Friday, August 28, 2009

The new Folger poetry schedule is available

Sometimes poets come to Booklab, asking me about the market for their poetry. Believe it or not there is one, although I don't call it a market per se.

Naysayers who insist poets "can't earn a living" are -- to put it gently -- wildly mistaken, and just a few evenings with some of the world's successful poets will lay that misconception to rest. There are a number of distinguished literary worlds wherein poetry is read, published, and valued, and (yes) where poets are paid.

One of these worlds is exemplified by the reading series available at the Library of Congress, and another one across the street at the Folger Shakespeare Library. Hmmm... I've often wondered if they compete. Whatever the case, each of these institutions works hard to bring in prominent poets for events that are usually low cost or free and just terrific. If you live in Georgetown, there is even a direct bus from Wisconsin Avenue to the Hill! Here is the reading list for the Folger. If you want to sign up to attend, the link is here.

10/9 O.B. Hardison, Jr. Poetry Prize Reading: Juliana Spahr
11/3 Arthur Sze and Afaa Michael Weaver
12/14 Emily Dickinson Birthday Tribute: Lucie Brock-Broido
1/11 Kim Addonizio & Kyle Dargan
2/8 Charles Wright
3/1 Patricia Smith & John Burnside
5/3 W.S. Merwin
5/18 Folger Poetry Board Reading: Richard Wilbur

The above image is from the Folger's own archives.

Tracy Kidder's writing life

One of the most helpful things in my world as a writer has been going to readings or other live events and hearing how famous authors discuss their process. Some of them complain about being asked what they perceive as a silly question ("How do you write each day"), but the answers are more illuminating than most of them realize. For example, I learned from a reading with Jane Smiley that she only writes about a page a day. She is slow, but methodical, because she writes every day and over a year it adds up. Most of the authors I've seen live (John Irving, Sebastian Junger, Michael Crichton, Anne Perry, Harry Shearer, Anthony Bourdain -- there have been many of them) do report one consistent thing -- they tend to write on a predictable schedule rather than catch-as-catch-can. Writing becomes part of the fabric of their lives, rather than some sort of marathon they run once in a while.

Here's a bit from today's New York Times about Tracy Kidder's work schedule. You can read the entire piece here. He's known for many books, but the one above -- for which he won the Pulitzer Prize -- is also the one I liked the best.

What is a typical day in your writing life?

I tend to start early in the morning, the time of day when l feel most nearly capable of thought. When I’m writing a rough draft, I have a hard time staying with it for more than a few hours. I used to be able to spend 12 hours or more a day when rewriting, but I can’t do that for many days in a row anymore. In the summertime, I go fishing after writing, for me a lovely antidote to frustration.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Google Books Finger

I admit to being a bit of a Google books junkie when it comes to 19th-century stuff. This old, hard-to-find, well-out-of-print material was often the thankless task of the literary sleuth who just wanted to find (for example) as many 19th-century references as possible to one obscure 18th-century author. If the name is unique enough, Google books can bring up a lot of references.

It can also bring up a lot of fingers. Turns out that people scanning Google books have also reasonably often inadvertently scanned their fingers or whole hands, sometimes in color. I wish I was the first to notice this, but as soon as it occurred to me to blog about it I checked for "google books finger" and came up with plenty of hits. Others have noticed. Others have laughed.