Category: awards

Making It through November

November is my least favorite month. Cold and grey with shorter and shorter days, it seems to hang on forever before we get to Thanksgiving. But here in Spokane, there is one more good thing about this month. The weekend before turkey day, The Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour comes to town. We’re extra lucky, because the festival screens for three days and so we usually get a chance to see all of the movies that made it on to the tour.

Yesterday, I went to the Bing Crosby Theater for opening night. It was my third time at the festival and every year there are more people than last year. This year is the first where all three nights were sold out.

Most of the movies have some sort of outdoor theme, but the focus of each film are vastly different and as diverse as the filmmakers who come from all over the world to participate and compete in the festival. Last night, I watched a kayaker almost getting killed in New Zealand, a 92 or maybe 96-year-old (he can’t remember) talk about his life as an outdoor guide in southern Colorado, wildlife biologists discussing the impact of wildlife highway over and under passes around Banff,  the most famous ultimate marathoner finishing five races on five continents, a small town in New Zealand lamenting the impact of global warming on outdoor curling,  two young English blokes climbing Century Crack—the hardest off width in the world—and thereby pissing off a bunch of American climbers, and several more great films.

Plus there was this:

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Wouldn’t It Be Cool If The Winner Of The Election Had To Eat The Loser?

I know this is a blog about arts and culture, but on the eve of our national election, it is hard not to talk about it. Before I begin (okay, very slightly after I’ve begun), I promise to eschew partisan ranting. Not only would that be a waste of all of our time (I’m not going to change anyone’s mind, and if at this point I am capable of changing your mind, there is probably something very wrong with you), but the internet is already jam packed full of angry people who so very badly want you to see things their way. I don’t want to be one of those people. I don’t want you to see things my way, it would only emphasize my cosmic insignificance, which is apparent enough when I think about voting.

Speaking of insignificance and voting, I voted for Jill Stein. She’s not going to win. She will be lucky to get half of 1% of the national vote. My vote, like yours, does not matter. Have you ever cast the deciding vote in a national election? A state election? A local election? Of course not. And you never will. Elections often feel pointless and tiring. Luckily in my state of Washington, this is officially acknowledged, so they make it as convenient as humanly possible by allowing people to vote by mail. I received my ballot in the mail about two weeks ago, and to prove the old saw that “nothing is ever as convenient as not doing anything at all,” I almost threw my ballot away. (Okay, that’s not an old saw, I just made that up). Why? Well, like I said, I’m not casting a deciding vote for anybody or anything on the ballot, and to vote with any sense of reverence for the process, I’d have to go to the trouble of reading the Voting Pamphlet the State of Washington conveniently sent to me in the mail at roughly the same time as my ballot. Who has time for that? Not me (but I did it anyway). After all the links I shared in the last two months on Facebook about the election, haven’t I already done my part? Read more »

Jorie Graham and the Covert Warning About Contests (But Can You Resist Them?)

Well, I’ve done it again.  I’ve entered another writing contest, which means my bank account is $20 lighter and that I’ll receive a subscription to a journal that I’ll read later and remark while turning the pages, “That’s it!  That’s the winning poem!”

Alas…  One of my M.F.A. colleagues (on staff at Willow Springs) says that if I review a batch of poems that have been submitted and I provide reasons for it not to be accepted (or pursued further by my fellow editors), that must mean that my own verse is better.

Well, I’m not sure that it “must,” but for the time being at least, I am struck with how we rationalize by non sequiturs ad infinitum (and how we lapse into latin).  Nothing follows nothing:  good, better, best…  And the grand prize goes to… Subjectivity!


Jorie Graham has loads of fascinating things to offer about the poetics we practice, the poems we write and the poems we judge (ie., compare and contrast with other poems).  In this regard, the Poetess-in-Charge at Harvard U. even has her own rule named after her own controversial evaluation of various works in the University of Georgia’s 1999 contest.   The rule essentially stipulates that a judge must recuse her or himself if the potentially award-winning poems are penned by the aforementioned judge’s students, or her future husband.

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No Pulitzer For You

The Pulitzer Prize winners were announced today, and while the various winners in letters, drama and music celebrated, the internet freaked out because the fiction prize was notably not awarded.

The finalists, which are not announced before the award itself (unlike the National Book award, which announces them months before the announcement of the winner), were Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams, Karen Russell’s Swamplandia and DFW’s The Pale King.

Here’s how it works, as I learned just now: three judges read over 300 books in a nine-month span, and then they, as a united panel, make a recommendation to the Pulitzer Board about who the three finalists should be. Then the board, which includes NYT columnist Thomas Friedman and fiction writer Junot Diaz, makes the final decision. Except that they decided not to hand out the award in fiction. No one won.

On one hand, who cares? If you didn’t know until today that your book was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and then you found out in the next sentence that you didn’t win, would you really care that much? It doesn’t seem that insulting that a board of 21 people couldn’t decide on whether your book was “better” or “more important” or whatever rationale they supposedly use for the Pulitzer. Plus it’s just one (admittedly prestigious) award out of what seems like 1.2 million of them, and you can still put “Pulitzer Prize finalist” on your CV or dust jacket.  *

On the other hand, even if we all agreed that prize committees are probably full of well-intentioned people who take the job seriously, which I hope is largely the case, doesn’t it seem, well, a little douchey that they couldn’t just pick a damn winner? Read more »

No Comments Please… I’m Trending!

… I’m trending.

How Did Poe Trend?


So, as far as my participation in this blog goes, I’m noticing a trend.

It’s nothing overt or thunderously apparent.  It’s comprised of no damning data.  It’s unlikely to make a dent in the Internet reading habits of emerging generations.  It’s neither a threat to national security, nor a subject of prurient interest that might be ruled on by the Supreme Court… It does not resemble the plain nose on your face…

It is, however, near and dear to my face, which has no business being saved from even the slightest of humiliating experiences.   But I have observed that for several weeks now, my unintelligible musings have received zero comments.   That is, 0.

Now, whether or not this lack of cyber-dialogue corresponds to a blanket dismissal of my prowess as a writer or of my genius as an aspiring artist — Ahhh! – that is beyond the scope and the purpose of this brief soliloquy.   In essence, all I have to say can be summarized with a modest paraphrase of Rene Descartes:  “I write, therefore I am.”   Or, to embellish on this purloined dictum just a bit, there’s no one better than the Trappist monk, Thomas Merton.   After turning away from a potentially lucrative career as writer, Merton became a priest, who morphed into a mystic, who eventually, in Seeds of Contemplation, understood his vocation like so:


“If you write for God you will reach many men and bring them joy. If you write for men–you may make some money and you may give someone a little joy and you may make a noise in the world, for a little while. If you write for yourself, you can read what you yourself have written and after ten minutes you will be so disgusted that you will wish that you were dead.”

Merton fans, of course, may speculate regarding the sequence of their hero’s syllogisms.  Why does he start with “God,” move to “men” (and presumably women), go to “world” and then to “self”?  And might there be a way of doing all of the above simultaneously?
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Literary quality vs. readability

I heard about this growing controversy while surfing various blogs over the weekend. Some people in Britain are pushing to have a Literature Prize, since they argue that the Man Booker Prize rewards sub-par works of art. Two quotes from the article:

And yet there’s a consortium of people, headed by literary agent Andrew Kidd and supported by a host of literary types, who last week announced they were putting together a prize, to be known as The Literature Prize, for “writers who aspire to something finer.”

The Literature Prize is looking to do the literary equivalent of applauding houses built with staircases that require mountaineering gear to climb them.

If you read this blog often, you probably already know which side of the debate I fall on, but I’ll say it again anyway, mostly because I feel so strongly about this issue. Readable books are good books. The sense of inflated ego that comes from getting through a difficult book does not make that book more worth than one that is accessible. And books and literature should be accessible, on the whole. Isn’t that why we create art? To be read and enjoyed?

Going the Distance for Your Book

Last year I blogged here on Bark about how book trailers were essential–according to some publishing experts–to properly market your book. As expected, many authors didn’t agree and/or made trailers that made fun of the whole concept.

My favorite back then was Dennis Cass’s “Book Launch 2.0,” which won the 2010 Moby Award (The Oscars of the Book Trailers) for Best Performance by an Author.

Now I have a new favorite.

Here’s Max Barry promoting Machine Man.


I can’t stop laughing. It must be the Australian accent.


The Invisible World

When I find myself becoming (more) neurotic, self-involved, or under threat of being pillow-suffocated by heartache, a story like this comes along and acts as a much needed slap in the face. A cold palm cracking against cheekbone. It’s something I welcome.

The most prestigious literary prize in Nepal, the Madan Puraskar, was awarded to Jhamak Kumari Ghimire. It was awarded for her book of autobiographical essays titled, “Is life a thorn or a flower?”

What makes her story particularly interesting are the challenges she has faced. A woman living with Cerebral Palsy, she is unable to speak, use her hands, and was uneducated as a child. She taught herself to write using her left foot.

Jhamak Kumari Ghimire: winner of the top literary prize in Nepal & left-foot-composer extraordinaire!

I fear this post could easily topple into the sentimental and/or political, so I’m not going to say a whole lot. I just thought it was a cool story & wanted to bring attention to her achievement, both personal and literary. Quite simply: she’s a badass.

All we can do in this fucked up world is pause & try our best to be grateful. Even if it’s for being just a little less neurotic today. There is still beauty.
Or, as Kim Addonizio puts it

For I am a poet. And it is my job, my duty
to know wherein lies the beauty 


Worst Sentence Ever? There’s a Prize for That.

In 1982, San Jose State University sponsored the first Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. To enter, you have to compose the opening sentence of the worst of all possible novels. The contest was created by Professor Scott Rice after he found the source of the line “It was a dark and stormy night…,” which is the opening sentence of Edward George Bulwer-Lytton’s Paul Clifford.

For 2011, Sue Fondrie penned the shortest ever winning sentence:

Cheryl’s mind turned like the vanes of a wind-powered turbine, chopping her sparrow-like thoughts into bloody pieces that fell onto a growing pile of forgotten memories.

According to The Guardian, Fondrie tweeted that one of her students wrote her: “I knew you were awful, so it’s great that you’re finally getting recognized.”

Two of my favorites are from the Romance category. Read more »

Summer, Kathleen Flenniken, and Your True Voice

I’m enjoying a summer of poetry. Just the two words “enjoying” and “poetry” in the same sentence is new for me. Although I like hearing poetry, it’s not until recently that I discovered the joy of immersing myself in a book of poems on my own.

Summer is when I do most of my writing. I usually don’t sign up to teach summer classes, instead I grade AP tests or review textbooks to collect a paycheck. That way I can create long periods of time during the day when I do nothing but write.

I read a lot during the summer as well, but have trouble keeping my own voice if I read books close to what I’m currently working on. I never write poetry, so reading it keeps my voice true. It also makes me pay more attention to the line level details of my prose.

Currently, I’m reading Kathleen Flenniken’s Famous. She was in Spokane during Get Lit! and participated in a great poetry panel with Matthew Dickman, Lowell Jaeger, and Laura Tohe. I bought Famous because of “It’s Not You, It’s Me,” which Flenniken read during the panel. The book won the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry and was an American Library Association Notable Book. Read more »

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