Columns by Sandra Beasley

“Another Failed Poem About the Greeks”: The Story Behind the Poem

3.24.10

In I Was the Jukebox, I set out with the goal of writing away from the biographical self. These poems speak as sand, as orchids, as Egyptian gods. In “You Were You,” which yields the collection’s title phrase, the speaker’s displaced self becomes a barroom jukebox. Her beloved shares the bar—with his new flame in tow.

Another Failed Poem About the Greeks” is another tale of thwarted love, with a dividing wall of centuries rather than plastic and glitter. One day I got an image stuck in my head: a gleaming warrior dragging a bloodied Gorgon’s head behind him. He was standing not in a scene out of Clash of the Titans but on a suburban front stoop, waiting for his blind date to answer the door. I wanted to write the poem that could own that moment, and play out its consequences.

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On Love Poems (and Other One-Horned Beasts)

2.11.10

I’ve been writing love poems.

Or rather, I’ve been trying to write love poems.

To be precise, I’ve been cursing the blank page where my love poems should be. I’m in love, damn it. Where are the poems? When I’m sad, I can write about sadness. When I took a cable car up Mount Pilatus, I could describe the view from 7,000 feet.

It’s not uncommon for a lover to ask, “why aren’t I in your poems?” Usually the poet thinks, “You don’t want that. Showing up in poems is a bad sign.” There is a truism that poems do not thrive on the agar of contentment. No, that’s not quite it; great poems do not thrive on the agar of contentment. Mediocrity flourishes in any petri dish. William Butler Yeats, in “Meditations in Time of Civil War,” diagnosed the problem. “Only an aching heart,” he said, “Conceives a changeless work of art.”

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In Praise of Public Libraries

1.05.10

Not long ago, I took part in a fundraiser for the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. Founded by Andrew Carnegie in 1895, this family of public libraries serves 2.6 million visitors each year at nineteen locations throughout the city. But a 1.5-million-dollar deficit for 2010 has resulted in orders to close four branches, in neighborhoods already “underserved” at best, and merge two others. Hours of operation will be shortened by almost 30 percent. Thirty staff positions will be cut.

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Mistakes We Knew We Were Making

11.16.09

Last month, I was counseling a woman on applying to MFA programs. Was her work competitive? Was she willing to move? Halfway through her answers, she assured me, “I bought the handbook, of course.”

Handbook? There’s a handbook? Little did I know that The Creative Writing MFA Handbook: A Guide for Prospective Students is already in its second edition.

Now the latest issue of Poets & Writers ranks “The Top 50 MFA Programs,” based on poet Seth Abramson’s blog-based surveys and research. No matter how you feel about these rankings (some question their validity, most notably the Association of Writers and Writing Programs), their influence will spread like kudzu. Everyone loves a list.

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The Muse Wore Orange

10.26.09

She stands by our front door: a painted cutout of a winged woman, complete with red spirals of hair. Angel, muse, safety monitor, she models the bright orange vest that each of us must wear if we venture into the hills surrounding the Jentel Artist Residency Program.

“So that you don’t get shot by hunters,” was the friendly instruction. “Or run down by truckers.”

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