Ten books and three forthcoming books later—poetry, novels, and several fantasies for children—I can say that I do not regret my decision. I lost a good deal of security and salary, and I fell from the academic realm of writers, but I gained freedom to do exactly as I liked in words. No book I wrote would be needed for promotion or merit pay. I could strive as I liked, and could spend months in a way that might seem wasteful to others but was the path forward for me. I had no need to throw myself into print. As a young poet, and later as a poet and writer of stories and novels, I had no need to think better of my work than it deserved at the time.
Even though my friend the poet and novelist Marly Youmans lives just five hours away from me in upstate New York, we went all the way to Wales to record this podcast. How’s that for dedication? We start out at a tea house on the grounds of Powis Castle, where we’re joined by another novelist and blogger, Clare Dudman. Then we go to Ty Isaf, the stately Clive Hicks-Jenkins residence near Aberystwyth, where we talk about such topics as the ghosts of Cooperstown, New York; whether children are an inspiration or a hindrance for a busy writer; women leaving the world for the woods; and how writing in rhyme resembles surfing. We are serenaded by rooks.
Theme music: “Le grand sequoia,” by Innvivo (Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike licence).
In lieu of a podcast this week, here in video form is the full, hour-long poetry reading I flew to Wales to take part in last month. This was a group reading in support of The Book of Ystwyth: six poets on the art of Clive Hicks-Jenkins, whose launch coincided with a 60th birthday retrospective exhibition of, and monograph on, the contemporary Welsh artist Clive Hicks-Jenkins (who I interviewed in the two most recent episodes of the Woodrat podcast). All six of us — three Yanks and three Brits — had written poems in response to his paintings, and The Book of Ystwyth includes a generous selection, illustrated with full-color details of the paintings in question.
In the reading, ably MC’d by Damian Walford Davies, as you’ll see, each poet appears twice, once on either side of a break (which occurs in part 3), so that the first poet is also the last, the second is the penultimate, etc. Here’s a key to who appears in which video:
Anita Mills was the camerawoman. I take the blame for the sound and all the editing. The bookstore’s set-up had the podium in shadow, which meant that the camera often focused on better-lit bookshelves behind our heads. In the process of lightening and increasing contrast on the videos, the color turned spotty, whence my decision to make it black and white. I assure viewers who have never been to Wales that it is a fully modern country now, and almost everything is in color all the time.
As for the book: quite apart from its contents, which are of course scintillating, it’s a beautifully designed object with high-quality paper and image reproduction, retailing at a very affordable $15.95/£9.99. It was published in the U.K. by Grey Mare Press in association with Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru/The National Library of Wales, and in the U.S. by Carolina Wren Press. Click on either link to order.
Austin Kleon: “How to Steal Like an Artist (And 9 Other Things Nobody Told Me)”
I usually hate advice posts, but this one is gold. For example:
There was a video going around the internet last year of Rainn Wilson, the guy who plays Dwight on The Office. He was talking about creative block, and he said this thing that drove me nuts, because I feel like it’s a license for so many people to put off making things: “If you don’t know who you are or what you’re about or what you believe in it’s really pretty impossible to be creative.”
If I waited to know “who I was” or “what I was about” before I started “being creative”, well, I’d still be sitting around trying to figure myself out instead of making things. In my experience, it’s in the act of making things that we figure out who we are.
Marly Youmans: “The House of Words (no. 11): One writer’s lessons”
The most popular post in Marly’s on-going series to date. I particularly liked this part:
Every book purchase says you want to read a certain writer and that the publisher should have confidence in him or her. In the case of poetry, a modicum of readers voting this way may even mean that a house decides to retain its poetry line rather than jettisoning it.
The comment thread for that post is also well worth reading.
Busily Seeking… Continual Change: “The Perils of Planned Parenthood”
A very different — and, I would argue, crucial — perspective on “choice,” Planned Parenthood and legislative priorities.
North Country Public Radio: “One April”
Wow, this public radio station’s web manager is doing NaPoWriMo! And they’re good poems, too. Yet another reason to move to the Adirondacks.
Call for Submissions: Festival of the Trees 59 with Spirit Whispers
For Festival 59 our host Suzanne of the Spirit Whispers blog asks, how do trees inspire you?
Nanopress Publishing: alternative poetry publishing, with gravitas
The indefatigable Nic S. has set up a website to advocate the new model of poetry publishing she’s pioneering with her own book, Forever Will End on Thursday (which I’ll be blogging next month).
The nanopress is a single-publication, purpose-formed poetry press that brings together, on a one-time basis, an independent editor’s judgment and gravitas and a poet’s manuscript. The combination effectively by-passes both the poetry-contest gamble and the dwindling opportunities offered by existing poetry presses, while still applying credible ‘quality control’ measures to the published work.
Join the discussion about this new paradigm at Nic’s blog — in particular, a post titled “Nanopress poetry publishing: Avoiding the publisher’s cycle of need.” Beth Adams, Ren Powell, Sarah Busse, and Rachel Barenblat are among the contributors to the comment thread so far.
The Washington Post: “In the Mideast, U.S. policy is still driven by realism” (Eugene Robinson)
Is it realism, or is it surrealism? It is certainly frustrating the way we never seem to have money for anything but destruction. We can only laugh to keep from crying: The Daily Show for March 21 was devastating.
The Palace at 2:00 a.m.: “The House of Words (no. 1)”
Novelist and poet Marly Youmans kicked off what she promises will be a 25-part series “on persisting, giving up, and other topics” connected with the writing life.
Giving up writing is easier than persistence because–surprise!–nobody much will mind if you give up. It’s not like giving up a job with a salary; there are few reproaches, and in fact many of your near-and-dear will heave great buffalo sighs and snort with relief. People will be glad to think that you may be a solvent person some day, rather than a struggling writer with the usual garret, heaps of foolscap, and bargain Toshiba laptop.
The New York Review of Books Blog: “The New American Pessimism”
Charles Simic is smarter than your average poet.
They say the monkey scratches its fleas with the key that opens its cage. That may strike one as being very funny or very sad. Unfortunately, that’s where we are now.
t r u t h o u t : “Instead of Bombing Dictators, Stop Selling Them Bombs”
But Gaddafi promised he’d only use them on terrorists!
NewScientist: “Fake tweets by ‘socialbot’ fool hundreds of followers”
“The success suggests that socialbots could manipulate social networks on a larger scale, for good or ill.” Good idea. I’ve heard that terrorists can use Twitter and Facebook to foment unrest.
It’s not every day that I get to read a web comic about my favorite organism, the dog vomit slimemold.
O: Maria Shriver interviews Mary Oliver
I’m not entirely sure who Maria Shriver is — some sort of Kennedy, apparently — but somehow she managed to lure the famously reclusive poet out of her shell. (And I’m pleased to see O magazine devoting its April issue to poetry. Here’s the New Yorker’s review.)
Finally, here are a couple of videos from Plummer’s Hollow that complement this past week’s podcast, “Creatures of the Night.” Thanks to our neighbors Troy and Paula for doing such a great job documenting the local wildlife with multiple trail cameras and sides of venison for bait.