Thursday, July 29, 2010

The deodorant to end all deodorants

The other day I was in the health food store in Ellsworth, Maine and I heard this salesman explaining to a woman why she should spend $14 bucks on a small container of deodorant.

This deodorant, he explained, changes the climate of your underarms. And with the change of climate comes a change of bacterial count. And with the change in bacterial count comes a change in the type of bacteria your armpit produces, so pretty soon you won't have any odor-causing sweat. Amazing product. Because what happens next is that after a while you don't need deodorant at all. Me, for example. I never need deodorant anymore, even when it's 95 degrees outside. I only needed a few months of this expensive deodorant but it really paid off.

But the secret is, he added, you can't use ANY other kind of deodorant because that will mess up the climate and the bacterial balance. And then you will smell worse than ever.

The woman nodded and put the deodorant in her cart.

He was so convincing, how could she resist?

I wondered after how many products I have bought over the years, buying into some absurd logic. What is the dumbest thing I've ever spent money on?

I think of those dumb homeopathic vials that make you relax. Right. Relaxing drops. Jeepers. And those pillows to reduce neck pain. And . . .

What about those books that teach you how to write a great poem? I own a few but never read them. Maybe that's what I need to do, come to think about it.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


is one of my favorite answers.

Ask me if I wrote a poem today, and I will answer, Theoretically.
Ask me if I love poetry, and I will answer, Theoretically.
Ask me if I can do X or Y, and I will answer . . .

What I mean is something like, Maybe. Maybe not. Or, It depends on how you define poem. Or love.

I sometimes think it's words like theory and theoretically that separate the poets, the journalists, the politicians, from the scientists.

The first time I noticed this difference was a few years ago when a friend who is a doctor asked for a sip of my water. I said I had a cold, but she was welcome to take a chance. Ah, she answered, I am not a big believer in germ theory. Not when I'm this thirsty.

Germ theory? I asked. That's not a theory. Germs are a reality. She smiled and took a swig of my water.

A week later, my friend was very sick, coughing and spewing. She had a cold, not in theory but in reality.

As a joke she offered me some of her water. Would you like a theoretical cold?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

That AWP Panel on Sex

Reading the Laux poem on Writer's Almanac today, I was reminded me of the sex panel she was on at AWP. It was an amazing panel really. I could not even begin to do it justice here. Before I went to it, I thought, this will be a waste of my time. Do I really need to endure another AWP panel on eroticism? Am I really going to believe the claim that writers of the erotic in this day and age are censored?

I was surprised to find that this panel was excellent, and I think it did go past the comfort zones of many in the audience (it seemed so in my part of the room). The authors were all extremely prepared, explicit, surprising, and varied.

The real surprise to me was Laux who stood up and said, among other things, I'm waiting for the poets who will write about sex after 65, sex after the vaginal walls have thinned, sex after the penis no longer rises and rises. (I am not quoting her here, though I am trying my best to reconstruct her words. A few variations of her commentary were run by me at the bar later that night, and I have them mixed in with what she already said. You can see the opportunity for humor here, no doubt.) Laux commented on how she and her husband are quite content now to have sexless nights. (Did she call them sexless nights? Probably not. Yes, I think that was part of the bar talk, too . . . Let me talk about my sexless nights on this panel . . . ) It's just part of what we all have to look forward to, she said. I think she said . . .

I did hear a few people say that Laux was the most disappointing speaker there.

She reminded me of a yoga teacher who told me once that in my twenties and thirties, I was in the age of the body. I should do more postures. Perfect the art of the body. In my forties and fifties, I would be in the age of the mind. I should contemplate more. Be a philosopher. Sharpen and focus my mind. In my last years, I should meditate. I should enter the age of the soul. Learn to be still, find peace. Not keep asking for more. Always more.

Yes, to have no greed. That was the goal of the aging yogi.

Somehow the message of peaceful evenings felt at odds with the energy of AWP.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Poets Confessing

I was at this bar once with a bunch of English professors when one professor suddenly suggested we all confess our literary sins. We should admit what great books we dislike.

He started by admitting that he had never read Moby Dick, nor did he ever want to. He had, in fact, taught it once.

Another said he despised Henry James so much, he had suggested the students to read Cliff Notes instead. This was at a college where Cliff Notes were not allowed.

A third one said he didn't care for contemporary American poetry. It's too sloppy, too undefined, too anything goes.

Have you read much of it? the others asked.

No, he admitted. I don't read what I don't like.

How can you do that and be an English professor? I asked. Everyone laughed.

I noticed suddenly that no one wanted to confess anymore. I didn't want to join in with my dislike of Sylvia Plath. I know, as a woman poet of my generation, I am supposed to love her, but I am allergic to her voice.

There was a heavy weight in the air just then, like the ghosts of the unmentioned dead were waiting behind our chairs, listening for their names to be called. I could almost see Sylvia watching me, twirling her long blonde hair.

Just a little more bad news

I heard on the Daily Buzz the other night that fracking is coming to Youngstown. Everyone is thrilled about this because it means there will be jobs! No one is talking about the actual process of fracking. They are just thrilled we have natural gas reserves here.

If you don't know what fracking is, it's the practice of fracturing the shale to get to the natural gas. I can't say I understand it yet, but I know it's not pretty. Here's an excerpt from an article on the subject from

Fracking or "tapping the shale raises plenty of environmental and human impact concerns of its own, including the potentially devastating effects of hydraulic fracturing, or “hydro-fracking." Toxic chemicals derived from diesel and including benzene, toluene and xylene are injected into methane gas or coal beds to extract gas during fracking. Fracking is known to contaminate the water supply—a precious resource for low-income well users in Appalachia—and result in other serious environmental effects.

Citizens' groups have called for a moratorium on the practice in New York state, and a monitoring plan for liquid waste—sometimes radioactive—created by the operations. In April, the EPA said it would take a closer look at fracking."

And if that's not bad news enough, I will add this tidbit:

The American Petroleum Institute is spending a ton of money on a new ad campaign to prevent Congress from passing new taxes or setting any new restrictions on their drilling. What will happen to us if we don't do exactly what the oil industry wants us to do??

API threatens. . . 'As the nation struggles to recover from recession, further taxes on an industry that supports 9.2 million jobs and 7.5 percent of our GDP could have a devastating effect on our jobs, economic recovery and our energy security, according to the leading oil and natural gas trade association.'"

Oh, the threat by these friendly, caring corporations! Just think how it would hurt them to pay their share of taxes!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Did anyone hear today's Speaking of Faith on NPR today? Nice to hear an inspiring voice to start off the week.


Last night I was reading a book by one of my favorite prose poets, Morton Marcus. It's hard to imagine that he's gone now. He died of cancer last March. His work is so vibrant, so alive, and I can still see his face in the audience when I had the honor of reading in Santa Cruz two years ago. Although I'd read this collection several times, I'd never noticed that he had corrected it, adding a few commas in black ink, trying to make them look like the print.

I had to laugh. I thought I was the only one who did that, though usually I can't stand to look at my books. Once they are in print, I want to change everything about them. I can imagine myself as a ghost, trying to come back and correct any pages where my poems appear.