gradschool, poetry, writing

this week

I turned in a draft of my MFA thesis. It’s a compilation of the poems I’ve been writing over the course of this program.

There have been many times in the MFA where I’ve felt that what I’m writing wouldn’t quite hold together, somehow, as a cohesive manuscript. Seeing it all together, though, makes me happy. I have even allowed myself the indulgence of rereading it just to read it. They do read well together. It’s going to work out, I think.

I didn’t need any help with the whole generating-material thing when I came here. I’ve always been what Dan Chumley called a “fast typer.” First draft a minute. But the time it takes to revise, and the confidence in yourself to believe that revision is something your work deserves, is something I definitely needed support from others to get better at. No one has ever showed me how to revise. It’s only that, here, it is expected. So I’ve done it. More revision than ever before.

My first drafts were good enough for me. Here, I have had to make things that are good enough for others.

If all the MFA does is give you the expectation that you will take your own writing more seriously, then that’s a lot. For me. It has been.

I think of the poems as revised as kinds of performances. I half had a thought the other day of laying them out as if they were in a script, which is how I think of them. But I think there might be something to be said for conforming to the typographical conventions of this genre.

At any rate, I am happier and more relaxed about the thesis now than I expected to be. I am going to revise much more, and generate new material, and probably find a way to get stressed out about it. But I’m proud of what I’ve done so far, and I like looking at it. The feeling I have reminds me of the feeling I used to have in rehearsal when the scenes would get to the point that I could just enjoy watching them. I’m not quite there yet, but I can feel it.

This will be such a good thing to have done. I’m so happy I’ve done it. Am doing it.


Monody shall not wake the mariner

At Melville’s Tomb

Often beneath the wave, wide from this ledge
The dice of drowned men’s bones he saw bequeath
An embassy. Their numbers as he watched,
Beat on the dusty shore and were obscured.

And wrecks passed without sound of bells,
The calyx of death’s bounty giving back
A scattered chapter, livid hieroglyph,
The portent wound in corridors of shells.

Then in the circuit calm of one vast coil,
Its lashings charmed and malice reconciled,
Frosted eyes there were that lifted altars;
And silent answers crept across the stars.

Compass, quadrant, and sextant contrive
No farther tides . . . High in the azure steeps
Monody shall not wake the mariner.
This fabulous shadow only the sea keeps.

– Hart Crane, White Buildings


a head like a wet muffin

“It is not very exciting to arise and essay forth to ten hours dull and exasperating labor every morning at five-thirty and return home with a head like a wet muffin afterward. And that is the routine that I am enmeshed in at present…”

– Hart Crane, letter to William Wright, Feb 24, 1920 (Letters, Weber ed., 33)

Baltimore, poetry, the chorus

from the lighthearted department

Spent the ||8ve session this week on four Robert Herrick poems–there’s nothing to make you stop thinking about Poland like a good half-hour spent directing “Upon Julia’s Clothes.” O, how that glittering taketh me. It is really good to be silly–it’s better still to take silly things seriously, and serious things in humor.

J and I spent time after the actual rehearsal working on some administrative stuff for the group. We’re being serious–speaking of taking more silly things seriously–we made a FB page, registered a domain name, created a to-do list, and J actually sketched a logo in a notepad in Subway.


today is the birthday of Parallel Octave. He is six months old, having been born on April 10, and is probably too young for Julia’s clothes or being upon them. The news is next. From National Public Radio in Washington, I’m Karl Castle.

books, poetry


An unpublished Hughes-Plath letter from “Birthday Letters,” which wasn’t included in the collection, has been discovered. I’m extremely interested. BL has become more and more important to me over the course of my time in the MFA (I read the earthenware head poem as the lead-in to my reading on Monday). I am very, very, very excited to read this poem, as soon as I can get ahold of a copy of the New Statesman.

Also, Mario Vargas Llosa has won the Nobel.

poetry, Uncategorized

this [long] weekend,

like the [long] eighteenth century, I did a lot of writing and revising for a reading Monday. We also held a Parallel Octave session where, for the first time, we discovered a poem that seems to “want” to be spoken in unison all the way throughout (Hart Crane’s “My Grandmother’s Love Letters.”)

The reading itself was very good. I read a revision of a new poem and a revision of an old one, a very emotional one, that I hadn’t shared with anyone in over a year. People responded to it well. I suppose *some* sentiment is something that is wanted.

poetry, quotes

new emotions appropriate to one’s age

Friday, two parties, one on a rooftop. Yesterday, “Animula” in Parallel Octave, and the Baltimore Book Festival. Today, chakra-balancing yoga and more of Eliot’s prose: which, unlike his poetry, grows more and more congenial to me as he ages. Also, finishing the poem (finishing the hat). The late Eliot is helpful in this regard. Encouraging.

“When a man is engaged in work of abstract thought — if there is such a thing as wholly abstract thought outside the mathematical and the physical sciences — his mind can mature, while his emotions either remain the same or only atrophy, and it will not matter. But maturing as a poet means maturing as the whole man, experiencing new emotions appropriate to one’s age, and with the same intensity of the emotions of youth.”

-T.S. Eliot, from “Yeats,” (Selected Prose: 247-8)

poetry, quotes

that is why people make poems about the dead

…some things are not possible on the earth.
And that is why people make poems about the dead.
And the dead watch over them, until they are finished:
Until their hands feel like glass on the page,
And snow collects in the blind eyes of statues.

– Larry Levis, “For Zbigniew Herbert, Summer, 1971, Los Angeles” from The Dollmaker’s Ghost, Selected: 60-61.

Today is the last day of a 3-day Larry Levis festival at VCU, featuring readings by Philip Levine, among others. I wish I had been able to go, but I have been AWOL enough from the program.


his unique and unerring feeling for the sound of words

“I do not think any poet in English has ever had a finer ear for vowel sounds, as well as a subtler feeling for some moods of anguish…”

“The surface of Tennyson stirred about with his time; and he had nothing to which to hold fast except his unique and unerring feeling for the sound of words. But in this he had something which no one else had.”

“And having turned aside from the journey through the dark night, to become the surface flatterer of his own time, he has been rewarded with the despite of an age that succeeds his own in shallowness.”

– T.S. Eliot, “In Memoriam,” (essay on Tennyson) Collected Prose, ed. Frank Kermode, 246-247