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Endorsement Monday: Slate’s Culture Gabfest & Linebreak

5 Nov

I’ve recently become obsessed with the Slate Culture Gabfest podcast, which I stream from Stitcher during my interminable car rides to and from work. I’ve become so dependent on this trio of snappy commentators to make my work commute bearable that I become quite surly when I realize that I’ve already listened to this week’s episode.

It’s not just that they talk about things that I’m interested in (recent movies, Internet happenings, cool art, etc). They’ve also thought about what they have to say and found a way to say it that is thoughtful, witty and funny. Stephen Metcalf, Dana Stevens and Julia Turner are just good eggs who could probably dissect any subject and find something worthwhile to consider about it. And they have the best audio in the podcast business (don’t get me started on the terrible sound of most podcasts – do these people not have friends who can tell them they sound like crap?). Continue reading


Look what the mailman brought me!

27 Jan



My next batch of reading materials:

John Jeremiah Sullivan’s Pulphead

Dana Spiotta’s Stone Arabia

Aracelis Girmay’s Teeth

Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son

A couple of these (Stone Arabia and Pulphead) are nominated for this year’s National Book Critics Circle Award. The reading is this March, to which I will happily drag CityBoy and afterwards enjoy a delicious dinner at Da Andrea (if I get my druthers).

Aracelis Girmay’s second book, Kingdom Animalia, is also nominated, and it turns out she’s a Santa Ana girl, just like me, which makes me positively proud and green with envy. If this first book is as good as I’ve heard, she can count on another purchase at the awards reading.

And who doesn’t want to read more about wacky North Korea? Since I can’t stand non-fiction or the news (most of the time), I get all my historical information from novels. I know, not always the most accurate, but infinitely more interesting. So I’m counting on Adam Johnson to enlighten me.

To the page, people!

Book Culture: Where to Find It in NYC

18 Jan

I’m routinely asked how I like living in New York City. If it’s by a New Yorker, this is usually phrased as “Don’t you love it here? I mean, I love it. I could never live anywhere else. Could you imagine? God!” or something to that effect. I think this billboard sums up this attitude best:


And while I have loved parts of the city, especially the (often) perfect months of May and October, those parts haven’t added up to enough to allow me to respond with a resounding “Yeah, I love it. It’s amazing.”

My commute crosstown to work each morning  is enough to make any sane non-New Yorker break out in a machine-gun-toting killing spree. Especially in the winter, when it’s 20 degrees out (okay, quiet already, you Midwesterners, I know it could be colder but you have to remember I grew up in Southern California and my peoples are a tropical peoples), and the wind makes that feel like 12 degrees, and you’ve taken great care in dressing so as to not allow one chink in your cold-fighting layers only to have something ride up or ride down, usually where you just can’t reach, and winter’s icy fingers jab you right in the back or hairline or across your presumably boot-bundled toes.

Sorry, I digress. But one of the main things that always, always delights me about New York is the plethora of art/culture offerings, especially for someone like me who is obsessed with the written word. There are book readings, discussions, panels, festivals, award ceremonies, performances – all highlighting that great and magical thing.

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You Are Here: On The Road to A Finished Collection

2 Nov


I submitted my last round of entries for first book prizes this past month, with version 3 of Harvest (as it is currently titled) and immediately began rewrites. Such is my revision process. Unless I’m totally sick of a thing or I think it’s hit the glory spot (very rare), I’m constantly revising poems. And also manuscripts.

There was one last set of contests whose deadlines were Oct. 31st or Nov. 1st and I thought I could push through and get one more revision out, but it was not to be. On deadline days, I was (and still am) up to my elbows in versions of versions, cutting poems, putting others back in, changing poem order, moving lines around. One of the things I loved about seeing Sharon Olds read recently (other than her sheer awesomeness) was her announcement that she’d just been revising the sheaf of papers in her hand…on the subway ride over. I thought, wow, that is hard-core, I need to be that hard-core.

With the holidays coming up, I’m focusing on revisions, no submissions, tooling and retooling my great sheaf of papers, so I thought now was as good a time to reflect on a year’s (plus) hard work, mental tomfoolery, and the awesomeness of CityBoy’s workhorse printer.

In the past year (starting in January 2010), I sent my manuscript, in various forms, to eight book contests:

Colorado Prize for Poetry
Kundiman Poetry Prize
Main Street Rag Annual Poetry Book Award

Barrow Street Press 2010 Book Contest
Crab Orchard 2010 First Book Award
Pearl Poetry Prize

Kinereth Gensler Awards / Alice James Books
Philip Levine Prize in Poetry

…spending just under $200 in reading fees, and probably another $50 in postage and copying charges, and churning through at least three reams of paper.

I’m still waiting to hear from Barrow Street and the last three, since I just sent those in in September. I did not win any of the others (no big surprise), or come very close, though I did get a very nice mention in my Crab Orchard rejection that I was a semifinalist. Out of how many semifinalists, I don’t know. But knowing that someone liked the poems, even just a tiny bit, was heartening.

Oh, and I did get a few subscriptions to journals and the odd book or two from some of the presses, which was quite nice and much appreciated. I always love getting a thick envelope in the mail. I think it goes back to college admissions days, when a big fat envelope meant that all your dreams were going to be answered (you can figure out what a skinny form letter did -and does- to one’s ego).

There is another batch of four to six contests I may add to my rotation next year (I missed a couple of key deadlines) but I do feel like I’m getting the hang of this part of the po’ biz. Here’s a couple of things I learned over the course of the year:

1. You’re going to need a lot of paper. A lot, a lot, a lot.

2. And a very patient partner who doesn’t mind coming home to stacks of paper spread all over his very tiny living space which he can’t move or touch or even look at, under pain of death (did I mention CityBoy and I share a 500-odd square foot studio?). CityBoy is a good man, a prince among men.

3. And a lot of patience for yourself. There will be days when you hate everything you’ve ever written and, picking up the other beautifully published and much admired works you possess in your poetry library, lament the fact that you’re even trying to do this thing. Are you really as good as Dorianne Laux? Mark Doty? Marie Howe?

4. The answer is always “yes” or “I will be.”

5. You’re also going to need friends. Good, poetry-reading friends who don’t mind being sent some weighty tome of words and hounded for their feedback. Because they will see things you can’t. Or echo that niggling bit of yourself saying, yeah, this poem doesn’t really work, even though I like this line or that image. They will ask the dreaded question:  “so what?”

6. And something else to do or see or taste or feel on those days when it’s not coming easily, the poem or the rewrite or the poem order. You’re going to need to walk your neighborhood, see movies, look at art, ride the subway, go to the grocery store, eat that big salty bowl of ramen at your favorite place with the go-go dancer waiters. Because that’s where the next poem, the next image, the next “holy shit” moment is waiting. Right there.

7. And then you’re going to have to get right back to work. Sit your ass in the chair and think and imagine and form words and dream. I know, I said it, dream. But that’s really all this is. You distilling your best self into these dreamed-up words, these lines and images that make you smile and do the fist pump dance and make you love language again and again and again. Because, in spite of what you do to pay the bills, this is who you are and this is what you do.

So, I am here…with one manuscript in progress, currently 62 pages (with some creative margining), 46 poems, 3 sections. Even now, flipping through the pages to tally them up, I’m making mental changes (That poem’s still in there? Really?) (Three sections? Hmm…), but that’s part of the joy of being in charge. You make the calls, you say what goes.

Rock on, peeps, and wish me the luck of the wolf.

– Jho

Poets House: Mighty Poetry Megolopolis

15 Oct

A while back (okay, it was July, people. July. And yes, I know it’s October now. Sheesh-I’ve been busy, okay? And yes, I know you know “busy” means watching too much TV while eating too many potato chips. Whatever.) I trekked out to Poets House in Battery Park City with a poet-friend in town from Southern California to show off how awesome the New York City writing world is. (Yes, I’m a braggart and a lout about New York City when it suits me.)

Little did I realize just how awesome Poets House would be. My friend actually berated me for not coming here sooner on my own (by that point, I’d been in NYC for a year and never visited). The building is gorgeous, with huge windows overlooking Battery Park City, big tables to spread yourself (by which I mean, your work) out on, free WiFi, and even a cozy private reading room where you can read aloud any poetry books you pick out. Oh, and the books? Mind-boggling would be a good word. Lust-inducing would also be appropriate, as would profoundly moving. They have rows and rows and rows and rows of poetry books. And journals. And anthologies. And sound recordings. And. And.

But the best thing of all is their Showcase, which we happened to be in time to visit.  The Showcase, in short, is a round-up and brag-on of all the poetry (and poetry-related) books published in the U.S. THAT YEAR. Yup. All. Of. Them. It’s pretty friggin’ awe-inspiring.


Here's my brilliant friend K in the Room of Glorious Wandering


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