Saturday, December 08, 2007

Christmas Dance

Panic in your face, you write questions
to ask him. When he arrives,
you are serene, your fear
unbetrayed. How unlike me you are.

Maria Mazziotti Gillan, the great talent who has given me (and many others here in NJ) much to learn from as both artist and host is represented by her poem "My Daughter at 14: Christmas Dance" this week at The Writer's Almanac (first stanza above).

Reminds me: Time to get cracking on that old yuletide versification. Check back near Chrismas and see if I found something to write about.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Science = Metaphor?

Via Ron Silliman, I just finished reading an interview with Rae Armantrout wherein she says

I find that thinking about contemporary science takes us to the border of what we imagine we know—which is a good place for poetry to be. Science generally ignores poetry, of course. But science, like all human communication, depends on metaphors. I sometimes think scientists would do well to study poetry to become more conscious of the way metaphors work.

My first instinct was to say "umm, no." Science, in the sense of discovering the laws of nature, is the opposite of metaphor. It's the paring down of all interactions until unalterable truths are stated a minimum of ambiguity. But articulating that thought made me realize that this is not necessarily the opposite of metaphor. In fact, the demonstration of scientific findings to nonexperts through models and simulation does seem to be to contain some of the stuff of metaphor. And in that sense, Ms. Armanttrout is right: scientists could benefit from a fluency in meatphor to express their concepts better outside the fraternity of technogists.

I have drafted a Grade 6-8 program called "Poetry and Science" in which I use science concepts as poem starters and exercises. This simple statement has me thinking I could also go the other way: Start with language that captures a nugget of a scientific concept and have students expand on it, seeing if they get close to the law described or not, and discussing what the process teaches about separating "fact" from "idea" in the poem.


Monday, December 03, 2007

Salmon Revives the Poem of the Week

Jessie Lendennie's mailing list came back to life this week with a sample from the newly released Salmon: A Journey in Poery 1981 - 2007. I discovered Salmon searching for the poems of Ray Bradbury a while back and am glad the Salmon Poem of the Week is active again.

Salmon Poetry (not to be confuse with salmony poetry) is primarily a publisher of contemporary Irish Poetry, though as the Bradbury book confirms, they are open to other authors writing in English, and they have an Advice for Writers page that's pretty good as a refernce for beginners.

This week's poem, celebrating the new anthology is "The Day The Horizon Disappeared", by Nadya Aisenberg:

Cast out, flung to the furthest rim of neediness,
then caught there in the branches of the danger tree,
where meaning dwells, out of reach, attached
on its green stem at the very edge of dreaming,
a sign repeating itself through branches
surging in air. Wind surrounds and blows through us.
And whose hand is tearing strips from the sky,
And whose hand will seed wild grasses
on the worn nap of the threadbare world?

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Thoughts on the way back from the Post Office

Why are they removing the stamp machine?

Do people really buy their envelopes standing in line to send their mail?

Did I spell the editor's name right?

Wow, the Christmas stamps are of questionable artistic merit this year.

Did that guy really expect his Hummer to fit in that spot?

Wait a minute -- I just entered a chapbook contest! What did I do?!?!

Hey, look - a Twix bar!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

What I keep forgetting

"A poet's pleasure is to withhold a little of his meaning, to intensify by mystification. He unzips the veil from beauty, but does not remove it."(E. B. White)

This was a recent Poetry Calendar page, and it comes at a good time, reminding me of an important variable to consider in the final selection of poems for the chapbook contest (deadline Saturday!) that I've finally decided to enter. Fewer qualms about this submission than past ones, as it's a contest that gives me a better "in" than most contests, but I've set expectations to - 0 - as usual.

This is an interesting challenge for the writer who has technical writing among their other disciplines (eg: as their day job) - to be able to move seamlessly from the necessarily complete to the delibertely incomplete. Jeff and Jeannine have credentials that suggest it is possible, so I have hope.

Anyway, check back in Monday and see if I made it to the post office!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Twas Brillig... Good Grief!

How have I never noticed Lewis Carroll and Charles Schulz share a birthday? Surely this means something. I have always loved and recited Jabberwocky, and I've quoted Peanuts almost constantly since grade school (don't tell anyone, though, lest my apparent wisdom be diminished).

Nah, you're right probably means nothing at all.

Friday, November 23, 2007

In Which I Admit I'm a Turkey But Move On Past Thanksgiving Regardless...

Geez, another month off for me. I sense a new year's resolution coming on. Anyway. Things of note?

My kids have been getting a long introduction to the fine art of storytelling listening to two of the best: Joseph Bruchac and Dovie Thomason. I've heard both at the Dodge and find them to be outstanding at their craft. It's really quite remarkable to see the impact good storytelling can have with a creative child.

The kids have also been working on what may be the best project ever at school. Every two months, they (essentially) have to "scrapbook" two pages of poetry. It can be original or researched, and the only rule is it can't all come from "The Internet". The one rule is, I guess, encouragement not be lazy in research; there wasn't any risk of that in this house. We're having a great time with it. I'm late in joining in, but I think starting in December, I'll join them and use this space as my scrapbook.

Me, well, busy with new stuff on the day job and recently completed a couple of family projects of some importance, so the usual comment of "many good excuses" applies. However, I've also found time to weed the manuscript down for chapbook contest submission with a December 1 deadline in mind. It's in the "settling stage", where I leave it in the briefcase for a couple days undisturbed and hope it still feels done when I look at it again Sunday. I'll let you know then.

Oh, and you should definitely read Matthew Baldwon's consiedarion of the point of giving thanks.

Condifential to the radical left: Permit yourself to remember the joys while others ritualize the sorrows. This is the gift you are best poised to bring.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Gastroanomintime for Christmas!

Hurray! James Lileks' new book, Gastroanomalies, is being released in time for Christmas, and can be preordered now for early December deliveries. If you haven't read The Gallery of Regrettable Food, Interior Desecrations, or Mommy Knows Worst, you are the poorer for it. There are some online samples of those first two books - revivals of bad 50's cookbooks and the best (by which I mean the worst) of 70's living rooms - on Lileks' website - go read them, then go order the books!

Not convinced? Here's the intro from Interior Desecrations' online adjunct ("Horrible Homes from the Brass Age of American Design")

Sweet smokin’ Judas, what were they thinking? Welcome back to Interior Desecrations, a brutal examination of the unlovely, unattractive, unlivable and unforgivable homes of the 1970s. All eras have some bad taste, of course – but it took the 70s to make bad taste triumphant and universal. It took the 70s to convince everyone to stick foil wallpaper on the wall, paint the bathtub purple, smother the floors in shag so deep it tickled the tops of your ankles, and hang art that managed to clash with everything, including itself. I mean, look at this picture – what is that? A dissected Rubiks’s Cube attempts to threaten a potted plant and his child, I guess. Love the rug, too. They didn’t even make AMC cars in those color combinations. They didn’t dare.

Don't tell me you don't want to see the photo that inspired this. You know you do.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Where Does The Time Go When It's Not Around Here?

(apologies to the great Barenaked Ladies for appropriating one of their myriad brilliant lines)

Oh, good gracious, My posting habits have led me deep into Jets Country now: well beyond the point of excuses. What's been going on:

The Spoken Word Series continues. If you're near Hoboken this Sunday, please join me at Symposia Bookstore at 3PM to hear from the prolific and talented Kate Greenstreet. This will be my first live hosting appearance of the season; my gracious co-host Siobhan Barry-Bratcher has handled the first two installments. The February reading will mark year seven for us. I hear that's an accomplishment; regardless of others' opinions, I know I'm proud to have gotten this far.

Would love to say I've been voraciously reading and spewing poems by the ream, but that would be complete salmon. I have been working on a project that combines several sides of my pu-pu-platter of a personality, but I shan't discuss that here yet for fear of releasing its energy.

And finally, I happened across an online copy of one of my favorite poems, Meg Kearney's "Creed". This poem, which according to Meg was inspired by a similar idea from Jack Wiler, was one of the key bits of kindling in the ultimate revival of my college writing hobby. Read this poem and then spend a few quite minutes letting it settle over you. I hope it does for you what it did for me, and does again every time I read it.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Sonnet of the Strong Safety

"Sport is not considered art. Instead, it is invariably dismissed as something lesser — even something rather more vulgar — than the more traditional performance activities."

Really exceptional piece by the great Frank Deford today asking why sport isn't considered an art, or at least a field of study for students who wish to become expert. I'm still processing my opinion, but I think it's a great question. Especially when you think of how cerebral some sports have become, the way that understanding of probability and of prowess have become inextricably linked - especially when you think of the volume of study that goes into understanding of techniques and methods for both coaching and training, I think there's a valid question here. No, I'm not saying every student athlete should be permitted to take courses like "Linebacking 101", but that there may be a field of study behind all the sweat.

Having had success as an instructor and coach in both technological and artistic endeavor, and understanding first hand the disdain instructors on each side have had for the "softness" of the curriculum on the other, I'm open to the idea that there's a football curriculum waiting to be designed.

Maybe it will even explain how coaches who haven't seen a sonnet since tenth grade can use phrases like "poetry in motion" to explain the grace of a wide receiver at the apex of his leap, mean it as the highest of compliments, then tell their students poetry is for dweebs...

Saturday, October 06, 2007

A little good press...

... about the Spoken Word Series, courtesy of The Current.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

A Geekity Gold Mine

In a spare moment this week I was looking for online instructions for the Faber-Castell slide rule inherited from my father (which replaced the junior version he gave me when I was 6), and I happened across (by way of the unaffiliated MoHPC) the online repository the HP Journal - a magazine presenting the technological advances produced by the scientists and engineers at that illustrious company. Few companies have been as successful as HP has over the years at reducing to practice (which isn't quite the same thing as innovating, just as technology isn't the same thing as science - but I digress) and if you're at all interested in the technological advances of the past 40 years, you MUST go look through these great journals.

My favorite find so far: an interview with the team lead for the development of the first "electronic calculator", discussing the industrial design requirements to keep the device "pocket sized", and how it "would eventually be competitive" with the slide rule despite its $395 price tag.

That's 395 in 1973 dollars, by the way.

The same page also provides access to the Digital journal, which takes me back to being thrown out of my high school's computer lab because sophomores couldn't be trusted at the PDP-11 terminals; that privilege was reserved for seniors. Good times, good times....

Thanks to the Hewlett-Packard company for making these available.

And yes, I am this big a nerd, and I can still use my slide rule a little. Don't believe me? Multiplication: C over D, cursor on C, read on D. So there.

Anyone up for a little Reverse Polish Poetry?

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

I just need a minute...

Someone get FPA on the line, and see what he thinks of Tom Glavine.

This is the greatest of September swoons
Somebody wake up The Mets
Looking for pitchers? Hire some baboons -
That just might wake up The Mets
Ruthlessly rushing like men late for dinner
Acting like Marlins are saints, Mets the sinners
Somehow converting the Phils into winners
Oh just shut up 'bout my Mets.

(With apologies to Tinker, Evers, and Chance and their claim to fame, I think this verse is of roughly the same quality as Jose Reyes' final at bat this year.)

Like Willie, I will be back next year, but oh Sweet Myrtle how this one hurts.

Thank Heaven I have Gang Green to root for now. That should keep me occupied until Halloween.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Wisdom from Parker and Hood

Smile, and the World will smile back at you;
Aim with a grin and you cannot miss;
Laugh off your woes, and you won't feel blue.
(Poetry pays when it's done like this.)

Reading Not Much Fun - The lost poems of Dorothy Parker, which after a quick thumbing seems more interesting for its abbreviated biography than Parker's poems. But she had a great gift for pun, which (for me) is always worth a closer look.

Great dialog about "giving up writing" over at first draft. I'm not really enough of a writer to be taken seriously when I propose to give it up, but the writers engaged in discussion in that corner of the world have some insights you might be interested in.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Two weeks later, the phone rings....

Oy. Just when you feel like you've got time to pick up a book.

Numerous good things this weekend if you're puttering around NJ looking for poetry:

George Witte and Tina Kelley are reading at 1978 Maplewood Arts Center on Friday night.

Opposite them, unfortunately, Joel Allegretti relaunches the North Jersey Literary Series at Blend Cafe in Rutherford (note courtesy of the never-idle John J. Trause, who also support poetry at the Williams Center). Of course, you could catch George and Tina and still make Joel's late set

And just in case this isn't enough poetry for one weekend, spend Saturday at the Warren County Poetry Festival. Linda Pastan, Kurtis Lamkin.... something for everyone, guaranteed.

As for me, I need to get to the TV immediately...

Saturday, September 15, 2007

A Word From My Inner Ed Sullivan

One marvelous thing about hosting the Spoken Word Series is that I get a chance to meet some extraordinary artists and to have them play for a moment in my sandbox (they bring their own sand, of course, and take it with them when they leave, but now I've completely shattered what was once a promising metaphor).

Anyway, there have been a couple times - just a couple - when the series has been a small part of a truly remarkable artistic moment, and I heard recently from visual artist Nancy Tobin of the continuing momentum of one of those moments.

Last year, due to that magical combination of serendipity and familial obligation (just kidding!), we were able to host a collaboration between Nancy and the great Jerome Rothenberg as part of the Visible Word, an annual event at which we select visual artists and solicit new ekphrastic (sp?) poetry in response to their art. That collaboration is now available in a beautiful edition through SPD, and their joint work is also part of an exciting anthology called "Viz Inter-arts Event A Trans-genre Anthology".

By the way, not only are these terrific pieces of verbal and visual art for to have on my shelf. Also, for me, these books will be reminders of having had the chance to meet and work with Nancy and Jerome, who were just phenomenally friendly and accommodating throughout the process. I don't mean to imply that my offer of a stage and some wall space was essential to their creations. But I respect the legacy of the Really Big Shoeman enough to know how special it is to be there at those great moments in the arts. Even if all you do is recite the names and step to the left.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Mister Congeniality

Another pleasant and encouraging rejection this week, with a request to try the journal again. I appreciate these notes. I do believe that even form rejections come in flavors - the "What were you thinking?" variety through the "This guy gets it, but just missed" kind, and my most recent rejections were of the latter sort. I have a goal of having two submissions pending at all times, and this last flush brings me back down to one, so it's time to fire the engine back up. I do have to packages to prepare for editors who have requested specific poems they've heard me read - but I'm not letting myself consider those submissions, since even the nicest editors (and these two are just tops in the nice department) don't ask for what they don't want. Back to the portfolio.

Interestingly, both these recent rejected packages contained poems that had once before received the "You're so close..." rejection once previously, and now I'm thinking that my whole body of work tends to fit this description. Maybe it's time to take a serious look at the last couple years' production with this thought in mind. I wonder.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Watch the Watch

Spent a lot of time in traffic with my cousins yesterday and - as tends to happen with this bunch - a joke-telling fest was called for. Usually, I find myself sitting back and laughing - I'm a fair storyteller, but don't have a memory or knack for jokes. As things got going, an old joke leaped out of my mental file cabinet and into the room. Happened again a short while later. And when we had a quiet time a few minutes following I realized the connection between the jokes was that my father had told me them both. And a minute after that I looked down at my wrist, at the tuxedo watch I took from my father's jewelry box after he passed away. First time I had worn the watch (at least in a couple years), first time I remembered any jokes during joke time (at least in a couple years).

No, I don't know what that means.

Confidential to Yonkers: My father says "Face it: This one, you hit right".

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Bits II (The Back From Vacation Version)

Just getting back from a week on the gulf coast of Florida, swimming, eating, (two words which interestingly can be easily combined into "sweating") and visiting some great local attractions (among which I do not include the surprisingly many street corners featuring early stumpers for Ron Paul). Didn't keep tabs on the blogroll while away, which seems to have been consistent with the plans of most of my listed-at-right writers.

Some things to regain my momentum for the coming months:

Saturday, August 18, 2007


I've been wholly preoccupied with work and my fantasy baseball team (trade deadline 19 August!), but here are a few things to add to your background noise:

  • Looks like the new 5AM just arrived at VerseDaily. Kelli Agodon had a terrific poem from 5AM featured there yesterday, and today's selection is also from that journal. Well done, Kelli.
  • Ray Bradbury has a new book coming out in a couple weeks: It's shorter work (two novellas), which I think is the form that suits him best - I have all his short stories on my shelf, and I'll be adding this one in short order.
  • Have I talked here the new season of the Spoken Word Series yet? Gabrel Welsch? Kate Greenstreet? Timothy Liu? David Tucker? Local artists Catherine Magia and Scott Summers and Walking English? I've always been proud of our presentations (and of still being alive as a series going into our 7th year), but this year we've set a new standard for diversity of voices without sacrificing talent bit. This hear I'm joined by cohost Siobhan Barry-Bratcher in delivering the verbal arts to Hoboken.
  • I've got two of my poems picked out for the Deb Ager Stanztember Challenge (I'll keep suggesting names until you tell me to stop!). In good faith, I will admit I have their openings lines in memory already from frequent quoting, but I won't store anything else until Labor Day - to be compliant with what I imagine the rules to be.

Well, that does it for freebrain time for this week. Be seein' ya.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The Gift of No

Just received a great rejection from kaleidowhirl. Editor Cynthia Reynolds referred to one the poems I'd submitted and commented "{name deleted} is very close to what I am seeking for kaleidowhirl; I welcome your submissions during future reading periods."

This was a stretch submission for me, and I don't mind the rejection at all when it comes with feedback like this. It came in 4 weeks and contained guidance and encouragement. What more can you ask for? An uncommented acceptance would actually be less satisfying. Well, maybe...

If you haven't been there, give kaleidowhirl a read, including the abcdarium of wordplay and other resources and links there.

Thank you, Cynthia. I look forward to your next issue, and I'll be trying you again.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

I will assume that by now you are familiar with the Funky Winkerbean storyline about the recurrence of Lisa's breast cancer. Lisa has had quite the life in this strip, from her teenage pregnancy and the giving up of that child to adoption to her reunion and union with Les to her first bout with the illness that (it has been announced) will claim her this autumn. And if you have a newspaper of any size that still has a decent Comics section, you probably have had at least one article like this one from my local paper.

There are a couple issues to tease out here, and I think they have direct relevance to poetry, and poetry manuscripts in particular.

First, the gut response that "this isn't a subject for the comics". I think this is an emotional reaction that expresses a personal use of the comics: as pure escape. It's certainly fair not to want your flight of fancy tinged with tragedy. However, it is equally unfair to hold an entire art form accountable for one's own purposes. Yes, there are comic strips that are pure whimsy. There are also poets that tend toward pure whimsy (
Ogden Nash comes to mind). But I'm surprised that people who object to the presence of the unfunny in the comics consider themselves "traditionalists", ignoring the difficulties presented in "serious" strips like Mary Worth, The Phantom, and Prince Valiant (a personal favorite).

Which leads us to point two: you should enjoy the comics you enjoy, and I will enjoy the comics I enjoy. Neither of us should feel the need to tell our newspapers to take the other's comics away. How is it a reasonable response to tell a publisher not to serve someone else? There is an intelligent position here, one already practiced by many papers six days week with Doonesbury: Put the subject comic in appropriate context. Doonesbury runs on the editorial page in most papers in this area.

So what’s the application to poetry and poetry manuscripts? First: The simple getting over of what’s “appropriate for poetry”. Diane Lockward recently blogged about an expectation of niceness in poetry that some people have. That needs to be gotten over – anything can be the subject of a poem. I could personally stand to see fewer about death and George Bush, but that’s my preference.

And preference is how we get to context. A manuscript – generally – has a consistency to it. A tone, if not a theme, though I tend to prefer thematically linked books (or collections with some good narrative sequences, at least). Within the manuscript, a poem that’s way off on theme or tone can disrupt the experience of the collection in a way that subtracts from its value – even if the offending poem is itself good! That’s my issue with some poets’ later collections – they mix their experiments into the pages in a way I have trouble enjoying – and it’s my sole complaint against the newspapers running the Lisa’s Cancer story. My complaint’s not with Funky Winkerbean writer Tom Batiuk, but with the editors who haven’t adjusted to his content. It’s a different collection – not part of the one it’s stuck in with now.

But then who reads the comics any more anyway (wait, there’s another similarity to poetry…..)

Monday, July 30, 2007

Jersey Writing Stuff (Non-Fiction)

Newspapers may be going the way of the mammoth, but I happen to live in a zone with a pretty good one. What's more, the columnists of my local Newark Star-Ledger are beginning to establish a credible presence in the 'sphere.

Stephen Whitty, the terrific film reviewer and columnist who has read for the Spoken Word Series, has always been very interactive with his readers, but now has a blog that accelerates those interactions into a real dialog. I'm not as much of a filmgoer as I used to be (though that's starting to change as the kids become suitable viewing partners), but I find his reviews extremely well-crafted and enjoyable even when all I know of a movie is its television hype. His profiles of film stars are great reading.

It helps to be interested in NJ politics, but even if you're not you'll appreciate the craft in Paul Mulshine's columns and now in his blog. Mulshine is a devout Parrothead (if a non-member of the following may be permitted to use the word) and defender of the sanity and responsibility of the individual in NJ, and his essays are infused with cultural, political, and personal insight.

They're not blogging -- yet -- but the columns of Kathleen Shea and Kathleen O'Brien (the Jersey one, not the Texas one or any of the others that lurk beneath the surface of Google search) are available at the site, and if you're not as fortunate as I to live within their circulations, I really encourage you to stop by. The former Kathleen's Bad Mother Reports have a tremendous following (ardent enough to get people to a reading in Hoboken who had never attended a live reading OR been to Hoboken!), and she's great fun to work with. The latter can wander anywhere from behavioral evolution in society to next-stall celluar etiquette. Wait, that's pretty much the same thing, isn't it?

I have been tending toward non-fiction (the historical sort) in most of my non-poetry leisure reading for about a year, and I've really come to appreciate good practitioners (because there are some awful ones - particularly executing parenting and 20th century history books). These four writers are consistently good, entertaining and insightful, and I recommend them, their still-fine newspaper, and their burgeoning web presences to you.

Next up: Weighing in on the weight of the comics. Sneak preview: The only rational argument also applies to editing an anthology or your own manuscript.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Welcome, Diane!

Diane Lockward - excellent poet, organizer of one of the best poetry events in NJ, and generous supporter of the writing communities she has helped develop through her teaching - has joined the blogosphere.

She was reluctant at first, noting: "I resisted in the past, thinking blogging was perhaps a waste of time and perhaps a bit self-indulgent. Maybe it is. But I've also realized lately that a blog is a good way of joining the larger community of poets."

I think she's right on all counts. And I'm sure she will have something to add to the mix.

Coincidentally, Poetic Asides chose this week to post an excerpt from the 2008 Poet's Market interview with 5 poet-bloggers with some guidance on how poets might want to approach blogging. The good news is, their list contains at least one piece of advice to support just an any approach Diane (or any of us!) should choose.

Please welcome Diane with a visit. The link is to your right.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Publishers, Is This What You Really Think of Fathers?

OK. I have come to accept that the "Poetry" section in most commercial bookstores is going to contain the works of Jewel, Shakespeare, Maya Angelou, and two local authors. But I also accept that - for the most part - contemporary poetry is a limited-appeal art form and a bit of an acquired taste. As a pledge to the fraternity of the word, I feel comfortable admitting this aloud.

But parenting? Is there really an acquired taste for being a good parent? An attentive spouse and caregiver? My local paper recently ran a microreview - a positive microreview - of something called "Dad's Own Housekeeping Book" (Link deliberately omitted). Author David Bowers is a stay-at-home Dad and in general seems to be a creator of useful books, and I hope he won't take this personally, but:

Oh, please.

I'm sure it's filled with useful advice (to be fair, I'm reacting to the review, not the book), but how many more books do we need that assume male parents haven't progressed past Ricky Ricardo? The publisher's description of the book (via opens with "Just because you’re born with a “Y” chromosome doesn’t excuse you from cleaning the bathroom, especially in this day and age when time’s at a premium and partners have to be, well, partners." Excuse me, but which of us knuckle-dragging cavemen in the 45 and under category hasn't been living this since we first dropped to one knee?

Maybe my ire is misdirected. What I'm really aggravated about is when friends anticipating their first blessed event turn to me for resources (knowing my first approach to just about anything is to acquire baseline knowledge and the right vocabulary), and I have just the one suggestion: Armin Brott. Don't get me wrong - Brott's books are pretty good, and I learned much from each of them (except for some of the deliberate redundancies of Father for Life). But are these really the only books available that don't assume that we (fathers) are stupid, reluctant, incompetent, depressed, belligerent, or some appalling combination of these? Maybe I'm missing the forest here, but for every "Be Prepared: A Practical Handbook for New Dads", I see 6 "Keeping the Baby Alive till Your Wife Gets Home: The Tough New 'how-to' for 21st Century Dads". I mean, even the (presumably) well-intentioned anthology Fatherhood displays a dismal lack of awareness by including Plath's "Daddy". I'm not looking for pollyanish, sunshine-and-saccharine treatments, just ones that don't think me an imbecile, a jerk, or a monster. Isn't there market for a book about caring, positive, literate fathering experience?

Are there good books out there I just haven't found? Or is this my call to arms? Or, more accurately, to pencils?

Thursday, July 19, 2007

RIP Sekou Sundiata

I am very surprised at the degree to which reading of Sekou Sundiata'a passing struck me just now, and I'm trying to understand it. I was introduced to his work at the first Dodge festival I attended, and I had a chance last year to sit in on a couple of his smaller events. People have been referring to him as a "performance poet", and he certainly was that - in his craft discussion, he mentioned that he tended to want to produce a CD, not a book, when he was compiling his poems. But when I asked him what might be different about writing for the ear as opposed to the page (which is how I interpreted his comment), he gently pushed back on my assumption. He clearly wanted his work to be an experience in print or in person - an event no matter how it was encountered - he just seemed to think of the CD as the way he would present the work first.

He had a quiet but forceful presence at the microphone, the kind that for me that makes clear the distinction between confidence and arrogance. Arrogance says "I have had these experiences and I know things better than you and I will tell you them now. Sit down and listen." Confidence says "I have had these experiences and I'm going to talk for a while now. You might want to listen." His presence was augmented by a great set of pipes - the kind of effortless bass that baritones with aspirations of C like me can't help but envy.

I've been looking for links to audio files of some of what he presented in his Dodge appearances so I can talk more about how he adjusted his work in real time, and how the crowd began to create our own rhythms in response to his, but I can't find them. Maybe later.

In the meantime, here are a few links. If you never heard him speak, find some audio below and give a listen. You won't be disappointed. I'm going to go stick Longstoryshort in the player and close my eyes.

Some links:

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Expanding Your Sources

I came to my current marginlly serious approach to writing by a circuitous path. While I've always played with words (my earliest "serious" effort being a novella penned in the fourth grade about a villanous plot to make Mars invisible to the Earth for nebulous and never-detailed nefarious purposes). But I was always more active as both participant and practitioner in other art forms. I've been a chorus and band performer in since first grade, played the accordion since the 4th (more bands, but as a serious solo for the first time, acted in and directed plays and conducted musicals since high school, and devoured books of all genres for as long as I can remember - including those 4 glorious summer of commuting into Manhattan, where I averaged 2 books a week (one I particularly remember was Ed Koch's Mayor - not to date myself or anything...).

My point is this: my poetry today is heavily influenced by sources other than poetry. If you surf the body of my work, you'll of course find weak echoes of
Stevens, Frost and Williams, and some more contemprary influences as well. But you might also detect the influence of Loesser's lyrics, any number of prose authors of any period (Twain, Bradbury and Zelazny, to form one non-obvious group), and one I'm often surprised to find myself turning toward, Woody Allen.

If you only know Allen from his movies (or worse, from his more recent, more average movies), you are avoiding the company of brilliance. He has a new book of essays out, his first since 1980, which I'm going to pounce on this week.


Having always been enjoyed books, plays, and movies in that order, I first came upon Allen in a copy of Side Effects stolen out of my Uncle Frank's bedroom when I was 13. That copy has since been stolen from me, which makes a sort of sense. But I still have my Without Feathers, which has any number of examples of how all great writing has elements that poets can learn from.

Excellent poems are often built around phrasing which is both unexpected and perfect. As in this line, opening "The Early Essays (On Seeing a Tree in Summer)": "Of all the wonders of nature, a tree in summer is perhaps the most remarkable, with the possible exception of seeing a moose sing "Embraceable You" in spats".

What I love about that line is how it starts in ordinaryness (banality, even), and wrenches you to someplace completely different and unanticipated. We can debate whether it's funny (I know, Mother, I know), but there's no debating its originality and craft.

Another example: Allen's names are designed to dive through the ear and create tangible and complete characters by the end of the sentences in which they are introduced. Names like "Sir Osgood Mulford Twelge" and "Kaiser Lupowitz" seem to come with headshots attached.

The point is that Allen is brilliant at dropping you someplace you could not have anticipated. It may not be taking the top of your head off, but remember what Mr. Allen had to say about another of Ms. Dickinson's quotes: "How wrong Emily Dickinson was! Hope is not "the thing with feathers". The thing with feathers has turned out to be my nephew. I must take him to that specialist in Zurich."

NOTE: All quotes are from Woody Allen's Without Feathers, 1975 edition. Also stolen from my Uncle Frank.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

I don't know how long they've been around, but Writer's Digest has a number of pretty active blogs now. Seems the poetry one is pretty new, with posts from Nancy Breen and Robert Lee Brewer from the WD Books cast list. I discovered Poetic Asides through a comment made over at Jeannine's place and visited with some trepidation. I gave up on WD a little over a year ago, when it became clear to me that their opinion of meaningful poetry content wasn't aligning with mine (also when Nancy Kress's contributions became less frequent).

It's early, of course (though relative posting rates being what they are, Poetic Asides will have reached the word count of this humble establishment before summer's end), but I think it shows some promise. I think anyone who frequents one or more of the poet's blogs at right will find the content a little light at first (the concept of the spam prompt, for example, are quite old to established poet-bloggers), but remember these blogs aren't for the established "blogosphere", they're for WD aficionados learning what blogs are and are not, what they are capable of and who they can reach.

Which leads me to a question. Many of us began the discovery our voices through relentless imitation. Some of those imitations must have, at times, found a way to an audience (publication, workshop, friend-of-a-friend), and that audience may not have recognized the imitation. For example, a good hunk of my early work aspires to be After Apple-picking or Birches. But a good hunk of my "immediate audience", having a knowledge of Frost that ended at the edge of the woods, therefore learned of the original through my works. Is that bad? Does it mean my work is less meaningful? Less useful? Sure, to one "schooled in the art" my work brought nothing new, but for some people, my work was the key to deeper knowledge of Frost. And to me, those same poems were the apprentice work that helped me hone my sense of rhythm, of sound, of line, etc. that have become something of my own voice.

So: Imitation of the past greats: good or bad? Useful? If so, to whom? Does it deserve positive, negative, or no attention from those who discover it? Enthusiastically joining the blog party without deep, knowledge of what earlier-arriving guests brought with them: good or bad? Useful? If so, to whom? Does it deserve positive, negative, or no attention from those who discover it?

My answer: Poetic Asides may bring new readers the long way around to the places Ron Silliman et al have been working in for years. It will definitely add a new voice, even while it searches through what came before looking for a place to settle in.

(Quick aside, poets only): first submission in almost 2 years went out yesterday. Got any luck you feel like sharing?

(Another quick aside, SF fans only): If you haven't already, go read the July Asimov's - Nancy Kress's novella is terrific.

(Final quick aside: computer nerds only): Any idea why Blogger is resisting accepting a title for this post?

Wednesday, July 04, 2007


Independence from a tyrannical June, that is. A difficult month for a number of reasons which, for tradition's sake, I will not detail here. So. Draw a little picket fence (which is what we used do to between frames of a really bad line of bowling to indicate a fresh start - when we kept score with pencils, that is. Remember those terrific overhead scoring "systems" where you wrote with a nice soft pencil on an acetate and projected it overhead? But I digress...) and let's start this blog new.

Spent Independence Day at the Grover Cleveland Birthplace for their annual 4th of July Ice Cream Social. They really do a nice job - aside from the freezer for the ice cream and the guy on playing Mala Femmena on the synthesizer, they provide you the experience of a party they way it would have been when Cleveland was a boy. My kids rolled hoops, played marbles, enjoyed the game o graces, and dressed up in time-appropriate garb. A delightful afternoon overall.

During my hiatus (which clearly began long before I declared it here), it's occurred to me that I may be a sort of Ed Sullivan as regards the poetry world. After 20 years on and off and 6 years of serious pursuit, I'm confident to say that - even if my career someday shows me to be a B+ practitioner of the art myself - I have a good ear and sense of the craft, have realized some terrific luck recruiting some really fine poets to read in my series in Hoboken, have had some success "discovering" artists in some way. Case in point: the pairing of poet John J. Trause with painter Michael Filan in our Visible Word event. When the fruit of your ideas is good enough to get picked up by objective third parties, you gain a little confidence. And I am just as pleased to see my idea flourish in recognition for other artists as I am to have my own words recognized; in my mind this is one of the things that distinguishes managers and mentors. If you will: Confidence in the skills, independence from the ego.

Speaking of which, I won't have time this year for the annual watching of William Daniels' wonderful portrayal of John Adams in 1776. Good thing I have it memorized.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

This Here Little Unintentional Hiatus

Well, just in case anyone is still dropping in here from time to time, let the notion that I'll be posting meaningfully any time soon be gone from your head. June is shaping up to make May look like the slothful Sunday at the heart of a long weekend.

The corner deli ("Your source for Cosmic Liverwurst since 2003") will reopen on July 4th, which hopefully will signify my independence from some current time-consuming activities in addition to portending a sleepless evening for my kids and the delicious overnight smell of sulfur.

Among the things you have waiting for you upon our return:
  • Tidbits from the Celebration of NJ Journals
  • Upcoming publication news
  • Details on an exciting Spoken Word Series 07-08
  • Complaints about Bobby Abreu's batting average
Please partake of the menu selection to your right in the interim, make sure you stop by the home planet if that's not how you got here, and I'll see you soon.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

New Wordsey

At this Sunday's Celebration of NJ Literary Journals (plus a few neighbors), 24 poets will represent 12 magazines. And those so represented and representing will be:

For US 1 Worksheets: Wanda Praisner, Nancy Scott
For Exit 13: Adele Kenny, John Larkin
Mad Poets Review: Autumn Konopka, Rachel Bunting
For Heliotrope: Cindy Savett, Michael T. Young
For Journal of New Jersey Poets: Sandra Duguid, Alison Nguyen
For Lips: Stanley Barkan, Jim Gwyn

For New York Quarterly: Peter Arcese, Ira Joe Fisher
For Painted Bride Quarterly: Nicole Hefner, Sanjana Nair
Tiferet: Priscilla Orr, Edwin Romond
For Home Planet News: Roberta Gould, Robert Milby
Edison Literary Review: Madeline Tiger, David Vincenti
Paterson Literary Review: Svea Barrett, Joe Weil

And yes, it's THAT Ira Joe Fisher.

More links if I get a chance, which means probably not.

But come anyway!

Friday, May 11, 2007

In which we get to the point

Shanna Compton has a very good essay up at

The severalth annual Celebration of NJ Journals is coming up soon.

The talented and generous Maria Gillan has a new book out.

The next season of Spoken Word Series will be announced next Friday. Smaller? Yes. More power per unit poet? Geeky, but guaranteed.

This weekend is Mother's Day. Go
here for ideas, but skip the Plath.

Back to regularity soon.

Friday, April 20, 2007

In Which We Offer a Random Assortment of Things Which Have Occurred To Us But Which We Have Not Had Time To Trim To A Length Shorter Than This Title.

As usual, many good excuses for my absence. As usual, I will keep them to myself. Stuff:
  • I hereby declare May to be NaProPoMo (National Procrastinating Poets' Month). Not that I'm procrastinating per se, but that's when I'll get some time to execute my poem-a-day thing. Look at it this way: I'm challenging myself to complete one more poem than all the folks who actually did their thing on time.
  • Even though I haven't really done anything with PoWriMo yet, I did say I would get a draft up "soon" (geologically speaking). Well, here:

(Sorry, Deleted)

  • Just in case you're interested to know what I do with all that time I'm not writing poems (when I'm not spending it with my family, of course), let me mention that I'll be presenting in the poster session at the Project Management Institute of New Jersey's symposium on Sustainable Project Management on May 7. I'll have a great handout describing a simple tool you can use to assess the sustainability of an individual's contribution to your PM talent pool. Be sure and say hi when you stop by, all you project-managing poets, you.
  • No, I haven't given up on my chess thesis. But I have been playing a lot of chess against the computer, and I remain convinced my position will hold water once I articulate it. Whenever that turns out to be.
  • Recently heard from the always-impactful Meg Kearney that the Solstice Summer Writers’ Conference is still accepting applications. Poetry instructors are Naomi Ayala, Kurt Brown, Cornelius Eady, A. Van Jordan. Go sign up now.

That's my 8 minutes of on-line time for tonight. More to come, approximately soonish.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

All out of Sprynch

Spring/Synch, get it? Snow all over my yard, but it's spring, and that's a great analogy for how I'm managing my time right now?

Yeah, that's about how organized my writings are at the moment. Which is why I haven't posted my chess/poetry thesis again. Tom's comments deserve a response that has been decently proofread.

Anyway, this doesn't mean good things aren't happening.

I've also got my manuscript distilled to pithy chapbook form for spring deadlines (and am understanding its weaknesses more now), I have the 07-08 season of the series in Hoboken just about booked, and have actually transcribed my "notebook" (a tape recorder I usually do my composing on) for the first time in 6 months. So there's stuff, just not organized enough to tell you about today. I'm even feeling up to posting a draft next time. Just to see how good Jeannine's mood really is (Just kidding!).

See you next weekend.

Friday, March 16, 2007

I guess she knows the old man's a poet?

So we're sitting in the living room doing a Mad Lib with one of the kids scribing. We go around and around with the nouns and the numbers until she asks her mother for an adverb. Mommy hesitates for the slightest of instants, and the little one jumps in with "That's OK. Daddy can do that one."

Needless to say, Mommy came up with an adverb.

And now if you'll excuse me, I'm off for some upside-down hog with snuggled cream.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

I haven't wandered off...

... but I haven't had time for much reprocessing, and Tom's got me thumbing the chess books I've never actually read. I will get back to my parallels between chess and poetry - I still think they're there, but I want to reformulate my explanation, but in the meantime, please amuse yourselves with this terrific post over at Defective Yeti on the revitalizing of cliches.

The post was made sweeter for me when I saw David Lamotte's name - David, who does not live near me, was one of the first unexpected audience members to follow a link or an add to a Spoken Word Series event in Hoboken. He's a gifted songwriter, and he read a lyric of his "The Water's Gonna Win" as a poem in our open mic period, and it was good stuff.

The small world at work. Back soon.

Friday, February 23, 2007

The exchange before midpoem

Well, Tom's got me reprocessing this theory before I've even exchanged a pawn for a participle, but let's continue.

In chess, the transition from opening to midgame is marked by an exchange of pieces, intitiated by the sacrifice of a piece for the purpose of clearing out and ultimately assuming a controlling posture toward (though not necessary controlling position in) the middle of the board. It is marked by the beginning of development of more powerful pieces for use in midgame.

Before we get to the development of the powerful pieces, let's discuss the transition, the exchange. How is this akin to writing poems? My contention is that more successful poems tend to operate from a vulnerable position - confessional exposure being the most obvious and most overused. If you're willing to think ahead with me and anticipate that a good poem has to leave itself open in anticipation of a surprise somewhere in it (like a well-played chess game will at some point deviate from mere parroting of the great players), then the first transition of that poem is the conscious direction that creates the opportunity for surprise. The sacrifice of a bishop to radically and blatantly disrupt the center defenses may be similar to the driving home of the poem's idea through a repetition of word and image.

Or, maybe, the transition is the deliberate clearing of the space around the poem's opening that makes taking it in a new direction possible. On the chess board, this could be exchange of pawns and knights that leaves the middle empty for the queen to take over. In the poem, this is discarding of the details not central to the poem's thesis that leave the metaphor available for detail and embellishment.

Just like the meaning of a chess move can only be interpreted in the context of the style of the player, the meaning of a poetry development can only be interpreted in the context of the style of the poet. Similarly, a single poet's/player's style can change from poem/game to poem/game.

Next up: me bouncing off your comments.
Following that: Midpoem.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Poetry Like Chess: The Opening

(Disclaimer: By objective standards, I qualify as "advanced amateur" in both poetry and chess)

Accept for this discussion that a
chess game develops in a series of known phases: The opening, the midgame and the endgame, with definable transitions between each phase pair. I know some will resist this idea, but this is really not a bad analog for a poem. Poems require compelling openings, precise and developing middles, and impactful (or at least calculated) endings.

Though poetry has the advantage over chess in number of potential openings, it is greatly similar in one way: a wildly unconventional opening portends either genius or the beginning of an unpredictable uneven ride.

Let us take "opening" in this case to mean "stage setting". On offense or defense in chess, a good player is thinking several moves ahead, positioning pieces not for where they need to be now, but where they need to be in the future. And anticipating where the opponent expects them to be and meeting that expectation in one of two ways: Either by presenting the opponent with something different, something surprising but still part of her plan, or by accepting the opponent's expectation, but with a level of preparedness that leaves no square of the board unaccounted for in its depth of planning.

Is this all that different than writing a poem? I know we want to believe that we follow the poem to where it wants to lead us, but I think this isn't entirely dissimilar from playing off a good opponent across the chess board. You have a plan, and you execute that plan, adjusting it continuously as you receive input and opposition. In the case of a poem, we often provide the input and opposition internally, maybe subconsciously, but we are reacting in real time to our own words as they develop on the page before us - the point at which they stop being our property and start belonging to the poem. It is that point at which they are most like the moves of our opponent on the chess board; even if we have anticipated their move perfectly, we are still reacting to it - choosing to keep with our plan or depart from it.

Some chess openings are accepted convention (Ruy Lopez,
Ponziani), some are more radical than others, and some require more skills (particularly those that develop the queen early). Again, here, this isn't all that different from the writing process: We can choose to employ standard, or favorite, or accepted openings, or ones that are challenge the reader (the opponent?) to play along with us. A good chess player will decide by the 4th move if the opponent has the skills to make the game competitive. How many times have you decided by the 4th line of a poem that it was not crafted with sufficient skill to be meaningful or useful to you? How many of your own poems have you tolerated past a weak 4th line, ignoring your own awareness that it was weak?

Understand I'm not saying that an unconventional opening, or an aggressive or challenging one is a bad thing - merely that it requires greater skill to pull off effectively. And that discarding convention merely as an act of anarchy is a sure way to lose the reader, and make the challenge of completing the poem very, very difficult.

If I can figure a way to do so meaningfully, next up will be examples. Down the road a piece is: Transition one: The first sacrifice.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Spam, Amy Holman, and Ruy Lopez

(wherein we celebrate Ms. Holman's return to the blogging world with a sincere but ridiculous title).

(1) Re: Spam, let me say that I have received my favorite bit of unsolicited kilobytes in quite some time. Apparently, an underintelligent bot, presumably through entries like this, has flagged me as a Dodge enthusiast.

Dear blog author:

We recently came across your site,, while searching for bloggers who blog about Dodge issues.

A small group of us have started a new site called">Dodge Bloggers . Our intent is to bring Dodge bloggers closer together, and make a positive contribution to the Internet community.

They do promise they will not "send this message (any) more than twice... intentionally". For the record, this is a Ford house, sir. At least until the next recall.

(2) Re: Amy Holman, a comment below and a fresh post over at Literadog lead me to believe that Amy is over computer issues and back to her infrequent but in-depth commentary on publications publishing. Her most recent commentary (on The Potmac Review) shows why we should value the opinion of this author and teacher so highly: she speaks with passion and intelligence on just about all literary fronts.

And (3) Re: Ruy Lopez, consider this, the opening gamibt (if you will) of my comparison between playing chcess and writing a poem: There are many ways to open a chess game. Most are conventional, and will take you to conventional gameplay if you let them. Some are unconventional, and will take you to game situations which can be fascinating or brutal - or both.

Get where I'm going, yet?

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Book Five: Anthologus Majorus

So I've been trying to decide on an anthology to end my little series of recommendations that people NOT intimate with the art of poetry should try. I keep coming back to Poetry 180, not necessarily because it's a great collection (it's pretty good), but because it seems to be the book most consistent with my purpose: To expose people who "like poetry but don't always get it" (the excuse I hear most often) to good work of a style or set of styles that they can appreciate at two levels: the first, sheer entertainment; the second, the emergence of the details of craft.

A poem like Gouge, Adze, Rasp, Hammer is first an interesting read, next a good springboard to talk about concretness of language. Cartoon Physics, Part 1 is a poem almost anyone can inhabit, but it's also a great vehicle to talk about how unique connection and observation is at the center of all good poems. The exposure to form is purposeful and obvious (to a poet), but it is not intimidating or didactic. It's not the reason most people stop reading poetry as high school sophomores.

180 More has better poems, I think, but they're smirkier. There are more inside jokes, more poems for poets to share with each other. The uninitiated can go from 180 to More, but I don't see More hooking them in the same way.

Looking back over my list, I'm satisfied that my recommendations are what I set out for them to be - good poems in collections that hang together well that kick open doors and encourage people to walk through them. I hope you approve.

Next up: had a short exchange with Jeff about (how I perceive) a similarity in attacking technical work and poetic work. I think that to say the two are somewhat dissimilar is fair. But to say that the two attacks share neither strategy nor tactics does disservice to both writing process and engineering innovation. I think I can sway you.

However, I don't think you, oh my 6 loyal readers, are disposed to that argument just yet. So next up is a transition point: Why writing good poetry is like playing chess well.

Anyone want to try to get in front of me on this one?

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Excuses, Shmexcuses...

Brief summary:

  • Holiday houseguests
  • unexpected project(s)
  • a four-day Christmas (typical)
  • unexpected project(s) for the Mrs.
  • 60% of the house sick with something (at least one double pink-eye sinus-infection whammy)
  • expected project(s)
  • Essential Love, 180 More, a pile of BAPs, et al. in a pile waiting for me to finish my little project.

I mean, really.

I'm online about 8 minutes a day right now, so if you're waiting for something from me, well... sorry. As a peace offering, here's a recent discovery that you'll enjoy if you share my interest in the writing process:

Be back soon.