Monday, June 23, 2008


I've got some fun plans for the following weeks. In July, I'll be spending some time at a Writer's Paradise/Residency. In August, I'm officiating a good friend's wedding. And at the end of August, I kick off my book tour at the Decatur Book Fest. Click here or on the events button on the right to see if I'll be reading in your town. I'm really excited.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Zadie Smith lecture worth every single penny of the $8 spent on The Believer

There are some things writers don't say out loud; at least I've almost never heard them said. I'm at the point right now where I'm spending a couple of hours a day looking (squinting) at a PDF of my novel, a sheer sense of exhaustion setting in. How many times, I wonder, have I read this book? This book I began when I was 23? 100 times? 150? Reading Zadie Smith's lecture made me laugh and gave me some hope. Here are some memorable quotes:

"Craft is too grand and foreign a word to describe what gets done most days in your pajamas."

"It's such a confidence trick, writing a novel. The main person you have to trick into confidence is yourself"

"[Page] proofs are the wasteland where the dream of your novel dies and cold reality asserts itself."

Smith obsesses about the first 20 pages of a book, which in the case of On Beauty took 2 years. Then she finished in 5 months. "Once I get the tone, everything follows. You hear interior decorators say the same about a shade of paint."

And stellar advice:

"When you finish your novel, if money is not a desperate priority...put it in a drawer. For as long as you can manage. A year or more is ideal-- but even three months will do. ... The secret to editing your work is simple: you need to become its reader instead of its writer."

At this stage, with my novel preparing to surface into the world, in just over 2 months, after a seven year labor, this essay was exactly what I needed to read.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Uwem Akpan

Rockslinga pal Uwem Akpan will be reading at Shaman Drum tonight at 7. Uwem's new book, Say You're One of Them, is finally out. I've been waiting for this book ever since I read "My Parents' Bedroom." (The book's title is a line from that story.) Check out that story here, and be sure to get your hands on a copy of the collection. Uwem's child narrators are unforgettable. He currently lives in Zimbabwe and is only doing 4 cities, so if you're in the area, be sure to come!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

My son's song about Obama

Sung to the theme of The Itsy Bitsy Spider

The Barack Obama spider
Climbed up the Eiffel Tower
Down came the **Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds!** [that part sung to Lucy in the sky...]
and washed out Hillary Clinton
Out came the Barack and poned up all the cheese
and the Barack Obama spider got some delegates again.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Seven Nights, Jorge Luis Borges

I recently read the series of lectures Borges gave in 1977. "Modestly" blind, Borges committed his lectures to memory, and lectured "by heart." In them, he explores Dante's Inferno, the Thousand and One Nights, nightmares, poetry, Buddhism, the Kabbalah, and blindness. That last lecture is, in my opinion, the most thrilling, poetic, and enchanting of the seven. Here is a shining quote:
I, too...have always known that my destiny was, above all, a literary destiny-- that bad things and some good things would happen to me, but that, in the long run, all of it would be converted into words. Particularly the bad things, since happiness does not need to be transformed: happiness is its own end.
If you haven't checked it out, do. I only wish there were more nights in the volume.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Book Review: Inclined to Speak

There's something magical about the new anthology, Inclined to Speak. Maybe it's the fact that, although the poets included are listed alphabetically, there's a natural, beautiful progression in theme, rhythm, and voice. Or maybe it's the cover, a gorgeous, intricate, pop art-ish collection of people. Or maybe it's Hayan Charara's selection of poets, a grouping never before collected under the roof of one anthology. Or perhaps it's the poems themselves, each standing proud.

The first thing that greets you, when you begin the anthology, is Charara's jaw-dropping introduction, a must-read for poets, literature-lovers, students, academics, and all humans in general. The anthology then collects poems by better known writers like Naomi Shihab Nye, DH Melhem, and Lawrence Joseph, and showcases the talents of brilliant poets like Kevin Gerard Rashid, Nuar AlSadir, and Zaid Shlah.

If you've ever taken or taught an Arab American literature class, you know about the kinds of anthologies that are already available. Until recently, many books grouped poets together by age, or included fiction, essays, and poems, or had titles based on food. Inclined to Speak heralds a totally new, totally comprehensive, totally total approach to Arab American poetry: the writers are of all ages, backgrounds, and publishing histories. We have slam poets, traditional poets, feminist poets, poets. We have Muslims, Atheists, Catholics. We have long, epic poems, definition poems, ghazals, prose poems, more. The bottom line? We have. And it's wonderful.

Naturally pre-occupied with the idea of home and belonging, the poems raise interesting questions. Saladin Ahmed writes about Ibn Sina ("Avicenna"):
Is he writing on versification, jurisprudence,
medicine, remedies of the heart?
Which of this hundred books is he completing?
How can he be so calm, hearing the bombs fall
on his family, only a thousand years away?
In Elmaz Abinader's beautiful "This House, My Bones," the narrator asks, "How can we pack anything if not everything?"

Nathalie Handal writes, "Are you returning? Am I returning?"

"What to say?" Phillip Metres asks.

"What," Jack Marshall seems to pick up, "might you have said had you been allowed to speak?"

This collection provides a luminous answer.

Order your very own copy of the anthology here.

"...the place I go to be in Michigan."

Bob Hicok's poem in the May 19th issue of The New Yorker rocked my Michigan world.