Showing posts from April, 2014

Dispatch From Hawk Hill: The Last Day of Class

Hawk Hill--our fond nickname for Saint Joseph's University--has burst into blossom just in time for the last few days of class.  This is the crazy busy time of year, with huge stacks of papers and journals to be graded, high-stakes faculty meetings to attend, and many loose ends to be tied up.

It's also time to give out course evaluations and wait awkwardly in the hallway while the students fill them out.

Summer--when I will be finishing my Greek novel draft 2.0 and polishing my poetry-collection-in-progress--is so close I can almost taste it.  

Country Road Trip: To West Virginia and Back

Spring is road trip season, and last Friday I took off on a drive from Philadelphia to Morgantown, West Virginia, to visit my sis.  She moved there earlier this year to undertake a year-long dietary internship, and her love for her adopted home town knows no bounds.

West Virginia gets a bad rap, especially among I-95-corridor types.  (Cue the jokes--some of which I've admittedly made myself--about banjo music, meth labs, and having a purty mouth.)  My sister was eager to show me what Morgantown, West Virginia is really like: a funky college town surrounded by some truly gorgeous countryside.  A neat rail-to trail path wends along the Monongahela River.  The city is home to a number of intriguing restaurants, homey brew pubs, lots of live music (including bluegrass, of course), and a charming little place called Blue Moose Coffee where we had Sunday morning quiche.

Best of all, the city's just down the road apiece from the Fiestaware Factory and its annual tent sale:

We got a litt…

Chasing Bruce: Seven Reasons Why

When you've seen Bruce Springsteen perform over fifty times (most of those in the last decade), people tend to ask you why, often in the gentle, concerned tone reserved for dealing with the delusional. Why spend so much time and money chasing one performer?  Isn't one show pretty much the same as all the others?   

Here's my answer, in seven parts:

1)  Every show is different, with Bruce drawing from his extensive catalog, tossing in new material and rarities among old standbys like Born to Run, Dancing in the Dark, Badlands, and The Rising.  Miss a night, and you might just miss that one song you've been chasing forever.

2)  Every show is special.  Of course Bruce is famous for playing concerts that clock in at over three and a half hours--playing longer and with more gusto than musicians a third his age.  He starts with a setlist, then calls audibles, keeping the show fresh by shaking it up at the last minute.  And he takes audience requests, so there's always hope …

Southern Misadventures

I'm just back from a very ambitious little roadtrip--Philly to Charlotte, North Carolina and back, and all to see a single show.  Of course when the act in question is Bruce Springsteen, it's a given that the show will be epic and the journey worthwhile, even if that journey includes a flat tire on a very busy highway.  

Luckily, that highway ran through North Carolina.  Also luckily my travelling companion, Diane, thought to call our local buddy Todd, who got on the phone with IMAP--Incident Management Assistance Patrols--a wonderful North Carolinian institution that saved the day and got us on our way.

Special thanks to Ronnie Minor of the North Carolina Department of Transportation  for being so kind, prompt, and helpful.  Did I mention that it was Easter Sunday, and that we felt pretty stranded and helpless beside route 85 on an Easter Sunday with traffic whooshing by us...until he showed up and saved the day?

Of course I'll be writing about the concert in some detail.  S…

Where the Band Is

List of things to pack:

Song request sign: check
Dancing shoes: check

And that's about it.

There's nothing better than a road trip to see Bruce Springsteen, unless it's a last minute surprise road trip to see Bruce Springsteen.  I'm so grateful to my husband Andre for this late birthday present, and for holding down the fort while I run amok.  And I'm thankful to my friend Diane for scoring some tickets and for being Thelma to my Louise...or Louise to my Louise...since neither of us wants to be Thelma, and for the fellow Bruce fanatics who are opening their home to us.  And for the friends we'll meet up with along the way.

Next stop: Charlotte!

Nightsun Writers Conference

Now that the daffodils are out, are you thinking ahead to summer?  I am.  This July, from the 24th to the 27th, I'll be teaching young adult fiction at the Summer Nightsun Writers Conference.  The event (located at Frostburg State University in Maryland) also will feature Bruce Weigl (poetry), Brenda Clough (sci-fi, fantasy), Marion Winik (nonfiction), and Clint McCown (fiction). 

The festivities will include workshop opportunities, individualized feedback, craft sessions, and readings by faculty, participants, and special guests.

Interested in joining us?  Drop by the websitefor more information.

Delphi, Greece and a Poem by Anne Sexton

I photographed this laurel tree, and the columns behind it, in Delphi, Greece--office of the oracles, omphalos of the earth. Mount Parnassus, home to the muses, rises imposingly behind it:

As with so much of Greece--where the names Penelope, Adonis, Calliope, and Apollo are still popular, where cities are named for Poseidon, Athena, and Hermes--the ancient myths echo powerfully in Delphi.

Finding these photos in a recently rediscovered cache of missing study tour snapshots, reminded me of this poem, by Anne Sexton, one of a handful that first made me fall in love with poetry and want to write it myself.  From the myth of Daphne, transformed into a laurel tree in her flight from the amorous god Apollo, Sexton conjures longing and regret of flesh turned into wood:

Where I Live in This Honorable House of  the Laurel Tree
I live in my wooden legs and O
my green green hands.
Too late
to wish I had not run from you, Apollo,
blood moves still in my bark bound veins.
I, who ran nymph foot to foot in fl…

After Greece: Odds and Ends

Thought I'd share my essay on James Merrill's poem "After Greece."  Contemporary Poetry Review just published it here.  And if you aren't familiar Merrill's gorgeous poem, read it here, at the bottom of this post.

In related news, this week I stumbled across my missing photos from Greece.  Not all of them.  The coveted Santorini mule pictures are still missing.  But most have been accounted for.  Having them back is a true gift.

To celebrate, here are some snapshots I took on the Island of Naxos.  Here's the beachfront taverna where we had breakfast:

And an alleyway in the old walled city:

And here's our wake as we waved goodbye.


It's spring on Hawk Hill, and last Sunday was Admitted Student Day.  This time for once I got to attend as the parent of an incoming hawk, and to see my workplace, Saint Joseph's University, through the eyes of someone about to begin a new chapter there, about to discover and define his adult self.

Is it any surprise the colors were a little brighter, the air a whole lot fresher than they've been in a long time?

For the very first time, I got to see the inside of the art department, where my son Noah wants to study. I got to see the sculpture in progress, the still lifes waiting to be painted:

I got to visit the stained glass and carved wood sanctum of the art history classroom and absorb some of Noah's readiness to move in and get started.  

All of which helped me remember the reason I wanted to be a college professor in the first place: so I could spend my working life on a campus, surrounded by the energy of people learning new things and by the bright color and hubub o…


Last Friday, I finished the rough draft of my novel-in-progress, set in Greece.  But not without a struggle.  I knew how I wanted the story to wrap up, the arrival point to where my characters had been traveling from the first page.  But somehow I couldn't seem to write the last few sentences.  The thought of doing so threw me into a minor panic.  How to find the words that would end the whole story with a satisfying click?

Never mind that this is only a first draft, that whatever I've put on the page so far will be rewritten three, six, ten times before it's done.  I couldn't consider that first draft complete until I could get down a final sentence I could believe in.  I kept writing and writing, well beyond where I'd planned to end things, just to avoid putting down a last sentence.  Better not to end than to end halfheartedly.

Finally, I gave up.  I distracted myself with other, tangentially related things--namely searching for the missing photos of my last tr…

Jesse Malin Unplugged at Penn

The storytelling side of Jesse Malin came out to play last Thursday night at a special event at the University of Pennsylvania's charming Kelly Writers House.  

At his concerts, Jesse's fans are treated to rambling, entertaining stories between songs.  But this time around, the stories took center stage.  And what stories they were--about the early importance of KISS and Jim Croce in his life, about starting a punk band, Heart Attack, at twelve years old and playing Max's Kansas City, about joining the hard core band D Generation and trying to live up to the strict "politics of punk rock church," about meeting Bruce Springsteen and duetting with him on the song "Broken Radio," and about the power of speaking your wishes out loud.  

Music critic Anthony DeCurtis only needed to ask a few questions and Jesse was rolling.

And Jesse even treated us to a few songs in between the anecdotes.

This unusual event was the result of a pledge made in Jesse's recent K…

April Odds and Ends

Now that spring has sprung for real, and there are colors to be seen (not just the endless gray of a landscape coated with road salt), I just want to say:

Tomorrow, Saturday April 5, from 1 to 4 p.m., I'll be signing copies of Catherine and Jane at Books-a-Million, at the Springfield Mall.  (This is a reschedule.  Last weekend I had a really yucky cold and didn't want to spread my germs.)

I'll be blogging soon about a unique event that took place last night at the University of Pennsylvania's Kelly Writers House: a Q and A session with none other than singer/songwriter Jesse Malin.

And, finally, I'll be reading some of my favorite children's books in the Indies First Storytime event.  If you're anywhere near Bethany Beach, Delaware on Saturday May 17, swing by Bethany Beach Books at 3 o'clock.  I'll gladly take suggestions about which two picture books I should read, though I do have one or two in mind already. 

A handful of contenders:


This is our Time: A Night at Mexicali Live with Willie Nile

For a musician who draws so much inspiration from the hard-edged New York punk scene, Willie Nile is a gentle soul.  You can hear it all over his lyrics--"One Guitar"--a pacifist anthem about the power of music, for example.  Or in "The Innocent Ones," a song that bursts with empathy for the vulnerable and powerless.  But Willie's music brings an edge of punk intensity to balance out his big-hearted idealism.  That's true on his new album, American Ride, and even more true live, when Willie and his band--bassist Johnny Pisano, guitarist Matt Hogan, and drummer Alex Alexander--never fail to play their hearts out.  

Andre and I have seen Willie and his band live before, but never as headliners, and we've always been left wanting more.  This year on my birthday that wish came true.

We traveled to Mexicali Live in Teaneck, New Jersey:

 for dinner and tales of concert-going misadventures with some warm and welcoming Nileaholics:

And then, of course, there was th…