wait to get back to reading.

On a side note, I hate to agree with Orson Scott Card on this... but enough is enough.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The Zen of Writing

Tom Robbins is my hero. He treats the English language with the perfect mixture of respect and playfulness.

I always thought if I wrote prose, I'd want to write like him. I don't do too well with prose because I tend to spend way too much time crafting before moving on to the next part. I can't get my pacing right when I do that. I approach writing prose like I do writing poetry.

So, imagine my surprise when I read about how Tom Robbins writes his novels. He crafts them one sentence at a time. No planning. No editing. Wow.

And, as I suspected, he considers words the most important part of writing. In an interview about writing, he states:

"Our world isn't made of earth, air and water or even molecules and atoms, our world is made of language," he says. "Can you imagine a school of architecture in which all the emphasis is on floor plans and roof lines but no attention is ever paid to the properties of stone and brick and lumber? Well our creative writing programs focus entirely on structure and generally ignore the inventory of words on which those structures have to be constructed. So that's one reason why so many of our novels are so verbally boring."

He also says this:

"Consider Shakespeare - most of his plots or characters were borrowed or stolen from other sources, though what made him great was his astonishing genius for language. Shakespeare's long shelf life is due primarily to his love for words and the manner in which he expressed them. If it weren't for his language, Shakespeare would have just been another pretty plagiarist."

Which is something I've always thought...

In any case, I highly recommend any book by Mr. Robbins.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

They ran out of Shakespeare?

Okay, it wasn't just me. Billy Collins really does do the same show everywhere. But I shouldn't be too harsh on the poor guy. At least he's packing 'em in and poetry is being had by all.

Which reminds me: there's a job opening I know I'm perfect for. Heh.

And our headline for today: The Royal Shakespeare Company isn't performing any Shakespeare. Ostensibly, the reason they are doing this is "to give audiences a break from the Bard before the company presents the whole canon of Shakespeare’s work in a year (2006-7)." The whole canon. Wow. Does someone feel like funding a trip to England? I promise to bring back a full report...

Ah, well.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Some random thoughts on poetry

Currently reading: The Art and Craft of Poetry by Michael J. Bugeja

This is possibly the best book I've ever read on how to write poetry. And I've read a lot. A lot of good practical advice without getting too technical, and lots of good ideas for inspiration without getting too new-agey and touchy-feely. Highly recommended.

National Poetry Month is over, but please don't stop reading poetry, or writing it.

I found an interesting review of Billy Collins' reading in North Carolina. It sounded exactly like what he did here. Perhaps that is the slight ennui I found behind his readings? Too much of the same thing?

And, finally... Isn't it bad enough there are so many good poets who can't get published, without rubbing our noses in this? I guess I can always re-educate myself...

Friday, April 29, 2005

April is also...

Turns out April is also Math Awareness Month!

What a wonderful thing... Math and poetry. Two of my four favorite things. (I'll leave you to figure out the other two. Heh.)

In honor of April, I am posting a sonnet I wrote about math. Enjoy. (Or, if you don't, let me know why.)

The Science of Patterns

The order of the colors, prism bent;
The fractions in a chambered snail’s shell;
Statistics buried, called coincidence;
The chemical recall of asphodel.

So water congregates to build a cloud
and droplets marry heavy, forming rain;
With Spanish moss’s chaos-patterned shroud
To respirations measured fill and drain.

Honeycombs, whose architects are bees;
The icy veins in alabaster’s skin;
The march of leaves up eucalyptus trees;
The oscillating song of violin.

An ocean wave will roll in, uninvolved
In differential equations it has solved.

30 October 2003

In honor of the month, go read something mathematical, such as Innumeracy by John Allen Paulos. (Flesch-Kincaid index of 14.1. Yow.) Or anything by Martin Gardner. Or, one of my favorites, Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter (Flesch-Kincaid index of 10.8). A wonderful journey through the music of Bach, the art of Escher and the mathematics of Gödel, with meanderings into artificial intelligence, human creativity, number theory, and philosophy. And it's entertaining to read.

Or, if you prefer fiction, try Leaning Towards Infinity: How My Mother's Apron Unfolds into My Life by Sue Woolfe. (Though, to be truthful, I get mixed reviews on it from friends I've recommended it to.) Or an excellent collection of short stories, Mathenauts: Tales of Mathematical Wonder edited by Rudy Rucker (who, by the way, has also written many great books on mathematics).

Ahh... so many books...

Isn't life wonderful?

Saturday, April 23, 2005

A very special day

Currently reading: Hamlet

Okay. It’s something I do every April 23rd: I re-read Hamlet. I am not sure why that play in particular, but it’s become tradition.

Happy Birthday, Will.

Everyone else... celebrate as you usually do.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Fun with Amazon

Currently reading: Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind

I read this book a few years ago and it horrified me. But it is so well written and well crafted, I had to re-read it. I highly recommend it, but not for the squeamish or faint of heart.

The reason I brought up this book was that it turned me on to a new feature on Amazon. Unfortunately, the feature isn’t there for all books, but I browsed through some old favorites and quickly became addicted.

This feature lists the 100 most used words in the book in question, and the number of occurrences of each one. It lists the number of words and characters in the book and the complexity of the words used (such as percentage of words with three or more syllables, average syllables per word and words per sentence). It also gives you the Flesch-Kincaid index (which shows the grade-level of readability of the book), and a fun stat that tells you the number of Words per Dollar and Words per Ounce. Heh.

Perfume has a Flesch-Kincaid index of 10.6, which means it is written at an approximately 10th grade reading level. The word “perfume” is used 252 times.

The coolest feature, however, is the SIP’s, or, Statistically Improbable Phrases. Amazon scans the contents of a book and finds phrases that are, amongst all books, statistically improbable (though not necessarily within the book), and shows us instances this phrase occurs in other books. It’s fun to see the connections.

For example, Perfume has a listing for the phrase “essence absolue,” which shows instances of the phrase in State of the Fantastic : Studies in the Theory and Practice of Fantastic Literature and Film (Contributions to the Study of Science Fiction and Fantasy) by Nicholas Ruddick and in Reap the Wind by IRIS JOHANSEN.

Some more fun stuff I found out:

Ulysses uses the word “said” 1207 times and has a Flesch-Kincaid index of 6.8!! And here I was still struggling to get through the book... And the phrase “met him pike hoses” appears in a book called The Flute Book: A Complete Guide for Students and Performers by Nancy Toff. Hmmm. Makes you wonder.

Hamlet has a readability level of 5.5. Please don’t tell me Shakespeare is hard to read... Heh.

One of my favorite books, Jitterbug Perfume, has a Flesch-Kincaid index of 8.6 and uses the word “beet” 161 times. The lists of SIPs is impressive and funny.

I’ll not bore you with more stats. But go explore. It’s addictive.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

A Novel Novel

Currently reading: Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn

This is a curious book. I found it a delightful, yet oddly disappointing, cautionary tale.

Let me explain. The book is labeled a “progressively lipogrammatic epistolary fable.”

epistolary, adj. 1. of or associated with letters or letter writing. 2. of, pertaining to, or consisting of letters: an epistolary novel.

lipogram, n. a written work composed of words selected so as to avoid the use of one or more letters of the alphabet.

The novel is set on the fictional island of Nollop, which is 21 miles off the coast of South Carolina. The island is named after Nevin Nollop, the author of the famous pangram (a phrase, sentence or verse composed of all the letters of the alphabet) sentence The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.

The novel consists of letters written primarily between Ella (of the title), and her cousin Tassie, but also letters between various other Nollop inhabitants. The crisis comes when the letter “z” falls off of the famous sentence written in tiles at the base of the memorial statue of Nollop. The island’s Council decrees that the fallen letter is a sign from Nollop beyond the grave, and they forbid the use of the letter in any written or spoken form. The punishments are unusually severe and end with banishment upon the third offense.

As the novel progresses and tiles fall from the statue, so do they disappear from the novel and the letters between the characters.

The novel is a good cautionary tale about freedom of expression and the dangers of not acting decisively in defense of that freedom. It is also a great exercise in wordplay and creative language. The letter-writers are all educated and obviously love the language and all its intricacies.

My only complaint is that the novel becomes a bit too bogged down in its own cleverness. The author seems so intent upon his wordplay, that the characters remain two-dimensional and the plot scurries along with only short moments of tension.

I do, however, highly recommend it for teens and for those interested in language. It’s a quick read and packed with beautiful vocabulary and maybe even a few lessons.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

April is National Poetry Month

Yes, it is indeed National Poetry Month.

Try to celebrate by reading the good stuff. These are not the Doggerel Days. Though, some folks like to have fun...

Happy April. Read a poem. Better yet... write one!

Poetry as performance

Currently reading: Nine Horses by Billy Collins

I got to go see Billy Collins (U.S. Poet Laureate from 2001-2003) on Monday night at the university. When he was named Poet Laureate, I had already been a fan of his. I was thrilled his work was being recognized.

(Aside: I am not as impressed with the current Poet Laureate, Ted Kooser, but I confess I haven’t read many of his poems. I’ll give him a chance.)

Billy Collins is a marvelous entertainer. His verse is well-suited to being read aloud, and he knows just where to put pauses to make the audience laugh or sigh.

It was a much bigger crowd than I’d expected, but I was delighted to see a lot of teens and kids there. I was exposed to good poetry very early on and I was taught that poetry needn’t be stuffy, lofty, pretentious or incomprehensible. There needs to be more of this.

And maybe it was just me, but I felt a strange undercurrent of ennui in Mr. Collins. Was he tired of reading the same poems again and again? Was Reno just a backwoods hicktown beneath his notice? Or was it just my imagination?

But he did read a poem that I found practically perfect. He introduced it by saying that he’d found a love poem in a magazine and that he’d discovered that the poet had found what it is that women want: “They want to be compared to things.” I love this poem, but when I originally read it, I found it to be sweet, with a slightly wry twist. When he read it, people were doubled over in laughter.

He opens the poem with the first two lines of the love poem:


by Billy Collins

You are the bread and the knife,
the crystal goblet and the wine.
- Jacques Crickillon...

You are the bread and the knife,
the crystal goblet and the wine.
You are the dew on the morning grass,
and the burning wheel of the sun.
You are the white apron of the baker
and the marsh birds suddenly in flight.

However, you are not the wind in the orchard,
the plums on the counter,
or the house of cards.
And you are certainly not the pine-scented air.
There is no way you are the pine-scented air.

It is possible that you are the fish under the bridge,
maybe even the pigeon on the general's head,
but you are not even close
to being the field of cornflowers at dusk.

And a quick look in the mirror will show
that you are neither the boots in the corner
nor the boat asleep in its boathouse.

It might interest you to know,
speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,
that I am the sound of rain on the roof.

I also happen to be the shooting star,
the evening paper blowing down an alley,
and the basket of chestnuts on the kitchen table.

I am also the moon in the trees
and the blind woman's teacup.
But don't worry, I am not the bread and the knife.
You are still the bread and the knife.
You will always be the bread and the knife,
not to mention the crystal goblet and--somehow-- the wine.

Billy Collins had this to say about this poem (and his poetry in general):

“I have said this before, but the perfect poem for me would be one in which the reader/listener could never be completely sure at any given point whether the poem was being serious or amusing, grave or droll. The closest word we have to describe that condition is irony. "Litany" and a few other poems of mine flirt with this state of being funny/serious. Most of them fail because they lose their balance and fall to one side or the other. Waiting on one side of this balancing act is sarcasm and on the other side, sentimentality. I am susceptible to both. Because "Litany" is a series of love poem conventions -- these traditionally enhancing comparisons of the woman to whatever -- we seem to recognize the familiar tone of the love lyric, but, of course, the poem is busy deconstructing (did I say that?) these conventions. Okay, making fun of them. Actually, that poem follows the movement of many Shakespeare sonnets -- it starts out being about the beloved and ends up being about the poet. What else is new?”

I highly recommend going to see “famous” poets read their work. I saw Marvin Bell read his poetry back in 1987 and it transformed my writing. If nothing else, it’ll make you want to write.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Ten Very Hip Poems...

I regularly attend open mic poetry readings. I have many thoughts that I'll post later. But this list nearly made me spray tea across my monitor.


Do you read poetry?

Currently reading: Visible Signs: New and Selected Poems by Lawrence Raab.

I wish I could write like this. No one can end a poem like Raab:

A Crow
by Lawrence Raab

Here is the strict, abstract
light of winter. From a bare branch
a crow takes flight, rising
heavily, overcoming
the impossible. Snow
sifts from its branch.
A white shawl.
Thousands of separate flakes.
The bird has moved to another tree,
cawing harshly, though I can
barely hear it, with the windows
locked in place against
the cold. So the mind
remains at a distance
from its concerns,
its uncertain desires—
nothing to think of, or to say,
nothing truly seen until later.

He somehow inserts a wonderful inflection to his poetry. It is almost conversational. But then he’ll lend a magical insight or observation. It’s such a talent.

I know a lot of people who write poetry, but very few people who actually read it. I have always wondered who these writers think they will have as an audience, and how they expect to improve or diversify.

I know, I know... most poets will tell you, “I write for myself.” But as soon as you commit pen to paper, it becomes something else. It is “out there.” (For lack of a better phrase...) It is then owned by whoever reads and interprets it. All we can do, as poets, is attempt to convey.

I read this in an interview with Raab:
“I hope students signing up for a creative writing class in poetry are already interested in poetry. But frequently they're not particularly interested in reading poetry, only in writing it, which leads me to believe that they're not really interested in writing poetry, only in expressing themselves in some vague way. You learn by reading. You want to do what you enjoy experiencing. A good poem, I think, is one that you want, almost immediately, to reread. Not because you have to for a class, but because there's a richness there that draws you back. I try to find ways to get my students to experience that richness, the dazzling presence of it in great poems, the resonant possibility of it in their own work.”


More of Raab's genius.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

And so it begins...

Currently Reading: To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis. Funny, smart science fiction. So far.

I had to chuckle to myself when I began to wonder if starting a blog was a way for me to not have to answer as many emails. Heh. Anyone I'm neglecting... tell me. I am good at answering email. Merely very slow.

I jot notes and poem fragments in notebooks. Constantly. Ask my family. I've always done this. I figure I can pull some of them together into actual poems here. Or actual essays. Imagine that.

I am also beginning an attempt at sending my poetry to actual journals/magazines/anthologies. The real reason I want to do this is to get a feel for how my poetry compares to the "educated" poets. (The ones who actually studied writing.) I hope to track my progress or failure and adjust my writing accordingly. We'll see.

I just hope I don't bore you all with my spare, elementary prose and pretentious poetry. Call me on it if I do.