Writing Without Hope

I feel, and have for some time felt, that I’m not a writer. As I’ve written in the past, I have always been hesitant about laying claim to the title of writer. In the past, it was a feeling of simply not achieving something yet, but that there was some actual thing I could achieve. Once I achieved that thing, I would be able to claim the title. I felt that I just needed to keep writing and submitting, and eventually I would be a writer. I knew that, despite whatever milestone I crossed, it would never be enough to let me feel like I was a writer. Still there was a sense that this was a goal worth working towards and that it was a goal that was achievable. Even if I was never satisfied with my achievement and kept pushing myself further, I still saw the effort as worthwhile in and of itself.

More recently though, I feel like a fraud. The very act of putting words on the page, for me, is a lie and a waste of time. Not that I’ve stopped enjoying writing—I still love it. It’s just that when I do write it’s a transgression or a sin of some sort. There are better and more honest things I could be doing with my time like binge watching Netflix. True nothing productive would come of it, but I would no longer be perpetrating the lie that I had something to say.

In the past, I believed that I had something worth saying, that I could say it in an interesting and artful manner, and that there was an audience for my words. I no longer believe any of that. I have lost my faith in my words. In fact, this feeling towards my writing is the same feeling that I had when I lost my faith in God, but this loss is much more distressing to me. When I try to sit down to write, some part of me—the part that, when I am particularly depressed, would bring up suicide—whispers that I should wipe my hard drive and burn those overstuffed binders filled with my poems. I can’t tell if it’s good or bad that the voice of my self-destructive, malfunctioning brain chemistry now wants to kill my writing rather than just myself, yet this change in self-destructive ideation points to how wrapped up my identity is with writing. In losing my faith in my words, much like when I lost faith in God, I am left without meaning and purpose. Now you understand why I haven’t posted anything on this blog for so long.

I keep thinking of this year as a year where I didn’t write, but that isn’t true. I didn’t write as consistently nor did I create as many new pieces as I’ve done in other years. I don’t find myself filled with as many ideas for poems and stories. Still it would be a lie to say I didn’t write. Over the year, I’ve dismantled my first manuscript of poetry, set aside half of it, and combined the other half with newer poems to create a completely new manuscript. I’ve revised many of the poems in that new manuscript. Despite my gnawing self-doubt, I’ve recently requested that some friends read and critique it. During the summer, I was struck by inspiration and wrote several short stories. I joined an online poetry workshop for which I wrote a few new poems. I even got a couple of poems published. This is not the year of someone who hasn’t been writing.

Still it hasn’t been a particularly good year. This year I started to weep upon receiving rejection letters. This year several people said to me “but I’m a writer” as explanation for why I couldn’t understand their ideas. This year an acquaintance, who I had been in the MFA program with, exclaimed, “I didn’t know you write” when I mentioned working on some short stories. Perhaps what has changed was that before the doubt had always been that internal voice, which I’ve long ago learned I should, for my health, ignore, but now the outside world was telling me that I am not, in fact, a writer.

I’ve stopped submitting my work. I’m waiting for one last rejection letter, and then no more of my poems or stories will be “under consideration.” As my husband pointed out, it is alright to take a break from submitting. I can use this time to focus on my work and get it to the place where I want it without worrying whether or not X or Y journal would even consider publishing it. For the past seven years, I have consistently and frequently submitted my work. It is alright to put that on the back-burner for the moment. Still there is a part of me that wonders if this is just the first step to giving up.

I’m not sure what to do now. It is December and the days are short, which means that my outlook is bit bleaker than normal. The part of myself that urges me to quit is a part that I’ve learned needs to be ignored. In the past when it spoke, I would remind myself that I needed to endure until spring and everything—without actually changing—would be better. It’s amazing the effect sunlight can have on a perspective. Maybe I need to have a bit of a fallow period, to rest, before I can submit again? Maybe I need some time where I’m not preoccupied with finding a home for a poem? Maybe writing is nothing more than a hobby, and I should stop trying to define myself by it. Maybe this is as good as I’m going to get. Maybe if I endure, this feeling will pass, and I will have faith in my words again. Maybe I’ve just wasted several years of my life.

I don’t really know if I’m wasting my time with writing or if this is just an off-year. All I know is that there is nothing I love as much as writing. I’ve often read articles that advise aspiring writers to write for themselves and not for others. Surely that should be enough for me. I should just work on my poems and stories until I’m happy with them and then put them away in the drawer for no one to read. Why can’t that be enough? What vanity and egotism drives me to try to find an audience? While I agree with the intention of that advice—don’t try to change your writing to please someone else—the implication that you should be happy even if you never find an audience is distressing. The idea of writing for myself alone is about as appealing as talking to myself—I’ll always prefer an actual conversation to a monologue. I don’t speak for the sake of the air pressure applied to my vocal cords, I speak to be heard. I don’t write for myself alone, but I write to be read. Still I’ll talk to myself, if no conversation is to be had.

It’s strange that, unlike I did with God, I’m not willing to give up on my writing. All I can do is sit down at my desk every day and try to get words down on the page—even if sometimes I weep at my fraudulence. All I can do is endure. I tell myself that maybe my faith in my words will return, that this is just a rough patch that will pass. I don’t believe myself for an instant.  I can only hope that I, once again, am wrong.

The Morning After the Deluge by J. M. W. Turner

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It’s Probably a Metaphor but…

The great evil rears it ugly head once more.

One of the few memories from high school that stands out to me is a substitute teacher struggling to teach twenty bored teenagers about William Carlos Williams’ “The Red Wheel Barrow.” He asked the class, “What does the color white represent?” Students would answer goodness, purity, innocence. By the end of the class, “The Red Wheel Barrow” had become an epic poem about the struggle between the good and innocent white chickens and the satanic red wheelbarrow. I may have actually sprained my eye muscles from rolling them so often.

Over a decade later, I now stand in front of a room full of college Freshman and am tasked with teaching them about poetry—well, about analyzing texts, I’m just lucky to have a little freedom with my curriculum and get to select those texts. Most of the students groan with dread when I tell them that for a portion of the class we’re going to read poems. The idea of not loving poetry, for me, is like not loving music, but I can’t blame anyone who doesn’t like music if all they know of it is “My Achy Breaky Heart” and “Hey Macarena” and had been forced to write 1000 words on their deeper philosophical meaning. Ideally, the best way to introduce students to poetry is to show them its breadth of styles and subjects and let them find what works for them. You don’t like the stilted forms and elitist attitudes of Victorian poetry, lets listen to spoken word instead. Eventually, I believe I could find a poem for everyone. Still I must teach analysis, which has the potential to reinforce the idea of a poem as a purely symbolic puzzle.

When I read “The Red Wheelbarrow” to my classes and ask, “What is happening in this poem?” students sigh, admit that they don’t get poetry, or roll their eyes. Once a student trying to shock and show his disdain said, “Someone is going to have to shovel chicken shit.”

“Yes!” I yelled, “You understand the poem!”

I’ve always found the literal meanings of poems just as important as any symbolic ones. A reader of Dorothy Parker’s “One Perfect Rose” does not need to interpret the titular flower as the representation of the chivalric view of love to enjoy the poem. Not that I want to discourage students from those deeper readings, I just want them to be aware that they don’t always have to try to find the “Truth” (note the capital “T”) in the poem to enjoy or understand it.

Sometimes trying to find a symbolic meaning for an image can hurt one’s reading of a poem. In one class, we read Adrienne Rich’s, “Living in Sin.” Many of the students discussed the lines, “That on the kitchen shelf among the saucers/ a pair of beetle-eyes would fix her own—/ envoy from some village in the moldings.” Most of the students assumed that this line was an ambiguous metaphor for the mental state of the woman. When I inquired what the metaphor was, once again many confessed their own ignorance to poetry, some saying that they could never ever understand it. “What if we read that image as literal, as something that’s actually there? What’s in her cabinet?” I inquired. The class agreed—it was a bug of some sort and gross. Once they started looking at the poem for the literal, much of what seemed unsolvable riddles became interesting descriptions of everyday life. As one student wrote while reflecting on her work in the class, she now understood that “sometimes a ‘Red Wheelbarrow’ is just a red wheelbarrow.”

This approach to reading poetry has made my first reading of Charles Baudelaire’s The Flowers of Evil interesting to say the least. I was even tempted to ignore my own lessons. First of all I neither speak French, and therefore must rely on translations, nor am I particularly familiar with the French tradition, so there is probably a lot of things that I’m missing. The particular poems that stood out to me were “The Dance of Death” and “The Martyr.”

Danse Macabre by Ernest Christophe

Even the title “The Dance of Death” suggests a symbolic reading, as it is a reference to the Medieval idea that no matter our position in life we all will succumb to death. A myriad of Medieval and Renaissance pictures show images of kings, popes, knights, and peasants dancing with a fearful skeleton. Since the poem is also dedicated to an artist, Ernest Christophe, who made a sculpture of death as a beautiful woman dressed for a ball, we can see that Baudelaire is placing himself firmly in that allegorical tradition. However, as a reader I can’t just jump straight to the meaning of the allegory—which is usually the most boring part—I need to imagine the scene as the poet presents it. I like the image of death as “Proud, as a living person, of her height,/ Her scarf and gloves and huge bouquet of roses,/ She shows such nonchalance and ease as might / A thin coquette excessive in poses.” Baudelaire does a good job rendering the appeal that death can have. However, the poem takes an uncomfortable turn in the lines, “Yet who’s not squeezed a skeleton with passion?/ Nor ravened with his kisses on the meat/ Of charnels.” This image is not one that anyone would want to dwell on—I suspect that the immediate reaction is to jump to the symbolic. With the symbolic, we can talk about the romanticism of death and the association between poets and suicide, all more pleasant than imaging the speaker with necrophilic intent. Yet, it’s that image that surprises and is remembered by the reader.

I was suspicious of my reading of the poem. At first, I assumed that it was simply being colored by the translation.  I had read Roy Campbell’s 1952 translation. William Aggler’s 1954 translation, “Yet who has not clasped a skeleton in his arms/ Who has not fed upon what belongs to the grave?” makes the speaker not as overtly necrophilic (though he’s still snuggling up to a corpse), but a bit more cannibalistic. Still this image is equally asdisturbing as the other. Lewis Piaget Shank’s 1931 translation, “Yet, who has not embraced a skeleton?/ Who on the thought of the tombs has never fed?” is by far the least interesting, but I suspect the translation most likely to make it into a high school textbook. By making the speaker snack on “thoughts of the tomb” instead of its actual contents, Shanks tells the reader that they should be focused on some deep emotional truth and not dwelling on those unsavory images. It reassures the reader that the images are just allegory, just symbolism. It takes away all the images’ shock and impact. Which of these three translation is the closest to the meaning of Baudelaire’s original lines is unclear to me, ignorant monolingual person that I am, though I suspect Campbell and Aggler are the ones closest to the mark. When I put “Pourtant, qui n’a serré dans ses bras un squelette,/ Et qui ne s’est nourri des choses du tombeau?” in Google translate I got “But who has hugged a skeleton,/ And who has fed things the tomb?” Obviously, Google translate missed something, but I do like this new befuddled speaker who seems to be saying “Why do you always have to be so dark, Baudelaire?”

I still distrusted my own reading of the text. A speaker alone in a tomb making out with a dead body: surely I was being obtuse, morbid and missing the point made by this well-respected and lauded poet. Yes, he was considered scandalous and had his work banned in his day, but he lived and wrote in the 19th century where everything was considered scandalous and lewd. Here he was saying something important about humans’ relationship to death, and I was imagining his speaker as a degenerate ghoul. Then I read “The Martyr.” In the first two stanzas, Baudelaire describes a sumptuous room, but in the third stanza, “A headless corpse, cascading in a flood/ Hot, living blood, that soaks, with crimson stain.” Later in the poem he writes “The vengeful man, whose lust you could not sate,/ (In spite of much love) nor quench his fire—/ Did he on your dead flesh then consummate/ His monstrous, last desire?” Let’s just say that after reading this poem, I felt more secure in my earlier reading of “The Dance of Death.”

Reading Baudelaire for the first time reminded me of how culturally (in the U.S. at least) we expect poetry to be about lofty ideals—since my first reaction to those grotesque images was to think that surely I was misreading the poems. Certainly, there may be cultural reference that I’m not getting, and there are deeper symbolic ways to read these poems. But their symbolic meaning doesn’t make these two poems any less about men (hopefully fictional) whose tastes lean towards the funerary and violent. In the race to find the “deeper” meaning of a poem, it is easy to ignore the story or the image that is presented on the surface. The surface of a lake may obscure what is underneath, but we lose something if we ignore what we see on the surface. Even if it’s only a reflection. Ultimately, I did not enjoy most of Baudelaire’s poems, but I appreciate how he used images to shock the reader. Yes, these images can be read as symbolic, emotional, abstract, but the reason they work so well is that they are grounded in the concrete. Sometimes it is necessary to let a cigar be a cigar, a red wheel barrow be a red wheel barrow, and a man with romantic inclination toward the dead be—well, you get idea.

“Hey Macarena!”

Two Milestone

Illustration by Walter Crane

While I’ve linked to poems that I’ve published in the past, I’m happy to be able to, for the first time, link to a published piece of fiction, “Not All Enchantments Have a Happy Ending.” You can read it here at the Río Grande Review. It’s a flash fiction piece and a dark fairy tale that takes a little inspiration from “Brother and Sister.” Be sure to check out some of the other stories and poems published in the issues. I particularly enjoyed Karin Rosman’s  “Three Does and a Buck.”

In other news, this has shown up in my notifications:

500 Followers

I had always assumed that my internet writing was something akin to yelling into a void. Due to my self-doubt, I could not believe that anyone would want to read my writing, so my first follower shocked me almost as much as the 500th. In fact that self-doubt is so great that I keep thinking of reasons to be suspicious, usually along the lines of some century old conspiracy involving pirates and space aliens who are not interested in reading my ramblings. But in all seriousness, thank you for following and reading my blog. I really do a appreciate it.

The Book I Almost Didn’t Read

I’ve always been fascinated by book covers: how they’re designed, what they tell us about a book before we’ve even read it, how a bad design may keep me from book I would otherwise enjoy, and how a good design will trick me into reading a book I don’t like. Last year Meg Wolitzer wrote a great article on the different ways the books written by women are marketed—including the typeface that is used on the cover. Yesterday, I came across link to an article about how Maureen Johnson had asked her twitter followers to create covers for books as though the original author had a different gender. It’s quite fun.

The article got me thinking about a book I read recently, Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi. This book may be one of my all time favorites.  It’s about a writer, the titular Mr. Fox, his muse, Mary Foxe, and his wife, Daphne.  There is a bit of a love triangle between the three, but what makes it interesting is that Mary is a creation of Mr. Fox’s mind not a flesh and blood woman.  The book begins with Mary accusing Mr. Fox of being a serial killer, as he kills of all the women in his novels. They start a game where they enter several different stories—in someways it is a bit reminiscent of Italo Calivino’s If one a Winter’s Night a Traveler. Ultimately, Oyeyemi is exploring how women are viewed, often in ways that justify the violence done to them, and how fictional constructs reinforce or subvert these views. Yet despite the heavy topic, the book is often lighthearted and funny.

However, you wouldn’t be able to tell it’s dealing with such topics from the cover. When I first come across this book, it  was the cover to the right that I saw. I immediately recognized that the title was a reference to the British fairy tale, “Mr. Fox,” where a young woman visits her fiancé’s house and discovers he is a serial killer.  She takes a dismembered hand of one of the victims, and at their wedding reception reveals his crimes to the whole neighborhood. He is immediately killed by her brothers and her friends.  That definitely drew me to the book, but the Art Deco style, the colors, and the shadow of the woman with her back turned to the dapper gentlemen suggested that this book was most likely a period mystery novel with romance elements. Mystery is a fine genre, but not really my cup of tea (I hate puzzles).

Then I started to hear good but vague things about the novel. When I came across the edition pictured to the right at a book store, I bought the book.  This cover for one connected the book to the fairy tale—the beast disguised as a human—and it suggested that their might be some exploration of tropes—how the collage of the fox and clothing are not smoothly merged.  However, I was a bit worried when I read the summary on the back (which I can never resist reading). It said:

Fairy-tale romances end with a wedding. The fairy tales that don’t get more complicated. In this book, celebrated writer Mr. Fox can’t stop himself from killing off the heroines of his novels, and neither can his wife, Daphne. It’s not until Mary, his muse, comes to life and transforms him from author into subject that his story begins to unfold differently. Meanwhile, Daphne becomes convinced that her husband is having an affair, and finds her way into Mary and Mr. Fox’s game. And so Mr. Fox is offered a choice: Will it be a life with the girl of his dreams, or a life with an all-too-real woman who delights him more than he cares to admit?

On one hand the book had seemed to have magical realism, which I loved, but on the other hand it might just be a romance (also not my cup of tea).  That summary only hints at the fairly dark parts in the book, but definitely emphasizes the romantic relationship between a man and two women.  Oddly, it also suggest that the final outcome of the novel is based on the Mr. Fox’s choice alone, where in the book the two woman have equal agency.

I can’t say why the publisher chose to highlight certain aspects of this book—the love triangle—and not the other more violent parts—the murders in the embedded stories.  Maybe this really did sell better, and I would never begrudge an awesome author getting read by a wider audience.  Maybe I’m just revealing my own biases—in loving the meta and dark parts of the book, I’m probably selling short the fact that it is fun, usually lighthearted, often optimistic, and even romantic.

All I know is that I love this book, and I almost didn’t read it because of what was on its cover.

The Experience of a Book

For the last six months, three days a week, I make the hour-long drive to Santa Fe and the hour-long drive back. The biggest problem I’ve faced, other than gas prices and the ability of landscape to distract me, is a lack of listening material. I have a habit of driving to music, which increases the likelihood of speeding tickets. I’ve been listening to podcasts so far, but I’ve only found three I really like (Read it and Weep, The Bookrageous Podcast, and Literary Disco). Unfortunately, I’ve exhausted their past episodes and now must wait for each new episode. I’ve tried finding some other podcasts, but nothing has really caught my attention (feel free to make suggestions), so in an attempt to remain sane and within the speed limit, I’m entering the strange new world of audio books.

Now the thing is I love listening to books. Growing up both my parents read to me, and I was still asking them to read to me after I could read chapter books on my own. I only stopped asking my mother when I discovered that she was censoring the more risqué parts (which really weren’t all that risqué). At my father’s house, I had younger siblings, so I was, under the guise of bonding with them, able to be read to well into middle school.

It was during that time that I first encountered an audio book. My family has a tradition of reading Night in the Lonesome October every October. Someone eventually gave us the audio book version. We put the cassette tape in the stereo, gathered around, and listened. We didn’t even make it through the fist chapter. The voice actor had got it all wrong. And by all wrong I mean, he sounded nothing like my father.

In recent years, my husband has read many of Terry Pratchett’s books to me. He is a wonderful reader—he does the voices—so wonderful in fact that hearing him read the Discworld novels out loud is preferable to actually sitting down and reading the books silently. In large part it is because my head doesn’t do the voice, everything I read is in my own voice, even if a picture of Morgan Freeman is right next to the text.

In fact listening is so integral to my reading that I cannot read poetry silently. When I open a book of poetry, I know that I will speak every word. If I read it silently, I won’t retain anything. This habit can get interesting if I’m reading some LANGUAGE poetry.

So considering that reading has so often been linked to listening to me, you would think that I would take quicker to audio books. Yet still I hesitate. Maybe it’s because I don’t know the voice actors—I would hate a bad voice actor to ruin a good book.

Or maybe it is because I feel listening doesn’t count. I can’t claim that I’ve read a book if I only listened to it. I’ve haven’t listed any of the Discworld books that my husband has read to me on my Goodreads page (well until now). Of course, I don’t mind that it doesn’t count when my husband reads to me. I’m able to enjoy a book with him. However, I don’t have that additional bonding moment with an audio book. Alone on my way to work, only I will laugh and only I will cry.

The important question is why do I care if it counts or not. At first I want to say it is because reading is active, you have to work at it, and listening is passive. But as someone who speaks at students on a daily basis, I can tell you that listening is not a passive activity. I still experience each and every word of the book whether I’m reading or listening to it. True I can’t analyze the sentences and the plot of an audio book in the same way, but then I never analyzed everything I’ve read.

Yet I’ve seen people judged by their reading habits all the time. The worst is when people are dismissed as readers because they read science fiction, mystery or romance. I’ve heard people point out that audio books don’t count. But audio books are not like movie adaptations, all the words that the author wrote are still there. I wonder if it’s because we associate being read to with being a child. Is part of being an adult that we don’t get to be read too anymore? I’ve already given up trick-or-treating; I don’t to give this up as well.

In the end, I have six hours a week where I’m alone on the road. These are six hours where I cannot read, yet I can still make my way through a book. I can still empathize with the characters, enjoy a well turned phrase, lose myself in wonder, and ponder new ideas. How could that not count?

Atrocity by Increments

This summer I taught Shirley Jackson’s short story, “The Lottery,” for the first time. The reactions to the story were interesting to say the least. About half the students were shocked by the end, and the other half revealed they had not finished it when they interrupted the class to exclaim “They did what?”  One student flat-out refused to read the story because her son had told her about its grotesque end, and she was still unsettled by “The Cask of Amontillado.”

As we discussed the story, what I found interesting were my student’s assumptions about the setting.  A few of them assumed that it took place in a post-apocalyptic future.  After all, the setting had no overt technology with which to place the story in time, and they couldn’t imagine this happening anytime in recent history.  (I also suspect their reading was colored by Octavia Butler’s “Speech Sounds,” which we had read the week before).  However, my students all agreed that this story was not realistic that it could not happen in our world or at least in our culture.

Jackson seems to be mainly known as a horror author and with good cause.  She has great talent for creating unnerving atmospheres where her reader is waiting for things to go wrong.  In her more famous and one of my favorite books, The Haunting of Hill House, she creates an atmosphere so oppressive and so off kilter that I when I first read the book I was terrified before anything had happened.  And lets not forget her mastery of prose, I could swoon over the first paragraph of that novel.  Without a doubt, Jackson is great horror author.

However, the thing about genre fiction, like horror, is a lot of readers (and those who don’t read the genre but are still very vocal about it) tend to treat this all as pretend, which is true to a certain extent.  After all, we know that we don’t need to worry about vampires or the elder gods. But the assumption that it could not happen in the real world is sometimes applied to more realistic works, like Stephan King’s Cujo. When in reality, it is unlikely but still possible.  This reason seems to be why my students saw “The Lottery” as fantastic.  People just don’t kill their neighbors for the bad luck of drawing a piece of paper with a black spot.

I was inspired by my class to read The Lottery and Other Stories.  Taken in the context of the collection, “The Lottery” no longer is as easy to separate from the real world as it was before.  Throughout these stories, Jackson shows people going about their daily lives and the myriad of ways that they are isolated and isolate others. The main source of apprehension I felt reading these stories is the petty cruelties that people visit on each other.  The stories are in our world, but there is still a sense of uncanny about them.  In “Daemon Lover” a young woman tries to track down her fiancé, but we are left wondering if he ever existed in the first place. In “The Renegade” we see a housewife’s growing distress as her neighbors and eventually her own children delight in the fact that her dog, who had killed some chickens, must be put down.  Jackson shows how the city allows people to grow indifferent to each other, and how they can become lost in the crowd.  Jackson also show how the country allows people to form close-knit communities that exclude and shame outsiders.  By the time the reader gets to the titular story, it’s all too clear the “The Lottery” could take place in our world.  The cruelty and inhumanity seen at the end has already been shown in small increments elsewhere.

While I have always read “The Lottery” as being about how tradition allows us or drives us to do some so pretty awful things, Jackson’s short story collection shows the many small ways that pettiness and clannishness leads to atrocity.  When we wonder how groups of people can get together and do terrible things, Jackson answers us in these short stories.  She tells us that the small and petty crimes we commit against each other everyday add up, until we, without a thought, throw stones at neighbors we’ve known our whole lives.

On Not Meeting Frivolous Goals

In an earlier post, I mentioned that I was going to try to read a book of poetry every week this year.  It is now week twenty-four, and I’ve read twenty-one books.  I should have realized that this goal was unrealistic—especially when I signed up to teach four classes this summer—but I always have unrealistic goal towards the number of books that I’m going to read.

When going on a weeklong trip, it is rare for me to carry less than four books. Keep in mind these are not sit at the shore of a lake and read type trips, but the meet of up with friends and see all the sights type trips.  The reality is I probably wouldn’t get through one book much less four.

I suspect that this, in part, is a habit that I picked up from my dad—who always carried a book with him in case he ever got stuck waiting.  A habit I carry to the extreme.  One of my criteria for a purse is that I can fit a good-sized paperback into it (along with my wallet, journal, day planner, and pens).  When packing for a trip I tend to worry that I may finish one book and not have anything else to read, that when I start a new book it will prove a bore, that one book may be intense and I will need light-hearted breaks.  In the end, I usually pack four books.

The books on my nightstand, or what I knock over when my alarm clock goes off.

I read more than one book at the time.  Usually I’m reading—at the very least—a novel, a book of nonfiction, a book of poetry, something that I’ve been intimidated by, and an issue of a literary magazine.  As you can see by the photo of the books currently on my nightstand I often exceed that list.  And not only am I reading that pile, I’ve also been carrying around The Uses of Enchantment and the most recent issue of the Indiana Review, in case I get a spare moment at work, and sitting next to my desk is Thomas Hardy The Complete Poems, which I pick up from time to time (though it may take me years to get through).

This book is huge! It could be classified as a blunt instrument even though it’s a paperback.

When considering my reading habits, I may read a lot of books, but I don’t really get through them all that quickly.  It was never realistic that I was going to read a book of poetry a week, though I may still be able to read fifty-two books of poetry this year.

In fact The Complete Poems of Cavafy had been sitting on my shelf for quite sometime, but I’ve been putting off reading it to focus on books I knew I could get through in a week.  Finally I gave in—I could no longer stand waiting even though I knew it would mess up my goal.  I was doing this for fun anyways.

Of course the danger of having fun goals is that they can turn into work. After all I’m not reading these books for a class or a job, I’m reading them for myself.  And sometimes, especially with poetry, it’s all right to take your time.

Below is the books of poetry that I’ve finished so far:

Week 1: The Best American Poetry of 2011

Week 2: Radial Symmetry By Katherine Larson

Week 3: Sin by Ai

Week 4: Waxworks by Frieda Hughes

Week 5: Mommy Must be a Fountain of Feather by Kym Hyesoon

Week 6: Bestiary or The Parade of Orpheus by Guillaume Apollinaire

Week 7: Kaddish by Allen Ginsberg

Week 8: The Other Side/ El Otro Lado by Julia Alvarez

Week 9: Remainland by Aase Berg

Week 10: It’s Not You, It’s Me: The Poetry of Breakup ed. by Jerry William

Week 11: Red as a Lotus: Letters to a Dead Trapist by Lisa Gill

Week 12: Diving into The Wreck by Adrienne Rich

Week 13: Breathing Between the Lines by Demetria Martinez

Week 14: Men in the Off Hours by Anne Carson

Week 15: Petals of Zero by Andrew Zawacki

Week 16: Words for Empty and Words for Full by Bob Hicok

Week 17: Head Off & Split by Nikkey Finney

Week 18: Flying at Night by Ted Kooser

Week 19: Practical Gods by Carl Dennis

Week 20: Wait by C.K. Williams

Week 21: Arrival of the Future by B.H. Fairchild.