Monday, March 31, 2008

The Poet Knows It

Clearly, I am not worthy. Poets are, for me, real life wizards. Poets break down words and images and suddenly your insides are going "ugh" or "oh!" against your will (the blasé call it economy of language).

April is National Poetry Month, a month where I traditionally harass friends and family with poetry forwards that celebrate my love of words and not-so-secret geekiness. Some have Brad or Angelina, I have Raymond Carver, Billy Collins and Grace Paley. Swoon.

To kick off the month, a poem from my first book of poetry -- an anthology that I picked from the Scholastic book order catalog we'd get each month in 3rd grade and bought with my allowance. This was also a year that I dreamt of an all-pink sweat suit from Nordstroms, so it might not be the most sophisticated poem, but it's one that (like the pink sweat suit) captured my heart in the moment.

Interlude III / Karl Shapiro
**this poem was rated a smiley face by my 9 year old self**

Writing I crushed an insect with my nail
And thought nothing at all. A bit of wing
Caught my eye then, a gossamer so frail

And exquisite, I saw in it a thing
That scorned the grossness of the thing I wrote.
It hung upon my finger like a string.

A leg I noticed next, fine as a mote,
"And on this frail eyelash he walked," I said,
"And climbed and walked like any mountain-goat."

And in this mood I sought the little head,
But it was lost; then in my heart a fear
Cried out, "A life--why beautiful, why dead!"

It was a mite that held itself most dear,
So small I could have drowned it with a tear.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

(Not) So Fresh And So Clean

These days, I'm more of a political observer than participant, and it
bums me out. Last presidential election cycle I was in Washington,
DC - working l
ate, working Saturdays. I'd be in the office at 9am
on Saturday morning a
nd send an instant message to a friend.
Which one? Any of them, because everyone was working, burning
the midnight oil. It was e
xciting. I was working for something so
much bigger than myself.

I miss the tactile quality of being in the middle of it. I love
my quiet Portland life, but when I checked the New York Times
this morning, there's Bush saying the war was a success,
and the freshly elected governor of New York was already busy

admitting to his "numerous" affairs, I had nobody to yell with
except the office poodle.
I quietly worked my way through
Obama's acute speech on race in the United States. I also made
my first Obama donation (better late than never). I felt so far
removed from the
process, though.
Click, click, enter
information, done.
Email thank you for
being a part of this

historic event.

Then I got an email from
The White House Project,
an amazing organization
that reminds girls
that the
political, business and
media world is absolutely
somewhere they should be, and helps them get there.
"Bad news," the email said:

From 67th to 71st. The United States' dismal standing as 67th
in the world-- in t
erms of the percentage of women serving
in our legislature
--has now gotten even
worse. Of the 188
countries with national legislatures, we are now 71st—behind
Iraq (33rd), Sudan (65th) and the Democratic People's
Republic of Korea (57th)

I read this, then reached the last page of Obama's speech, which
talked about a young white woman, Ashley, who had watched the

system betray her in every way, but instead of laying blame, she
got involved to change it.
And then there was the old black guy,
who said, "I'm here because of Ashley." (If you've read the speech,

you're probably tearing up a bit, too.) Obama's point: Separately,
we're a beat down white 20-something who lost her mom to
cancer, or an old black man facing an uncertain retirement in
South Carolina. Together, we're changing the world.

I can't tell you how much Obama's speech made the rest of the
day's news (the lack of representation of women in politics,
Bush's stupid and dangerous illusions, Governors who can't
keep it in their pants...) now seem like points of opportunity.
Sitting in my office, lamenting my distance from politics, my
lost voice,
I promise to do better. Obama's trying, Ashley's trying.
I want to help make politics fresh and clean, too;
I figure this
blog post is a modest start.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Lala for Lacinato. Dinosaur Kale, that is.

Let's hear it for dinosaur kale with a bubbly texture. I made it tonight for dinner, sauteed with garlic and Field Roast Mexican veggie sausage, on top of a fluffy pile of red and white quinoa. Maybe you aren't paying attention: I said...

...let's hear it for dinosaur kale!

No doubt my enthusiasm is a sign it's been winter for too long. I faithfully went the way of other earth-friendly Portlanders by keeping to the seasonal produce available and buying local this year. We've went from the most amazing farmers markets on the planet (I haven't done research, but I'm pretty sure) this fall, to smaller markets with shorter hours, to a handful of markets that sold pumpkins. The sky clouded over, literally and figuratively, and it was winter again.

I signed up to get weekly deliveries of local fruits and veggies from Organics to You (friendly hippies), because I couldn't trust myself not to just buy a bunch of dirty but attractive fruits and veggies hauled up from Mexico, come to rest in peace at the Hawthorne Fred Meyers (deep voice bellows: beware of the carbon footprint!). God bless Organics to You, but the last few months I've been living on root vegetables, apples and pears. Exclusively. Last night I made a nightmarish casserole of the contents in my fridge: turnips, rutabagas, carrots and celery. So when I opened my box-o-vegetables tonight, my heart went pit-a-pat. I fingered the unfamiliar bubbly leaves, probably much longer than appropriate. I pretended I didn't see the regular albino winter fare cozying up around it. All I saw was this beautiful leafy hussy - kale! Until spring makes an appearance, kale is king.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Pants on Fire

Maybe by now you've heard that author Margaret B. Jones (actual name, Margaret Seltzer) has admitted - only after being ratted out by her sister - that her memoir about growing up in Los Angeles' inner city gang culture was pure fiction. Or, as she claimed, not completely fiction, because the situations happened to people she knew. I had read the glowing review of her book, Love and Consequences, in the New York Times on Thursday, followed with the article on her and her daughter at their house in Eugene, in the Time's Home & Garden section over the weekend. I was hooked, and planning on going to see her speak at Powell's tonight, but - obviously - that event's been canceled.

What a crazy turn of events - a memoir telling a story of a place - South L.A. - and a culture that is as foreign to many Americans as a foreign country, but starkly real to those who live there. It's the story of a subculture, told by - surprise - an outsider. A white girl who grew up in Sherman Oaks and went to a fancy private school.

Selzer argues that this story might not be completely fiction, because the violent realities of gangs and places like South Central L.A. are real for many people; but it is not non-fiction because it didn't happen to Selzer. This speaks to a much larger race and class tension both in the United States and internationally. Who's qualified to give a voice to whom? If the voice isn't authentic, what's its value? Was Selzer demeaning the people, or trying to represent them?

An author who addressed this in a respectable way is Dave Eggers, with his novel What is the What. Based on the actual life of a Sudanese boy, Egger published it as fiction, acknowledging the shape he gave the story, the gaps he filled when his subject couldn't remember something. The story is powerful because of the boy's memories, and Egger's skill in winding those memories into a gripping narrative. I believe giving a voice to those who have none is the most powerful gift you can give as a writer. But I also wonder if the most responsible thing you can do as a writer is to teach, to give others the tools to speak up for themselves, too.