Saturday, May 31, 2008

Day 6,7,8 Reprise and Foxen

Having spoken with George the previous about wineries to visit on the way to Fresno, focusing primarily on other Paso Robles wineries, I surprised myself and headed instead up Foxen Canyon and stopped at Foxen winery, whose wines George said were getting better and better. Their pinots are become expensive and rare, and so I was disappointed the tasting room had none available to taste. The syrahs, cabs, and merlots were all good, and I sent some home, but they also whispered that they had 'a few' magnums "just in today" of their famed Sea Smoke vineyard and their Block 8 available, so I paid a ransom for one of each to add to the rest, and so I hope the government is happy that I used my "stimulus" check for wine that I hope will be very stimulating.

But much of the rest of the trip was a reprise of last year, and happily so, as I visited Mom and Dad and Haley and Hannah and Chase and my sister, who is still recovering from being slammed by a semi, my old neighbors Al and Lavonne, and, of course, the seco palms. We sat on the porch a lot. Watched the sky threaten rain. I shipped back some of my vinyl records even though I have nothing to play them on, but they're here in South Georgia.

I also spent another fine afternoon with Peter Everwine, and we talked again about poetry and life and friends and our work. And to my delight he is working. He remarked that he wasn't sure he had time to finish another project, but, leaving, I reminded him that Phil Levine predicted he'd give us another thirty years after he suffered a heart attack some years back, and I pointed out that you don't fuck around with a Phil Levine prediction. He laughed and said, "Well, I guess I have a few more to go, then." Many more, we all hope. We shared a bottle of Hartley Ostini pinot I picked up in Santa Barbara and we drank it into the afternoon, a sweet wine for sweet words.

Up early the last day to drive to LAX and home to grading and kittens after another good trip.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Day 5, Santa Barbara Style

Day five was nice and slow. Patrick and Robin offered up their house for a pizza dinner party Monday night, but Monday day meant everybody working but me. I caught up on end-of-semester panicky emails from students and then left around noon for lunch with the wonderful company of Chryss and Barry Spacks. I parked at the beach and walked up to the UCSB campus, which I hadn't been to since I worked there at the end of the last millennium. It looked the same and strange at the same time, as though someone had reconstructed campus from faulty partial memories. The lagoon was where it was, but the Student Union seemed pressed into the wrong place until I arrived and looked out the window at the lagoon.

Then Barry walked up, whom I hadn't seen but very briefly last year, and Chryss, and everything fell back into place. Barry, who hasn't aged a day since I first met him, was wonderfully Barry, upbeat and sparkling. If he were fatter I might even call him jolly, but he's not, so witty and wise will have to do. Chryss and he joked around during our quickish lunch, and I filled them in on my weekend in LA and life in general (kids, Amy, kittens, etc.) and then I took Barry home, as Chryss had to get back to the job, and they I shopped for the evening's wine and ingredients for the homemade tapenade I offered to make to contribute to Patrick's pizza. I also found some Fontina Val d' Aosta and had to purchase just for the transmogrifying irony of it (I live in Valdosta, folks, that's in Georgia, where the favored cheese is Velveeta or other 'mer'can styles).

I headed early (though I was briefly lost) to Patrick's to help with the pizza, tour the new home and see its lovely hillside view of Santa Barbara and the ocean. But friends George, Amy, Chryss and Cattie, and Barry from the night before, along with old friends Tom and his terribly cute son and Madeleine and Bob and their lovely daughter Sophie showed up to enjoy the new home and the old friend (i.e. me). It's been nearly twelve years since I moved to Santa Barbara and met all these wonderful people and we get older and the kids grow taller and things in the body hurt more or there's less of it or it's changing color and we fumble for glasses we didn't need then and it doesn't matter because this night reprised what was best about all my time there--these friends on a warm beautiful night with food and wine and the casual poetry of hanging out and love. Thanks Patrick and Robin.

We made our way back down the hill, George, Amy, and I, and we continued a smaller version of the party until the wee hours.

(I don't remember all the wines we drank, but it would have been a fine list. I contributed an Emile Moro from Ribera, and I know George brought some fabulous wines. Remind me?)

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Road Trip Day 4: Books to Beans

Day four was OUR day. Elena's and mine. We've toiled away happily at the Poetry Corner for ten years, and, finally, they let us read. Happily, we both had fresh projects to read from: Elena's Masque (Tupelo) and my own chapbook, Other Medicines (Redbone). We chose to alternate rather than chunk it up, and that seemed to work well, create a different rhythm. Friends were in the audience, including Chryss, Margaret, and new friend Tristan with his lovely fiancée (and, oh, Jackson was there Saturday). And Robert, who read after and who taught me at Berkeley, showed up early to listen, but this is all I'll say about us basking in our tiny glory. We still had to work the rest of the day, and it was also a fine one, with Robert reading from his strong new book, and on through many regulars to Stanley Plumly in his best basso radio voice, to another old Fresno compadre Sam Pereira, and Wanda Coleman, who briefly turned it into a revival tent with heavy with eros. The complete lineup follows.

Elena Byrne and Marty Williams
Masque and Other Medicines

Robert Pinsky
Gulf Music: Poems

Maurya Simon

Al Young
Something About the Blues

Elaine Equi
Ripple Effect: New and Selected Poems

Jill Bialosky and Dana Goodyear
The End of Desire and Honey and Junk

1:00 PM
James Ragan
In the Talking Hours

Adam Kirsch
Invasions: New Poems

Stanley Plumly
Old Heart: Poems

Carol Muske-Dukes and Sam Pereira
Sparrow and A Café in Boca

Chris Abani
Hands Washing Water

Wanda Coleman and Diane Ward
Mercurochrome and When You Awake

Luis J. Rodriguez
My Nature is Hunger

It was especially lovely to see Margaret, whom I bean seein' here every year and who beacons her smile wherever she goes. I left her in the green room with Robert and Pico Iyer. After the reading, Elena and I tried to meet up with Noah, who usually comes out but was visiting family in San Diego. That was perhaps the only disaster of the entire trip, since Noah was coming on bike and I had to leave for a gathering in Santa Barbara the moment he arrived. I needed more Noah time. But the three of us parted and hugged and I headed north, where I stayed with George and Amy, and where Chryss and Cattie and Dave and Patrick and Barry remained despite my latish arrival. We drank great wine (including a lovely '98 Dehlinger pinot) and laughed until late. It was nice to be home.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Road Trip Day 3: Book Festival and Party

After ten years or so, co-emceeing the poetry corner at the LA Times Festival of Books is fairly routine. Wake up, show up, set up, keep track of who's next and track them down if necessary. Buy books at Small World Book's tent. Sometimes the work keeps you from listening to the poetry, but given that it lasts all day, the words and poets can run together without time away from the tent, so I try to listen to a few carefully before I run off to check for the next poet, break in the green room, etc. The line up on April 26th was strong, so catching as much as I could became a challenge. Mark Doty, always a strong reader, began the day and he brought us a terrific early crowd that seemed to sustain itself throughout the day. Here's the whole list:

Mark Doty
Fire to Fire

Sholeh Wolpe
Rooftops of Tehran

Eloise Klein Healy & Elizabeth Bradfield
The Islands Project: Poems for Sappho & Interpretive Work: Poems

Albert Goldbarth
The Kitchen Sink: New and Selected Poems, 1972-2007

Brian Tracy
Driving with Dante

David St. John
The Face: A Novella in Verse

Jean Valentine
Little Boat

Marvin Bell
Mars Being Red

Christopher Buckley
Flying Backbone: The Georgia O'Keeffe Poems

Sarah Maclay and Charles Hood
The White Bride and Rio de Dios

Susan McCabe
Descartes’ Nightmare

Lynne Thompson
Beg No Pardon

Jennifer Kwan Dobbs
Paper Pavilion

Tony Barnstone
The Golem of Los Angeles

Catherine Daly and Stuart Dischell
Locket and Backwards Days

Mark, David St. John, Marvin Bell, Chris Buckley, Shole Wolpe, Jean Valentine (quietly), Stuart, and Eloise were all high points on an unusually strong list. My favorite moment, though, was when Albert Goldbarth read among the most masterful complaints in the history of letters, I believe, in his diatribe against the obligatory post-reading Thai restaurant meal. I was laughing, crying, and starving for a chili-cheese burger with a side of onion rings all at the same time. Tony Barnstone's work surprised me most, and he'll be in my classes next year, for sure.

Later, Sholeh and Tony hosted a party in Barry and Sholeh's loft downtown. The place was lovely, the conversation excellent and spiced with laughter, and the Persian cuisine was wonderful. Writers from both days attended, and Tony even brought along a little Hollywood, as Kimberly Oja (an OC regular) showed up. I told Elena that I felt a little out of place, outclassed, Fresno boy that I continue to be, but truly the gathering was warm and I was happy to cab Stuart and Jill Bialosky back to their hotel around midnight, and then the 405 back to the Hacienda.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Road Trip, Day 2, plus meme

Friday in LA was soft, warm, no plans or obligations. Just a few possibilities that never came to pass. I did the California thing--shopped in an upscale mall built no doubt on reclaimed toxic ground next to the refinery. Wine and a blazer. That's what I bought. Then I explored El Segundo, which merited all of that second as the cafe I stopped in for caffeine blared a soap opera. The walk was good. The beach was unwelcoming unless you were in an RV. The hotel lunch wasn't bad, a Mexican buffet of sorts, but the seafood soup was a very pleasant surprise. Just killing time until the evening.

The LA Times Book Awards ceremony was, as usual, long, but pleasant enough. I sat with Elena and fellow "Fresno Poet" and friend David St. John and his lovely daughter. You can check out the winners here, if you're interested. I was mostly interested in poetry, and Stanley Plumly won that for Old Heart: Poems among many worthy nominees this year (Albert Goldbarth, Marvin Bell, Jean Valentine, and Elaine Equii). The afterparty was lavish as usual, with chocolate fountains and food stations that featured lobster farfarelle and Korean barbecue shortribs and sushi and other savory items. We ate and drank, ate and drank, and talked into the evening. Stuart Dischell was also there, old brother in the word, another transplant to the south, and Albert was delightfully witty, as usual. The evening passed quickly into memory and I made it back to the Hacienda early enough to rest up for the book festival.

Because this is shorter, I'm going to take care of some meme nonsense because Chryss and Amy E. said I have to.

Here are the rules:
A) The rules of the game get posted at the beginning.
B) Each player answers the questions about himself or herself.
C) At the end of the post, the player then tags five people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know they’ve been tagged and asking them to read your blog.

1) Ten years ago I was...
finishing my PhD, which I defended the same day the Santa Barbara pier caught fire. Driving back from LAX, I saw it burn fiercely and bright, probably all that creosote, but I thought from some distance it was all of downtown.

2) Five things on today's to-do list:
Lunch (Sonia's Cuban) with Carson and Taylor, Toby's rec letter, proof poems for Chattahoochee Review, syllabus for tomorrow, house show (Honest A's reunion cf. Carson above) tonight.

3) Things I'd do if I were a billionaire:
Hmmm. Are supermodels things? Bad joke, but really, don't you have to be some kind of asshole to hoard that much money? I'd like to think I wouldn't keep that much. I'd have to start some kind of foundation divided between environmental and human rights concerns that would keep me from every accumulating that much money.

4) Three bad habits:
Hmmm. 1) I procrastinate. I'll do the other two later.

5) Five places I've lived:
Here (Valdosta), there (Fresno), Berkeley, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, and Salt Lake City, Utah. (That's six, but I'm still down two bad habits, and maybe Fresno counts as one of my bad habit[at]s?)

6) Six jobs I've had in my life:
Custodian, Snack Bar slave, Statistical Clerk (US Forest Service), Life Insurance Agent, High School Teacher, College Professor. (Be honest, guys, how many of you typed "blow" and then erased it.)

I'll tag Mike and Liz and John and all of my Myspace friends.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Road Trip: LA, Santa Barbara, Fresno: Part 1

The Hacienda Hotel next to LAX is cheesy, good, LA cheesy, 4o's or 50's American Cheese that tries to convince you you're in a more glamorous place than you are, visiting a more glamorous and exotic time, say, the quaint Mexico of TV yore, Zorro and the Cisco Kid Mexico--courtyards and fountains and murals (and there should be sequins on hats), its own dive bar to acclimatize you to time travel with Margaritas or Bud Light. Tourists, mostly from Europe, add to the confusion, German, French, Russian spoken here. Spanish, too, but mostly by the maids and janitors. It's tall and jets whiz into and out of LAX just to the north. To the south, the tall spires of El Segundo's refineries rise holy in this late era of gas and oil blinking red warnings to airplanes in the night. The air is warm and I'm tired, but I have a dinner date with friends, so head down Sepulveda to Palos Verdes with my little bag of dried Georgia porcini to contribute to the meal.

Palos Verdes is eucalyptus and peacocks and 60's California ranch homes and horseback trails on the hills overlooking the sea and the city. Elena Karina Byrne, my dear friend and fellow poet and the reason I get to go back to LA every year, shows me her house and its lovely view, and we begin cooking very quickly. She's planned to use my porcini in a recipe that calls for heavy cream and balsamic vinegar, a combination I'm ready to be surprised by. It's good to catch up, to be back in California. Peter and their daughter are at soccer nationals, so will arrive later. In fact, the big news around the house is their daughter's full scholarship to Oregon to play soccer. She's still a junior. She's that good. Every few minutes Elena and I have to go check the view, sundown over the city, lights coming on, the mountains in the distance, Santa Monica bay just visible to the north. And we catch up about mutual friends and friends she made out here when she visited. It's warm and we dine and the porcini sauce over the chicken is fantastic and holds up nicely to red wine. It's nice to be there with my friend in her lovely home, warm, almost ethereal. Elena shows me some new poems and they spark in the mind, bare wires against sheet metal beautiful, and we read until Pete and C. arrive from soccer.

It's good to see Pete, too, and we catch up, too. He's on tour with Naked Eyes this summer on a big east coast swing with ABC and Belinda Carlisle and Flock of Seagulls and, I think, the Human League. It's fun to hear him reminisce about seeing Hendrix and Traffic and Syd's Pink Floyd and Clapton's various incarnations when they were just coming out. He plays me some of his new music, the 80's synth-pop influences still prominent, but in a deeper timbre, more mature. The demos sound excellent and ready to go, though he points out how much more work they need in the studio. Then I head back down to the Hacienda, past the peacocks and eucalyptus trees, warm in the belly, warm in the head, tired from all the travel .