Archive for the ‘whatever’ Category

Vermont Studio, Part II: some pictures

May 10, 2011

Awhile back, I wrote a long blog post about my experience at Vermont Studio Center. Thought I’d give a little photo tour of the center and some other odds and ends.

Here’s the heart of the center, the Red Mill. All of the offices are here, a lounge, the dining hall. It stays open 24 hours and you can always get coffee here, and while the dining hall closes down you can always at least get some cereal if you’ve been working at three in the morning:

Here is the Maverick Writing Studios. This wasn’t here when I came to the Center a decade ago (hard to believe how long it’s been). Back then you had a desk in your room and kind of lived all in one room for weeks. The Maverick was opened about 4 years ago and is the only building that was actually built by the Center. All other buildings were already standing in the town (VSC has basically bought much of Johnson, Vermont and converted it to its own ends). There are 16 writing studios here, each with a view of the Gihon River (yes, it does flow out of Eden, VT for all of you up on your old testament) and they are generally filled with a waiting list:

Here is the Gihon River during spring thaw:

Hmmm, what else have I got? Oh yeah, a little fuzzy, but here’s a shot of Stephen Dunn meeting with the writers, giving a talk on the “turn” in poetry. Good stuff:

Here’s Pogo, the VSC mascot, waiting patiently for someone to throw a tidbit out the kitchen window after lunch:

Campfires are a necessity. Here I learn that Peeps (it was Easter time afterall) will not only roast like marshmallows over the fire, they turn really pretty psychedelic colors when they do:

Here’s my good friend Tim/Spleen getting ready to interview me at WMRW in Warren, VT:

Here’s the board at Threepenny in Montpelier, also disappointingly blurry (it’s the lighting folks, not the beer). It also doesn’t do justice to the bottle list they have on hand:

And finally here is a scene that still makes me homesick for Vermont. How I love those mountain streams and rivers, those endless swimming holes and beautiful waterfalls and cascades. I didn’t get out in the woods nearly as much as I would have in different circumstances (as in, other than mud season) but it still felt great to get out and see the landscape again.

I have much more, but I’ll call it a night for now. Maybe more later, maybe not. Who knows.

Sabbatical Gone Amok

April 5, 2011

I would never consider myself a particularly organized person. I find a clear mind an aesthetic pleasure: I appreciate people who can think clearly, who can follow a line of thought, who can hold multiple lines of thought and express them clearly. I’m just not one of those people. My mind is muddled on the best of days, distracted on all the other days. That said, I generally keep a pretty organized desk; it always helps counteract what’s going on in my mind to have a clean space to work.

One of my sabbatical goals was to get even more organized. I’m revamping all my courses, one step of which is to go through all the folders of notes and articles and weed them out–what’s actually worth keeping? what course does it best belong to? I wanted to go back into the next school year feeling somewhat streamlined.

But then I look at my desk and realize all has gone wrong somewhere along the line. I think it’s the result of working with several big projects: I’m working on my book about the Batwa; I’m working on design for my book of poetry forthcoming this fall; I’m working on my collection of essays about landscape and environment; and I’m working on my conspiracy novel. All at the same time as trying to do my taxes, too, I guess. None of this helps my mind’s naturally disorderly functioning, but has helped my office organizational skills less.


What I really need is to just get away from all this for awhile and write, get away from the clutter and work. It’s not that I’m not being productive–I’m being very productive–but I can’t quite get a handle on what it is I’ve accomplished. I want to immerse myself in the work without all the piles of distractions. So this week I’m headed to Vermont Studio Center for a few weeks, just a few notebooks and my laptop, only so many distractions, only so many piles of work I can generate, and I’ll see where I go. I’ll deal with this mess when I get back.

Network Meets Bartleby

October 31, 2010

with thanks to Christine Gaites

The Bombaman Videomaster!

September 29, 2009

I’ve been enjoying my nephew Jay’s newfound skill at movie-making. Definitely a director in the works. So here are a few for your enjoyment, two of my favorites (I particularly like the title of the first one, “side effects from melatonins”):

Fall Catch-up

September 28, 2009

Well, I can’t believe how long it’s been since I posted anything on the blog. It’s been a busy few weeks, so a few random updates.

First, we had a couple of really excellent events at Cornell. First, we had a great visit from “Farmer John” Peterson. I showed his movie “The Real Dirt on Farmer John” to my nature writers course and then he visited and spoke with us. He’s a genuine and generous figure. The students and I really loved meeting him (for me, so much so that I hope to go spend some time working on his farm next summer so that I can talk with him and try to write about his experiences and his farm). That evening we had a free community screening and he spoke there as well. A great night. Many drinks with him afterward at the Lincoln Wine Bar and a great experience all around.  A few days later, we had our 4th annual “Global Voices” reading with Maxine Case from South Africa and Milos Durdevic from Croatia. This, too, was a splendid evening. They met with some students in the afternoon and discussed their countries, their backgrounds, the arts in their countries, and what it means to be an artist, etc. Then they gave great readings in the evening and were really generous in their discussions about being writers from very troubled parts of the world. Both events were a great way to kick off this year’s visiting writer’s festivities. Up next is fiction writer Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum on Oct. 15.

I gave a public talk at Cornell a while back on my own poetry and creative process (I say “talk” and mean it that way–it was really an open discussion with the audience rather than some formal lecture). I read some new poems that I haven’t shared yet which was a great experience, and the feedback from the audience was quite encouraging and useful. I’ve never really talked about my writing process so intimately with an audience before. A totally new experience for me and really quite useful; I thought about my work in ways I hadn’t before, both from the pressure of articulating ideas for an audience and from the questions and observations they made. And who knew I could have such a useful discussion with an audience about the semi-colon as metaphor!! 

Then, I’ve been buried under a class on American Nature Writers that I just finished. It was a wonderful class filled with passionate, curious, engaged students. While it generally kicked me in the butt just to keep up with the class and other assorted work through the month, it was one of the best classes I’ve had at Cornell. If you’re interested in some of their thinking, feel free to check out the class blog here.

Then this evening I just watched the first installment of the new Ken Burns documentary on America’s National Parks. Now, I’ve never really been too keen on Ken Burns as an individual (his tone of voice just wears me down when I hear him speak–I’m pretty sure I don’t want to sit and have a beer with him), but he does some pretty incredible work. And this one seems like it might be his best. It’s beautifully filmed, well written, and incredibly important as we look at the future of the planet in these uncertain times. What struck me from the very first moments, though, was how much I could have used this documentary in the class I just finished. Everything went to the heart of discussions I’ve been having with my students for the last month. I’m sure it will become part of my collection for this class on nature writing, particularly the passages drawn from John Muir. If you missed the first installment, don’t miss the rest! This is at the heart of what we mean by “America.”

Next up, a trip to Asheville next week to visit my sister-in-law and spend some time hiking in the smokies and exploring some brewpubs (what else?).

More news soon!

The Sinkholes of March

March 27, 2009

So I was walking around my backyard the other day and the earth opened up and swallowed me into this chest-deep sinkhole.  I used to think about such things a lot in Florida where this is more common, but I’ve never even considered the ground collapsing on me here in Iowa. Notice in the pictures that you can see the tunnels down at the bottom of the hole.  I’m pretty sure (judging from the other weird indentations around our yard now) that there’s a honeycomb of caves working their way under our yard. This is actually down a hill in my backyard, so I’m just hoping it’s all down the hill and not under our house–I now have pictures of a gaping hole opening up and dragging our house into it.


I should have taken pictures after I removed the sod still hanging from the sides as it’s a much more impressive hole than you can really see here.  But frankly, once I got started in trying to fix this thing, pictures were the last thing I cared about.  A hole like this is actually a massive volume of dirt. So, now this week’s question for my loyal readers is how many marbles does it take to fill a sinkhole? Consolation question: how many sinkholes does it take to fill the Albert Hall?

’08’s for the Dogs

January 3, 2009

So, give the dog his beer!



The Mind of a Critic

August 28, 2008

Random Late Summer Stuff

August 18, 2008

As I acknowledged in my last post, the Street Parade has been less than active these days.  Quite a few things came up recently and I found myself a little busier and more distracted than I intended.  Some of it has been ongoing: I’ve been collaboarting a good bit this summer with a Biology faculty on a course we are going to team teach this year.  It’s exciting but much more intensive than I had anticipated.  Then a few weeks back, I got word that a book I have had an essay in for some time has finally found a home.  This is great news of course, but it’s also meant a great deal of last minute revising and formatting to get it ready for publication.   But keep an eye out for Compelling Confessions: The Politics of Personal Disclosure from Fairleigh-Dickinson Press with an essay on John Berryman by yours truly.  Publication date as yet unknown.  A few other odds and ends that crept into my life and suddenly the last few weeks slipped away.

We have as of late, though, been thoroughly enjoying the August weather and our gardens.  The berry patch I planted a few years ago has finally taken hold and is big enough that it can hold its own against the deer and rabbits.  They, of course, still take a good chunk of the berry patch, but it’s at least a fair fight now.

Though we generally aren’t able to garden vegetables (see the above comment about deer and rabbits, as well as the strange fact that, even though we’re in Iowa, our yard is mostly clay) and don’t really have the energy to put into really changing this overwhelming yard to make it vegetable garden friendly, nor the inclination to stay in this house more than another year tops, we do have some nice flower gardens around the yard that have been quite productive and beautiful this year.  Here’s one along one of the side retaining walls (yes, it’s quite hilly here which is why we’re all clay):

And here’s another one a bit further back in the yard:

With this recent nice weather and all the great local produce, we’ve been grilling out almost nightly.  We’ve made Baba Ghanoush several times, plenty of corn, veggie and tempeh kabobs, etc.  Last night grilled veggies with pasta and goat cheese and pine nuts.  We enjoyed that with a fire in the fire pit, a bottle of Boulevard’s Double Wide IPA (I’m happy to say that John’s is now carrying Boulevard’s Smokestack series. This was my first sampling of these beers, and it was really quite nice; tons of caramel followed by a nice, dry hoppy finish) then a bottle of Cline Zinfandel we brought back from California.  Really the way a summer evenings ought to be.

Of course, it’s not that way for most of Cedar Rapids.  It’s quite surreal the way the city has become two cities.  In the unaffected areas, it’s hard to know what the floods have even done to this town; it would be possible to know that nothing has even happened–except for the aroma of mold and muck that still drifts on the breezes.  And for most of us in unaffected areas, it’s hard to know what to do anymore.  Most of the salvage work at this point is really for professionals, so there are odds and ends that we can jump in and help with, but it’s hard to know how best to help.  The flooded areas remain devastated, though.  I recently took a drive through the hard-hit Czech Village and it is completely surreal.  No power.  The grass and weeds have overtaken lots.  Piles of debris still line the roads.  Many houses are just gutted shells at this point.  Some houses are out into the streets and alleys.  It’s a different world, with very slow progress to see.

On a completely different note, in keeping with the Street Parade’s observance of musical holidays, we must of course honor today’s anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley.  Too much great stuff to listen to, but I’ll generally suggest the early recordings.  Don’t get me wrong, I love his later stuff like Suspicious Minds as anyone, but you can’t beat his early material.  So give his 1956 debut a listen or go to his complete Sun Sessions (of course, listening to Sun material in general is good to help put Elvis in context).  Then I’d also suggest 1969’s Elvis in Memphis, a great comeback.  In fact, thinking of his comeback, if you haven’t seen his 1968 “Comeback Special,” definitely give it a look.  It’s really pretty brilliant.  And one other strange little plug since I mentioned “suspicious minds.”  There’s  a little-known movie from 1968 with Harvey Keitel and Bridget Fonda that I think is really good.  But even if you don’t like the movie all that much (and I’ll admit that I seem to be in the minority among people who have seen it), the Harvey Keitel Elvis imitation doing Suspicious Minds is really worth watching; it’s ridiculously good at capturing the over-the-top Elvis.

OK, you are getting real time blogging of course.  As I wrote about Harvey Keitel, I started thinking “Oh, it must be on YouTube,” and well, of course…

One other little Elvis plug: listen to a little El Vez, the Mexican Elvis if you haven’t.  The man is a rock ‘n roll revolutionary and a comic genius and a damn fine musician all at the same time.  I highly recommend Graciasland and Gi Ay Ay Blues.  In the latter, his “JC Lowrider Superstar” is a classic.

OK, I think that’s enough random notes for now.

Birthday Poetry

February 28, 2008

So, while I may be the poet in my family, it’s no secret that my brother is really the rhyme master; while he’s out there working on those latitude/attitude, orange/door-hinge rhymes, I’m struggling to find a rhyme for room. He’s never really written full poems, though. He generally throws lines out at me and expects me to do the work. But yesterday, I got this gem in an e-mail:

Another year has past,

Gee that was really fast.

Do you feel like you are really old,

Or that your mind has turned to mold,

Well, no need to get morose,

You can always have a piece of toast.

What’s especially amazing is that he told me this barely took a minute to write! I’m thinking of giving up the business altogether. He also said that I’d be welcome to use this in my second book if I want (see, he’s not only a genius, he’s generous too!). Anyway, I thought I’d share this with this world.

I’ve always wondered if you could tell your fortune through the luminaries you share your birthday with. I happen to share a birthday with John Steinbeck, Lawrence Durrell, and jazz great Dexter Gordon. On the other hand, I also share the date with Liz Taylor, Lee Atwater, and Chelsea Clinton. Maybe it doesn’t work. Maybe I should go with those dates closest to mine that I want to connect with: I’m only a day away from Johnny Cash and Fats Domino, only two away from fellow Piscean George Harrison. This works if I just ignore Michael Bolton in there. The whole thing just makes me want a beer…