Thursday, April 28, 2011

Carol Ann Duffy's Poem, RINGS

I'll be waking up at 5 am tomorrow morning to watch the royal wedding. In part it is to honor my eleven year old self who woke at 5 am in 1981 to watch Charles and Diana get married. There seems an important symmetry in the events thirty years apart. At eleven, I assembled a scrapbook of the wedding, knowing at some level even then that scrapbook would be my only wedding book. The early rising will be voluntary, unlike when Diana died and I was woken equally early by our housemate screeching, oh, no! She died! Some may remember it was a tragic summer, Gianni Versace, then Diana. It seemed like a summer of tragedy in our young queer lives. So I'll watch in honor of my younger self, and my friend Johnie who woke me screaming now over a decade ago.

I'm enjoying the discussions about Carol Ann Duffy's decision to write a poem for the occasion. The occasion poem is a difficult matter, and I think Duffy rose to the occasion. The poem, along with many others is at The Guardian and I've reproduced it below.

What do you think? A good poem? An appropriate response to the many political and ethical considerations of the occasion? Let me know. Meanwhile, I am looking forward to rising before the sun tomorrow.

Carol Ann Duffy

for both to say

I might have raised your hand to the sky
to give you the ring surrounding the moon
or looked to twin the rings of your eyes
with mine
or added a ring to the rings of a tree
by forming a handheld circle with you, thee,
or walked with you
where a ring of church-bells,
looped the fields,
or kissed a lipstick ring on your cheek,
a pressed flower,
or met with you
in the ring of an hour,
and another hour . . .
I might
have opened your palm to the weather, turned, turned,
till your fingers were ringed in rain
or held you close,
they were playing our song,
in the ring of a slow dance
or carved our names
in the rough ring of a heart
or heard the ring of an owl's hoot
as we headed home in the dark
or the ring, first thing,
of chorussing birds
waking the house
or given the ring of a boat, rowing the lake,
or the ring of swans, monogamous, two,
or the watery rings made by the fish
as they leaped and splashed
or the ring of the sun's reflection there . . .
I might have tied
a blade of grass,
a green ring for your finger,
or told you the ring of a sonnet by heart
or brought you a lichen ring,
found on a warm wall,
or given a ring of ice in winter
or in the snow
sung with you the five gold rings of a carol
or stolen a ring of your hair
or whispered the word in your ear
that brought us here,
where nothing and no one is wrong,
and therefore I give you this ring.

This is a crazy week. Many deadlines, much to do. Amid my stress and madness though, this beautiful poem arrived from Knopf this morning as a part of their poem a day series for National Poetry Month. I love the work of Sharon Olds and found this poem to be just a perfect moment in my day. You can see the original post here. And if you love it, buy Wellspring by Sharon Olds here.

True Love

In the middle of the night, when we get up
after making love, we look at each other in
complete friendship, we know so fully
what the other has been doing. Bound to each other
like mountaineers coming down from a mountain,
bound with the tie of the delivery-room,
we wander down the hall to the bathroom, I can
hardly walk, I hobble through the granular
shadowless air, I know where you are
with my eyes closed, we are bound to each other
with huge invisible threads, our sexes
muted, exhausted, crushed, the whole
body a sex—surely this
is the most blessed time of my life,
our children asleep in their beds, each fate
like a vein of abiding mineral
not discovered yet. I sit
on the toilet in the night, you are somewhere in the room,
I open the window and snow has fallen in a
steep drift, against the pane, I
look up, into it,
a wall of cold crystals, silent
and glistening, I quietly call to you
and you come and hold my hand and I say
I cannot see beyond it. I cannot see beyond it.

Thursday, April 21, 2011


First, a note to gentle readers: I have realized that I can blog quite easily using my iPad. Hence a few more posts recently, written in the late evenings. I've had the iPad for just over a year now (yes, I bought it the first day they were sold), and find it immensely useful as a reader for PDF documents as well as for doing email and teaching presentations. Over the past few months, though, I have been using it more for writing. Yes, writing. I find Pages to be very functional. So lately I've been taking notes on the iPad, typing assignments, writing poems, and now even blogging.

Tonight's brief rant about publishing is connected to the note. Earlier this week, Jesse Jackson, Jr. said that iPads were resulting in a loss of jobs in the United States. I don't even know where to begin with analyzing the lunacy of this statement. Now don't get me wrong. I'm an admirer of Jackson. His fathers Presidential campaign is one of the first political campaigns I worked on. (At my tender age then, many of my more senior political colleagues told me that a black man would never be President of the United States. Much has changed since then. Including how we read and write.) so it pains me to say this, but Jackson couldn't be more incorrect. There are many reasons that publishing is suffering as an industry, certainly the growth of ereaders is a part of the economic problems plaguing the publishing industry, but they are only a part, and in the final analysis will probably only be a small part. Moreover, loss of jobs in the United States is also a multifactorial phenomenon. Sorry, Representative Jackson, blaming iPads for our current economic woes, while it may have garnered you a brief headline, simply demonstrates your lack of complexity in thinking about how we read, write, think, and work in today's world.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


Publishers Weekly features a story today titled On the Front Lines: LGBT Publishing in 2011. Very smart comments from Don Wiese, Raphael Kadushin, and Tony Valenzuela among others. What is mind-numbing about this article is the list of forthcoming LGBT books in 2011. It is in the middle of the article, so keep reading.

The offerings? At least two books by celebrities, a book about manners (really? It's probably fun and delightful, but I question how it is enhancing our literary lives.) and the book mentioned of lesbian interest? A memoir about being straight for a year. If this list is representative of what we can expect in the forthcoming year (and I feel confident it isn't, rather it is what mainstream publishing has chosen to highlight), it is going to be a bleak and dismal year.

The banality of these books demonstrates the way gay and lesbian readers are regarded by New York publishing houses. It is discouraging to say the least and even frightening. I don't know what the answer is, but this is an issue that deserves more attention and activist interventions if we are to preserve and continue LGBT literary culture.

Meanwhile, check out great books being published by independent and small presses. Ed Madden has a collection of poetry coming out from Lethe Press that excites me. Minnie Bruce Pratt's newest collection Inside the Money Machine from Carolina Wren Press is gorgeous and exciting. (You can see my review at Lambda Literary here.) And Monique Truong's stunning book, Bitter in the Mouth, which was released last August and didn't receive the recognition it deserves, is worth picking up to see the vibrancy, creativity and excitement of LGBT literary culture.

Our literature deserves more than we are getting from New York publishing. We need to demand it and find a way to hold mainstream publishers and all involved with publishing accountable.

It's a big week for lesbian poets. Kay Ryan won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for her book, The Best of It. I have a review of the book, which I thoroughly enjoyed, forthcoming in CALYX. Joan Larkin won the Shelley Prize from the Poetry Society of America. I viewed her book, My Body: New and Selected Poems for the Lambda Book Report. Announced earlier this month, a Guggenheim for lesbian poet, Eleanor Lerman. I am thrilled to see all of these poets receive the recognition they deserve.

I've been thinking a lot about lesbian poets writing during the Women's Liberation Movement and the ways that poetry circulated and represented some of the visions and dreams for liberation of women generally and lesbians particularly. While lesbians were recognized and regarded within women's communities, they also consistently won prizes from mainstream poetry and literary organizations. Olga Broumas's recognition as a Yale Younger Poet in the late 1970s; the Lamont Prize to Minnie Bruce Pratt in 1989 for her second collection, Crime Against Nature, and many others. In spite of this recognition, the continued reading and canonization of lesbian poetry struggles. In short, our words are too easily forgotten. When is the last time you read Judy Grahn's "Edward the Dyke" in a poetry anthology? Or Joan Larkin's "Cunt Poem"? This is to say, we must work against the forgetting and erasure of lesbian work.

Perhaps, though, with a former US Poet Laureate as an open lesbian (Kay Ryan) and an open bisexual woman as the UK Poet Laureate (Carol Ann Duffy) and the best-selling poet in the US open about being a lesbian (Mary Oliver), we have passed the point where erasure and forgetting are dangers. I hope so, although history proves again and again the ease with which women and their contributions to our cultural lives are erased and forgotten. Let us guard against that happening again.

Thursday, April 14, 2011


Don't forget to submit to the Robin Becker Chapbook Prize at Seven Kitchens Press. The deadline is Friday, 15 April 2011!