Sunday, December 30, 2012

Basking in the Digital Light of an Ebook

Sunday December  30, 2012, in a Washington Post editorial essay titled “Vanishing Ink,” Kathleen Parker has articulated quite well the place where those of who read sit – the crack between print on paper versus light-infused digital text.  She writes—and the Steiny Road Poet read this from the pulpy, dirty news paper that was delivered to her door by a human paper courier—“Tension between man and machine is an old science-fiction plot that just happens no longer to be fictional.”

To Kathleen Parker’s thoughts, the Steiny Road Poet would like to add the following.

As the year closes, she is reading her first Ebook and is really enjoying the experience. Choosing to read Prague Spring by David Del Bourgo happened this way: time is running out before she meets this writer and reads poetry with him at Beyond Baroque inVenice, California, on January 20, 2013. While the Steiny Poet does not own an E reader, her husband Jim does and his IPad with a Kindle app made it possible to instantaneously acquire the book at the low price of $.99 from Amazon.

Now she sees there are other advantages. For example, there is no problem with where to store the book when she is finished reading it.

As a publisher of contemporary poetry—the Steiny Poet has been involved as a leader with The Word Works, a small press publisher, for over thirty years and she knows the problems of book storage all too well. Periodically she is called upon to visit their book storage unit where boxes of books have been stacked up for years awaiting distribution through sale or donation. Book inventory requires brawn—boxes have to be picked up and moved. Book inventory is necessary periodically to find books that might be in short supply.

While you, Dear Reader, might be questioning what the copy of Prague Spring has to do with The Word Works, the Steiny Poet says book storage in her personal quarters shared with her husband Jim is a microcosm of The Word Works book storage problem—not enough space and often the book can’t be found when it is looked for so why keep it?

OK, the Poet won’t go into the huge number of reasons why paper books, especially for poetry, are so much better than a digital book. Suffice it to say there is still a line break problem with poetry set on the multi-format digital platform. But nonetheless The Word Works will experiment this year with publishing John Bradley’s Love-in-Idleness:The Poetry of Roberto Zinagarello, an out-of-print title that won The Word Works Washington Prize in 1989 and deserves to be in circulation.

Now back to David Del Bourgo’s murder mystery set in San Francisco with strong  ties to Prague during World War II. The thing I will regret most about reading Prague Spring this way is that I won’t be able to hand it off to my son Ivan, who like his mom, loves to hold that paper book in his hands as he turns the pages.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Collaborative Learning & Poetry Readings

The Steiny Road Poet (a.k.a. Karren Alenier) has been saying for a long time don't go into the woods alone when you can collaborate and possibly learn something you would not have seen or noticed otherwise.


Therefore when her colleague and friend Margo Stever said, let's go to California to do some readings, she thought, OK worth a try. She tried to do this alone back in the 90's and while she got a beautiful venue (an art gallery in downtown San Francisco), only a handful people attended despite the formally printed and snail mailed invitations sent to the literary community there.


Right away Margo and Karren got a reading at Beyond Baroque in Venice, CA. Margo has a contact in the Los Angeles area who said she would help get audience. That's an offer greater than gold for a poet—or two poets in this case.

Margo Stever and Karren Alenier will be reading with David Del Bourgo and Andrea Carter Brown, who are based in the LA area. LA poet Mary Armstrong, a colleague of Margo's, recommended David not only because she admires his writing but also because he has an active relationship with Beyond Baroque. The Steiny Poet knows Andrea by their mutual connection to the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, an arts colony not far from Charlottesville.


San Francisco was much harder. It took six months and a changing cast of readers to land a bookstore reading for Poetry in Red Dress, the program Karren designed based on a conversation with San Francisco-based poet Evelyn Posamentier. This reading now features Evie, Margo, Karren and Mary Mackey. Andrea Carter Brown put Karren in touch with Mary as a result of all three having poems in Entering the Real World: VCCA Poets on Mt. San Angelo, an anthology Andrea edited to raise money for the VCCA.

The Red Dress reading draws inspiration from Muriel Rukeyser and Gertrude Stein. It's an opportunity for readers and audience alike to learn more about these two literary giants and their views on writing and poetry.


The Steiny Poet has been taking the online Coursera Modern Poetry (ModPo) this fall. The course taught by Al Filreis attracted over 35,000 students worldwide and it has given the Steiny Poet a new perspective on active learning with others. She has been spending time with the DC ModPo participants and she is hoping to connect with the Modpo community in San Francisco and LA.

Yes, indeed, it takes a village to make poetry live!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Live Classes versus MOOC Mania

The state of teaching is in flux. Think of the change from horse and buggy to automobile.

This fall the Steiny Road Poet taught her Inspired by Gertrude Stein writing workshop at the Hudson Valley Writers Center (HVWC) in Sleepy Hollow, New York. It was the second time she taught this course, which she had developed in response to Insight & Identity: Contemporary Artists & Gertrude Stein, an exhibition mounted at the Stanford in Washington Art Gallery earlier this year. For the Stanford-in-Washington workshop, she had 11 students. For the HVWC workshop, she had four.

The Poet worked hard in both cases to make potential attendees aware of her workshop, sending daily Tweets about Stein, writing occasional Facebook entries, mounting blog posts, exercising word-of-mouth promotion, snail mailing catalogs. There was interest in workshop #2 and good student feedback on the first workshop, but in the end, she believes this is all part of a trend exhibiting a declining enrollment in live classes. Part of it is the economy—people can’t afford to spend money on nonessential activities.

However, the question she is now asking is why pay for a poetry workshop when the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) organization Coursera is offering an amazing Modern Poetry course taught by an Ivy League professor who makes you feel that you are sitting at his table talking to you, coaching you, giving you feedback that motivates you to read the hardest of the contemporary poets? Are live teachers to become headless horsemen?

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Doing Original Resource Research

Recently, the Steiny Road Poet had occasion to do research at the Yale Beinecke Library in New Haven, Connecticut. Pointed research of original source materials like unpublished letters and journals is not something the Poet had done before. Before embarking on the trip, the Poet tried to find out what to expect, but there is nothing like going there and getting the experience first hand. So, here is what I learned and yes, portraits of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas hang in the Beinecke reading room.


Yes, the Beinecke Library gives you some help. You should pre-register with them and line up as many as 10 archival boxes from which you want to investigate materials. You should keep a list yourself noting the name of the archive, the call number, and the box and folder numbers and notes about what you expect to find in these boxes.

It is also important to pay attention to whether the materials you want are part of the Beinecke Library or some other Yale library. For example in the Poet’s research which was centered on Gertrude Stein, the Poet was interested in seeing letters about Stein that were written by a third party to Virgil Thomson. The Thomson archive turned out to be in Yale’s Music Library. If one places the request to the Beinecke this causes a delay in getting these materials. So far, the Poet has not seen those archival boxes because she decided to stay at the Beinecke to work with the materials there exclusively.

The reason it is important to line up the boxes you want from Beinecke is because some of these materials are not stored onsite and they need several days to retrieve these materials.


Originally when the Poet was planning her trip to Yale, she thought one day would be sufficient but if that day also involves travel to New Haven, it is important to understand that the hours are limited at theBeinecke. The library is not opened on weekends. During the week, Monday through Thursday it is open 9 am to 6:45 pm but Friday only 9 am to 4:45 pm. So the Poet’s trip included travel on Wednesday with a few hours in the afternoon that day and then two additional full days. What happens as one friend warned the Poet before she went, what one find starts to point to additional resources.


Use of materials at the Beinecke is heavily monitored. On the first day you enter the library, one signs in at the front desk, then you are told how to find storage lockers where you place all the things that are not allowed in the reading room. There are two sizes of lockers. The small locker can hold a small backpack, purse, and coat. The larger locker may be able to handle a small roll bag, but the Poet was not entirely sure about that. The lockers have keys that you are allowed to carry with you even when you leave the building for lunch if you are not clearing out the locker during your lunch break.

Once your things are stored, you proceed with laptop (its power chord), your cell phone (its power chord), loose sheets of paper and several pencils downstairs to the reading room desk. There you present two picture IDs—typically driver’s license and passport. Then they point to the reading room through the glass doors and tell you that they will bring your first box on your pre-ordered list as soon as they have it. That usually takes anywhere from ten to 30 minutes on average. By the time the Poet had picked out a table and set up her laptop including plugging in its power source, the first box arrived. Subsequent boxes you must retrieve yourself and you are only allowed one box at time.

The reading room can be chilly but if you want a sweater in the reading room, you must wear it and you may not take it off. The Poet wore a multi-pocketed travel vest that was handy for carrying identification documents, tissues, power chords, smart phone, and pencils.


They will tell you at the reference desk to use your cell phone camera if you want copies of the materials you are interested in. Even if you think the letter is only remotely interesting, it is probably a good idea to take a photo of it anyhow. What often happens is that you do not know the value of what you just looked at until you see other materials. So, it is more efficient to take photos of everything rather than worry about having to go back to these materials later. However, you can turn in a box and ask the librarians to hold it until you release it at the end of your entire visit to the Beinecke. Also you can order high-resolution copies that you pay for.

Not all original source material libraries have the same rules. While Beinecke allows you to photograph their materials as long as you heed their permission rules, some libraries only allow you to take notes. Beinecke asks you to remove only one folder at a time from an archival box and to handle the materials carefully. Some libraries require you wear white gloves.

If you need to access an uncataloged archive, the resource librarians are extremely helpful and will do their best to assist you. If you find problems with any materials, you should be a good citizen and fill out a form to help them correct problems. For example, the Poet discovered the gross misspelling of a name in the Stein archive and mildewing papers in an uncataloged archive.

Because every table has its own security camera, you can leave your laptops without fear of it being stolen when you leave the reading on bathroom and lunch breaks. The restrooms and water fountains are on the same level as the reading room.

If you encounter problems with Internet access on your laptop, you can use Beinecke computers set up to search their resource materials.


When you leave the library for the day, take all your things with you. The guard outside the reading room doors will ask you to open your laptop to make sure you are not walking out with anything that belongs to the library. There seemed to be no problem with the vest, into which the Poet stuffed her power chords and pencils. Same with your locker—clear it out and leave the key.

For lunch, the Poet went to a fairly quiet restaurant on Wall Street at the corner of College Street where they had a counter to order your food and tables to sit at. She also went to the much livelier (as in noisy) Yale Commons, which is in the building next door to the Beinecke (on the left as you walk out of Beinecke). The student Commons has the appearance of a set from Harry Potter with high ceiling and long dark wooden tables. The cashier is hidden off to the right side of the huge hall where you pay a fixed price of something around $10 for as much as you want to eat from the steam tables and salad bars. The food is fresh, tasty, and plentiful. Very convenient. Sit anywhere.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Bean Runner Cafe Poetry Reading with Poster

The Steiny Road Poet will lead her Inspired by Gertrude Stein workshop at the Hudson Valley Writers' Center Saturday, September 22, 2012. Then the next day she will read with Susana Case and Sally Bliumis-Dunn at the Bean Runner Cafe in Peekskill, NY. Drew Claxton has created a poster to promote the reading. How rare it is that a reading at restaurant has such colorful publicity!

Susana H. Case's most recent chapbook is Manual of Practical Sexual Advice (Kattywompus Press, 2012). Her book, Salem In Séance (WordTech Editions) will be released in 2013. Please visit her online at

Karren LaLonde Alenier is author of  Looking for Divine Transportation, winner of the 2002  Towson University Prize for Literature and her latest collection On a Bed of Gardenias: Jane & Paul Bowles  (Kattywompus Press, 2012). Gertrude Stein Invents a Jump Early On, her jazz opera with composer William Banfield premiered in New York City in 2005. Visit her online at

Sally Bliumis-Dunn teaches Modern Poetry and Creative Writing at Manhattanville College. Her poems have appeared in such publications as The New York Times, The Paris Review, Poetry London, and many others. Visit her online at

Friday, July 27, 2012

In Memoriam: Julian Stein

Julian  S. Stein , Jr.  was the son of Gertrude Stein’s first cousin. The Steiny Road Poet, a. k. a. Karren Alenier, met Julian through his daughter Denny at Christmas time, months after the premier of Gertrude Stein Invents a Jump Early On. Through an article on the Internet that talked about the house on Linden Avenue in Baltimore where Gertrude lived at age 16 with her maternal aunt’s family, the Steiny Poet contacted and met Denny. Linden Avenue was a street the Poet had lived at age five.

Visiting Julian in his house in the Tuscany-Canterbury neighborhood of Baltimore was like coming home to my family. Denny stood in front of a hall mirror and asked if she did not resemble Gertrude? She did and I told her so. Denny said her family were Christmas Jews who always had stockings filled with little gifts. There may have been a Christmas tree in the living room. I find I cannot remember this because once my mother had put up a decorated tree in our Linden Avenue apartment and the next day my beloved great grandmother on my mother’s side came to visit. She took one look at the tree and turned on her heel and left, saying she was not coming back until the Christmas tree was gone. My step-father was from the German Jewish community of Baltimore and was very assimilated. Like Julian he was a junior, having the same name as his father (a practice not common in Jewish tradition where children are named after deceased relatives).  In appearance, my dad’s relatives looked much like Julian. The day of my visit, Julian and Denny showed me a short movie that showed Julian as a child walking hand-in-hand with Gertrude in France.

I last saw Julian in October 27, 2011, at the opening night of the Insight & Identity: Contemporary Artists and Gertrude Stein exhibition at the Stanford in Washington Art Gallery on Connecticut Avenue in Washington DC.  I was surprised and delighted to see him and he was ever cheerful and engaged in all that was going on at this fabulous party.

On the spur of the moment, I called Julian weeks before his death to talk about what happened to Gertrude after she died. I was working on an article about that and had just completed a particularly difficult interview with a woman who knew Gertrude's partner after the great Modernist had died. Sounding strong and clear, he was adamant about how the Edgar Allan Poe lawyers of Baltimore had failed to help Alice Toklas after Gertrude died.

Julian S. Stein, Jr. died June 22, 2012, at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Memorial celebrations for Julian Stein will be held on Saturday, August 4, 2012 in Rangeley, Maine and on Saturday, October 6, 2012 in Baltimore, MD. Inquiries may be directed to the family.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Writer's Center Scales Back Books

Sad time for books at the Writer’s Center of Bethesda, Maryland. They are scaling back their bookstore. No longer a place for small press books, the Center will carry books only by their teachers and current readers. They are keeping the magazines up for sale—at least that is what they say.

The Steiny Road Poet wearing her Word Works hat went to the Center to pick up the books they found (one heavy box, one light box) and to pick through the shelves and bins of books for those that were missed (another full and light set of boxes). After all the blood, sweat, tears over 35 years, The Word Works books were easy to spot, even if it was just the spine on view. Kudos to the Center for keeping these books in such good shape. The Poet only rejected one dog-eared book. The good news is she found many Word Works books that are currently out-of-print.

The Poet also snagged books by other presses that were written by some of our deceased authors such as Robert Sargent and Hilary Tham. And books published in the Mica Press chapbook series that Word Works had a hand in their judging process.

Then there were books from authors all over the United States, like M.L. Liebler (MI) and Ruth Moon Kempher (FL). So many beautiful books. End of an era.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Playing Outside the Box

Recently I got comments from Baltimore Playwrights Festival judges on my play Who Killed Jackie Bass. The work is a ten-minute play that is outside the box—the main character Jackie Bass is killed multiple times as the story of her murder unfolds from various perspectives. The play trades on poetry, juxtaposition, metaphor and repetition. There are four characters and two of these characters are dead. The overall tone of the piece is optimistic and uplifting.

Getting comments from four judges is an amazing and eye-opening occurrence that was well worth the $10 spent to enter this contest. While my play was not selected for a reading, what I learned is that experimental work, because it does not fit the formula for playwriting, has to try harder to find appreciative audience.

Of the four judges, #2 said:
Hello Author,

This is an ambitious piece, and I think it deserves a staged-reading. It is well-written and thoughtfully composed. In particular, I found the reoccurring deaths amusing. It is also not a typical play, so I must confess that I did not fully grasp all the angles of it yet. I’m hoping a reading will illuminate those things that are purposefully ambiguous and those things that still need improvement.

By the way, I marked many of my responses as “somewhat” simply because this is a piece that does not fit the standard question model.

All the best with your continued development.
All the judges rated the plays using the following set of questions. Here are the answers provided by Judge #2
Is the dialogue appropriate?
Is the dialogue under/over written?
Do you find the characters interesting?
Are the characters motivations clear?
Are the characters well developed?
Is the plot well developed?
Is the plot logical or appropriate?
Does the plot consistently move forward?
Is the ending appropriate?
Does the play hold your interest?

How did the other three judges answer the questions?

Is the dialogue appropriate?
2/No & 1/Yes

Is the dialogue under/over written?

1/No, 1/under, 1/over
Do you find the characters interesting?


Are the characters motivations clear?
Are the characters well developed?

2/No, 1/Somewhat
Is the plot well developed?

2/No, 1/Somewhat

Is the plot logical or appropriate?
2/No, 1/Yes

Does the plot consistently move forward?
2/No, 1/Yes
Is the ending appropriate?

1/No, 2/Somewhat

Does the play hold your interest?

The judge who answered most of the questions no (except for saying the dialogue was overwritten and the characters were somewhat interesting) provided a rather interesting comment that might be how rewrite might work best: “The playwright has a lively imagination, and these 10 pages might work as the opening of a longer work, but in my opinion they do not work as a 10-minute play.”