The Quiet & the Chaos

It’s been both a very relaxing and highly chaotic week. I enjoyed a short weekend writer’s retreat run by Lit Literary, a literary community organization run by poet extraordinaire Krista Cox. This inaugural weekend retreat in Harbert, Michigan, was a minute’s walk to the shore of Lake Michigan in a large and comfortable house along with 6 other writers. In addition to beautiful beach time in the sun and the sunset (which has finally arrived in the Midwest), we were treated to three delicious meals a day (cooked by Krista), craft talks, quiet writing time, impromptu readings, a visual art workshop, and good conversation. It was a productive and soothing weekend for me – thanks to Krista for organizing and being such an accommodating leader.


The chaos has taken many forms related to everything from teaching 12-year-olds in May to personal stressors. During the chaos, as always, I reached for music as a way out. Here are a few of the lyrics that stuck with me this week:

from The Decemberists “Sucker’s Prayer”

And so I got down on my knees
I made a sucker’s prayer
A grim bode of Baudelaire…
Seriously. The sound in “grim bode of Baudelaire” is intoxicating. And nerdy. And it also is the perfect I’m-feeling-sorry-for-myself-and-don’t-care-who-knows-it song. And since the album also contains songs like “Everything is Awful,” it fed my melancholy perfectly this week.
from the chorus of The Wombats “Turn”
I like the way your brain works, I like the way you try
To run with the wolf pack when your legs are tired
I like the way you turn me inside and out
I like the way you turn
This is my new favorite alt-pop song from a band I really like. It also has great lines like “You could give an aspirin the headache of its life…”
from “Blackout” by Frank Turner
“Are you afraid of the darkness?
Well, I’m afraid of the darkness, too.”
A slightly political, we’re-all-in-this-together confection with a catchy chorus. I usually like my Frank Turner with a bit more edge, but this song is growing on me.
Sometimes I am afraid of the darkness, Frank. I do try to run even when my legs are tired, Wombats. And Decemberists, although I sometimes I may feel like “I want to throw myself into the river and drown,” nothing is ever as awful as it seems.

Trying Something New, Part Three: The Sounds and the Fury

The past two days have been spent working on audio for the video poem I am creating for Dave Bonta’s “Bear Moon” (as mentioned previously here and here). I wanted something soothing and reflective, with real instruments as opposed to electronic ambient sounds.

After using Dave’s resources page at Moving Poems for a starting point, I ended up at ccmixter, a music-sharing site where you can search for music that is free to use under a Creative Commons attribution license. After some hours of listening to clips and dismissing many simply because they were much too long (not confident enough about editing to deal with that quite yet), I found one that I really liked. I was concerned about how to add it into iMovie as a background for the whole film, but happily I discovered it was a simple drag and drop process.

Here is the song, entitled “The Broken” by AdmiralBob:

Although the film has some glitches I couldn’t quite get right without ruining the many things that were working, I think it turned out quite well for a first attempt. (I didn’t have the necessary patience nor the attention span to completely start from scratch to eliminate the things that were bothering me…two traits that this endeavor requires in order to perfect.)
Right now, the video is private – I would like Dave to “approve” it before it goes public – they are his words, and I want to make sure I somewhat did them justice – but I will post the video here as soon I get his okay.
Overall, it was an interesting experience. If I had lots of time to really dig for film and music clips and be a perfectionist, it could become an interesting habit. For now, I’m proud to have completed one that I hope will be appreciated at least by the poet if not by anyone else. 🙂

Trying Something New, Part Two: Editing & Recording

As mentioned in part one of this “series,” I will be chronicling my experience making my first video poem. Last week, I selected some film to work with and began making some choices about which pieces of film to use. (I did contact the creator of the Youtube clip of the 1950s cocktail party – it turned out to be a film he made recreating that feel for a birthday gift. I contacted him through Youtube, and he graciously agreed to allow me to use clips from his video in my videopoem.)

So, this week, I have began by editing the film – choosing clips, placing them in order based on where I thought the reading might go, changing clip lengths, adding transitions between clips, etc. As someone who hasn’t really played with video-editing before, the middle schooler in me wasted a LOT of time trying different transitions, knowing that I would end up with something simple, but wanting to see all of the options. (Wipes! Page Curls! Mosaics! Spins! None of which were appropriate for this film, but still fun to play with…) The editing, at least thus far, seems quite simple and intuitive in iMovie, even though I don’t have the most current version.

Once I had the clips in the order I thought they should go, I added titles for the beginning and credits to the end, knowing that those could be easily adjusted later.

I then recorded the poem in voiceover so that I could see the film while I was recording. (I could have done the recording in GarageBand and imported, but recording it in sections while being able to see the film let me know where I needed to pause, add time, etc.) I recorded the voiceover in sections, knowing where I wanted the lines to intersect with the images. This may seem backward to some filmmakers, but I wanted the reading to be as natural as possible, not to stretch it out with long pauses as I have seen in some films. (This may be a personal preference, as I am more auditory than visual, but I often feel I lose something if long pauses are added between the lines of a poem in a reading, even if it has accompanying video.)

It seems to have worked pretty well, and though I originally thought that perhaps I wouldn’t need background music in addition to the reading, it seems like something is missing without it. At this point, I have a relatively complete marriage of film and poem text along with title frames and end credits.

Next Steps: Finding the Right Music to Set the Tone and Learning How to Layer the Audio Tracks for the Proper Volume Mixing. Otherwise known as driving my dogs crazy by playing audio clips over and over while making decisions…

It was one week ago today…

Seems hard to believe that last week I was finishing up a great weekend of family fun in New Orleans at the last night of the Voodoo Music Festival!  Since then, it’s been back to work, back to working out, and some surprises, like my dog Scout getting skunked in the face Friday night.

The writing life has been busy, too. I have several readings scheduled in the next month, so I’ve been preparing for those. I’ve  had some recent acceptances from Storychord, Right Hand Pointing, and Cleaver, and I’m preparing a chapbook manuscript for a contest as well as researching possible residencies to apply for this summer.

Until later in the week (when I hopefully am feeling back in the swing of life), here are a few more photos: 21st century one-man band Robert DeLonge, the incredibly infectious and joyful Matt & Kim, American cowboy Kid Rock, and The Cure. (Close-ups of Robert Smith shot by my husband – I was too busy dancing with my son and my friends!)

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Surprise Saturday

Saturday at the Voodoo Festival was a mix of surprises and amazing moments. The biggest surprise of the day was how my wonderful friends went into the main stage early and held a spot for me to be center stage near the front row for my favorite band (and longest musical crush) Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails. Not only was the show unbelievable from that close, it was also a once-in-a-lifetime chance for this 51-year-old fan to get some photos to treasure. (Who knows how much longer I’ll be able to hold my own in a pit?)

Some photos for you…I’m holding back the best one of Trent – that’s just for me – but there are some others I am willing to share.

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Laissez les bons temps rouler – Day One

Friends. Family. Music. Delicious food. And the other creative activity that I love…photography. More specifically live music photography. If you’ve been a reader for a while, you’ve seen my photos before, so I thought I would share some of the photo highlights of my Voodoo Music experience in New Orleans. Below are photos from Friday – more to come over the next few days.

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It’s been two weeks since I posted here, and there’s really no excuse other than I’ve been getting back into the rhythms of middle school. The constant buzz. The blurting out. The manic panic of teenagers changing their mindset from summer to bummer. (I’m the bummer…as are all of their teachers.) The excitement of the first class where 29 kids all take out a notebook and write for 30 minutes without stopping. (That would be my excitement…)

The end of August also merited time to relax as September will be jam-packed with many of the things I love best: good friends (visiting from England), good food (a group visit to Alinea, the best restaurant I have ever been to), good music (three days of Riotfest in Chicago with my son coming home on the Megabus to join us), and poem-related goodness!

On the poetry front, I will be at the Aurora Catch an Author Fair this Saturday, September 7, to promote The Imagined Life of the Pioneer Wife alongside other Illinois authors, including my friend Kristin LaTour. And – fanfare, drumroll, let the marching band commence – on the 18th, I should officially have my book and will be welcomed for a launch reading at the Hinsdale Public Library. (Should is in italics as we have been waiting for a delayed proof…but I think we’ll make it!)

Also, after a bit of a dry spell with new work, I also have poems and flash fiction forthcoming in six different journals, all of which should publish sometime in September/October. I’d say that’s a pretty exciting September!

Of course, I was saddened by the passing this week of Seamus Heaney. I feel lucky and blessed to have been able to attend a reading/talk last year at the Art Institute. My post about that reading is here.

Thanks for sticking with me, and I promise to keep you up-to-date and be back in a schedule of reviewing and doing more than just popping by my own space once this crazy month is over. Happy Back-to-School to you all!