Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Major Jackson

 Major Jackson and Vicki Zubovic

The best thing about conferences: getting to meet fabulous writers and poets. 

This conference, for me, it was the poet Major Jackson
(I love this picture, even if I did take it myself. The smiles say it all.)

There is no question that Major Jackson is a formidable poet and a master of form. He's also an engaging, personable speaker, both as a reader of his own work and as a lecturer during the craft-talk at the NVWC. His reading at Mondavi took us everywhere: The Frost House in New England, the b'ball  courts in his Philly neighborhood, a long chat with Gwendlyn Brooks. He read some poems from his  just -about-to-be-published book, "Holding Company," and some from "Hoops." While some of the poems in the latter book soar and bounce with the jump-shot rhythm of basketball (Hank Gathers, Moose),  the second half is a 70-page epistolary poem to Gwendolyn Brooks in rhyme royal.  Like I said, a master.

Other Links

AND! see who's featured this month in  Poets & Writers 

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Poetry of Place in Pt Reyes

Next weekend, Brenda and Bob will be in the house. Not the house, exactly, but nearby. In Pt Reyes, out in West County (Marin). So I'm going. How could I not? The coast, the town, the poets, Toby's Feed Barn. (there's a link to the local weather on the FeedBarn site. Very useful if you're planning a day out there.)  Cowgirl Creamery, too, but let's not get distracted by cheese. 

I'm planning take Brenda's book, Cascadia, with me....but when I went looking to see what I have of Bob Hass's, I realized that most of my poetry books are still packed up. In the basement! Gaaaaack!!! 

Though this does give me the excuse to pick up some more books

So check it out....Brenda Hillman, Bob Hass: Reading in Pt Reyes. See you there? In spirit, maybe?

Friday, August 27, 2010

Running Hot, Then Cold

It was so hot on Monday (100+ degrees),  all I could think about was winter. Not just the mamby-pamby winter of the West Coast either, but deep winter.  With refrigerant. 
From the freewrite that night:

Winter echoes
Eaves plip, drip into soft snowdrifts
gritty along the crest,
The creak of ice over black branches, the
tight squeak of snow compressed under red boots
portals to our discontents.

And now, four days later, it might not  break 80 degrees.  No wonder our tomatoes are going nutz. During the three day heat-blast, several of our green tomatoes were cooked right on the vine, squishy and soft and warm. Ruined and sorta gross. And many more were sunburnt, semi-circles of crisp skin along their shoulders stretched paper-thin over green pulp. Don’t know if those will ripen or are permanently wrecked. Maybe it’s time to find some green tomato recipes.


I should say though, that the tomatoes in the straw-and-compost sandwich bed are in the best shape. Slow, of course, just barely coming in, but tasty. Fortunately, they get some late afternoon shade, so they weren’t heat damaged. 

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Bookself

Some might notice, over to the right, a blogroll that is slowly increasing. It's my collection of blogs from Napa Valley Writer's Conference participants, faculty, staff....anyone, actually, with any sort of relationship to the conference. I try to introduce them as I add them, but don't always manage that.

I just discovered Joan's blog The Bookself ...with some great posts about the NVWC conference and a truly hysterical (I think, anyway) staff photo. Not sure they'd run it on the website, but it cracks me up just looking at it; we were all rather punchy by then - as you might be able to tell.

Joan published quite a few posts from the conference, with perceptive and astute notes from the craft talks and workshops and some really good photos. Seriously. And she has a nice collection of blogs from Agents and Publishers, worthy of cruising, if anyone is so inclined.

So, check it out.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Lady GaGa - Library Fan?

In honor of Lady Ga Ga being in town, I had to post this YouTube of the

Lady La La's

just check it out, if you love a librarian. Or a good library.

Held Breath

These are the dog-days of August, the lull between the high activities of summer proper and the fall semester looming ahead. Usually, these are hot and even sultry days, but this year we awaken to leaden, fog-cold mornings and wait impatiently, bundled in sweatshirts, wool socks and fleece, for the heat of short afternoons.

Slow, even listless days. The very air is still; the campus silent with quietness of a held breath. No students chattering in the courtyards or calling across the quad; no bustle as throngs troop down the hallways, no lines (savor that!) at Charlie’s or Toast; no bands blaring at noon.

Walking along Salazar Hall, I miss the squeaky, buzzy swallows, their mud nests for the most part empty except the few hardy couples double-clutching, raising a second brood. The rest of the swallows, oldsters and youngsters, have decamped to begin the long trek to South America for the winter. Midday, I take the path over the little knoll to sit on a wide bench at the top edge of the Alumni Amphitheater grove just as the fog thins to blue. I welcome this lull, this silence, this held breath. Even the poplar trees are merely whispering in the faint occasional lackluster stirrings of air.  

Juv. Cooper's hawk, photo: Becky Olsen
All last month, though, this small grove of poplar, pine and oak, was a noisy nursery for a clutch of Cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii) fledglings. Becky Olsen in Financial Services had been keeping an eagle (ooops) eye on the nest since mid-spring, when a pair of hawks had taken up residence the large oak. One day last May, on a bird walk about campus, she took several of us to the south side of Salazar.  “Stand right about here, “she said, directing our binoculars to the top of the majestic oak, “look into the middle of that dark section there.” And there it was, a very large collection of sticks and twigs, the work of several seasons. Truly, if you did not know the nest was there, it wasn’t.

After that, I planned my walk-about routes to pass by it.  Several times, I saw the swoop of a parent hawk, mostly brown from my viewpoint, bringing tidbits to the nest. And every so often, I would see one perched on the branches of nearby trees, as still as could be. And then, in early July, I saw a fuzzy, white something poking over the edge of the nest: hatchlings!

Juv. Cooper's Hawk. Photo: Becky Olsen
By mid-July, they were fledglings and were hopping around the branches of the oak (known as branching); then, as they got the hang of flight, in nearby trees. And not just one, three! Quel surprise! Each day, they flapped a bit further, all the while begging keee!kee!keee! for tasty morsels. The parents were having a time of it, reminding me of the endless grocery runs when there were teens in my house. The Cooper’s hawks certainly picked their nest-site well. Their market is right next door, under the eaves of Salazar,  for the main prey of Cooper’s hawks are small birds, though they are willing to vary their diet with little mammals and lizards if the opportunity presents itself, or if necessary.

The Cooper’s hawk is one of three species of Accipiters, the long-tailed, blunt winged, forest-dwelling group of hawks. They are swift, agile birds, designed to dodge through trees after their flying prey. Elegant and dignified in adulthood they are, with a slate-gray back (lending them the nickname big blue darter), ruddy-brown and white ribbing underneath and bright red eyes-though I have yet to see those with my own peepers. The young begin as those outrageous white puff balls that morph into yellow-eyed juvies, with barred brown-and-cream plumage

It’s thrilling to see these hawks on campus; they are every inch dignified and regal birds. And they have skirted the edge of extinction several times. They were once the bane of farmers, who thought they were drawn to chickens (thus dubbed “chicken hawk”) and thus hunted to dangerously low populations in the late 1800’s. In the mid-1900’s, they (along with so many other birds of prey), suffered from the ravages of DDT, which led to fragile-shelled eggs and the loss of several generations. Now they face loss of habitat as the wild woodlands are leveled or logged.

But they are doing their best to adapt. Once considered reclusive, to be found only it forests far from human habitation (gee, I don’t know why) Cooper’s hawks have been seen scouting and snacking at suburban bird feeders and even in urban parks.  So it’s not that surprising that they nest here, in this park-like setting, with a ready supply of swallows, and people who leave them alone.
And though the bird-parents are done for the season, resting on their laurels, enjoying the peace and quiet, we will be faced with all the human fledglings, due to arrive in a week. Maybe they'll bring some hot weather with them.

more details on Cooper's hawks:

Saturday, August 14, 2010

From Napa Hills to Pt Reyes Bookstore

Nothing quite like starting the day contemplating poetry and ending it with a reading. (Conferences are good for that!) Trying to do the former as often as possible, and always on the lookout for the latter.*

Here's a morning-kickstart poem from Brenda Hillman's "Cascadia."

The Rise of the Napa Hills

The sea has receded a little. Mild layers stack up
without panic, like e-mail.  Twin frenzied suns watch the ocean
sediments settle under Oakville Grocer. Flittery
strings tied to the tops of young vines shimmer two versions of 
the actual: red, white. The curfew vintner walks below,
tapping smooth metal vats with a spoon. He asks them the twelve
questions: Did you love your life? How 'bout now? Can you recite
the table of sunsets? Did the weather wait for you? Did
you wait back? When he shook before the world did you shake too?
Did you fall in the milky sunshine? Do you hear their
gritty theories still? Would you like a drink? Can you live in 
two directions with border guards? You're not answering. 
Why didn't you fight more? Didn't you love being bad?

Love the 12 Questions! and "flittery strings...shimmer two versions of the actual"

Talking as we were about Lab Lit, it's cool to note that  Brenda's work is rich with all aspects of science, primarily geology in this poem. Yet "two versions of the actual" lead us to contemplate what is beyond the tangible world. 

* as for an evening reading, Brenda Hillman and Bob Hass will be at Pt Reyes Bookstore on Sept 4th, at a benefit for West Marin Review.  So ... supporting the local arts, and hearing the great poets of our age.
What's not to like?
I'll be there, foursquare. 

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Funny It Ain't

Wrote a limerick for the Martini House Gang...and then realized why it wasn't much good.  Just not funny. Can't be a limerick if there aren't any guffaws; the very structure of a limerick refuses any sort of seriousness. So this below might engender a quick smirk or two, but there's no real humor.

After 10 p.m. in the town of St Helena
no meal can be found, hi-fat or leana
      'cept at the gas station mini-mart
      there are bagel-dogs and apple-tarts
that we purchase from a counter-clerk named Tina.

Now, the task before me: funny this limerick up. 

Science in Literature

Apparently, it's a whole new genre, science in fiction -- as opposed to science fiction, that is. And here's a website devoted to it: Lab Lit.

Who knew?

Sunday, August 8, 2010

This weekend, I've done little except nap and read and try to recover my good senses, such as they are. After such intense experiences (the conference, wedding, readings,etc.), it's as if I have to crouch under a blanket and block all incoming input for a day or two. Nothing new, please! my system demands, I'm not done with the old stuff.  No conversation, no hot discussions, sometimes not even music; I have to damper myself down.

So this weekend, I've bounced between reading a novel, taking 3 and 4 hour naps and lounging on the hammock with my new poetry books. And by bouncing, I mean dropping the book over my face as I fade into dreamland, or wavering down the back stairs to the hammock with a pillow, a blanket and a cup of tea.  It feels wickedly indulgent. Especially the not talking to anyone part.

I'm adoring "Percival's Planet", Michael Byer's latest novel. The four storylines seem so far apart at the start; it's fascinating to see the little ways they begin to connect, pulling the web of the novel together. Like seeing the stars that you know make a constellation; first they are just bright, unconnected stars in a loose array at some section of the sky; then you begin to see the faint lines - then the whole constellation pops into place.

The characters, the place, the time, all are so loving wrought and evoked; I just fall into it. But I'm also kind of a sucker for science in literature. It's a huge chunk of what we know, for one thing; it's fascinating for another. And even though most of the math is astronomically (not sorry) over my head in this book, I don't have to parse out the equations, there will be no test; I get the gist of it enough to follow the story. And I love just hearing about the math and physics, seeing how it's used. The language of it. The derivation of linear least squares, the residuals. the complex laws of orbital resonances. I love that Byers includes all the mechanics of grinding the glass lenses, the Carborundum, the iron sesquioxide and the structure of telescopes; that he has shows us the unrelenting grind of most scientific work and the politics that swirl around discoveries.

But it's not just about deep sky; there are also dinosaurs involved. Deep time.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Napa Recovery Week

As you might guess, I was way too busy and having far too much fun at the NVWC to post here. But other people not only worked hard, had fun, wrote a ton but posted, too. So here's a link to the fine blog of one of our fictioneers: Fog City Writer.

But I did take a few photos:

Brenda Hillman, Mary Shea and Andrea Bewick

Ron Carlson and workshoppees at Thursday's picnic
At the lobby table: considering plot, character or what's for lunch?

*Jiminey Cricket… I am my own 10,000th hit. Wanted to offer a prize to such a person, but of course had no way to figure out how to make that happen. Guess the universe responded...