Monday, December 31, 2007

Shrike by Henri Cole

How brightly you whistle, pushing the long soft

feathers on your rump down across the branch,

like the apron of a butcher, as you impale a cricket

on a meat hook deep inside my rhododendron.

Poor cricket can hardly stand the whistling,

not to speak of the brownish-red pecking

(couldn’t you go a little easy?), but holds up

pretty good in a state of oneiric pain.

Once, long ago, when they were quarrelling about money,

Father put Mother’s head in the oven.

“Who are you?” it pleaded from the hell mouth.

Upstairs in the bathroom, I drank water right out of the tap,

my lips on the faucet. Everything was shaking and bumping.

Earth was drawing me into existence.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

E is trying to teach me social etiquette. For example if someone asks me how I am, one is supposed to return the question. I’m horrid at this---usually I don’t want to be asked the question in the first place so to actually prolong the encounter is painful. Yet even if I find the question intriguing, I don't volley back, I figure if they wanted to tell me their point of view, they’d tell me.

I’m not a good asker but I am trying, to be a better listener...

Another thing E is teaching me is to return things. I’m a horrible returner, which kinda goes with the whole talking thing if you really think about it. If I buy something or receive something I don’t like I just keep it in the original box—gift wrap and all and put it on the upper shelf of my closet, until the boxes fall on me and then I take it to goodwill or I move it to a deeper place in the closet until I can’t shut my closet door.

Today E said that if I returned _______, I could take the money and buy books---this worked like crack cocaine. I never KNEW this was an option. Now I even might start returning the stuff I like.

Books I bought today:

October by Louise Gluck (for two bucks at the used bookstore)
Where The Sea Used To Be by Rick Bass (50 cents)
Listen to their Voices; Interview with Women Who Write (buck)
You are Not A Stranger Here by Adam Haslett (6.48)
Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown (99 cents)
The Farthest Shore by Matthew Eck (50 cents)
The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman (12.48) which felt like a forturne but it is her new book.
Middle Earth Henri Cole (5.00)
Decreation by Anne Carson (3.48)
Near Changes by Mona Vanduyn (50 cents)
The World And Other Places by Jeanette Winterson (6.00)
The Selected Poems by Yehuda Amichai
The Places That Scare You by Pema Chodron

Poor E only bought one book b/c SHE DIDN’T RETURN ANYTHING! Now I am lying on my bed with all my books around me and I’m happy.,

Friday, December 28, 2007

I have spent much of the day wondering about how to write about hunger. What I find interesting about being a writer is that at times, what is most essential is the most difficult to write.

Take love---no one has really nailed it, for all these hundreds of years in which human beings have been picking up pens no one has even been close to nailing down love. Maybe b/c it is like reflection, changing constantly. We have written about love so much---we are tired of it.

All our words are mundane but what of hunger—in what language do you speak?

I want to read all the books in my house I have never read. Then I want to move on to my lover's books. When I am done I will break into a stranger's house and read what I want there. I will keep going on and on.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Start with the good

I will start with the good news first. It seems the Minnesota Arts Council has awarded me $5,000 to finish my book. Out of 80 finalists, I by some fluke won first place which they called to tell me, while I was at the Ronald McDonald House in Boston with my niece who has been diagnosed with cancer.

I hadn’t slept for two days and I began to cry…HARD. Weirdly, not because I had won but b/c it was the first time in days where I actually felt something besides sadness.

Oddly this means I have earned almost ten thousand dollars on a book that has NOT been published yet. I don’t know what that makes me famous for but it must be somethin’. The judges said, they had no idea where I had come from and why didn’t anyone know of me…most of the finalist had several books, some had national book awards. Okay I’m here….I want to have a book….what more do I need to do?

Another fluke-- I am quotedin a book about Lucille Clifton called, Lucille Clifton: Her Life And Letters by Mary Jane Lupton. It seems that sections of the first book review I ever did, is being published in a book about Clifton. How cool is that? You know it almost makes me want to write two book reviews;) I stopped b/c I thought I was horrid at it---which I still might be.

In the real world---I am back from Boston. My niece, who is very beautiful is also very sick. She has seven tumors growing in her body. My days are full of trying to push things out of my head instead of writing about them---which never serves me well.

Monday, November 26, 2007

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Okay so the best thing to happen to me all day was a postcard from Ms. Loudon. It made me smile. It made me think about art, the ocean and an amazing poet. I like to smile.

I am hopelessly addicted to Go there! Read some books! Cause hell.

Also I received an email from Dorrianne Laux today about a residency in the woods. Anyone up to collaborating with me and trees? Why does that sound like dirty talk? Why does a room full of scientists sound like fun to me? Am I applying.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The house is asleep. The sun is shining and it is late morning and everyone is so tired from all the holiday hooplaa no one will wake which is fine by me—it is the first time I’ve been alone in four days.

1. I have enough leftovers to feed a small village
2. I don’t want to cook but live off saltines and tea
3. I like Katherine Mansfield’s writing far better than Virginia Woolfe
4. I am leaving for Boston in four days
5. I am going to be staying at the Ronald McDonald House (which though tragic seems oddly funny to me)
6. I am horrible with sick people
7. I am a good teacher, friend, mother but no so good with illness
8. I am scared
9. I hate flying
10. The only good parts are fried clams and seeing my sister
11. I want to use the top graphic as the cover of my new book
12. I find out about the big grant on Thursday
13. I will be out of town
14. I miss writing
15. I think we can be a cruel nation that doesn't take care of sick people

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

I am reading. I am reading Ginsberg and Mansfield. Last night I dreamt there was a box of light in my bathroom and I could make plants grow from it. I had a small cardboard field of tomatoes and rosemary---this is what I get for reading the Garden Supply Catalog before bed.

Tonight my sister is sitting by a hospital bed in Boston and wondering if my niece is going to live. My niece is six months old and beautiful. She is six month old and beautiful and has three tumors on her facial bone. Why did I ever read Lucy Grealy?

Once in a writing conference a famous writer said to me, national disasters happen all around me I thought it was an arrogant way to look at the world---to believe you were are the center of everything.

Truth: I believe if I thought about it happening and then it happens I caused it to happen. I believed b/c I read the book and feared for my own children I cause somehow the baby to be sick or b/c after the death of my nephew my mind has never felt safe, our children are never safe. It is a weird disease to be the center---to cause the world to fall off balance.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Jane Mead

The Specter and His World are One

Some say a jar can tell you
where you are, some say
a satellite. Others—

the postman, the stars,
the sea. It is possible
for the world to mislead you.

You cannot look too much
over your shoulder.
The symbol for moss

is a symbol for destiny:
The shut blaze darkens.
The world misleads you.

You cannot look too much
over your shoulder, I
cannot but say now

follow me,—onto the road
my own heart made,—
the red disc—

the real clay—
pile of yellow thistle
where I’m weeding.

This is the red earth you loved
—my way into.

Stranger than Fiction

My life is starting to resemble the movie “Stranger than Fiction” lately. I keep thinking I am going to hear Emma Thompson’s voice saying....”Harold had a very boring existence until....

1. her father ran off to Vegas with a 24 year old girl
2. her mother was put on a suicide watch
3. her six month old niece, who she has never seen was diagnosed with three cranial tumors
4. her father came back from Vegas and claimed he had been hunting
5. her mother TOOK HIM BACK
6. her father saw Jay Leno
7. her mother went on Valium
8. the tumors seem to be genetic
9. Harold put on a huge art show and raised 10,000 dollars for charity
10. Harold learns she is not adopted

There are days when it is far easier to be a character in a book---
Stupid things people said at the Frida Kahlo exhibit

1. Is that really a PET monkey?
2. Wasn’t her husband a painter
3. Wow, she looked much prettier then
4. How did she get her face to stay so still
5. I bet the monkey shit on her shoulder
6. I really don’t know what the big deal is...
7. I am supposed to write a paper on this and I hate it—
8. How I am suppose to write a paper on something I hate!!!!
9. Who’s Dorothy Parker?
10. Dear God, Frida was a communist
11. Do you think she had a cage for that monkey
12. My poster is MUCH bigger than the painting
13. Really, what is the big deal?

I am planning to break into the museum and go back when no one is there. Truly.
It is the largest collection of her paintings ever and I think it might be worth a felony just to see them without everyone yacking.

Yes, I’m an art bitch. I want quiet and color and maybe a good glass of wine.

The first thing I thought when I walked in was---I’d rather be happy. There’s such a sadness to her work, it’s as if pain is suddenly crawling under your skin when you enter the room. Maybe that’s why it is hard to be quiet.

I use to believe great art was worth anything.

And honestly I would feel sad for those people who didn’t seem to get it. That it came first, this need to create and if you didn’t feed it—it became only a shimmer, never great art. Great art came with sacrifice.

I still might believe it but I’d rather be happy. I have watched great artists come and go and I made pure shit and I’ve come close to beauty and if at the end of my life my children know I have loved them well. If I have loved E well then I’ve accomplished greatness—a life, a love which was art.
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Sunday, November 04, 2007

Yes I know I haven’t been here.

I have a big art show coming up on November 17th at the Northrup King Gallery and I have been driving myself crazy with it. I can’t wait till it is over. I miss writing. I am a far more solitary creature then I once believed.

I’m old now and I need my time.

Did you know yellow jackets bury themselves in the dirt and hibernate for winter?

I found their striped, curled bodies in the flower bed by the north wall and in my brush bag they began to wake and buzz. It was an amazing thing. I held them on my palm, sleepy with cold and they seemed so harmless, so beautiful.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

I have a headache. I’m not sure if lead paint gives you a headache but considering the painters left without cleaning up any of the 5000 pounds of trash they left it might be a possibility.

My five foot four self driving a monster truck to the dump three times is a blog post but without video, one really misses the true humor in it. Fact: I dress like an elf most of the time and left on my own I'd wear bright colors, crop pants and shoes with no socks seven days a week.

On Thursday night E and I had front row seats to Annie Lennox which was an amazing show. She rocked. I mean if I’m sixty years old and able to still look sexy and sing well, then being old doesn’t suck.

But I think with the elf thing I’m doomed.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

dog cart in hell

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hell and poetry prizes

I received a phone call today to say I’m a finalist in a fellowship which involves a fairly large sum of money. I’m sure I am jinxing it by writing it here but what the heck---it’s the first writing news I’ve had in ages so I’m marking it down.

I don’t know how I feel about being notified before the judges have made their decision. This has happened once before and I ended up taking second place, which instead of causing me great joy, made me crawl under my blankets and eat crackers in the dark for two days. It also made me sort of a stalker of the first place winner for like two weeks.

Truth: if I really want to punish myself I call up her bio and read her recent awards. She is single with a writing studio. I am pitiful and it took me a half hour to find a pen this morning.

Side note: E once asked me while we were semi quasi dating what kind of writer I wanted to be and I answered simply I want to be the greatest writer in my generation. I assumed it was my calling. I don’t feel like that anymore. I would be happy with a short story collection and a poetry book that isn’t featured in the used books table.

Sometimes I miss the arrogance of that woman before though I am sure E does not.

Another side note: I was thinking yesterday about heaven and hell existing on a linear plane. What if the philosophers and theologians had it all wrong? What if instead of evolving into a greater enlightenment we are actually digressing?

Children believe they can be anything, hell they can be six things at the same time: a firefighter, a doctor, a rock star. But as we grow old we are constantly surrounded by our limitations. We are the same person we are as children and yet we are less.

What if heaven is our beginning and hell is our end. Hell is the basic fact that the clock stops and we no longer exist. Forget demons and fire, would that not be the greatest punishment?

Sunday, September 30, 2007


I’ve been blogging in my head a lot lately, which means unless someone builds a skylight it’s very hard to know what I’m thinking.

I use to consider myself lucky to cross the Mississippi River every morning. I liked to pretend (and I do this a lot) that I am a wise holy woman in her red jetta making a treck across the water three times before the sun sets.

I believed it made me blest. I believed I was above all people, most lucky.

Until the bridge fell--and now every morning it is an interesting journey into my psyche.

Will my stomach tighten if I'm in stop dead traffic on the Tenth Avenue Bridge while hearing the jack hammer to my left?

Can I avoid looking at the rubble?

Will I picture the body bags in my mind’s eye?

And sometimes I am just angry. I am angry that this is the only way to get to school and I don’t understand the crowds of people who come every morning to look at the wreck of 35w.

I counted three people with easels last week PAINTING. I want to roll down my window and yell what the fluck are you seeing or simply walk around with a video camera recording the reasons of why they have come, why they have made this journey so I can understand or relate to their journey.

I want to stop every car in front of me and ask them if their stomach also tightens, if they breathe in deeply when they have crossed to the other side.

I am a poet. I understand we are in a constant journey to death. I've never avoided it and sometimes I've even embraced it. I think I understood this frail line even before I understood parts of my own language.

I’ve known everything could change in an instant. It is not this fragility which frightens me but I’m bothered by the constant alienation from the human race—this visual reminder that I’m never or I do ever want to be, that person in the crowd. I can’t fit there and I’m not sure why.

I will be reminded three times today.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Tonight Ani Difranco and why it is good to be a poet living in Minneapolis

I sat three feet from Ani Difranco while she gave her first poetry reading EVER!!!

It was amazing.

More when my head is not full of buzzing

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

In the World of Art

Yesterday I needed to interview 7 people (one right after another) for an early childhood teaching position. Interviewing people is like going to the dentist—it is not fun but every so often it needs to be done.

Person number one: A really cool woman, who just moved from Seattle. We spent more time talking about Rebecca’s motel exhibit and why Seattle’s art scene might be edgier than Minneapolis than actually talking ABOUT THE JOB.

Person number two: came and introduced herself and....

me: Tell me about your history with teaching art?

her: The most important thing you need to know about me is that I BELIEVE IN JESUS!

me: Ummmmm well okay, can you tell me a little about your teaching?

her: I brought photos.... (I resisted asking her if they were of her and Jesus)

She then produced 200 photos of her and the same Three children, she was always in the center. They were doing a variety of art projects: draw your own creation story, trace your foot and color it in, this my friend an autumn leaf and so on.

her: (Because I’ve gone ABSOLUTELY numb at this point) What is the benefits package?

me: We have none. (trying to make it easy on both of us.)

her: What does it pay?

me: (I said the lowest number I could think three dollars an hour or something)

her: Well....oh..... I think I am going to have to go out in the hall and talk to Jesus about this because I'm not sure if I can take the job.

me: You haven’t actually been offered the job yet so you might want to wait.

3-6 were a series of blond women, for some reason the teaching profession attracts blond women with long hair in droves and they blurred together in my mind, forming a creature with seven eyes.

number seven called a half hour before his interview.

him: Hi, this is Rob. I have an interview in a half hour and I need to know if you are GLBT friendly.

me: Yes, it is on our mission statement on our web page but yes we are.

him: Are you sure?

me: Well, I’m queer how FRIENDLY do you need me to be????

and that my friends was a day in the art world in Minnesota.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

I keep checking my own blog to see if I’ve posted anything new. I don’t know what form of mental illness that is but I have it.

Tomorrow painters will come to change the color of the house. People keep telling me I will feel good once it is done but I keep thinking E, the girls and I could travel the whole world TWICE with what I’m paying painters.

And I know I have the skill but something about being three stories off the ground, hanging from the tower makes E’s face turn all red, when I suggest that I paint it by myself.

Our house is huge. It is on steroids and it was this teal blue color before I was married, before babies, before I believe I ever doubted myself. Now it is peeling blue, the magenta looks pink and I’m not quite sure I can see it any other color inside my head.

But I want to.....

Monday, September 10, 2007

Things I would NOT allow if I was the editor of The Best American Poetry

dead people
fuck as a noun
real famous poets who could write ANYTHING, even on toilet paper and have it published
titles that are longer than the poem
any poem with the word Sappho in it
Greek heroes
Trojan Wars
Dionysus poems
All God poems with total denial of god as the ending line
Poems about a poem
in the style of or after so and so who is a far better poet than the poet writing the poem
poems about why it is hard to be a writer
literary theory in the actual poem
poems for a cat, even a dead cat
poems that are trying to be political by using the words bush and war in a couplet
Guantanamo Bay as a location poem
poems which begin with the word ZOOKS!

Sunday, September 09, 2007

I have been cooking all day. I’ve made two chocolate cakes, one with coffee and Mexican coco and the other with dark, dark chocolate. I made Ratatouille with eggplant from the garden. I picked three others and left them on the counter b/c they are more beautiful than flowers and then I made butternut squash leek soup for lunch with sourdough bread.

E is fat and happy. The girls are fat and happy. And I am going to crawl into my bed and read.

Today when I was walking with Isabel I thought how wonderful the beginnings of seasons are, how you feel like you can do anything. Learn a new habit, bake a chocolate cake.

I’ve grown too old for Spring, now all I believe in is Fall.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

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I read this new poem by Sinan Antoon in World Literature Today and thought it was brilliant. Actually I said out loud in the bookstore—I’d give my left boob to write this...

A Letter

I address them
The dead Iraqis
Where do we stand now?
Give or take a few hundred thousand?

Had you been birds,
Your disappearance might have caused some outrage
you could have flown en masse
over the metropolis,
clouded its skies for a few hours
in protest.
Meteorologists and bird-watchers
surely would have noticed
Had you been trees,
you would have made a beautiful forest
whose destruction would have been deemed a crime
against the planet.
Had you been words,
you would have formed a precious book
or manuscript whose loss
would be mourned across the world
But you are none of these
And you had to pass quietly and uneventfully
No one will campaign for you
No one cares to represent you
No absentee ballots have been issued or sent
You will have to wait decades
for a monument,
or a tiny museum.
If you are lucky
in provoking retroactive guilt
your names will be inscribed on a wall somewhere
But until then, you may welcome more to your midst
and form a vast silent chorus
of ghosts,
condemning the spectators and the actors
Exeunt Omens!
There was interview once with the woman (I don’t remember who) and she was talking about her husband who was a famous chef and she said, there are times when it seems easier to move out than to clean our kitchen.

I feel exactly like that today. I made a list of all I need to do today while E is at a writing workshop and I decided just to leave---go to the farmers market, eat fresh cheese with tomatoes on the porch and read while the house, literally falls down around us. (there’s a pile of old siding on front lawn the size of my car and the house smell more like the cats than the people who live inside the house.)

But I won’t see it and I wont care.

It would BE easier to move!
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Friday, September 07, 2007

Madeline L'Engle

“Why does anybody tell a story? It does indeed have something to do with faith—faith that the universe has meaning, that our little human lives are not irrelevant, that what we choose or say or do matters, matters cosmically.” Madeline L’Engle

She was the first person who told me I could write or maybe she wasn’t the first, maybe she was the only writer I had ever met and at seventeen she looked me straight in the eye, and said you will be a writer.

And I believed. Simply and foolishly that I could always DO THAT—it would never be something I had to work on. It was like speaking French, another tongue and it was always a trade I could fall back on.

I was right and I was wrong and so was she, now she has died which I knew she would soon b/c I had gotten an email saying she had Alzheimer. I knew that she would never sell her movie rights to Disney unless someone was making those decisions for her.

I had lunch with her two weeks after her husband died. I will never forget the way her voice tilted when she talked about how she missed him, how he was not there to call, to say she had made it to Maine safely. I blame her and my grandparents, my parents never had it, the need for that love, one which is everything, ties into your DNA and becomes part of your very existence.

I have hungered for it my whole life.

Somewhere in the sunroom I have a journal with a piece of paper taped to the cover---you are writer. Madeline wrote it down for me b/c she thought I might forget. I also have my writing from that day, how it felt meeting her and how I thought her voice should sound like mine. I need to dig it out. I think I might need to remember my young arrogant self.

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Monday, September 03, 2007

These Are The Last Blue Days

These are the last blue days of summer
and I want more.

Saturday we went to the used bookstore.
We have wonderful dates.

Below are the books I bought for a dollar. I am not sure where to begin.

Misgivings by C.K Williams

Surfacing and Life Before Man by Atwood

Things They Carried by Tim O'brien (already read it but it was a buck)

The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak

Don't Tell Anyone by Fredrick Busch

At the Own Woman Saloon by Tess Gallagher
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Thursday, August 30, 2007

One more day...

One more day of doing art then a ten day vacation!

I spent the morning with ten elementary students designing our perfect world, each student was given a blank map and was asked to create their own countries, oceans, continents and then we had to make a government, decide in what ways we wanted our country to grow, what things we exported, how we lived.

Three boys got in a yelling match over the Atlantic Ocean.

We talked about why countries go to war, why Switzerland has so much money in their banks and why weapons aren’t the best export to have if you down own any fuel.

It was an amazing class. I taught half way through my lunch break.
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Monday, August 27, 2007

Okay it should be noted here that I read this long after I named my blog.
From Mariana Marin’s Paper Children---I am on my third time through the book.

The Early Hours of the Morning

They had been given just enough power
to understand they would never have any
(but that was much later.)
They had been bought cheap:
Clusters of briars around their neck
and the road sprinkled with rice.
Upon their return
(but that too was later, much too late)
Some had their eyes put out
while other wore stones shackled to their ankles.

“This world in which we repeat ourselves stuttering”
“This world in which we repeat….”

They had been given just a long enough a chain
to wish for a real guillotine.
In the morning,
the early hours of morning.
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What would you create if you could make a city out of cardboard?

I am at last count on my 64th straight day of making art with kids. I have four more to go.
It has been an amazing summer and I have 122 mosaic mirrors under my belt, 15 mummies, 30 metal cities, 22 deranged toys, a mess of cardboard, a 20 foot mural, three public art sculptures, 18 girls with power tools and a lot of other things I am not counting.

I know I am above all teachers most bless….

But I am tired, down to the marrow tired!!!!
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Sunday, August 19, 2007

part of a new poem by ballard

I’ve come to claim everything
is beautiful and if you wake to this
in the morning, as if someone has turned
the knob or allowed your retina to receive
more light, just a small millimeter
so that all the world is brighter somehow,
it seems, this could be the definition
of joy. Nothing has changed;
paint falls away from the yellow door,
weeds grow between the uneven slabs
of concrete and it breaks open
the place which once believed
in goodness or the clean face of god.
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Four Poems by Vera Pavlova

I think it will be winter when he comes.
From the unbearable whiteness of the road
a dot will emerge, so black that eyes will blur,
and it will be approaching for a long, long time,
making his absence commensurate with his coming,
and for a long, long time it will remain a dot.
A speck of dust? A burning in the eye? And snow,
there will be nothing else but snow,
and for a long, long while there will be nothing,
and he will pull away the snowy curtain,
he will acquire size and three dimensions,
he will keep coming closer, closer . . .
This is the limit, he cannot get closer. But he keeps approaching,
now too vast to measure . . .


If there is something to desire,
there will be something to regret.
If there is something to regret,
there will be something to recall.
If there is something to recall,
there was nothing to regret.
If there was nothing to regret,
there was nothing to desire.


Let us touch each other
while we still have hands,
palms, forearms, elbows . . .
Let us love each other for misery,
torture each other, torment,
disfigure, maim,
to remember better,
to part with less pain.


We are rich: we have nothing to lose.
We are old: we have nowhere to rush.
We shall fluff the pillows of the past,
poke the embers of the days to come,
talk about what means the most,
as the indolent daylight fades.
We shall lay to rest our undying dead:
I shall bury you, you will bury me.
(Translated, from the Russian, by Steven Seymour.)
Okay so in less than 48 hours amy bloom's
new book will be in my hot little hands.
Who says money can't buy you love?
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Carolyn Forche and myself.....yes I know she is cuter;)

When I look at this photo, it feels so very long ago even though it has only been a few weeks. It was an amazing thing to have 15 strangers read your book from front to back. Yes, people have read my manuscript before and I am sure even a few judges set their coffee mugs on it but this was like getting naked and having a group of people look up and rest their eyes on you.

I learned so much. I did good things in the book I didn’t even know I did. I told lies I didn’t mean to tell and now I trust it more. I understand it more. I feel more ready as a writer to have it go off into the world, yes now I have to get into some serious work but it has never felt right before. Now it feels right. I don’t know if this will last but this is what I wanted, not just to produce work or even be widely published but to know without a doubt it was the best the art at the time I could create.
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Beautiful reading in The Sun this month and I really respect Sy Safransky, the editor—everything flows smoothly, yet diverse enough to still be interesting. He wrote me a note once when I first started writing and all I sent him was crap, he didn’t like it but he was very kind. He was human.

I love the idea of this journal, little bits of everything and I read it front to back and now I am reading it again. My favorite by Harriet Brown:

At 43

Awake in the dark, again,
I want each looming thing—

night table, dresser, chair—
to set its demons free,

settle for being ordinary.
Beside me, my husband

grinds his teeth,
damned like the rest of us

with the curse of breathing.
What I didn’t understand

On the other side of 40:
Despair, too, is something

to hold on to. I’ve got
my dead: a ribbon’s worth

of rabbit-soft gray fur
from the cat who was

my best friend through my 20’s
her name the first word

both my daughters said.
We buried her last winter,

Boiling pot after pot of water
from the frozen ground,

trying to dig deep enough.
We did.

Saturday, August 18, 2007


I am deeply in need of water tonight. An evening when you hear waves calling from your kitchen window and you wipe your hands on the towel by the sink and go down by the lake. No one knows you are gone and everything seems clear or unclear-- it really doesn’t matter because it is night and you’re alone and peace is following you.

I grew up in a place like that.

I grew up in place where the night was never frightening, where you baited your hook before you slept and believed that everything which was beautiful came alive with the moon.

Weird things happen when you grow old. People tell you about your body changing, that you may marry, have children, even the possibly that you may grow fat or unsatisfied but people never mention the size of the world, how it shrinks with age. All the colors fade, their intensity grows mute.

I find my self less and less looking at blades of grass or actually even really seeing anyone’s eyes when they are speaking. I am like the little prince who can no longer find the boa constrictor in a box.

My grandmother once said the most painful thing about being an old woman was that there was no one alive who remembered her as a child. How her hair looked in the sun or how she ran when she was ten and I never believed I would grow old, even as a child, even as a mother, I felt somehow immune to this shrinking world.

But the world does grows small and it does not need you to notice; things seem unimportant, like all the books you wanted to write or the places you wanted to see and all that matters is the people you have loved and loved well and even then you realize it is such a small thing---your love. It is such a small imperfect thing indeed.

I do not know what you do now.

It is possible you find god. Or maybe you go to the place in your childhood where you wiped your hand on the yellow dish towel and walked out the door.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Sorry I've been away but I've been building mosaic benches
around the city with children.
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Friday, August 10, 2007

Writing News

Hey a grant for Minnesota the world, drink beer, take your beautiful girl to Costa Rica (that was a hint for Em)


Oh and doesnt this look like a beautiful place to stay?

Thursday, August 09, 2007

It's A New Day

It's A New Dawn

It is time to begin again....
As most of you know I have been working with Carolyn for 4 years and two weeks ago I was able to take a class with her at the University of Minnesota. It was amazing. She is amazing. I am posting below some of her tips for revision b/c I know so many people who are working on books right now and reading this blog, or slightly skimming it and seeing if I will ever say anything interesting;) and then going back to writing their wonderful manuscripts.

Key points: please remember that syntax is god and there’s no right way to do anything. Also submit to judges you respect and presses you adore…..

Revision suggestions: ( all credit below goes to Carolyn Forche who you should buy a glass of wine if you ever meet her in person b/c she is a wonderful teacher and brilliant being)

1. Read each line of the poem separately, to be sure that it is interesting by itself. Cut words from the end of the line or add words from the beginning of the next line if you think it would improve the inherent meaning of the line.

2. Look at each word in the poem, and see if you can substitute a more interesting, specific word. Tree might become sycamore. River might become the Shenandoah. Bird might become gull, cardinal, finch, vulture.

3. Eliminate unnecessary commentary and description. If you have the word “snow,” then you already imply (and can eliminate sometimes) “winter,” “cold,” “icy” etc.

4. Be careful not to eliminate important articles (a, the, an) or conjunctions (and, but).Or you your poem will read like a newspaper headline.

5. Check to see if the opening lines and closing lines are necessary. Sometimes the true poem begins most interestingly with the third line, and ends with the third from the last.

6. Check to see if all the stanzas or strophes are necessary. Sometimes you can cut the whole stanza, and strengthen the poem.

7. If the poem is in stanzas, sections, or parts, cut them into individual pieces and play with their arrangement. Sometimes the poem is better if arranged a different way (while keeping all the sections). Sometimes this is how you discover whether any can be cut.

8. Subject all adverbs to intense scrutiny (as to whether they are necessary) “ran quickly” might be better expressed as “hurried.”

9. Subject all adjectives to strong scrutiny (as to whether they are necessary) “white snow” is redundant. “Snow” would suffice all by itself. (“Black wind” , however, is interesting, because unusual, unexpected...)

10. Read the poem aloud several times, and mark with a highlighter pen those places which were more difficult to read (tongue-twisters). Examine them and see if you can improve them.

11. If you are not certain whether your poem is in proper syntax and is grammatical, type the poem out as prose and check the sentences for completion and proper usage, then re-line.

12. Check to see that the sentences within the poem (which might go on for several lines), are, in fact, complete sentences (or have a good reason why not).

13. Try writing the poem in a different “person”— switch from “he” to “I” or vice versa.

14. Check the verb tenses to see whether they are consistent and/or correct.

15. See if compound verbs can become simple verbs (for compression) “I would run” might be able to become “I ran”, etc.

16. Check for spelling errors.

17. Check for consistency in spacing between lines.

18. Check to see whether the poem is well placed on the page.

19. In sending poems out to be published, always send clean, correct versions.

20. Break any of the above rules except #19 if you think it is necessary to the poem.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

My body is fine and E and the girls are safe. I am having a hard time figuring out what to write. This bridge is less than a mile from my house. I crossed it seven times yesterday. I am taking a manuscript class at the U with Carolyn Forche’ this week so I even traveled it more than usual.

I hate the bridge. It is almost like we have had this long standing disagreement for years and now the bridge won. I always saw myself falling when I crossed it and I couldn’t shut it out of my head. But when you have to get somewhere every day and that’s the main route, and you’re kind of an odd person anyway, you shut it out.

Now the sound is screaming in my head.

I didn’t go to class with Carolyn today and a huge part of me just wants to hide in the bed and pretend I don’t know anything, feel anything, or have the possibility to loose anyone. I want to stop people on the street, wrap my arms around them and thank them for not dying in front of me.

I know I am going to know someone else. You can’t do the work I do in this city and not know someone who has died. Who the bridge didnt let go. Yesterday when they were showing the kids on the bus, which fell ninety feet, I recognized faces. I don’t want to know. I don’t want to be the person I am, who see the possibility of everything and I don’t want the noise.

And I want to be happy. I am happy, the girls and Emily are safe. My family, close friends, the first string of those I love but someone is not and I hear that. I hear the seven other times I crossed the bridge yesterday and how it just let me pretend.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

from the new book of poems

What one requires
changes with age
not the container nor the contents but joy
sprouts wild, though true
happiness may be forgotten, trampled
by carelessness, but here lies the trick love forgets:
happiness when pressed,
when ground to the flesh,
leaves a scent.

Let us whisper in the dark, directions in which one assembles a life:
start with the beams marked A and B, continue on
with C and D until nothing is left.

What one requires: _____________

Fill in the blank, because if love has done her job,
if she has gone mad with expectations,
leeched the body of desire, nothing is needed.

Directions to disassemble a life

1) start with the heart; do not believe it is a muscle.
2) cut
3) eat

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

women in art

Why is it we all have the same eyes?????(here)

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Chaotic Quantrum Falling

this is what a quantrum looks like when it falls....

Today I've been contemplated how much happiness is like the act of falling

but maybe not this beautiful....
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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

See I told you

those poetry manuscripts were dangerous

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


You know it is going to be a hard day when someone shows up for a site visit at your non profit with the word “philanthropist” on their business card. When she found out I was an art therapist she wanted to know if I “get a lot of sexual abuse cases” working with low income and children of color. No, was my answer ---most of those kids live in the suburbs.

If you want to make a huge generalization and back that up with statistics, white people fuck up their children far better than anyone else and white people with money tend to do it the best.

So why do I buss my ass to have free after school art programming for kids who can’t afford to do it anywhere else? Because honestly most programs in the United States that work with low income people are demeaning. Contractors build houses they wouldn’t live in and they create schools where the teachers wouldn’t send their children.

And they do this somehow believing that they are kind and good because of it. Or better. There is so much absolute shit in this world b/c someone believes they are “better.” When you put yourself on a different plane than someone else you make yourself less. It is a basic principle really.

I teach because I am selfish. I love children and they love me. And when I am with them, when I am in my space, and we are creating, it is the most amazing thing in the whole world. You can write that on my card: I am a selfish teacher!

Monday, April 23, 2007

And for Suzanne:
Five poetry collections you may not have read but certainly must:

1. Paul Celan’s Collected if you haven’t read it you need to get off my blog
2. Dancing In Odessa by Illya Kaminsky
3. Into Perfect Spheres Such Holes Are Pierced by Catherine Barnett
4. The Book of Fables by W.S. Merwin (I got an advance copy)
5. And Her Soul Out of Nothing by Olena Kalytiak DavisPosted by Picasa

Monday, April 16, 2007

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I HATE NATIONAL POETRY MONTH!!! There I’ve said it, it’s politically incorrect to say out loud and yet I have to tell you as much I love the written word I hate it when things are forced upon me. I dislike being at an education conference and having someone do a very bad reading of Langston Hughes or worse some rhyming flower poem about tulips.

But it’s to be expected—it’s April after all and no where is safe. One can’t open the mailbox; go to the coffee shop, a school building without some other person, who by the way doesn’t really seem to read poetry any other month of the year, shoving a poem down your throat.

What if we did this with other things? What if it was National Baton Month in April and any idiot could walk down the street showing you tricks on his baton? What if there were hundreds of idiots and you couldn’t shut your door?

Today I went to my favorite restaurant for take out which by the way I figured was a fairly safe place and I looked down at the menu and someone has started “Take-Out Poetry—write a few lines on our menu and display it all month long” The first poem was a haiku about apple juice and I had to leave without ordering ANTHING.

Ballard truth: this is the thing that I think bugs me, it waters down poetry for me. Makes it seem like it's this thing anybody could do if only…..and I guess on some levels that’s true but most of me says NO!!!!

I work my ass off to put a manuscript together. I think poetry is harder than writing fiction, short stories, or comic books. Poetry is work. What I do as a poet is work. It takes time, patience and discipline…

But maybe the baton twirlers would feel the same.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Today was fairly close to a perfect day, after the three inches of snow last week it’s finally spring in Minnesota. Of course saying that out loud just makes me fearful—it has snowed for Mayday before…
I weeded the garden, cleaned out the side yard and painted the front steps. All the while stopping to read Tim O’Brien’s “The Things We Carried” every ten minutes b/c E brought home this book I would never pick up called “The Top Ten—Writers Pick Their Favorite Books.” And it was all like crack cocaine reference book style b/c I could see at a glance Annie Dillard’s favorite books then cross-reference it with Proulx, while glancing at Sherman Alexie and Pinsky.

It went on for hours.

Anyway this is why I am reading O’Brien’s book even though it is about Vietnam b/c it is beautiful and b/c I have never read it. My summer list which use to consist of all the Great Russian writers is now titled:

“Books Ballard Has Not Read and Should Read Before She Dies.”

Saturday, April 14, 2007

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It has been one of those days when I’ve had the sad realization that I have too much life to live to fit into one lifetime.

All the books I want to read is at least 1 ½ lives and the books I want to write, maybe two. I want to be a traveler…I mean a real traveler. I just read this article yesterday about a tribe in the Amazon, they have no words in their language for left or right—there’s no need for direction. They have resisted over the years all forms of Christianity and social change. They still eat monkey. I want a life to eat monkey. No left. No right.

Maybe I want a half a life of satisfaction, of doing everything right the first time. No ex-husband, no ex lovers. I will always find the things I love right away and not have to search so hard. The person I want to be will be the person I am. I will have a trust fund and an orchard. I will wake in the morning and pick peaches like the poem I love and they will all have eyes and the peaches and I will have a long conversations.

I will be crazy.

I will be wonderfully crazy and not have to hide that I like it when my socks don’t match or that I prefer shorts to pants even in the winter and that ALWAYS in my head there’s someone writing a story so much more beautiful than anything I will ever put down on paper.

I will dream more. Sleep outside on blankets even in the day time.

I will learn every star’s name.

I will have three lifetimes to be loved by the person who has loved me better than anyone ever has. Three lifetimes to walk, to explore all the places we have never seen—we could walk across the country with a sleeping bag and a flash light.

See who will let us sleep in their barn when it rains, plant seeds of some weird tree or find all the places where they still eat monkey, get lost, sit still, make love and not do any of those other things which seem to take away from the every day the ability to REALLY listen to each other.

A lifetime to sit by lakes with an easel and paint water.

A lifetime to use a camera.

I’d like to learn to sew in one of my lives. Bake more bread. If I had all eternity I’d try to speak every language. Or make those intricate paintings on eggs with wax.

I’d have more kids.

I start my own schools in Africa, India, and Costa Rica. We’d make a lot of art. I’d spread stilt walking and cardboard ships across the world.

I’d live alone one life to see if I could. I grow old in a cabin where I was born and I’d only understand the trees.

If I was in control, if I was a god and I could create my own world, my own lives I would still leave in loss, the possibility to loose.

And maybe I would do it just as it is now—leaving humanity with just a taste of everything it could be. Everything it could feel, see, taste.

Maybe god is the ultimate writer---leave them all wanting another book.

Stella's favorite place to sleep is on my books :(
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It seems it might be my job to introduce our new family members
or at least give you visuals.

They are full of piss and vinegar
And they believe my leg is a climbing pole
And the laptop is a walking path

But they're ours and as with children that seems to be the part which counts.

Plus they’re cute as hell!!!!
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Max & Stella (eight weeks old)
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anyone want a new job


Monday, April 09, 2007

Language by W. S. Merwin

Certain words now in our knowledge we will not use again, and we will never forget them. We need them. Like the back of the picture. Like our marrow, and the color in our veins. We shine the lantern of our sleep on them, to make sure, and there they are, trembling already for the day of witness. They will beburied with us, and rise with the rest.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Isabel Myra in all of her glory!!!!
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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

nothing left to paint

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I should be up and about but I’m not. I’m a ball in the bed with a laptop. Last night I dreamt I could time travel. I could enter the body of who I was in the past but I had all the knowledge of my self in the present. I told my father, the ice was thin around the corner, he needed to go slower or he would crash. I told Michelle Merrithew she was beautiful, if she let herself grow up she would always be beautiful. I had twenty seconds—somehow I knew this was all I had to make people understand me. Believe me.

I’m sure the dream had something to do with the major rejection I received yesterday, where the editor actually said, “it breaks our heart to reject writers like you.” Well, I hope it actually KILLED them. I like the plain, simple letter which says they don’t like me in ten words or less.

I am not proud. Nor will I pretend here that as writer you will mature into someone who doesn’t care about this shit---rejection. Maybe you will, I won’t. I curl up in a bawl and cry if I care about it. If I believed the submission was close to perfect. If I believed the work fit perfectly. Sometimes of course it makes sense, this rejection and I put the writing in a drawer---hopefully to be heard from again.

But some days the damn spinning wheel gets to me.

Monday, March 05, 2007

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books, books and more books!!!!!

When I’m overwhelmed I buy books, if you were take a look at my library you would see that I am overwhelmed quite a bit and today was no exception. Here is what I bought:

1.Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing by Helene Cixous (Rebecca put this on her blog so it is her fault!
2. "A Natural History of the Senses "by Diane Ackerman…this is an amazing book, read it three times and I want a copy I can write in.
3. “Deep Play” by Ackerman
4. “Burning the Empty Nests” by Gregory Orr…love him
5. “101 Life Skills Games for Children: Learning, Growing, Getting Along”…this is for work, this way they pay for my shipping;)
6. "104 Activities That Build: Self-Esteem, Teamwork, Communication, Anger Management, Self-Discovery, Coping Skills" b/c my kids at work are OUT OF CONTROL!
7. "Mosquito: Poems (A Tin House New Voice)" by Alex Lemon; he is a friend and an amazing poet. I will post his reading next week.
8. "Other Fugitives and Other Strangers" by Rigoberto Gonzalez. I loved the cover.
9. "Original White Animals" by Tracy Philpot. She is also wonderful.
10. 12 Best Foods Cookbook: Over 200 Recipes Featuring The 12 Healthiest Foods" by Dana Jacobi….b/c I eat terribly and I don’t want to die.

Ballard truth: this is not my complete list but then you might think I am out of control, which of course I am.

Come one, come all

for anyone interested in a summer workshop here I promise you a wonderful martini and a fire in my backyard....