Friday, February 27, 2009

Minnesota as Punishment for the Sin of Pride

Last week's Read Write Poem prompt involved a form called the bop, which is, as I understand it, sort of a modern sonnet-esque type of thing: 6 line stanza to set up, 2 line refrain, 8 line stanza adding to the first, repeat of 2 line refrain, then 6 line stanza to wrap up or twist or confound or otherwise resolve the first two, then another repeat of the 2 line refrain. The prompt involved everyone posting two lines, and then each poet choosing another persons refrain and writing a poem around that. There was a really cool set of line about vultures... I loved the lines, but couldn't make them into anything. I had the thought of driving an empty landscape, with vultures, in my head, and also my snowy drive back from Cleveland last weekend. Then was talking about the weather in Minnesota this morning, the possibility of me being able to handle grad school out there. So that's what went into this, I guess.....

Minnesota as Punishment for the Sin of Pride

The old man who rings up my coffee
and gas tells me to be careful on the highway
west. It’s windy as sin out there, he says,
and I know he would have used a different word
if I’d been a local. I smile, say I will,
I’m from Ohio and no stranger to winter.

I drive farther west than I’ve ever been.
The land is flat, the snow blown thin.

I’m no stranger to winter, but this
is ridiculous, my gloved fingers numb,
car buffeted and blind. Snow dervishes
beside the highway frantically praising
this great and unpredictable force
till the wind moves on and white robes
settle hollowly to earth and pavement,
all their passion blown across the prairie.

I drive farther west than I’ve ever been.
The land is flat, my soul blown thin.

Passion has blown me out here to the prairie,
my weight insufficient anchor against the wind,
my coat and blood too thin. There is no sun here,
no color but old snow, salt-bleached asphalt,
and frozen stubble in the fields. My red car
is brilliant in this landscape, my smallness immense.

I am farther west than I’ve ever been.
I fear the flattening, the blowing thin.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Poem for the Palm Tree in my Hallway


It appeared in the hallway
in November, half-dead, drooping
in the corner before the stairs.
We guessed someone moved out
and left it, houseplants don't travel
all that well, and this one
was none too healthy to start.

We talked to it when we walked by
sometimes. Poor palm tree,
did someone abandon you?

It thrived there in front of the window,
cold winter sun enough to bring it back.
Someone must have watered it
over the holidays, into the new year.

You stopped coming over in February,
and now air is getting warmer. Last week
I opened the window in the hallway to give it
some fresh air, fronds leaning and reaching
toward the light. This morning I saw
that one of my neighbors brought a stick inside
and tied the palm upright with bright orange ribbons.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

As if heaven is just a dim and smoky room.....

I had a wonderful, intellectually stimulating, weekend in Cleveland with some old college friends. I didn't realize how stimulating until I started driving home Sunday afternoon and couldn't stop coming up with poem ideas and lines. I wrote a few down when I stopped to get a cup of coffee halfway home. My brain is still buzzing now, and it was so nice to be surrounded by smart people, and to see the way that it helped my creativity; it makes me that much more excited for grad school, and that much more sure that I made the right decision in applying.

However, I am completely saddened that I don't think I got into Wisconsin! They sent a bunch of acceptances out via email yesterday, and I didn't get one, and I am crushed. It just seemed so "meant to be", the way I wrote it on my list before I'd even researched it, and the way I kept seeing that car with the Wisconsin license plates outside my apartment, and the way one of my friends in Cleveland was telling me she knows people out there who'd help me out.... I guess I can't fully count it out until I get the rejection in the mail, but I am quite sad that I don't think I made their cut. I'm starting to wonder if fate is just telling me to go to Penn State, and making the decision easier by not giving me any other acceptances.... I KNOW that I'll be happy at Penn if I go there, and I KNOW it's a good program, and I don't want to downplay either of those facts at all, BUT it's a blow to my ego not to get in anywhere else. I admit that, okay? I have an ego, and it will be really hurt if I only make into one of the nine schools I applied to. Even though it's a good one, and even though they only chose two poets, and even though there are plenty of people who applied to more schools and didn't get in anywhere. I still have that ego, and I still want to feel like I am wanted and valued, and I still want to feel like I have a choice of where to go....


I'll post a little bit of something that popped into my head on the drive home Sunday:


This state
is shaped
like a heart
and my life
has flowed
like blood
through all
four chambers.

The title of this post is also a line that occurred to me on that drive, but one which is being worked into a poem.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


one of the poems I wrote last week. based, very loosely, on me sitting on the golf course in our college town with a boyfriend of mine from way back when.


The grass above the second hole
embosses patterns on the backs
of our legs. We are lying under the moon
on the only hill in this town.

You take my hand without looking,
knowing where our fingers will meet.

You know how we always draw the earth
as a circle?
you say as you trace fingernails
lightly over my palm. You can feel
me nod. It’s not. It’s not really round.

We’ve snuck onto the golf course,
neither of us comes from a country club
family. The earth is really a huge polygon,
with millions, billions, of sides.
We are
cold enough and drunk enough
that this makes heartbreaking sense.

I grasp your hand and stare at the sky,
feeling the earth dig into my skin
and the back of my skull. I think
you’re right. That explains the bruises,
the corners we run into, the angles
we trip over when the way should
be smooth, how hard it is for a girl
to just walk in a straight line.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Poetry is not a warm and fuzzy thing

That's a misquote from a student of Richard Hague's. He read at the Poetry Forum Monday night, and passed out a little broadside of poems inspired by his high school students afterward. One of them used a quote from a student, which was to that same effect, but I don't remember the exact words.

He was a good reader, and he read a few uncomfortable poems, which liberated me to read an uncomfortable poem. I posted a draft here awhile back. It's called Playing Dead and is inspired by something that really happened in my hometown shortly after I had gone away to college. The story has haunted me for years. I'd never read it aloud before, and wasn't too sure about reading it then, but I got a great response, and it read really well. It still makes me cringe a little, the story of it, but as a poem, it seems to have value.

I'm not sure how I feel about the value of making art from horror and violence, except as a way of encompassing it within our minds. But is that art, or is it therapy? Can it start as therapy and become art through revision and a certain distance?

Monday, February 16, 2009

To keep my mind busy at work on a boring Monday....

and a haiku about it:

Free Rice

What a luxury
to be paid for sitting here
playing trivia.

Friday, February 13, 2009

You can't win them all

A couple people yesterday mentioned getting rejections from Alabama in the mail. Well, mine came today :( I am disappointed, but just taking the hint that I'm not meant to be a southerner. Of course, I would be way more disappointed if it was my first response; as it is, the acceptance the other day kind of balances it out. Interesting to me is that the two schools got the exact same sample, and statement (except the paragraph about the specific school), and their rankings are very comparable, so it just goes to show how random this whole process is.

2 down, 7 to go.

And I decided I really need to make the effort to send out lots of submissions over the next few months. That's a goal for next week: polishing up some poems to send out.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

A Poem for Jade, Upon My Acceptance to Graduate School

Here is the poem I mentioned that I wrote last night.

A Poem for Jade, Upon My Acceptance to Graduate School

Windows rattle with a suddenness
that startles the cat from the back
of the couch. She glares green-eyed
at me as though I called this wind.

Maybe I did. There was news today,
good news, the future I’ve been chasing
is now marked boldly on the calendar.
The wind batters this apartment, but we
have weathered worse and I trust these walls.

In six months I will not know the strength
of the glass and brick surrounding me,
if walls will leak or break or bend.
The cat will be with me, ready
to place blame where it is due.

How poets celebrate

After posting that slightly delirious update yesterday about getting accepted to Penn State, I had a glass of wine, calmed down, had some dinner, then baked brownies from scratch and walked up to the grocery store to buy ice cream to go with them. I half-heartedly tried to recruit a few friends for a celebratory drink, but as it was 9pm on a very windy and rainy Wednesday, no one was biting. So, I settled myself on the couch, with brownies and ice cream and wine, and I opened the new Moleskine journal I got for my birthday last month, and I wrote a poem for my new cat.

That's how poets celebrate.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

1 down, 8 to go

ACCEPTED to Penn State today!!!!!!

Yay, I am so excited, and it doesn't even feel real! I wish I had something on paper, or even in email so I could look at it, and prove to myself that the phone call really happened. But, anyway, yeah.... I had felt all day like something was going to happen today. I stopped at the library after work, and had just gotten in the car afterward and backed out of my parking spot, when I felt my phone start buzzing in my pocket. I fished it out, area code 814. I had no idea where that was, and was half expecting a telemarketer, but I answered. A woman asked for Emily. I said it was. She said "This is Julia Kasdorf, at Penn State." I think my response was "Oh, hi, how are you?" like she was an old friend or something. She asked me if it was sunny outside, and I said, no, it's pouring down rain. We talked about the weather for a minute, then she told me that they were accepting me to the program AND offering me a fellowship. All tuition paid, a stipend, one semester of teaching, one without teaching, health insurance. Wow! I didn't know what to say. I was grinning. I think I said "this is so exciting" about a dozen times. She talked about the program, how they're only taking 2 new poets for next year, how closeknit and cooperative it is, how the MFAs this year have submission parties where they all print out poems and get together to mail them out to magazines. There is some sort of weekend open house in March, where they invite all the newly accepted students to campus, to meet faculty and current students, AND they'll help pay for me to come. Isn't that fantastic? We talked for about 15 minutes, she said they'll send me the offer letter and everything by mail, and the graduate secretary will call me about that weekend visit (which happily falls on a weekend where I don't have to work).

I came inside and realized I was shaking. I just couldn't stop smiling. I texted some of my friends, and updated my facebook status. I'm such a dork! But I am so relieved to know that I at least have one acceptance with funding! I know that I would be happy there, so I am super happy, and am, in a way, even more anxious to hear the rest of my results so I know what all my options are.

But, anyway, yay! I am so excited!!!!!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Another Monday night

passes with red wine and poems. David Baker read at the Poetry Forum; Ann Townsend was our scheduled reader but wasn't feeling well, so he filled in. As he put it good-naturedly: proof that ex-husbands are good for something. He read a couple of the same poems I heard him read last year, but mostly different ones, and I enjoyed his reading a lot, even though I'd been curious to hear her. Open Mic was good, almost without exception. I read a second draft of that "Miracle" poem I mentioned the other day. I think it's going to be a poem I end up liking a lot. Was also going to read something out of The Best of Best American Poetry 1988-1997 - Anthony Hecht's fantastic villanelle Prospects but hadn't had a chance to read it aloud and felt like I would mess it up, so just read my own poem. Came home, wrote a partial first draft of something I'd thought of last week, and tried to write the poem I threatened to write on Friday (making fun, a bit, of the lead singer of a band we were watching).

Waiting, sometimes patiently, for any answers from grad schools. I heard that Penn State has notified nonfiction and fiction people, but so far no poetry acceptances.... And, as of yesterday, the English department at Cleveland State hadn't received the material I mailed the end of January. That's a bit worrisome, as it included my recommendation letters, which I can't just print off another copy of, but the woman I spoke with didn't seem too concerned; she seemed to think that it was on campus somewhere but hadn't made its way into her hands yet. Quite possible, I suppose, and I can't worry too much about it right now.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

A February Lament

(For what it's worth, I'm actually having quite a decent week. Just so as no one is worried about me after reading this.)

A February Lament


I slide from door to sidewalk to car
to work, feet slipping on ice that will not
melt no matter how many times
I follow the path. I slid from your bed
to the door, down the stairs, and home.
I slip on patterns I've followed for years.
I walk in my sleep toward the guillotine.


Cold surrounds my bed
even with the heavy blanket
of lavender plaid. You said
it was too hot with our bodies
under the blanket, too cold
without it. We failed
to find temperance.


I had coffee with my exgirlfriend
and saw for the first time
grey strands in her hair.
She is four years younger
than I, and I know my darkness
is borrowed, running out.


The ice cracks under foot today,
the weekend will bring a thaw
before freezing smooth again
and even more dangerous. The blade
of winter hovers, one thin rope
of sunshine keeps my head attached.

My knees are frozen to the ground,
my hands are tied firmly
by thirty years of loneliness.

I can not get out of my own way.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Let's Rumba

If I haven't mentioned before, the Poetry Forum moved to the Rumba Cafe from its previous home at Larry's. I miss Larry's, but I think the new venue will work out fine. Monday's reading was interesting, in that the scheduled featured reader couldn't make it, so we just had a really long Open Mic. It was cool though, because everyone signed up, and we ran through the list once and everyone read two poems. I read an old (very sad) one from my senior year of college called "There Are No Bad Fridays" and then a short, fluffy one I wrote at Larry's which doesn't have a title yet. Then we went through the list a second time and everyone got to read one more piece. I didn't have anything else of my own that I wanted to read, so I read Stephen Dunn's "Desire" which is one of my favorites.

I've started writing three different poems this week. One is based off my misreading of a title of something Stacey posted recently. Her title was "Lament for a Modern Danae" which I read as "Lament for a Modern Dance" so that is the poem I am writing. I also did a list poem called "This Heart" which was more of an exercise in catharsis than poetics. And I wrote a draft of a poem I'm calling "Miracle". It starts something like....

Not every step breaks through.
I can walk for yards on water
albeit frozen.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Too much information

I have decided that, in the process of applying to grad school, there is such a thing as too much information. The MFA blog has been such a great resource throughout the process, but the up-to-the-minute updates about who's been accepted have really added to my stress level and feelings of inadequacy over the past week or so. (Other factors and questions have also played into that, but those are now settled). So I'm going to stop checking the blog and just go on about my life and try to relax and know that acceptances and rejections will come when and from where they are meant to come.

So, one last time, in something resembling an order of preference, here is my list....

1) Alabama - like I said earlier, my heart fell when I heard that some people have already been accepted, but as long as I haven't been rejected yet, for all I know, I could be next on their list if someone decides to go elsewhere. I just got such a good vibe from this program, and the warm weather is highly appealing right now!

2) Wisconsin - one of my neighbors has Wisconsin license plates and every time I see her car I think how much I'd like to go there!

3) Michigan - I've never felt that I had much chance of getting in, but had to try.

4) NEOMFA/Cleveland State - this is closer to home, and therefore very appealing to my panicked self. The idea of moving 2 hours away is much less terrifying than moving across the country. Plus it's such an innovative program, being housed at 4 separate universities. I just sent this application out last week, so no expectation of hearing for quite some time.

5) Columbia College, Chicago - Chicago is such a cool place and I've heard good things about Columbia from poet friends of mine. This was my second to last application to send in, and I don't think their deadline is up till Feb 15th, so again no expectation to hear soon.

6) Penn State - they emailed me a week or two back to say that my file was complete, and they were going to start reading soon, and would notify their first choices by late February. Contact with them has felt positive, though they made it onto my list in a really haphazard, intuitive, way.

7) Colorado State - for some reason, I felt really good about the application I sent them. They had some different requirements, and it seemed like my material broke down differently there than with my other apps, but I felt like I sent a good, complete package. They don't fund everyone, so my fear is getting in without funding and having to make that choice.

8) West Virginia - I have warm fuzzies for WVU. Always have. I guess this is the place I feel I have the best chances of getting in, just because there's less recognition and less competition, but I would still be very happy to go there. Plus it's only about 3 hours from home. In my head, it's low on the list because it doesn't have the prestige of most of the other programs, but in my heart, it's a lot higher up.

9) Minnesota - see Alabama re: people already being accepted here, but MN is at the bottom of my list because this past month of winter in Ohio has made me seriously doubt my ability to survive winter in Minnesota.

Now, no more talk of grad school until I have some responses!