Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Why are Small Presses Necessary?

A topic of continual debate, this selection has been taken from Kaleidoscope: An International Journal of Poetry Volume 3.2 (2002).

Keep Your Hands in the Car at all Times: Why are Small Presses Necessary? By Geoff Hancock

Because change brings criticism, small presses are often attacked as being a junk filled fool's paradise, for elitism, for low literary standards, for ego-mania. Yet small presses are the genius behind North American creative writing.

Historian George Grant, taking a conservative approach, argued that Canada leapt too quickly and blindly, from the l9th century past to the modern era. We missed a stage, Grant argues, between classic printing, mimeo, and high-tech. Pessimistically, Grant suggests we separated ourselves from our original nature, and from our God, and still sense the loss. Canadians poets, dramatists, and novelists instinctively return to origins in their creative works.

But as society changes, so do the discourses. Cultural critics Harold Innis, Marshall McLuhan, and Arthur Kroker suggested as a national community Canada is a product of technology. The theories of McLuhan and his followers, Canada's principal contribution to North American thought, consists of a highly original and eloquent discourse on technology. Marshall McLuhan, with his Catholic sense of community, hoped media communication would bring us together as a human race in a global village. Kroker argues Canada is an in-between nation, between Europe and America.

The small presses, strength in their numbers, did not exploit our imagination or creativity. They participated in it. Small presses speak to the future of Canadian literature. To be published in Canada by a small press is to contribute to the existence of our culture.

When you touch a press, you touch a person. In this sense, the work of our innovative poetries is fundamentally one of social work. Not surprisingly, most Canadian authors have had a long association with the small presses and little magazines. The traditional theory explains small presses were merely the starting point of their careers. For some this is true, but those presses also allowed freedom of expression that a more commercial editor or cautious sales representative might have restricted.

Against the backdrop of Canadian small press publishing through the l970s and 80s, we get the American cultural imperialist monster. Celeste West, writing The Passionate Perils of Publishing, and speaking on behalf of American small presses, notes as early as the seventies that the eight largest American publishing houses — Random, Knopf, Ballantine, Modern Library, Vintage, Pantheon, Singer, and Beginner Books — were all publishing imprints owned by RCA, a six billion dollar a year conglomerate.

According to the Association of American Publishers, in the l970s, 3.3% of over 10,000 book publishers in the USA (including the small press publishers), controlled over 70 % of the country's' volume. By the l980s, other conglomerates, such as Xerox ITT, and Gulf & Western, controlled almost all the books produced in the United States. Thirty years later, the situation worsened. By 2000, Random, Knopf, Doubleday, and McClelland & Stewart were owned by Bertelsmann, one of the world's largest German companies. The publishing arm represents about four percent of their holdings.

Canadians have every reason to fear for their culture in the face of such publishing strength. But monolithic large publishing houses are outdated concepts. Based as they are on hierarchy and authority, the big publishing house is no longer adequate for the range and unpredictability of human experience.

The small presses had an alternative. They decided to "roll their own" in small runs. The staple of the independent literary press is the single-author poetry collection. Using cheaper reproduction methods, and learning for themselves the complex stages of production, design, warehousing, promotion, distribution, and lobbying, the small presses of Canada contributed their own version of alternative publishing to the long small press tradition of revolution and renaissance.

More than that, the small presses of Canada are part of a radical political movement. Power politics expressed in that ideological confrontation between Canadian nationalism, provincial regionalism, and American and British imperialism. A time of affluence, the existence of Romantic models and the American crisis of Vietnam, civil rights, the assassinations of the Kennedys, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and new philosophical ideas related to bohemianism, contributed to the seedbed of the small presses.

Geoff Hancock edited Canadian Fiction Magazine and published a variety of innovative fiction anthologies with Canadian small presses including Magic Realism; Illusion: fables, fantasies, and metafictions; Shoes and Shit: stories for pedestrians; and Singularities: new directions in fiction and physics.

The entire article can be read in Kaleidoscope: An International Journal of Poetry Volume 3.2 (2002). Please go to to order.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Cool Typographic Covers

Penguin Great Ideas Series has some great covers. I love these.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Interview: Publishing in Windsor

Parts of this interview were published in Windsor Business Magazine (2005)

Q: Tell me about Literary Arts Windsor.

A: The literary and arts community in Windsor and the surrounding area is one that is growing. Literary Arts Windsor is a relatively new non-profit group founded by myself, Dan, Lenore and a few other local booksellers, in an attempt to establish a network for local writers and an educational outreach program for the community. Response to our organization has been positive, and our membership is growing. The main focus of the group has been the Windsor book festival, but we also have a chapbook competition and a reading series.

Q: What are your organization’s ties to the Windsor community?

A: All of the local publishers have been linked with the University of Windsor at one point — Lenore taught there, Marty still does, and Dan, Laurie and myself have all gone to school there — but we also have ties with other aspects of Windsor life. Both Dan and I have fathers who worked in Chrysler, and we both worked there as students. I am incredibly grateful to have gone to school and received two degrees while working at a student job that paid so well. Because of this opportunity, I came out of school with no debt and a trip to Europe.

Q: How did you get into publishing? What was your first project?

A: Kaleidoscope, for me, was a type of apprenticeship. I started the journal so that I could connect with other authors and publishers, and so that I could learn the trade. I think people who go into publishing are naive people, loving literature but not knowing the work involved. I knew about poetry, that was not the problem. What I did not know was marketing, promotion, distribution, how to typeset, use design software, create a web site, network with other professionals. This has all been a learning curve. I am getting better at all of the above. Kaleidoscope was an experiment. It was never meant to be anything long-term. Now I am doing what I find most rewarding — single author collections.

Q: How much does it cost to publish a book? What is the break down?

A: The cost of a book depends on many things: the print run, number of pages, quality of paper, colour or black and white, cover and binding. Additional costs incur if you have to pay someone to do the layout and design. After I finished university and decided this is what I wanted to do, I took a course in design to keep my costs down.

Q: Why did you go into publishing? Why poetry? What motivates you?

A: It is very hard to explain to someone why I publish poetry books. Most people do not understand why I have continued for over five years at a business that consistently loses money. And when someone from a business magazine asks me to break down the figures, I am hesitant to go into much detail. I don’t think like that, and in this business you can’t. Publishing poetry will never be profitable. At best, publishers will make a marginal bit of money. But literature cannot be about the bottom line, and publishing should not be run by the same principles as other businesses. Even the largest of publishing houses receive grant money to publish poetry. Poetry will always have a small and devoted few, but the few that do buy will never make any publisher rich.

When people do things for little or no money, it is a calling. That is how I look at publishing. I do it because I see literature as valuable, because I see publishing as meaningful work. I am hopeful enough to believe that what I do matters, and that in a small way I help continue the dialogue between authors and readers. The work is not glamorous, typesetting and copyediting can be tedious, and there is nothing fun about sending an author a rejection letter, but when I see a project come to fruition I feel incredibly proud. To be involved in the production of a book, whether as a writer, editor, or publisher, brings an amazing sense of satisfaction.

People who love books get this. They get the drive, the passion, the frustration. They understand why a person would dig deep in their own pockets to support a project they believe in, why when the book festival in the second year lost money, the board members opened their own cheque books. It is because all of us have been affected by literature. It has moved us, opened us, inspired us, connected us. You ask me what I get out of publishing — the answer is involvement. Through publishing, I have met other writers, made lasting friendships, and contributed in my own small way to the continuation of an art that I love. What could be more rewarding?

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Great Book Covers

Some of my favorite 2005 book covers.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Playful Poems about Life After Death

These poems are about the life and death of Elizabeth Siddal, the wife of Pre-Raphealite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Since the majority of the collection is rather dark, I decided to write some playful poems about her after-life — perhaps there are some interesting people or deities she may have met.

Earlier versions of some of these poems were published in The Windsor Review Volume 38.2 (2005). The lines breaks had to be changed for posting.

Elizabeth Siddal and Marilyn Monroe in Conversation

They sit and chat, stirring cream into coffee,
like long-time friends swapping recipes
over the kitchen table.

Since their deaths, they have spent
barely a minute apart. They each compliment
the other on their legendary beauty.
Lizzie, as Marilyn calls her, loves
to use an iron to curl Marilyn’s hair.
Wishes such things were invented
in her day. And Marilyn likes to show
Lizzie the proper way to apply mascara.

They giggle like schoolgirls
into the wee hours of the night.
Is that really you? Marilyn asks, pointing
at a reproduction of a Rossetti painting.
It doesn’t even look like you,
both bursting into a fit of laughter,
rolling about the bed in pajamas and fuzzy slippers.

What about this, Lizzie teases,
holding up a Marilyn doll.
I can’t imagine your hips being so small.

But their time together is not always frivolous.
They organize study groups
and book clubs, complete with egg salad
sandwiches and flavoured tea.

They relate to Hardy’s tragic
heroines, bite their lips when reading McCullers.
Tennessee Williams always sparks a debate
over the worst kind of lover.
But Goethe is their favorite.
The death scene of young Werther
always turns on the water-works,
each offering the other a tissue.

They share their stories of unhappy marriages,
lost children and drug addictions.
Lizzie preferred laudanum, Marilyn diazepam.
Revealing the details of their young deaths,
they promise each other never to tell
a soul their sworn secrets.

Make it official by cutting a small wound
into the tips of their forefingers,
gently touch hands together,
rub blood into blood.

Elizabeth and Dorothy in Mrs. Beeton’s Cooking Class

In today’s class, Mrs. Beeton, looking stiff
and Victorian in her high ruffled collar,
stirs her béchamel sauce.

Dorothy wets her upper lip, dips a finger
into the simmering pot. Thinks of her life with William.
The pot roast she made on Sundays, seasoned
with fresh thyme and rosemary she picked
from the tiny garden behind the house.
While she pushed away from the table,
he asked for more.

She gathered metaphors, spun stories
of gypsies and beggars,
scanned the rolling hills and fields of daffodils.
She harvested images, fed him words served
along side tea and warm buttered toast.

In class Mrs. Beeton demonstrates to Elizabeth
how to peel an artichoke. Blanched and tender
to the touch, she slowly pulls the petals down
and away from the velvety center.

Elizabeth forces in her thumb, smiles sheepishly
at her clumsy hands. Mrs. Beeton laughs.
Her corset drawn tight, the pressure of expanding ribs
pushing back. She is no longer the woman she once was.
She appears matronly, layers of rigid crinoline
under a full skirt, yet things have changed.
She now talks of jouissance, of pleasure yielding
from the soft center of a truffle,
scooped with a persistent tongue.

She says: no longer do we lie on our backs,
close our eyes and think of England. Now we have choice.

Plums baked in sugar until bubbling, tart strawberries
dipped in thick chocolate. Savour the pleasure
of our creations. Taste warmed honey
slipped between parted lips.

Domestic Goddesses in the Kitchen

Elizabeth and Persephone are in the kitchen
looking over fall harvest recipes.
Persephone leans over the sink, sucks the seeds
from a pomegranate, feels them burst
between her teeth.

A muse is distant, a silent moon
lending guidance to wayward ships.
Luminous in the dark, watching all, yet never
demanding attention.

At least, that is what some men say,
not knowing, or because of knowing,
that a muse is a woman in slippers and housecoat,
who serves tea and scones in the morning.

His art inspired as much from the rounded
softness of breasts and hips, as from the woman
who sets aside her journal or paints
to stir the broth bubbling in its pot.

No longer wanting to be mythical, Elizabeth cuts apples
into quarters, sprinkles them with cinnamon and nutmeg.
Throws away the seeds. After all, an apple
is sometimes just an apple.

Elizabeth Paints a Second Self-Portrait

In heaven, paint is free.
God encourages everyone to take art class.
Creative expression not to be underestimated
in its ability to heal old wounds.
He has used this therapy himself,
to manage the anger he felt for what
he believed to be betrayal.

No longer on the path of destruction
—flooding lands, setting fire to cities,
the usual antics of a wrathful god—
he now teaches art.
Soothes the spirit with yellow ochre and burnt umber.
Like children, they paint with the palms of their hands,
smearing the palest of blue
into the whitest paper. This is the sky.

Elizabeth does not participate.
She has other things to work on.
She looks to the clouds, imagines the sun, paints
her face for the second time. There is no hint

of darkness, no deep shading to the side of her nose.
This time, she paints herself smiling.
Although no one will ever see it,
she believes in second chances.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Advice for the First Time Gardener

This year for the first time I planted bulbs. I was thrilled at the idea of starting a perennial garden that would get fuller and more beautiful with each consecutive summer. In the fall I decided to plant crocus, hyacinth and tulips, which would bloom that coming spring. First, I ordered specialty bulbs from a gardening catalogue that were shipped to me directly from Holland — Rembrandt tulips with their dramatic colour patterns, fountain tulips brimming over in fringed pink and delicate lady tulips in all their curved elegance.

When they arrived I got down to business. I hoed and raked the dirt, pulled out unwanted weeds, fertilized the soil, planted and composted. Finally I rested, looking forward to the day when green shouts would burst from the ground announcing the spring renewal.

I had only rested a couple of hours after my rigorous planting session when I realized that a bombardment of squirrels were infiltrating my garden, digging up and stealing my imported Dutch bulbs. I chased them away, yelling at the thieving rodents all the while. I’m sure my neighbours wondered about the woman running in her pajamas chasing squirrels across the lawn, but I had no time to worry about appearances. All my energy went into protecting my bulbs from those pernicious bushy-tailed rats. I chased them, yelled at them, called them derogatory names, even sprayed them with the hose – but those overgrown hamsters were persistent and tough-minded. They took all my heckling, wagged their tails and taunted me back.

It was time I sought outside help. One friend suggested that I wrap my bulbs in a strand of human hair, another suggested that I plant poisonous daffodil bulbs in between the tulips – but all these ideas were too little too late. The bulbs were already in the ground – what was left of them anyway. It was jokingly suggested to me that I pee on the garden to mark my territory, but then the neighbours really would think something was wrong with me. Instead I covered the ground with chicken wire, and then when spring came I carefully removed it so as not to damage the shoots. Not all my tulips were looted, so I still had many pretty flowers blooming in spring, although they were a little thinned out.

The funniest thing out of this whole experience was that the squirrels didn’t actually eat all the bulbs they took. Squirrels will steal bulbs, bury them somewhere else, and then forget where they put them. When spring came I actually had about a dozen tulips and sixty or so grape hyacinth growing on my front lawn. It was very pretty while it lasted. With tender care I dug up many of the bulbs and transplanted them back into my garden, and the rest were chopped down in early life by my husband’s ravenous lawn mower. The tulips that did survive are already wilting from the heat and beginning to die back. Now I have the summer to look forward to, and all the irises and gladiolas I planted.

My advice to a first time gardener is not to underestimate the tenacity and harbouring instinct of squirrels. Remember to cover the ground with a mesh wire right after you plant, and if that fails – look forward to a carpet of flowers on your front lawn.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Taking My Blood Book Launch

Taking My Blood was written while Gervais spent seventeen days in Hotel Due Hospital in Windsor, after he suffered from a debilitating attack of Crohn’s disease. After a week of intensive treatment for pain, he began writing poems about life on Seven North. Written in a gritty narrative style, the work combines the intimate language of solitude and reflection with unexpected bursts of humour.

Each chapbook is signed and numbered, contains a pictorial foldout, an original tipped in photograph, and a letterpress cover label. The cover stock is handmade St. Armand Ontario Flax canal paper and the end papers are Japanese ogura lace, made of manila hemp. Books are hand sewn with linen thread. There will be 180 chapbooks, and 18 collector’s editions, available for purchase. The collector’s edition has a double cover with cut-outs and a modified piano hinge binding that uses a syringe as a hinge pin.


Sunday November 6th at 1:00.
Bookfest Windsor, Art Gallery of Windsor.

Sunday December 4th at 7:00.
Williams Cafe, University of Windsor Library.

Thursday January 12th at 7:00.
Windsor Arts Council, 1942 Wyandotte St East.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Palimpsest’s First Letterpress Chapbook

In Marty Gervais’ Taking My Blood: Poems and Photographs from Seven North, I wanted to combine both his photography and poetry. The chapbook contains a pictorial foldout section and an original tipped in photograph at the back of the book. There are also two transparencies with photographs on them, meant to give the tactile and visual experience of X-Ray film. The bright red endpaper has a mottled texture that resembles the appearance of a blood smear on a microscope slide.

For my first attempt at letterpress, I kept it simple. With help from my friend, Dan Wells, we put his very large and very heavy letterpress in motion. The result was titled cover labels that mimic the shape of labels one would find on a medical chart. I chose a bright red ink to match the endpaper.

For the collectors’ edition, I took the theme as far as it could go, using a modified piano hinge as a way of enclosing a syringe in the spine of the book. Small circle cutouts on the cover represent blood droplets. A very literal interpretation of the title — like a mini medical kit!

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Neoplatonism and Christian Symbolism in Gwendolyn MacEwen’s poem “Manzini: Escape Artist”

I was cleaning out my filling cabinet when I came across a bunch of old essays I had written for school. I wrote this paper for my CanLit class when I was an undergrad student at the University of Windsor. Our assignment was to pick a poem from the anthology that we had never read before, and do a brief two-page explication of it. Here was my attempt. It certainly is not, let’s say, comprehensive, but I thought it was well enough written for an undergrad. I was taking a philosophy course that same year — can you tell? Got to love an essay that starts, “Throughout history man has sought…” Not to mention the conclusion, which is perfunctory at best. Hey, I was only in second year. Besides it can’t be too bad, I got an A.

Throughout history man has sought a means by which he can escape from the physical world and the mortality connected to it. In Gwendolyn MacEwen’s poem “Manzini: Escape Artist”, Manzini becomes a symbolic representation of humanity’s search for freedom from earthly bonds. MacEwen combines Neoplatonic doctrine and Christian imagery to poeticize the quest of the human soul in attaining immortality.

In Plato’s belief, the body is a source of imprisonment. In Timaeus he defines the two worlds that underlie reality; the first one is the invisible, eternal realm of thought, and the second realm is visible and corporeal. According to Plato, the task of humans is to attain control over the sensations of their bodies. If one succeeds, the soul will shed its bodily prison and be re-united with the eternal, divine spirit. If one fails, the soul will be trapped in a cycle of reincarnation. In this view, the soul is eternal and good, preexisting the body which is a source of evil and mortality.

These views are clearly expressed in MacEwen’s poem. This is evident in her description of Manzini’s ropes, which are like “tendons…worn/ on the outside-/ as though his own guts were the ropes”. Manzini is able to transcend his material prison by freeing himself from his skin, and throwing “his entrails/ white upon the floor”. In his attempt to achieve freedom from the limitations of the natural world “there are no bonds except the flesh”.

MacEwen also utilizes Christian imagery. She describes Manzini as having a “leaf across his sex”. In Genesis, once Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit they realized they were naked and sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves. An obvious allusion to Adam in the Garden of Eden, Manzini’s struggle with his flesh-made ropes can then be seen symbolically as Adam’s struggle with earthly temptation.

For disobeying God, humanity is cast out of Eden and becomes subject to mortality. Death, then, is not viewed as a natural process, but rather as a punishment for sin. Manzini is only able to free himself from his fallen state of humanity by metaphorically shedding his skin of sin. He is described as finally being free when he “slid as snake from/ his own sweet agonized skin”. The snake imagery, once again alluding to Genesis, is a symbol of evil and sin. Manzini, however, is able to free himself from this stain of sin which is inherited by all of Adam’s descendents, thereby reclaiming his lost innocence.

MacEwen may have been influenced by the Christian theologian Saint Augustine, who interpreted the story of Genesis as one of human bondage. In his Confessions, he states that through original sin humanity is “shackled by the bond of death”. According to Augustine, sexual desire and the body are sources of sin and corruption. The body is made inferior to the soul, and its sensations must be mastered by the mind. This parallels Plato’s view of the body as being an earthly prison for the soul. Manzini is a culmination of both Neoplatonic and Christian thought. He figuratively represents humanity’s struggle to free itself from the “bonds [of]… the flesh”, a line which is repeated throughout the poem thereby stressing its importance.

With its repetitions, the poem is reminiscent of a chant. This creates an insistent rhythm, which gives it an incantatory affect. Chants are characteristic of magic charms, ritual and prophecies. Therefore, by using this form, MacEwen links her subject matter to the mythic past. Like a storyteller, she employs direct speech. She writes, “listen-/ there was this boy, Manzini”. The line break after “listen” forces the reader to pause, as if hearing an oral story. The reader is drawn into the tale.

By synthesizing Greek and Christian cosmologies, MacEwen constructs a modern myth suitable for today’s audience. “Manzini: Escape Artist” becomes a dramatization of the soul’s quest for freedom from its bodily prison and humanity’s search for immortality. Her chant like style is particularly suited for the spiritual themes she explores, linking the poem to the mythic past.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Still Life Framework

For the various grant applications I had to write a project description for my manuscript, Still Life of a Muse. These are my thoughts on its framework:

In my poetry collection, Still-Life of a Muse, I explore the life of Elizabeth Siddal, who was married to the Pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Although an artist and poet in her own right, she is best known as a Victorian muse and the inspiration for her husband’s paintings. Although some supported her artistic development, including her husband and the art critic John Ruskin, they did so while upholding the doctrine that a woman’s primary duty was to her family. The issue of women’s creativity being in direct opposition to the duties of domestic life remains conflictual for many women today.

Siddal was of the working class, and her sudden association with influential artists and their upper-class patrons was dramatic and life altering. As a model, then pupil, she quickly developed her own artistic ambitions. Unfortunately, a mysterious “female malady” soon developed and she became weak and suffered recurrent bouts of depression. There was no known biological root to her illness, and recent historians have suggested everything from anorexia to bi-polar disease. Her relationship with her husband, which was always volatile, deteriorated further. His adultery and the stillborn death of their first child led her down a spiral of depression and drug addiction, the eventual culmination being an over-dose at the age of thirty-two. Whether the overdose was intentional or not is unknown. Her story is especially relevant in today’s society, given that middle-class housewives are statistically the highest group diagnosed for depression. It seems that the correlation between domesticity, isolation and depression is still very much a contemporary issue.

The collection contains five sections.

1. Portraits is a series of poems based on paintings, in which I explore the ways women were framed by Victorian culture. More specifically, these poems examine the ways Rossetti cast his wife into an imagined ideal of womanhood, and for the purposes of his art, into the role of muse.

2. Still Life of a Muse looks at the events of Siddal’s life, putting them into the context of creativity and how they relate to the female body. Her pregnancy and stillborn daughter become metaphors for repressed creativity. The exhumation of her body, a true historical event, is seen as the awakening of this creative force.

3. Fairy Tale Variations gives a contemporary twist on fairy tales, retelling them with Siddal as the main character. Works such as Snow White, The Shoes that were Danced to Pieces, and The Wizard of Oz become revisionist myths of the creative process. The strange mythology centered on Siddal makes her story especially well suited to this adaptation.

4. Speculative Fictions is a series of imagined dialogues between Siddal and various people, including those from her own time period, such as Queen Victoria and Mrs. Beeton, and those from our time, including Anne Sexton, Marilyn Monroe and Princess Diana. These hypothetical dialogues and imagined meetings bring lightheartedness, wit and a contemporary twist to the collection.

5. Life-In-Death explores the links between nineteenth-century spiritualism, séances and creativity. In these poems, I as poet, become the mediator between the past and present as well as exploring my own use of the muse archetype.

While writing this collection I keep in mind the words of Robert Graves who wrote, “woman is muse or she is nothing.” My collection intends to show that women are creators, both through my exploration of Siddal’s life and through my own act of poetic creation. I am aware that women can never fully disentangle their creativity from this long-standing myth, and that I am also complicit in its perpetuation through my choice of subject matter. I am, in effect, resurrecting the muse by using Siddal as my inspiration. I continue to work out this complex relationship, asking myself if the gap in history and being a woman makes a difference in the way it is played out. As a contemporary writer re-inventing a historical person through the creative act, I hope that my collection will give readers insight into the multi-faceted subject of how history and poetics intersect.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Dreaming Poetry

Sometimes I dream images that I use in my poetry. At other times, I dream that I am writing a poem. It is like looking over one’s own shoulder and reading the words as they are written. Unfortunately I never have a pen and piece of paper beside my bed when I first awake, and later in the day it is almost completely forgotten. The poem below was written after I fell asleep while trying to write. I was feeling quite discouraged and got a headache. I do not remember falling asleep. Sometimes stress makes me doze off unintentionally.

Trance Writing

I wake from a nap, pen and paper close at hand.
An image of a broken fence still banging
against the hinges of my mind. Worn
white paint peeling like sun burnt skin.
A hand, firm in intent, grasps
tightly, tries to steady it
as if in opening.

In the porch entrance of an aged house,
a glowing orange light flickers.
An old, gnarly white cat guards
the doorway. She will not
let me pass, stretching open her
paws, claws extended.

This is where I find you. On the threshold.
Gates knocking on hinges, doorways revealed
but unpassable. Are you the steadying hand, holding me
still against a storm, or the frightened animal
barring the way?

In my drowsy state, words stream fast.
I crave more, images raw
and uncensored. Listen to the hypnotic
tick tock, tick tock. Interpretation left
for another day.

Friday, June 10, 2005


I had the strangest dream last night. Dan and I were at a wedding, except I didn’t know who was getting married or where exactly we were. I have the vague recollection of wandering through some grand corridors, like one would find in a castle, and looking out a window to see a panorama of lush green hills.

The part of the dream that is still most clear is as follows:

I was in the shower and Dan came in saying that when I was done he would help me study for my test. He had sliced his foot open to look like the anatomical illustrations in my biology textbook. “For ease in displaying the veins,” he explained. I got out of the shower and wrapped a towel around me, not alarmed at all. Then he took a large serrated knife and with his own hand sliced his head down the center from the crown to the chin, yet he was still talking and walking around. There was no blood, just a clean separation like using a comb to part one’s hair. He said, “I’d do anything for you Dawn.” And then Lorelei and Luke from Gilmore Girls burst into the room. They were trying to hide from their spouses. They admitted to having an affair, and begged us to let them hide out in our bedroom until it was safe to leave.

That is about all I remember. The strange calmness, and lack of pain or blood with Dan’s cleavered head and foot. Me, naked and dripping water, freshly showered… and the adulterous television pair in my bedroom in a remote castle on the wedding day of an unknown couple.

When I was telling Dan about this dream I immediately realized the thematic recurrence of duality, bifurcation, and vulnerability. Do I believe Dan to be two-faced? Are his emotional and logical sides too divided? Do I feel exposed, at risk with our relationship? A dream about adultery on the cusp of an initiation into wedlock cannot be good, especially when the groom’s identity is unknown and the man pledging devotion is a bloodless, butchered, two-faced instructor of anatomy.

Saturday, March 5, 2005

Word Jumble

The Washington Post's Mensa Invitational once again asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing ONE letter, and supply a new definition.

Here are some of this year's winners:

1. Cashtration: The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period.

2. Ignoranus: A person who's both stupid and an asshole.

3. Intaxication: Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.

4. Reintarnation: Coming back to life as a hillbilly.

5. Bozone: The substance surrounding stupid people, that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.

6. Foreploy: Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid.

7. Giraffiti: Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.

8. Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn't get it.

9. Inoculatte: To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.

10. Hipatitis: Terminal coolness.

I tried a few myself. Here is what I came up with:

Contempo: The rate of speed at which disapproval turns to disgust.

Contamidation: The simultaneous act of polluting one’s body and being damned to eternal punishment for it.

Bumbilical: When two people become awkwardly joined together.

Conformite: A person of small mind who acts in accordance with prevailing social values. They can live in great numbers, infesting a community.

Thursday, March 3, 2005

My HGTV Obsession

What is it about all those decorating shows on HGTV that I find so compelling? I’ve watched Designer Guys, Design on a Dime, Holmes on Homes, Designed to Sell, Renovation Warriors, My First Place, Kitchen Renovation, Design Inc — all with intense interest. I can watch HGTV for hours at a time, while my daughter sleeps and dishes remain piled in the sink.

Pretty soon I am making plans. If we knock down this wall, freshen up the living room with a light coat of paint, then reupholster the chairs in a fun retro floral print… my husband usually cuts me off about here. “Wait, wait” he is always telling me. “We can’t knock down supporting structures, and besides, we don’t have the money to do all this.” Blah, blah, blah. He is such a downer, ruining all my fun. I’m only dreaming. But that is the thing with HGTV. The shows are designed to make you want to want more. My kitchen just isn’t up to standard. Who cares that it is functional, I want more space and more light and more expensive hardwood floors.

I have never been one to get caught up in celebrity culture, wanting the designer clothes and expensive purses that this or that actress wears. I purposely eschew such blatant materialism, and yet, when I thought about it, HGTV isn’t that different. It is like one really long commercial, broke up into half hour segments. How did I not notice this before? They, being the large conglomerate companies that sponsor these shows, are trying to convince me a need a larger kitchen and an industrial styled faucet with pull out spray function. They have fooled me.

I don’t buy beauty magazines because they make me feel that I am not pretty enough. And now, I will have to ban HGTV, because their shows are giving my house an inferiority complex. And I am not alone in this. After a few casual conversations with some friends, I realize the affect these shows are having on everyone — reno envy. Why don’t we all just take a few breaths and really look around. We are living better than our parents and considerably better than our grandparents. Thank god for washing machines and microwaves, but despite our many upgrades, we never seem to be happy with what we have. We want more and when we get it, we want even more. So I am suggesting a mantra we can all say when we are swept up in marketing mayhem: “my life is full enough.” The truth is we do not need heated tile floors in our bathrooms. These are luxuries that few can really afford, and the rest of us would have to go into debt or sacrifice our retirement savings to get them. If I watch HGTV again, I will silently repeat the mantra when I feel my mind starting to go on a whirlwind house renovation — my life is full enough.

Wednesday, March 2, 2005

Author Photos: You’re a Star Baby

Author photographs help sell books, or so I’ve been told. When people pick up a book and read the description on the back cover they look for an image of the author, and what they expect to see is someone who looks literary. This is where the clichés start: glasses give off an intellectual air, perhaps a hand under the chin, and there should be stacks of books in the background. Poets should have loose wild hair and a bohemian style, maybe add a bangle or two. The more serious and solemn the book, the more austere and beaten down the writer should look. Attractiveness in the literary world is not necessary and may even be viewed with suspicion. Disheveled is better.

We are a visual culture, and although unconsciously we make judgments based on these visual cues, do readers really expect to learn something about the author’s private thoughts through a picture? These posed and stylized images are of the public persona. It makes no more sense to do this, than to assume the “I” in a book is really the author.

I recently picked up a book from my shelf, one I was given as a gift some years ago and kept meaning to read. When I looked at the author photo I was so shocked, and laughed so hard, I thought I might pee. Here was an esteemed professor, at New York University’s Biology Department, bare-chested with a cascading waterfall running over him like he was a Calvin Klein underwear model. How on earth did they convince this man to do something so foolish? Yes, he looks good, but the poor sucker must have gotten quite the ribbing from his colleagues.

I’m sure I am not the only one to see through this marketing ploy. He is a philosopher and one with nature, as elemental as the rocks he is leaning against, but as far as academia goes, could anyone take this guy serious after looking at that ridiculously staged photograph? Marketing gurus tell us that an author photo should exude the qualities the book itself exemplifies, but for me the more an author photo tries to convince me of its connection to the text, the more laughable the result.