The Hermit Poet

March 30, 2007

Report from Los Angeles – Day 1

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 8:43 am

Update: My luggage has arrived. I’m finally in clean clothes. I shaved as well. Life is good.

I arrived safely last night, however my luggage did not. Evidently they will arrive sometime this morning on the first flight into Burbank.

What happened?

Well, my initial flight out of Vancouver was 30 minutes late which meant that I arrived in Salt Lake City (Delta’s hub) minutes before my connecting flight to Burbank was leaving. Somehow I managed to make the connection. I had been assured that my bags would make it as well — but unfortunately that wasn’t the case. When I arrived in Burbank (the flight was actually 20 minutes early, despite a 10 minute delay caused by my late arrival), I stood around foolishly expecting my luggage to appear on the belt. When they didn’t, I checked with the luggage people (good name for a 1950s B-movie) and discovered that they never got on the plane — despite being parked next to my previous flight. Oh well.

I’m staying with an old friend of mine in Los Angeles for a few days and he and his girlfriend were kind enough to pick me up at the airport. Even better, they took me out to eat at Mimi’s — from my experience good food tastes even better after you’ve been subjected to airplane snacks and luggage abandonment. We made an additional stop at an all-night drug store so I could buy some contact lens cleaner and a cheap contact lens case. The airline prohibition against liquids in carry-on items meant that all my toiletries were packed in my checked bags — which would be fine if my bags made the connection. On my return flight, I’ll have to tell them to load my bags last because I have a quick connection.

Other than that, the trip so far is fine. It was great to catch up with my friends. Good as well to have a bed to sleep on and even a new toothbrush to use while I wait for my bags. The only new glitch is that my friend was just notified yesterday that they are shutting off the water for most of the day to work on the mains. So I showered last night and woke up early enough this morning to wash my face and take care other bathroom needs. I’ve just realized I forgot to shave, so I’ll be scruffy the rest of the day till the water comes on again.

On schedule today — not much, catch up on emails, read more poems for Boxcar Poetry Review, pick up my luggage, and take it easy tonight when my friends come over to hang out. Tomorrow will be busier as I start lining up the rest of my schedule.

No news from home, so I’m assuming all is well.

March 29, 2007

Heading South — Trip to Los Angeles

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 9:09 am

I’m heading down to Los Angeles this afternoon for almost two weeks. In part, it’s to attend the USC Recruitment Days event for incoming PhDs and in part to spend time looking into housing options. The fact that I’ve got a few dinners lined up already doesn’t hurt.

My trip may get cut short if my father’s condition worsens again — on Monday he was battling a high fever and a bad infection and looked in very bad shape. Thankfully the fever broke early Tuesday morning and the antibiotics should be kicking in to fight the infection — but overall it was a very close call. I drove back to Penticton to spend a day and a half with my father. My sister and her family came later in the day and are spending a bit longer (till Friday) with him. So, as much I’d like to enjoy my trip wholeheartedly, it’s actually tough to leave at this time. I know the trip is important and that my father would want me to go — I just hope to see him when I get back so that I can give him the report.

I am looking forward to seeing good friends again — I called a few of them last night to let them know I’d be around. If you’re in Los Angeles and would like to get together, email me and we’ll see what we can work out.

March 26, 2007

Where I’ll Be This Fall

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 1:13 am

Ok, it’s about time to make this official:

I’m headed to USC this fall to pursue a PhD in English Literature & Creative Writing.

As you can imagine, I’m very excited. USC was my top choice and a bit of a long shot to be honest — I barely got my admission materials in on time. Given the highly competitive nature of the program and the sheer number of applications they receive, I wasn’t certain how I’d fare. Evidently something clicked with them.

As an international student, financing my education is always a big factor. Thankfully this won’t be a concern. They have also generously offered me assistance through a teaching fellowship, so I’ll be teaching one class a semester. I’m thrilled to be returning to California, and especially excited about working with the faculty and students in the program.

I was also accepted to the PhD programs at the University of North Texas and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln — both excellent programs. UNT was very supportive and I strongly considered their very tempting offer — in the end though, USC just seems like a better fit for my creative and research projects. I’m also quite interested in studying with David St. John, Carol Muske-Dukes, and Daniel Tiffany — all of whom have struck me as being excellent people to help me expand and deepen my understanding of poetry.

I’ll be heading down to Los Angeles this Thursday to spend 2 weeks looking into housing and apartments, attending USC’s recruitment activities, and hanging out with friends. I think it’ll be a good trip — one full of good memories and new experiences.

In other news — my father has returned to the hospital in Penticton and will remain there for the next little while. I will spend a weekend with him when I return to give him a full report of my trip.

March 19, 2007

Some Days are Better Than Others / Another PhD Option

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 6:36 pm

Today I’m feeling a bit more grounded. I spent part of the morning reading submissions for Boxcar Poetry Review, another part re-watching a few episodes of light-hearted anime (Azumanga Daioh), and yet another part doing dishes. Simple tasks — routine — but good for stability and comfort — well, sending out rejection notes really isn’t that good for other people.

I picked my mother up for lunch and we tried to locate a good restaurant around the hospital — but after some poor choices (kept choosing closed restaurants), we ran out of time and had to grab sandwiches from Subway. Big disappointment for both of us. Not knowing the hospital neighborhood puts us at a definite disadvantage. We already had a bad experience at one Chinese restaurant which we now refer to as “The Restaurant Run by Two Idiots”!

Visited with my father in the afternoon. An old friend of his stopped by with a guitar to entertain him, but found that the lyrics kept slipping his mind. We caught my father mouthing the words in places — evidently he has a better memory than his friend! I had to leave early to meet up with a friend of mine who I’ve recruited to write some reviews. We had a good dinner and chatted about a variety of things, including my father — but also about Boxcar Poetry Review and doing interviews (she’s looking at pursuing a PhD in Pop Culture focused on 1920’s actresses). Anyway, it was a good break from things.

Right now I’m stealing a few moments at the Vancouver Public Library to write this post before heading over to a poetry reading tonight. It’s good to be out and about as well. Good to hear other people’s voices.

I’ve been grateful for emails from good friends lately and for the occasional phone calls and internet chats.

Oh — before I forget — I received word earlier today that I’ve been accepted by University C — no financial package involved, but still a flattering offer. I’m currently 3/3 for PhD applications. I’ll need to make some final decisions this week, so expect full disclosure of the related schools shortly.

March 18, 2007

What We Can Do

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 9:39 pm

It’s been a rough week for my family. Last Monday, my father was air-lifted to Vancouver General Hospital from Penticton General Hospital where he had been been hospitalized since October with an undiagnosed neurological disease. This past Friday, the head of neurology finally provided a diagnosis of advanced ALS after eliminating the last remaining possibilities. Prognosis: 6 months. The possibility of ALS had been discussed earlier, and although we had prepared ourselves for it, we had naturally been hoping for something else. At one point, there was a glimmer of hope when abnormalities showed up in some of the tests. But now it’s pretty clear-cut. And it’s rough. And horrible. And some nights overwhelming. And yet, we are also grounded in part by strong faith in an after-life where family remains close and by a gratitude that this year we have been able to spend so much time together.

My sister and her husband live only a few hours away, my father’s brother and one of his sisters both live nearby, and I live close as well. This past year, by coincidence or by divine providence, my family has all moved into the area — it has been a great blessing to all of us, especially to my father. In light of such hard news, we’re staying positive but realistic. It hurts, but we have decided to make these good days while we can spend them together. We try to laugh and joke, recall the things we did and the good times we had.

Tonight, I felt I should write a good friend who is also experiencing great pain at the loss of one of her closest friends and part of her way of life. Tonight, I’m writing — maybe for me, but hopefully also for others out there who are hurting. To let you and me know that as rough and horrible as this time is for both us right now — there is hope for a better tomorrow — perhaps different than we want, even without someone we love, but somehow we continue and we find joy after the dark road we are treading. Perhaps also to say, even those who leave us are not too far from us.

I was thinking how much I miss hearing my father’s voice — he hasn’t been able to speak normally in months, lately his communication has descended into almost incomprehensible mumbling and he has to use an alphabet card to spell out words for us. I haven’t heard his voice — and yet I hear it all the time — I have his voice. My voice reminds so many people of my father’s voice. When we were both home people regularly confused us for each other when we answered. Now, his voice is what I’ll take with me wherever I go. My father is my echo — or perhaps, sometimes I am his. We are different people, but very good friends and it is hard to say good-bye to such a friend.

I do not look forward to what lies next – but I will carry on. I will do, like you, what writers do. I will write. I will remember. I let the page tell the story of my love for my friend who is my father. Like it always has.

Tonight, I am writing because writing is a prayer. Because the poem is both evocation and invocation. Because there is a world here in among the letters which knows who I am and how I am struggling and yet moving forward. Tonight I am writing because there is still room for laughter and joy, despite darkness and sorrow. Tonight, I am writing because it is the only way I know how.

March 15, 2007

Boxcar Poetry Review – Issue 7 is Up (1 Year Anniversary!)

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 8:42 am

Boxcar Poetry Review celebrates its first anniversary in grand style — check it out here

In this issue:

Aaron Anstett
Lyn Barzilai
Tamiko Beyer
Sarah Browning
Edward Byrne
Susan Grimm
Mary Crockett Hill
Matt Mason
Benjamin Morris
James Owens
Lynn Strongin
Lenore Wilson

Arlene Ang

Emily Fragos’ Little Savage – reviewed by Scott Hightower

Interviews & Conversations
The Lyric Leap: Conversation between Thomas Heise and Jason Schneiderman

Also check out the About page for a sneak preview of the 2006 anthology’s cover.

Great poems. Great prose. Great photography.

Happy birthday Boxcar Poetry Review!

March 6, 2007

More Happy News

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 12:07 pm

Well, I’m pleased to announce that I’ve been accepted to another PhD program, making my efforts 2/2 so far. University B is also offering support and is located in a city that I already have close ties to. Both A and B were at the top of my list of places I wanted to attend, so tough decisions will have to be made. However, I’m quite certain I know where I need to be. University B’s program and faculty are a closer match to my own creative and critical projects — while studying and exploring a new part of the country a University A might be tempting, the actual work of the PhD seems better suited to what’s available at University B.

Still, it’s a shock that I got into University B — a pleasant shock, but a shock nonetheless. I still have some time to think things through and to wait on a couple other schools, but my first impulse is to go with University B.

And I promise I’ll get back to posting non-announcement stuff shortly. My post on “The Love Poem as Mnenomic” is crying out to be finished — and so I really should get on with it.

For those in the Vancouver area, I’ll be running a workshop called Brilliant Imagery for Writers next week, Friday March 16th at 7:00 pm at the Javanet Cafe in Vancouver (3436 W. Broadway, Vancouver). Contact me if you’re interested.