Sunday, April 4, 2010

Spring Sunday

Today feels like the first good Sunday of spring, not because we haven't had nice Sundays before but because this feels like the one that is the one that marks the good Sundays to come. Which is a nice feeling.

In the past days, so much has been there to think and wonder about and blogging has been down because the thinking and the wondering has been up. Have been working hard on revising poems, on working on new poems. Have finished, I think the final translations for the Hinojosa selected and now really all that is left is to write the intro, to do some research for notes, etc. Fortunately the college has given me the funds to hire an assistant who has already started and is doing some terrific work. My sense is the whole thing will be done by the end of May at the latest. An amazing thing given how long it's been. But then it occurs to me that in the two years since Poet in New York was published, I've also published a new book of poems, Tourist at a Miracle , and the selected Hinojosa will be ready. That seems like an enormous amount of work, especially since I also feel like I'm a good third of the way towards another book of poems. Of course, I have a tendency to be optimistic about these kinds of things, but when it's a beautiful day and you've spent it walking in the park and sitting on the stoop, spent it thinking and reading and writing, well, optimism will prevail.

I think where I've slowed down a bit has been in my reading. Have been looking at work for school, of course, but the spare time reading not what I'd like. Some more time lately with Joseph Stroud, who continues to make me happy to read, with Delmore Schwartz, who never fails to surprise me, and going back through early Lorca because I realize I want to. It all makes me long for the summer reading when more and more will be possible.

And with Tourist a lot is going on as well. Small Press Distributors named it as a recommended book in March, Rigoberto Gonzalez in the blog for the National Book Critic Circle named it as one of the small press books of note. A mediocre review (this shall go nameless because the reviewer made too many mistakes when she talked about the book, suggesting she hadn't really read it so it kind of negated the whole review even when she said some very nice things).

Will be doing the Moe Greene Discussion Show with Pablo on April 30.

The Hanging Loose Party is May 7.

Will be reading at Watching Booksellers (NJ) May 28, Perch has been changed to June 22, Watchung (again) for a panel on translation July 30. In the Bay area end of September. Miami Book Fair in November. More to come.

Leaving for AWP in Denver this Thursday and reading the day before (Wednesday) with Jan Clausen at Lang at 4. Very much looking forward to that.

All good things.


Sunday, March 21, 2010

Spring Break 2010 (4)

One of those days when you think or know that winter really is over. Walking around Brooklyn, something warm and slightly achy in the air, the streets crowded with people, every people, and the sidewalks so full to get by takes patience and patience and everybody knows and nobody minds and folk are smiling, shyly, as they acknowledge that we, yes, are all just strolling (not striding, not hurrying) but strolling along together.

So revisions this early afternoon and they were good and lazy and then a long walk in Prospect Park with Christian McEwen who is in town for a few days and we criss-crossed and zagged, Cannonball pulled and pulling, and Long Meadow was so full it was hard to know where to walk so it was step here step there. And Christian and I just talked about the usual kinds of things, lives and poetry, selves and friends, the different kinds of nostalgia, the different kinds of hope. We talked about the book she's writing on slowness, a possible new book together on walking (hard to believe we did Alphabet of the Trees a decade ago). And it was fun to return home and sit at the table drinking iced tea after having walked and wonder what a book about walking would look like.

Then Christian left and I sort of worked. Revisions again but this time in early evening. Some reading over student work (the short day left until school starts again). Katherine came home from the studio. Jesse played music, wrote. Black beans and veal with lots of secrets for dinner. Then some writing, revision some more. NCAA Basketball on the tube with the sound off a good deal of the time. Another walk with Cannonball. More writing. Now this. And then to Melville and to bed. Not so bad a day at all.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Spring Break 2010 (3)

The days have passed very quickly. Beautiful spring weather, each day a little warmer, each day a little closer to spring and here it will be spring official in a few days. A nice thing to think. Not sure why but this winter seemed to be a strange and hard one. To find myself wearing lighter clothes and not be annoyed at thinking I have to go outside for something is really pleasurable. I mean, just the thought of going outside makes me happy. Soon it will be warm enough for real stoop sitting and that will be something. Something cold to drink, a good book, and I can see many good days ahead.

And these past few days have been good. Most of it has been spent revising poems. I really get caught up in that world. Last night, I found it was three in the morning and I was still going at it, still thinking one line, one word, one image over the other. Should the words be reversed, repeated? How much paring was right and how much spare could lead to too spare? And then the opportunity to put back, to think that the undoing could be redone. The joy here is that nothing is really ever lost. The experience of taking away and putting back makes the put back different. And when it gets taken away (again) it isn't the same removal. These steps revising poetry aren't the same steps repeated but steps further walked.

So with two days left of spring break I'm not going to start counting up (yet) what I feel like I've accomplished but the reading has been good, the translating good, the new poems have potential and the revising is something for which I've found a rhythm.

And I've been listening to some good music over the time, from Miles Davis and Celia Cruz to Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson and Jerry Jeff Walker. Throw in Eddie Palmieri and Falla and you've got a nice coming into spring playlist.

My brackets for the NCAA basketball may have been busted. Won it all last year and may finish out of the money this time around. Went against the grain a few too many times. Not over yet, but I can read. Ah, baseball must be nearing.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Spring Break 2010 (2)

Two long days in a row of writing/revising. Work in particular on Hinojosa and today finished the bulk of the revisions. Monumental. Exhausting. I have about fifteen new poems from the last book (Sangre en la libertad) to work on/revise, and then I think the manuscript will be very close. I still need to do work on the introduction but that is also already forming in my head and I have some notes. Biggest problem with that will be how much to say about a major poet who is relatively unknown even in his own country and barely a blip on the English-speaking world radar.

Finished typing up poems from moleskine of 2009. They sit waiting for revision as well. Between those and the translating, reading Los detectives salvajes by Bolaño, some Melville, some Elizabeth Bishop, I am feeling very literary in the early spring break days.

I also have a lousy head cold. No surprise there, though. I always seem to get some kind of physical something at the start of any vacation.

But tomorrow is supposed to be sunny. Will try tonight catching up on sleep (have been staying up very late and rising very early, havoc on internal clock) and if the weather is right, may actually take a spin on the bike in the park. Imagine that. Maybe the winter is really about to end.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Spring Break 2010 (1)

As I typed the title of title of this post, I kept getting prompted to allow for Spring Break 1, 2, 3 etc. Suddenly I remembered that those were the titles from last year. And here I was using them again because here it is spring break again. Only this time I am not at the VCCA. I am home. And not going away. But will stay home and try to do in Brooklyn what I have done in the past in Virginia. Read, write, translate, think. I'll pay attention to the NCAA basketball, which will be more distracting here because the tv will be readily available but it is also downstairs and my study is upstairs. Maybe I can treat waking in the morning and walking the dog as I would waking and taking the long walk to the studio. Or I can do my summer thing and simply stumble out of bed, make some tea, and get to the study and get to work.

Which a little bit I have done tonight. I admit to some facebook viewing but mostly I spent the night talking with Pablo, a good long one with the major focus, I think, on an appreciation for Borges as a poet, in particular the sonnets. Stephen Kessler had just sent me a copy of the edition he edited for Penguin and it is quite beautiful. Not all the translations work but I don't need those and the nice thing is to have all of the sonnets in the same place. Pablo and I also talked about John Berryman's Dream Songs which I have been reading and really believe to be something special. I had this realization that it is not a poem in three voices but one in four, with the poet there as a kind of spectator of whom you are very subtly conscious--he is almost not there at all but then comes the realization that yes, oh yes, there is someone else.

Pablo was talking about the question of a crisis of representation in his own work. My realization is that he could think about this not as a crisis of but a journey of and from and toward.

Other things came up, one of those great long conversations, mainly about poetry but with enough basketball thrown in to make it worthwhile.

One of those nice things: Tourist at a Miracle was listed as one of Small Press Distributors Recommended Books for March 1-15 (go to Happy.

Spent some listening to Jesse play his new song tonight. It's very good. Worked on a new poem. So sort of like VCCA. Completely like home.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

yesterday long, today short

A long blog yesterday on why no nook, no Kindle. Then a friend of mine said to me today that maybe I would learn to read differently. Maybe. And I can see that happening. And I can hold out for the iPad.

Or maybe I'm just a dinosaur who likes to write by hand and still thinks of his computer as being like a very nice typewriter (oh where is my olivetti lettera, the choice of so many writers?).

Today was a beautiful end of winter hint of spring day. I graded papers. I typed two poems (out of notebooks). I worked on Hinojosa translations (with a pencil). I watched Kentucky beat Florida and started thinking how next Sunday is selection Sunday and then the whole NCAA tournament begins (happiness). And baseball is coming. A wonderful time of year.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

on my nook and kindle decision

So I've spent the last couple of days really trying to think through the whole eBook thing. I know I can get books on my iPod Touch and I know I can download them to my computer but I never thought of these as satisfying alternatives to reading. But both the nook and the Kindle presented themselves as worthwhile. At least to think about. I'm not a technophobe, I'm not a gadget guy. I'm a reader, I'm a writer, and books have always meant a lot so I've been trying to see what was in it for me.

The first thing I noticed when I was reading reviews was how much the focus was on the multiple things the devices all could do. They could hold a lot of books (save paper, easy to carry, great for travel). They could hold a lot of music. They were lightweight, portable, easy (and getting easier to use), especially if you're comfortable with devices, with touch screens, etc. Buying books was easy. Very easy. Easier than going into a bookstore and browsing, easier than ordering on-line and waiting for a mail delivery.

But that presented my first moment of confusion. I discovered that my own books, while available as paper were not available from Barnes & Noble for the nook. That only Poet in New York was available from Amazon for the Kindle. And a lot of other books, in particular books of poetry and from small presses were not available. I did like the fact that there were some unusual titles out there (a number for free) that I might otherwise might not have considered. The complete works of Marti, for example. Rilke's complete poems in German. Not bad, but not priority.

I went to the local Barnes and Noble to do some more looking. I held the nook. Very comfortable. The use of the thing took some getting used to but I could see myself adjusting. Pushing buttons to turn pages, going back through screens to go forward to other screens. In the store, they allowed me to download O'Hara's Selected Poems so I could see how it would all work and it was nice to see that the line formatting was right though it had to be double-spaced to achieve that. Ashbery's poems (downloaded one of his) did not have the double-spacing. Okay, I thought, this isn't so bad. I already own these books so I wasn't going to buy them, but what about other books. Again, back to the dilemma. A quick attempt at browsing showed no Lorca poetry has made it to eBooks for the nook. No Vallejo. These were not exactly random choices--I was thinking about my own interests. So I checked out the total number of poetry titles available: 845. This includes a lot of out of print and public domain stuff. Not great pickings. And hard to shop for, I have to admit, because the nook is not designed for browsing, it is designed for buying. You can browse, but it is easier to do it on the computer or in the store.

Still, all in the realm of the possible for me. Because over time, right? The books will be available, they'll figure out the browsing thing. This is the wave of the future. All that. So I held the nook. I pushed buttons. It was nice. Pushed buttons. Then I realized (duh) no facing pages. Then I realized. No casual flipping. I put the nook down and picked up a book. I flipped, went forwards and backwards, read a line, read a line, read a line, forwards backwards. I held the book.

And that was it. A sudden realization. There are many ways to write, many reasons to write. I am typing on a computer. I am comfortable doing this. I am comfortable with the keyboard, with the screen.

But this is not the way I write when I write poetry, when I write essays, when I translate. I write longhand in a notebook. I write longhand on a pad. I scratch out, erase, put arrows, squiggles, lines. I write a word. I look at it. I write a word next to it. Look at the two together. I think about them.

And reading is the same way. I read e-mails. I read blogs. I read letters. I read newspapers. I read magazines. I read poetry, fiction, essays. And I do read them differently. The flaw in the eBook, or at least the nook (and the same when I've read books on a computer and on my iPod Touch), was that it was fine for reading in a certain way, fine for reading certain things. But for reading the things I most want to read and in the ways I like to read them, it simply doesn't offer the pleasure or the engagement of a printed book. If I were simply using it for a newspaper or a magazine, it makes a kind of sense. If a memo, or instructions, if for quick info, etc. But for reading poetry and fiction, it is now so limited. Browsing is a chore. Poetry doesn't give me a chance to see the facing page text (and forget works in translation). Art books forget as well.

And what do I do when I find an essay in the nook that I want Katherine to look at. What do I do while she reads? I can't read from the nook. She has it. So I either wait to read. Or, yes, I suppose I have to pick up a book.

eBooks allow you to have libraries and they are organized in multiple useful ways. Still you can't really open several books and look at them all together at once. I'm sitting in my study now and I have four books open to different pages. I can put them down, pick them up. They are all physically there. And while this may seem a mess, it's really very practical. It's a kind of aesthetically pleasing and practical clutter. These books are not organized by author, nor by title. I know I sometimes wish my bookshelves were but then what about the pleasure of stumbling on one book while I am looking for another? What about the history of the book, the object, itself? And by this I don't mean any book, I mean my book. In my handwriting, in one on the first page, it reads, Mark Statman, Bogota, 1988. Another book says Mark Statman, New York, 1986. And the handwriting is different. I was different.

And some books are signed to me, notes from the writer, notes from the giver, dated, signed editions. These mean something too. Along with my handwritten notes, my post-it notes. Some have bookmarks from bookstores that no longer exist. Some have bookmarks, handmade, by friends.

By my bedside is a stack of books. Before I go to sleep I may read through three or four. I don't know which ones. I don't know which order. There are about ten from which I can choose and I can look at their spines and wonder. I pick one up, put it down, pick up another, another, go back. There is an art to this. It's idiosyncratic. It's clear. It makes sense to me. My mess. I know where almost everything is. But not everything.

And that's why I don't want a nook or a Kindle right now. They may make things easier, but I lose some of the accidents and mystery that make reading something I love so much.