28 January 2010

Math Phobia, Science Fiction and Speculative Readers

Although I read a great deal, I have not read much science fiction. My best friend cites the characters and plotlines of the major science fiction novels of the past twenty years like a Baptist preacher quotes the Bible. “Orson Scott Card mentioned a situation like this in his third novel of the Ender series…” I love her dearly, but I never finish most of the sci-fi books she recommends.

What scares me so much about sci-fi? I don’t flinch at poetry. Academic histories on obscure subjects don’t cause me to grit my teeth. A recent favorite read was an anthology of essays about books that no longer exist, Lost Classics: Writers on Books Loved and Lost, Overlooked, Under-read, Unavailable, Stolen, Extinct, or Otherwise Out of Commission edited by Michael Ondaajte. Maybe it’s the science in the fiction that’s getting me down.

Even though I can do advanced math, it doesn’t do much for me. Many of the books people have recommended to me have been “hard” science fiction, books that rely on cutting edge technology and science to propel the plot. When I see equations in fiction, my eyes glaze over. No, I really don’t need to see the circuitry diagrams of the star cruiser before I will believe that it can travel through space…

But every so often a book will capture my imagination. This month it is Eifelheim by Michael Flynn. He combines two genres that are usually at odds, historical fiction and hard science fiction. The plot revolves around a 14th century German village that vanished during the height of the Black Plague. I won’t give away the plot, but it involves some heavy (for me) time/space theory. I also like that the book includes a section for both historical and physics notes at the end. I didn’t expect to love the books as much as I do, but then again who expects the pastor of St. Catherine’s Church in 1348 to encounter a band of… Give the book a try.

Jules Verne is as close as I usually come to science fiction. A balloon race to circle the globe, a submarine attacked by a giant squid, pterodactyls at the center of the earth, you know—the plausible stuff.

To my delight, a newer genre of science fiction is gaining prominence and it is called steampunk, which explores an alternate history (neo-Victorianism) where technology is powered by steam. Seattle author Cherie Priest’s steampunk novel Boneshaker was selected for a 2010 Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Award. It’s a fast-paced read that features air ships, pirates and (of course) zombies.

What genres have you been avoiding? It never hurts to try reading something outside of your comfort zone. Even science fiction.

23 January 2010

Not Poetry Related, but Still An Amazing Sight

Sometimes my work as a bookseller offers me incredible experiences. Today, a woman came and gave a talk on her kangaroo farm in Arlington, WA. I got to hold a 7 month old kangaroo (joey).

It isn't poetry related, but it sure is cute!

16 January 2010

On Home, Queers in Art and What Goes Unsaid

In case you were wondering where I have been, I went home for a post-holiday visit with my family. I grew up in rural Montana. In fact, the picture above was taken a little more than a mile from my parents' home.

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Although I am out to my family members, it isn't something that I talk at length about with my extended family. My clan runs the gambit for political and religious convictions, but we all can agree to be polite. My partner of seven years comes to the major family functions and is welcome. One thing that I admire about Montana residents in general is their ability to be polite and to mind their own business. Montana is conservative. It is a red state, but it is also very libertarian. Medical marijuana is legal, it looks as if they are following in the footsteps of Oregon and Washington for physician assisted suicide. Most people will let you be if you don't push things.

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On the other hand, holding hands on the street with my partner would be considered "pushing my agenda" to many. This highlights my love/hate relationship with my home state.

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On the other hand, an art gallery opened in my hometown of 2500 people and there was an artists reception for the very talented pastel artist Bobbi McKibbin. Some of her atwork can be found here: http://www.olsonlarsen.com/artists.cfm?artist_id=698&cmd=display McKibbin also happens to be transgendered. Queer visibility is on the rise no matter where you are in America. Perhaps even better is that a transgendered artist can display her work in a rural Montana town and be treated cordially by the gallery attendees. Fifteen years ago, there were no visibly queer people in my hometown.

* * * *

Out of sight is out of mind. That is how someone can say, "There are no gay people in City X."

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It is a hard balance for me when visiting home. Friends and acquaintances of my family know that I am a writer and will ask me how my writing career is going. I always find it odd to be asked about poetry by strangers. For me, I rarely if ever volunteer the information that I am a poet. My relationship to language is a personal one that I am working out on the page.

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The above statement is not actually true because I am blogging about my poetry and where it can be found for perfect strangers.

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I always wonder how many people who ask me about my writing actually look me up online. Anyone who Google's me knows that I am gay and that some of my work centers on my experience as a gay man. I joked with my mother the other day that I should put a disclaimer on my blog, "Oh, I am not gay I just like to support those people and their work." Sadly, I think that some people would rather believe that than reconcile that someone they know can appear to be normal and gay.

* * * *

The geography where I grew up makes me both happy and sad. I delight in the landscape and despair for the people. I am working it all out on the page.

12 January 2010

Winter Break/Spring Thaw

I have finished with my graduate school applications, which means I am going to take a well deserved respite. I will jump out of the rut I have been in and seek to make some new furrows.

Amid all of this breaking free, I am going to try and tackle some new work. I don't know if that means trying to add some poems to an unspooling manuscript or something entirely new.

Somewhere, somehow, budding will take place.

06 January 2010

Fallow Fields, Writer's Block and Winter Blues

During this time of year in the Pacific Northwest the whole world turns gray. Rain and cloud cover become the norm. Although the days are lengthening, there is usually less sunshine to be had. January and February are grim even for the locals.

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Although T.S. Elliot said that April was the cruelest month, my vote goes for February every single time. Perhaps it is because expectations are higher. No one demands green grass in January, but near the middle of February the heavy threading itch of growth is taking root.

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I am on the verge of finishing my graduate school applications. I have half of one essay to write and revise and then I can lay down my head and weep. I put off this one essay until everything else was done. The corner I painted myself into is a tight one.

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All Americans know from the Bush era that the phrase "turning the corner" means we aren't even close to finishing--there is no end in sight. February and this essay feel like that phrase.

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Although my work is appearing in six journals in the new year and there are other submissions floating around, I haven't written any new poems in a long time. My friends who write tell me not to worry, that things have to lie fallow for awhile. I have been telling myself that I will begin to write new poems when I finish my graduate school applications, when I am finally used to my new work schedule, when I get away for a weekend to the cabin, when the sun comes back. And because I am a smart guy, I know that these promises to myself are excuses.

* * * *

Bonnie Friedman's Writing Past Dark has an excellent way of putting this fear that my ability to write poetry has vanished...

"And every day I must reach down into myself and see if the place that makes writing exists. Is it still there?...Why should this be? Why this perpetual sense of doubt and loss?"

* * * *

It's winter and I am two weeks away from finishing my graduate school applications. The sun will return eventually and robins and maybe even hope.


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