Nick Virgilio

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I have something very special in store for fall — through an independent study, I’m going to be working with the archival materials of the haiku poet Nick Virgilio. His family gave his papers to my university, and they have been awaiting archiving for some time. The time seems to be here — our library’s new special collections area is almost finished, and my “invisible hands” are ready to work on something I strongly want to see preserved for the future. I am so thrilled to have this opportunity.

Virgilio is of course someone who reimagined Haiku for 20th century America, but he is also important to me because he is one of my own: from my gritty, concrete area of origin, from the same Italian American background. I’m not only doing an intellectual activity here; I’m helping out my paisan. I’m making sure that his (my) reality has a chance to stick around.

The professor supervising my independent study said that I can start sooner than fall, and as soon as I have handed in my spring work I am going to take him up on that offer. National Poetry Month? Let’s just say that I love poetry and I want to work with it and on it. I get what this interview with poet and Rutgers professor J.T. Barbarese is trying to say about these cutesy little months, and feel chastened:

Get rid of National Poetry Month. It strikes me as another one of those bad ideas invented by people of good will. Or by editors. Or a marketing group. Umberto Eco, years ago, suggested that the only way to save civilization was to abolish compulsory education. I am not sure he was just kidding. Truly interesting people – I think Hitchens said this – are always autodidacts. “Poetry” is a thing that is taught in school by consumers for consumers as if it were a sacred cultural commodity or a kind of vaccination against abomination. Poetry is something else.

Something else, indeed. I’ll let Nick Virgilio talk about this something else:

always returning
to the terminal patient’s toe-
autumn fly

 

 

my spring love affair:
the old upright Remington
wears a new ribbon

 

 

adding father’s name
to the family tombstone
with room for my own

 

 

the sack of kittens
sinking in the icy creek
increases the cold

 

 

on the darkened wall
on my dead brother’s bedroom:
the dates and how tall

 

 

(image: photograph of Virgilio by Bob Bartosz, 1974, Courier News)

 

 

April is National Poetry Month

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I know it seems that it is always some “fill in the blank” month, week, or day. Have you celebrated National Pecan Month, Stress Awareness Month, National Humor Month, Read a Road Map Week, National Karaoke Week, National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day, Hairstyle Appreciation Day, or Rubber Eraser Day this April? Nah, me neither! What I have been enjoying immensely, though, is National Poetry Month. Here are a few ways I’ve been enjoying it, that you might like too:

I subscribe to a-poem-a-day sites. I get an poem from Emily Dickinson’s Complete Poems delivered via email each week day from Daily Lit. I also recently subscribed to the poem a day delivery on Poets.org, where I never quite know what is going to be delivered, and it’s usually a poet I’m not familiar with. Today, for example:

To Amy Lowell

Eunice Tietjens
who visits me in a hospital
 
Like a fleet with bellying sails, 
Like the great bulk of a sea-cliff with the staccato bark
       of waves about it, 
Like the tart tang of the sea breeze 
Are you; 
Filling the little room where I lie straitly on a white 
       island between pain and pain.

 

I find that reading poems and mulling them over as I sip my coffee and dress put me in a creative, receptive, good headspace for the day. It helps me dwell in possibility.

I’ve been reading so many good essays on what poetry means to people. My two favorites of this week are In Defense of Poetry: Oh My Heart  on The Becoming Radical, and Do What You Do, Love What You Love that was posted on the Poetry Foundation’s blog this week. They need no more words from me; read them.

Speaking of words, I’ve been reading lots of Anne Sexton this National Poetry Month:

Words
Anne Sexton
Be careful of words,
even the miraculous ones.
For the miraculous we do our best,
sometimes they swarm like insects
and leave not a sting but a kiss.
They can be as good as fingers.
They can be as trusty as the rock
you stick your bottom on.
But they can be both daisies and bruises.
Yet I am in love with words.
They are doves falling out of the ceiling.
They are six holy oranges sitting in my lap.
They are the trees, the legs of summer,
and the sun, its passionate face.
Yet often they fail me.
I have so much I want to say,
so many stories, images, proverbs, etc.
But the words aren’t good enough,
the wrong ones kiss me.
Sometimes I fly like an eagle
but with the wings of a wren.
But I try to take care
and be gentle to them.
Words and eggs must be handled with care.
Once broken they are impossible
things to repair.

Gasp! Ka-pow!

I’ve even been writing a little something. It was inspired by this actual, sort of everyday occurrence that I realized was fraught with metaphor.

Immerse

White stains
on the fingers of my
black gloves.

Perhaps
I shouldn’t have
touched it?

Black stains
on the fingers of my
white hands.

Water
made it worse;
I was compelled
to immerse.

 

Here is something we can all do on April 24th: Poem in Your Pocket Day! Shhhh – don’t tell anybody, but I’m going to write several copies of a poem (to be determined! I’m pretty sure it will be a Dickinson poem, but I’m not sure which one) on paper and leave them in my wake all day. On the train, at the university I work at, in the courtyard, on a park bench, at the library. Meg sent me glorious handmade squares of beautifully weighted paper at the winter holidays, and I think this will be the perfect use for it! I’ll decorate each one and make them special, and hopefully the people who find them will want to keep them. Poem bombing, if you will. I’ll let you know how it goes (and you let me know if you do it too, ok?)!

I LOVE this idea:

I’d love to make a poetry skirt and poetry mittens. But they will have to wait until school is done for the semester! I’d like to embroider a poem around the hem of a skirt, maybe in the same tone of the body of the skirt, as to be subtle. You would have to be looking to know that I have a poem on my skirt. I could use:

A Spider
sewed at Night
Without a Light
Upon an Arc of
White –

If Ruff it was
of Dame
Or Shroud of Gnome
Himself himself
inform –

Of Immortality
His Strategy
Was Physiognomy –

~ Emily Dickinson

What lines of poetry would I put on a pair of mittens? Could I fit

Autumn—overlooked my Knitting

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Autumn—overlooked my Knitting—
Dyes—said He—have I—
Could disparage a Flamingo—
Show Me them—said I—

Cochineal—I chose—for deeming
It resemble Thee—
And the little Border—Dusker—
For resembling Me—

Emily Dickinson

 

Are you celebrating National Poetry Month? I’d love to hear how in the comments!

A Musing: Nights at the Circus

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I was thinking that I would have to read Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus again before I even attempted a musing on it, but realized that another reading, and perhaps yet another after that wouldn’t pin down anything: the novel’s very core dances with the concept of truth. I still wouldn’t “know.” I can’t even give you a plot summary — the turn of the last century. A woman with wings, performing in a circus. London, then train travel to Russia, then Siberia. A women’s prison. A takeover of the train by outlaws. No, not really. See? Can’t do it.

What’s swirling around in my head? Notions of feminism, postmodernism, performativity, appetite. Power (“She was feeling supernatural tonight. She wanted to EAT diamonds.”), politics. Subjects and objects. Chaos (oh my god I’ll never look at a clown in the same way) and order. Desire. Love. Change. Utopia. Allegories and theories. Gorgeous, gorgeous language and narrative acrobatics.

Brilliant. Risky. Difficult and worth it. I love, love, loved it. I need to go to Angela Carter World much more often.

How inconvenient to have wings, and by extension, how very, very difficult to be born so out of key with the world. Something that women know all about is how very difficult it is to enter an old game.

Carter, Angela. A Conversation with Angela Carter, The Review of Contemporary Fiction. Fall, 1994.

Miss jackiemania Lives For Six Days

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Me, Brynn, Our Poster, Allison, and My Professor!

I had the most wonderful experience at the conference I attended! How did you guys know that Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day was the perfect book to bring on this trip?! It not only provided a squishy-heart lightness, laughs, and screwball charm, but I felt like a real Miss Pettigrew — a Cinderella story for the almost middle-aged — where gaining your true self and true life is the prize.

I arrived in Indianapolis as, well, me. A person who works full-time and takes a class every semester and loves to read and learn but doesn’t have too many outlets for it, just like Miss Pettigrew has gumption and skills completely underutilized by her governess jobs. But, magic! I left the conference a person who can present research, talk at a session or over drinks with brilliant minds in the field, and find angles into her own research from other’s work. I even was able to kinda, sorta hash out a 5 year plan which will let me do the work I love without being in Adjunct Hell or moving across the stratosphere. I even got wined  and dined by universities and publishers much like Miss Pettigrew gets wined and dined in her Cinderella story! I also experienced generosity — with ideas and mentoring — just like Miss Pettigrew experiences with Delysia LaForce and Edythe DuBarry (oh Edythe! My favorite character in the book! Talk about self-creation!). Neither my experience or Miss Pettigrew’s involved losing a glass slipper, but I did manage to lose one of my vintage half slips!

When I think about Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, it will forever be entwined with collaboratively writing a poem and having it read in front of Angela Davis and the scholar who coined the phrase Passionate Attachments two seats over, learning about Materiality and realizing it will be the perfect rhetorical frame for my Rose Valley project, hearing PhD students struggle with too much and too little material in their archival research projects, crying in a session after experiencing slam poetry that is so, so brave, drinking a house-brewed beer as big as my head whist teasing out just what emergent means in grounded theory with the author of an article I read this semester, talking with over 100 people about a giant poster we made on our research, and hearing Really Nice Things back, having an elegant publisher-given dinner in a museum where you could then wander the three story collection if you wanted to, playing Depeche Mode on a Waffle House juke box (really), hearing my project partners read their wonderful poems at the Exultation of Larks, playing charades and drinking a bottle of wine in our hotel room, putting my feet up in a grand hotel lobby with a cup of Earl Grey Creme, viewing Ansel Adams photographs with my professor and project partners after a great lunch in the museum, talking about Art and Life, and More.

I finished the book as we were going home, on the layover in Ohio, but the magic remains. As the last page of Miss Pettigrew states:

I will be a novice at first, but I will put my heart and soul into it. I will learn. You need not fear. I have cast out fear. I am a new woman.

<3!

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day Wins!

 

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Miss Pettigrew is coming to Indianapolis with me!

Thanks to everyone who voted. I appreciate it so very much! You really helped me :) I would have dithered about which  book to bring forever.

image: from the Persephone page on the book. I have the Persephone grey classic copy — I didn’t check to see if it has illustrations, but I do hope so!

What Should I Read On My Trip?

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Hello Everyone! I have a very important task that I’d love some help with! I leave for the Conference on College Composition and Communication on Tuesday, and I want to take one paperback book with me for the plane rides, late night comfort, and any down time when I crave a quiet bit of reading. I narrowed it down to nine possible books to bring — can you help me choose the Final Bring On My Trip book by answering this poll?

 

I promise to bring the book that gets the most votes! I’ll end the poll at 8pm on Monday March 17, 2014 EST.

Thanks so much for helping me pick my book! xoxoxoxo

A Musing: Howards End

(c) BRIDGEMAN; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Phew. I have really excelled at picking books to read that cut me to the quick these days! Howards End is the most recent of novels to leave me both unsettled and imbued with humanity. It’s a novel masquerading as an essay, or an essay masquerading as a poem, or literature masquerading as gospel. I have been incredibly moved by this work of art.

Some people will say it’s a book about class, relationships, and what is the “right” thing to do/way to be. I agree. But I think at the heart of the book lies the really big unanswered question about The State of the World. Forster’s anxiety about the trajectory of the way things are going — exemplified by the “telegrams and anger,” “panic and emptiness,” “everyone moving,” and “continual flux” of the Wilcoxes, cars, and London – make me feel like Forster had immense psychic powers! Reading this book a little over 100 years since it was written, and knowing all that has happened this century (the wars, the technology, the industrialization, the urbanization) is so chilling. So many readers quote the “only connect” message of the novel, but for me, the crux of the issue is:

“We are reverting to the civilization of luggage, and historians of the future will note how the middle classes accreted possessions without taking root in the earth, and may find in this the secret of their imaginative poverty.” 

Howards End symbolizes connection to the past and connection to the earth that is surely leaving the England (the West, the World) of 1910. The landowners are dying, selling or breaking up their land. The working class country people are moving to the city, sometimes to succeed, but often to suffer. The intelligentsia are the do-gooders who sometimes do more harm than good. The Wilcoxes, Schlegels, and the Basts encompass the Modern problems that we’ve not solved, but only complicated. The characters in the book, and our world have had thier sacrificial lambs. Can you understand why I’m so overwrought?

“Because a thing is going strong now, it need not go strong for ever,’ she said. ‘This craze for motion has only set in during the last hundred years. It may be followed by a civilization that won’t be a movement, because it will rest on the earth. All the signs are against it now, but I can’t help hoping.” 

The end of the book leaves me with a tiny bit of hope, but thinking about what has ensued in the 100 years since it was written does not. What will the next 100 years bring?

(image: Wych Elm in Winter, William Rothenstein, 1919, oil on canvas)