The Year of Poetry

Poetry month came and went. I did it right by reading tons of it: John Ashbery, Charles Bukowski (my first ever, if the internet can believe that), Adrienne Rich (all-time favorite still), Peter Campion, Juliana Spahr, Angela Sorby, Richard Siken, Ocean Vuong, Campbell McGrath. I think I may just extend it to make 2014 my year of poetry, much like 2013 was my year of women writers. It looks like it’s headed that way regardless.

About a month ago, I met Amy Tan. She was at FIU, my alma mater. The university presented her with the Lawrence Sanders award for her contribution to literature. I first read The Joy Luck Club in high school, one of the books that inspired me as a teenager to take writing more seriously. Her fascination with an indomitable mother figure also resonated. Her speech at the ceremony was funny and heartfelt. She discussed the idea of the writer’s brain being more porous, having less barriers. Her husband of 40+ years was in the audience with their little dogs in a bag. The next day was their anniversary and they were heading out to Key West to celebrate. Ms. Tan talked about the Dry Tortugas and how she wanted to swim with the sharks. She signed my copy of her newest novel: To Joseph, joy and luck.

I didn’t go to AWP this year, even though I’d been invited to do a reading at an off-site panel that focused on videogame writing. I’ve actually never been to AWP. It’s on my bucket list though. From what I’ve gleaned from Twitter, AWP always seems like a huge frenzy that causes a lot of exhaustion. But hopefully fun exhaustion. I would especially love to meet some of the editors from the literary magazines I read. And of course, maybe I’ll even bump into some writer friends that, up until this point, I only internet-know.

Speaking of internet friends, thanks to some help from Adam, I was recently able to start a Goodreads author page. You can now become a fan of me. Oh wow. It might make it easier since my blog posts will also update through Goodreads now. If you’re into that. And of course, my constant barrage of books.

In the past couple of months, I’ve managed to stumble upon a few bookish places in tight little corners of South Florida. I am always on the lookout–especially since there are hardly any bookish places within my immediate vicinity. I sometimes feel so culture-starved.

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One of these places was Second Edition Books. I went with my sister, who is always up for an adventure. She bought some Shakespeare, I bought some Lorrie Moore. There were shelves and shelves, stacks and stacks. It was crammed full. The bookstore provides a very homey atmosphere–rustic interior and leather armchairs. We sat in them and looked for the Great Catsby, the bookstore’s mascot. Catsby the cat lounges around the books. My sister pointed out that he also has an Instagram with a huge amount of followers.

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Another place I found was the Undergrounds Coffeehaus. The first thing I noticed: it’s not actually underground. In fact, you have to climb stairs to get to the door, where it warns you that no illegal substances are permitted beyond the threshold. Already I think we’d found a place with a distinct personality. Inside, there is a playful kind of chaos: board games set out on tables, shelves of books against walls, knick-knacks scattered all over. It seems like a good local hangout spot for artists and youth with that kind of alternative edge. Tattoos and green hair. They serve tater tots and lots and lots of different coffee and teas.

When I’m not exploring books nooks or working now, I write letters–actual paper and pen–in order to fill the void where the incessant blogging would be. If you wish to start an exchange, you can let me know at lettersforburning@yahoo.com. I promise I won’t burn them–not this time.


Paper Storm

I’m not a hoarder. I like to keep my surroundings relatively spacious or skeletal, depending on how you see things. I’m even thinking about trading or giving away most of my books. The ones that I feel like I can part with, that is. I don’t need very much.

One thing I do tend to collect is paper. Stacks, towers. Folders and drawers bursting full. Filled with old stories that have been written on by other students, receipts and bank statements from years ago, postcards from my high school peers that I’ve lost contact with completely, notes from in between (or during) classes, letters from pen pals on the opposite side of the world, torn envelopes from my late cousin when he was in a correctional facility, cards from my various graduations and parties.

Mom hoards things for the holidays. One of my favorites is Halloween. When I was little, I won costume contests a lot because my mom would put my outfits together herself. She was clever, but I didn’t make it easy. I would always choose characters from video games that no one recognized, like Kung Lao and Geno. The rim of Lao’s hat was tin foil.

Usually my dad turns our garage into a haunted house and trick-or-treaters come and take a look. But this year, he is trying to throw a party. My mom finds this hilarious. I’m in charge of making a brew of pumpkin juice and cups of dirt (crumbled Oreo + pudding) with gummy worms. We’ll see how this all works out.

My mom is much more traditional than I am. She treats the holidays very seriously and she believes in them like a part of a heritage. Paper is becoming an old medium of expression. Paper is the oldest thing I cling to. It is ancient and even mythical, much like the stories behind these particular times of the year. Computers are convenient, and I do use them a lot, but I still like to have the stacks around. I don’t think I’ll ever be any other kind of hoarder.

One of my poems is going to be published in the first issue of Foxing Quarterly. This is my first poem ever that is going to be in a print publication. Excitement from everywhere, although another thing to collect and keep. I promise I will get rid of some books soon.

Thinking of old friends and all the chaos from the paper clutter, I made a mix called “Passing Notes.” It’s funny and sad and serious and not too serious all at once:

Passing Notes from josephdante on 8tracks Radio.


Carousel #7

  1. Mark Z. Danielewski, author of House of Leaveswrites a letter to a girl from OKCupid and it’s pretty hilarious.
  2. I came across a really fantastic blog called The Book Cover Club, where people read books and then design new covers for them. Check it out!
  3. I’ve always been a fan of surreal art. Here’s A Cadeira Alta, by Brazilian artist Marcel Caram.
  4. The details about J.K. Rowling’s newest novel were recently revealed. She has written an adult murder mystery, which is what people were speculating. It’s called The Casual Vacancy and it will be released on September 27th of this year.
  5. I found a generator that emails you rejections. It supposedly prepares you for the impending pain of failure. I’m sure I’ll be making proper use of it soon.
  6. Lately, there have been a lot of creative projects popping up all over the place via Kickstarter, plenty of them book-related. I really wish I could support them all! One of them that drew my attention in particular was Wollstonecraft, a charming series of children books about Ada Lovelace and Mary Shelley, dedicated to teaching young girls about history and writers and giving them positive real-life role models.
  7. This week, a post of mine went up over on ReadLearnWrite. It’s about growing up as a boy who really didn’t read on his own until much later than you would think. It’s also about getting other less enthusiastic people into books (including my own family).

Ode to the Paper in My Hands

I had a pen pal from New Zealand when I was in the seventh grade, but I don’t really remember a thing about him. I figured I must have just treated the whole thing like another assignment for school. It’s funny how, looking back on that, I ended up going on to build so many relationships like that anyway – something I would’ve probably completely ignored before. Now, having friends that I’ve kept in contact with from all over (the U.K., Singapore, Australia, and yes, even New Zealand), it’s quite different. And it grew different quite fast.

I started writing notes to my friends in high school, even if we saw each other regularly. We wrote to each other when we didn’t have any work in class to do, or when we were bored. That was when I also started writing letters to these other friends across the sea. It’s even stranger now, how we’re always hooked up and stuck in the clouds, how the internet has become so entirely ubiquitous – we are always attached, but only just hovering. Only just glancing and skimming through. When you pull out of the stream for a while, you really do look forward to having a message on paper in your hands. You look forward to an earnest conversation. You sit down, gather your thoughts, write them down, and send them out. And you wait. You wait for a while too, and it seems like a century in comparison to all the comments, messages, tweets, and reblogs happening all at once.

It seems almost nostalgic, the letter-writing, even though it wasn’t long ago and despite the fact that I still do it. I still keep pen pals anyway (I’m writing to my friend Thea right now, from Wisconsin) even though it really could be instantaneous now – you really could just send an email. But I think there is something to be said about taking that time and waiting. Waiting a week or two in anticipation for a response, and having a quiet, intimate conversation develop in between the spaces. Especially now, in 2012, when you can feel so entirely detached and alone, despite all the fast-speed connections going on around you. It’s hard to really listen to anyone with all the noise.