Goodbye Liam, Hello ?

Today I mailed my final MFA packet of the semester, which included the 10 page essay on the sonnet, “The Future of the Fourteen Liner.” I’m quite proud of this essay, but I’m not sure it has publication potential. It’s too long for a start. I’ll probably stick it up in the essay section of the Quick & Dirty Poets’ webpage, if nothing else.

I surprised myself by feeling quite sentimental about the impending separation between myself and my teacher for this semester, Liam Rector. It’s an oddly intense dependence I’ve built up over five months, writing long, involved monthly letters and sending him everything half decent I’ve written. In the end I wanted him to like me, and I’m not sure he does, much. I said something to that effect in my final letter. It will be interesting to see how he responds.  

Within the next ten days or so I should also find out who will be my next professor. Encouraged by Liam, I put Henri Cole as my first choice. I loved his book The Visible Man, which I read this semester, and Liam seems to think he will help me with my translations and formal work.

Right now I feel strangely flat. Of course it doesn’t help that my Mother-In-Law is on her tenth day of a two week visit. I’ve written nothing since she arrived, apart from snippets of vindictive iambic pentameter. She is a lovely lady, of course, but she invades my time, my space and, worst of all, my silence.

Well, there’s no point brooding. I really should see if I can work any of those snippets up into a workable sonnet.

The June Issue is Up!

I brought the new issue of The Barefoot Muse online a little early because today I am headed to a festival of literary journals in W. Caldwell. The organizer has kindly said I can have three of the library computers online and connected to the e-zine for passers by to browse, and of course I wanted them to browse the new issue.

The new issue is bigger and better than either of the previous ones (and yes, I worked bloody hard on it.) It’s a ‘sestina special’ issue, and the jewel in its crown is a double sestina by the wonderful Denise Duhamel. There are two essays, and our first ever book review–okay, written by me, but I hope it will encourage some review submissions. The issue is illustrated by a talented artist friend of mine, Erin McGee. New features include the editorial and latest news pages, and .wav files of five of the poets reading their contributions. Plus of course we have 18 poems from 16 fine formal and metrical poets. Read it!

I have also decided that this year I will nominate for the Pushcart Prize. There are a couple in this issue I am considering, but I will also be able to include accepted poems for the December issue, submission deadline November 21st. Speaking of the Pushcart, of course I didn’t win one after being nominated last year by Verse Libre Quarterly. However, I will be included in a Panel Discussion regarding the Award, which will be published by Andwerve next month.

Right, a literary festival awaits me!

Poetry and…Web Design?

I am currently laying out the new issue of The Barefoot Muse, a ‘sestina special’ featuring Denise Duhamel. Now, I consider myself to be fairly computer-savvy. I’ve had my own personal website since 1996, and I’ve always maintained it in HTML–none of those cheating WYSIWYG editors for me, thank you very much. However, today, though ultimately rewarding, has taught me a few things I should probably always have known. In the interests of world (wide web) harmony, I’m going to share them here:

1) Not everyone has a spanking new 1280×800 pixel widescreen laptop. Actually I found a useful website here, which gives various user trends. The relevant one here is that 20% of users still have a screen resolution of 800×600 pixels, although this is falling. I have always known enough to make my tables and columns relative rather than absolute in size, which means you define a column as occupying 50% of screen width rather than being a fixed pixel width. What I hadn’t considered is what happens when you try to put an image 400 pixels wide into a table cell only 300 pixels wide. The answer is that it overrides the table width and occupies 400 pixels, leaving only 200 pixels to accommodate the poem in the other column. I am most obliged to one of my contributors who described the resulting effect like this: “Interesting to see the sonnet as not a sonnet…”

2) As the user is in control of browser text size, font sizes should be defined relative to the user default. In Internet Explorer, for example, clicking on View in the toolbar top left, and then on Text Size, gives five options: Largest Larger Medium Smaller Smallest. In your HTML (or in my case Cascading Style Sheet) you should set font size as a % of the user default.

3) Remember MACs? 3.6% of users currently access the Internet via the Apple Mac. Now, I didn’t know this until today, but Microsoft and Apple fell out a while ago, and Microsoft no longer support Internet Explorer on the Mac. Apple have developed a new browser platform called Safari (which incidentally looks rather good). I also found this site, where you can go and check to see what your website will look like on a Mac using Safari.

4) The user is also in control of browser text size on Safari, although it is a little less intuitive.

  1. From the Safari menu, select Preferences.
  2. Click Appearance.
  3. To change the standard font or fixed-width font used in pages, click the appropriate Select button.
  4. Change the font size using the slider bar.

So, that was all very instructive (and only a little frustrating). My contributor with the Mac was extremely patient, for which I am very grateful, and if she happens to read this I just want to add that I’m not always such a klutz with the web design–it’s just that I’m primarily a poet.

An Evening with Seamus Heaney

Last night I walked into the Free Library of Philadelphia and discovered myself, for a large part of the evening, in rural Northern Ireland during the middle part of last century. My tour guide for the night was a white-haired jocular native with an endearingly robust Irish accent, the Nobel Prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney.

I was thrilled when he opened his reading with “Digging,” a poem I first came across in Mrs. Richards’ English classroom, Aelfgar Comprehensive School, Rugeley, England, circa 1982. I could credit that poem with part of the responsibility for my own early forays into poetry, although that might be to do Mrs. Richards a disservice. She brought that poem alive for us, as she did so many others. (If I digress to elegize my former teacher for a minute, Seamus will understand. He talked yesterday about the ‘Seamus Heaney circle’—those named characters in his poems that by their presence imbue his verse with a sense of time and place. Mrs. Richards would be part of the ‘Anna Evans’ circle’, and I do believe I may owe her a poem.)

The circle to which Seamus refers is immortalized in the title of his new collection District & Circle, and perhaps half of the poems he read came from this new book. (Yes, I bought a signed copy; no, alas, I didn’t get to meet him.) As good poetry should, this title casts several shadows: the District & Circle lines are two lines on London’s Underground that follow the same tracks for a large part of their distance, hence the pairing, and the title poem is a sequence of five poems set in the London Underground. But as Seamus explained, ‘the District’ was also how his neighbors referred to their small part of Ireland: “he’s from ‘the District’” meant he was a local.

Many of the new poems do hark back to the regional poetry Heaney is perhaps best known for: for example poems like “Midnight Anvil” tell the story of local blacksmith Barney Devlin ringing in the new millennium on his anvil. However, District & Circle is also Heaney’s post nine-eleven collection, and there are other poems within it that hint at a darkness reminiscent of his early poems which documented the sectarian violence in Northern Ireland. “Helmet” is a poem twenty years in the making about the gift of a fireman’s helmet, and the images that self-sacrificing service have lately evoked; “Shiver,” ostensibly about swinging a sledge-hammer, is an allegory against the wielding of unstoppable force.

After reading for forty-five minutes, Seamus took audience questions, and here demonstrated his wisdom and tact to its utmost. On being asked by a fellow Irishwoman what on earth made him think he could become a poet, he admitted he had never thought of himself that way, not until after three published collections, someone else wrote it, without asking, in the column on a form reserved for his occupation. When asked for his take on the ‘evil empire’ of the MFA program proliferation, he defended the need for writing programs, while at the same time laying the blame for ‘the kind of poetry we only pretend to like’ squarely at the door of the literary establishment.

Finally, on being offered the chance to read three or four more poems to close, Seamus said he would read just one, and after telling an amusing pub story about knowing when it is time to go, read “Quitting Time.”

In this latest collection, and on tour, Ireland’s best-loved poet demonstrates that he is at the height of his literary powers. I hope it will be a long time yet before Seamus calls it “Quitting Time.”

Caitlin: Life with Dylan Thomas

Today I finished the first draft of my ten page end of semester MFA essay, and in celebration I decided to read a non-MFA book. Yesterday I stopped at the library to pick up some copies of the Robert Lowell sonnet books for the essay, which is on the evolution of the sonnet. While I was browsing the poetry shelves I spotted this book, written back in 1986 by Caitlin Thomas (with some help from George Tremlett) and was irresistably drawn to it.

There is something far too appealingly romantic about the story of Dylan Thomas, who died at 39 of causes related to excessive alcohol consumption while on a reading tour in New York. Caitlin’s version undoubtedly helps to cast a pink glow over everything: she does talk matter of factly about the rows, the binge-drinking and the infidelities, but she glosses over some of the nastier facts of their tempestuous marriage, such as the late term abortion she had at six months, or the point that as a matter of habit she left their sleeping infants to accompany Dylan to the local pub.

Reading the story is your typical train wreck–I consumed it in two sittings. However it depressed me for two reasons, one probably common to most people who have internalized Dylan’s life, and one no doubt confined to the women.

There is no doubt that Dylan, much like Plath, could have produced more superb poems, had he lived. The fact that he pretty much drank himself to death is a tragedy and a warning, to those of us who like a drink, which would include me in all my British glory. In fact I’m sitting here with a glass of wine as I write. Careful, Anna, careful: I try to be.

The female-only issue is about time, and children, and poetry. Thomas neglected his family terribly. He was not present for the births of any of the children (or either of the abortions) and he refused to be embroiled in domesticity, although he professed to love his children. He wrote in seclusion, traveled in a different train compartment from them, and left them on a regular basis to live the writer’s life in London.

It’s 9 pm, and my husband just got home from work. This is not unusual. Since 3.30 I have been sole custodian of our two. I did the standard gymnastics run, hung out there and watched for an hour (Becky likes that), came back and supervised Lorna, cooked them both dinner, and cleaned up the house and the kitchen.

Caitlin writes that Dylan Thomas had a special genius, and couldn’t be expected to deal with everyday household affairs. Does this mean I have no genius, or simply that I have no-one to recognize it?