Friday, November 25, 2011

From Poetry and Thanksgiving at Where Poetry Intersects

Today I am grateful for the life of a man I barely knew.

Fausto, a member of my parish, passed away this week at the age of 82. I knew him a little, which is to say I knew him at 9:00 mass, where he was an usher, and I am a lector. When my family first began attending this mass, I formed an instant opinion of him as a gentle but disagreeable sort - a curmudgeon in the most commonly-held sense of the word. He moved slowly, rarely smiled, and gave the smallest nods in response to greetings.

As most people do, we always sit in or near the same place at our regular mass, and as I got to know the people around us - long-time parishioners all, many older than us - in the same demographic as Fausto - I began to notice the greetings, silent and subtle, that passed among them as he would pass at the end of the communion line. I don't know if i ever saw him smile, but I surely saw my fellow parishioners smile as he passed and nodded, passed and whispered.

See the rest at

Friday, October 21, 2011

Poetry and Purpose (new at Where Poetry Intersects)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Poetry and Remembering (At Where Poetry Intersects...)

Sunday, September 04, 2011

... and Teaching (over at Where Poetry Intersects)

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Furnishing the New Place

Loyal readers, I'm migrating the content of this site to a new locale: Today's entry is (naturally) about the storm it its uniquely inspiring way. Do drop by!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

In which stuff I've been contemplating on long car rides comes bubbling out becuase it's been so frapping long since I logged in

{begin Mike Greenberg voice} and we're back and better than ever! {end Mike Greenberg voice}

A busy, good, frustrating, scary, wonderful month since last I checked in here. This is not a place where I discuss the business world, but no one associated with an American corporation can look at the events of the past month and not wonder a bit about the future. It is in times like this that we typically turn to our art for solace and encouragement, for a place to voice what we need to voice and hear what we need to hear. Which makes me a bit of a banana for having been separated from the art for a while.

Well, not really "separated". I haven't been separated from preparing on the new season of the Spoken Word Series in our new location. We've moved from Symposia Bookstore (where we spend 8 terrific years growing and thriving under the stewardship of the amazing folks there) to The Theater Company. We're giving up a location in which words literally surround you, and moving to one where performers can dial up the volume a bit. I've tried to reflect that a little in the choice of artists for the coming year, and as usual have tried to blend voices new to Hoboken with word artists who have visited us in the past. The first event will be Sunday October 2, and the whole season will be announced here and at The Theater Company in the coming weeks.

And not separated from my writing projects, per se, but rather in a different mode - a "research" mode, if you will. I've got two projects in the cooker right now - each focusing on heroes of mine in one way or another, and since I'm producing poems that actually are grounded in reality (in principle, anyway), I feel a responsibility to be aware of the truth. Note that I say "be aware of the truth", not "depict the truth faithfully"; I don't want to get caught in that same old trap of something needing to be true to matter to the reader, but neither do I care present a complete guess at the truth when written history is available to guide me.

And not separated from the muse, but rather giving her a chance to recharge. I've challenged her to keep up earlier in the summer, to sit with me while I experimented with solos on my accordion, or tried to prepare energizing and meaningful education experiences (not "training materials"), or to do the little writing I'd been doing. She needed a break. I spent almost an entire day last week just playing with my kids in the pool and eating my father-in-law's ridiculously good cooking. Those who do not consider this an essential part of the creative process can just kiss my beefsteak.

And not separated from poetry. From the recent arrival of Jeannine Gailey's terrific new book, to finally getting to Horoscopes from the Dead, to coming late to Elizabeth Bishop, I've been populating the mental database with new words. Ray Bradbury (and many others, I know) said many times that if you want to write you must read. Bradbury, though, was one of the few I recall saying you should read everything (poems, plays, novels, nonfiction...) to uncover metaphors outside your experience that can inform your own writing. I'm especially open to this idea, I guess, since my poems are informed so much by a primary source unexpected (in many opinions) to show up on poems.

But still, in a world preoccupied with output and emotion (heavy on the latter, if the NYSE and Iowa are any indication), I haven't produced a lot lately. Of either, I suppose. But we have those stages.

I just wonder in which order I'll start producing them again....

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Poems and Projects and Pop/Folk, oh my!

While I'd be pleased to propose the paucity of publications since my previous post was atypical, I shan't purport that preposterous prevarication upon you, my people.

(I need to purge my alliterator from time to time, else it spills forth into the poems. Thanks for your patience.)


It's been a busy summer at Vincenti Central. I'll tell you about the poetry stuff at the bottom of this post, but I think I'll deliver the rest to you in rough reverse chronological order....

I suppose my May appearance with Alex and Janel must have gone OK, because they were nice enough to invite me to appear with them again, this time at Rockwood Music Hall. I realize what most people think when they see the accordion appear (at least those who recognize the instrument - it's not a frequent sight at most Manhattan clubs), and it's a joy to be able to join in with great artists like these to bust up a few misconceptions. I think there are likely to be more such opportunities; if you'd like a chance to open your mind to a new free-reed experience, go "like" my FB page, or drop a note to the list email address and we'll keep you in the loop.


The reason I was available to join Alex and Janel was that I was not able to join my Staten Island Music School bandmates at the 2011 American Accordionists Association National Festival in Charleston. I have it on good authority that the Busso Accordion Orchestra rocked the ballroom with our southern medley; you can check out one of our warm-up sessions here (audio only).


I am now officially a Project Management Professional; last weekend I passed the PMP exam! All PMPs are honor-bound not to divulge any bit of the content of the exam, but this much I can tell you: Don't take it lightly when the prep materials tell you that you're at a real disadvantage if you haven't managed a large (seriously, LARGE) project previously in your career.

This was the first significant educational challenge I'd set for myself in quite a long time, and I'm a little surprised at how I settled into a study routine. Granted, it was a routine heavily tailored to my schedule (audio books for commuting time, microexercises for those moments before meetings start, etc.), and my family was gracious enough to give me the 4 Saturday mornings leading up the exam for uninterrupted study time. Sitting in a library studying... THAT brings a person back...


Finally, the Voices From History tour is taking shape. S. Thomas Summers and I trialed the event, in which we present stories from the lives of Galileo Galilei and a confederate soldier, at The Theater Company during Monroe Arts Center's May Open Studio day. We're pretty pleased with the way it comes across. So far we've got presentations planned in Campbell Hall, New York and Fanwood, NJ, and we're expecting to present more in the months to come. The best way to keep track of that is through FB, but don't worry, we'll find a way to get you the news.


We wish watermelons for you to welcome the warm weather as we wander away....

Rats. Fire up the alliteratinator!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Let's Be Fathers Today....

I presume everyone has heard about Adam Mansbach's new book, Go the Bleep to Sleep, by now. There's an audiobook version out with the Samuel L. Jackson at the microphone; he's great in just about everything, and I'm sure he's great in this.

Now, I'm sure I'll read, maybe even own a copy at some point, Walter the Farting Dog won me over, after all, but I'm really looking for something else in these books. Not that the book isn't funny, or isn't well-written, but I'd also like to have a Father's Day in which fathers are not absent, or caricature, or sitcomically self-absorbed. Where are the books that celebrate the spectacular mundanity of fatherhood?

In my experience, books intended for or about fathers revel in their ignorance of pregnancy, birth and rearing, start and end with religious intent, or are specific to a small segment of fathers. A few (the Armin Brott series, most notably). Fathers' Day "poems" are gooey verses that also celebrate our shortcomings more than anything that might be called a strength.

Is it possible I'm the only one interested in writing this space? Or reading about it? I hope not. So let me exhort my peer group this way: Fellow fathers, take this pledge with me today: Let's stay on the road to being the fathers we've never stopped hoping we'd be, and let's talk about the trip.

Happy Father's Day to all who celebrate. May you have moments your children will talk until net Father's Day.

Fellow fathers, take this pledge with me today: Let's be the fathers we've never stopped hoping we'd be.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Bits for Early June

My kids keep a list of "Things you would never expect to hear in conversation". On that note, I find myself asking "Is it possible to be friends with something other than a human being?" Facebook forces me to conclude that no, it's not possible (certain large domestic animals excepted). That's probably a bit self-defeating, I know.....


In the middle of "The Reading Promise" by Alice Ozma. Subject hits close to my heart. Best line so far: "It takes a certain type of child to develop a crippling, life-changing fear of the corpse of John F. Kennedy."....


The Mets are kind of an analog for my artistic year to date: Not great, moments of wonder, better than reasonably hoped for, but not exceptional. Worth contining to root for, though....


Just finished celebrating my mother-in-law's birthday with bowling and chinese food. Another reason I can't join in the traditional badmouthing of the mothers-in-law during office small talk....


Studying for the PMP exam at present. First really major educational challenge I've set for myself in a long time (other than the pathological need to learn something new - even something useless - every day). Will be back to collect your wishes, vibes and mojo as the event presents itself more imminently.


As Father's Day approaches, I ask myself what kind of father I have been so far. Well, when I remarked earlier today about the weather that "It's cold and it's damp", my kids replied in song. In unison.

I'm good with that.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

A busy collection of bits

Two things I should have mentioned weeks ago:

The Spoken Word Series' new sponsor, The Theater Company, his hosting an afternoon of planned and open-mic performance as part of Monroe Arts Center's May Open Studio Day Sunday. Siobhan Barry and Scott Summers will join me in presenting the literary side of the arts spectrum, and we'll be joined on the schedule by some of the great musical talent that works the Hudson County area (and beyond!). Scott and I will be unveiling a new project called Voices from History where we showcase voices from times in history that you don't find in contemporary poetry all that often. We think it's worth a visit; check out the TTC website for the schedule, or just arrive at 1 and spend the day with us.

I have a poem in the last issue of Redheaded Stepchild - one I'm particularly proud of because it's quite a departure for me. It derives from a scene from Fred McBagonluri's Dusk Recitals; writing about an image that originated in someone else's mind and is completely outside my experience is quite atypical for me. I'm quite proud of the poem when you're there, make sure you read the rest of the issue, especially A True Princess Bruises; it's always gratifying for me to appear alongside poets whose work and counsel has guided me, and Jeannine Gailey's poems take you to a place you think you know but still surprise you.

And here's one thing I don't know that I'm supposed to mention, but I'm too jazzed not to: there's a rumor going around that Alex and Janel have invited some special guests to sit in with them during the release show for their new collection "You Won't Be Alone", and that one of these guests may be packing an accordion. You should go even if there's no accordion. But there may be one. Maybe.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

A Few Words From My Mother

Traditional Mother's Day poems, like most poems written for Hallmarkian holidays, tend toward sweetness, and since I don't (think I) do that very well, I'll not contribute to the buffet here (for some occasion poems, check out the last week at or David Young's "Mother's Day" at A rare alignment of circumstances gave me a couple uninterrupted hours with my mother this weekend, which we spent mostly by talking about events from long ago - some well known and raised for reliving, some that I knew less well. It's interesting to revisit events for which I have some memory of as an 8- or 12- or 17-year old through the filter of being a father now, and to hear my mother describe these events to me as a peer, without the softening or misdirection that sometimes infiltrates the parent-child relationship.

Some of the events we relived made their way into poems 20 years ago, some more recently; I've mentioned in this space that the older I get the righter my father becomes, and gaining a little context makes me want to return to that material and treat it a bit differently. And of course, there are the poems about my father as young man, whose subjects I know only from what my mother has told me. Lord knows he wasn't about to talk about them.

So though I've written more about my father than my mother - because ours was the more complicated relationship, and because I tried to write my way through the months after his death. But I suppose in a way those poems about Dad were almost as much about the shared experience with my mother as they were about my memory of my father.

Which reminds me of a quote; I don't know where exactly I first heard this, but Google turns it up intact and similarly attributed in enough places that I think it must be accurate. And after watching my daughter compose a poem for my wife, I'm convinced that whether it's accurate or not, it's true:

"My mother is a poem I'll never be able to write, though everything I write is a poem to my mother." Sharon Doubiago

Happy Mother's Day.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

On Easter Sunday, a poem might also be....

This is a story about a poem.

For the past few years, I have taught 7th grade CCD (religious education) in my church. I began teaching it for the reason I think many intellectual smorgasbordists* would: I wanted to get to know my own faith and beliefs better. Part of that is self-interest, being at the time in my life when one tends to do a lot of recursive examination; part is practical, as my kids are approaching the ages when their questioning (well, more their insistence upon answers) will begin to strip my ability to answer unless I maintain myself better than I'd been.

With a very few exceptions, I've found my students' questions to be relentless, unembarrassedly personal, and ruthlessly fair and honest. One of the more common questions I get from the kids is whether or not I believe the particular miracle we just discussed actually happened (surrounded by 3 minutes of what they would do if confronted by such unbelieveability). The subject of miracles is a tough one to broach with a 12/13-year old - their world is complicated and indefinable enough without the burden of believing in an otherworldly power. But -- unlike the persona I adopt in my poems -- I always tell them the truth. Which starts with my grandmother.

What faith have comes, ultimately, from my grandmother. In the whole of my life, hers was the strongest faith I have ever encountered. Not the loudest, not the most obvious, but the strongest. I was well into my 20s before I started to learn about the hardships Nana had faced in her life, hardships which might have caused another person to adjust their disposition toward the cynical. But Nana's was definitely an Easter faith; she believed that no one would ever be burdened with more than they could handle, and that renewal and restoration was waiting for you if you could manage your burden just a little longer.

Which is why Nana continues to show up in my poems, and why I feel pretty strongly about those poems. I'm not objective about them and I don't pretend to be. But there was one particular disappointing episode in her life that I've always felt was perfect for a recollective poem, one that ought to be presented in sepia tones, it's so much a peek at the past. I've been writing and rewriting it for years, never quite sure what to do next with it, or whether to call it done. But I've thought for a while I had handled it well enough to let my peers have a look.

A short while ago, I learned of John Newmark's online journal Generations of Poetry, a new (this year) literary effort in support of the geneablogging (online genealogy) community. It seemed a logical place for this poem I've wanted so much to take out of the folio and expose to the light. It takes place (mostly) in 1937, and it has a lot to do with the records we keep about our families. I won't tell you more; you can read it for yourself.

Today. Easter Sunday.

Now I don't know if that means anything. It's presumptuous to think that the cascade of coincidences that led to the appearance of Grand Canyon, 1937 on Easter is anything more than just that. And don't mistake me for anything other than a (slightly sentimental) realist. I know enough about statistics to know that if you flip a coin 50 times every day, one day you'll get TAILS 50 flips in a row. I know enough about people and their faith to know that a divine hand is frequently and perhaps foolishly seen in things those people are desperate to make sense of.


I will have a new group of 7th graders in September. And sometime before Halloween they will ask me if I believe in miracles. As I do every year, I'll tell them I don't know. Then maybe I'll tell them this story and ask what they believe.

If you are celebrating it today, I wish you a joyful Easter.

* relentlessly curious on a surprisingly far-flung set of areas of interest.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Truth Is Not the Caramel Center

Pulled again this week into the old conversation: Truth in poetry. Answering the question "Wow, did that really happen?" Whether to show my mother what I write*.

It's that same question again and again: whether it's reasonable to expect a person reading a poem not to place the poet into the person of the speaker, or just to assume it's all true. I haven't found a way to convince people that it's really not, and I'm not just talking about novices or non-poets, but also about people who have a reasonable claim at being writing hobbyists.

I usually try to bring the visual arts into this discussion, ask whether people look at paintings and ask if the scene really happened. It usually doesn't work, but I think I finally hit on the way to connect this comparison. I think it's probably true that visual artists prepare a sketch or use (pencil/light) guidelines when producing a piece of art suitable for hanging; these are the equivalent of truth to the poet. They may get you into the piece, but they're not there when you're done, though their shape may be visible.

The problem, I think, is the old opinion of poetry as therapy, not as craft. I'm not saying there isn't therapeutic or cathartic poetry, or music, or painting, but that it's silly to think it all is catharsis. Even established writers talk to me about poems "needing to be written". Do we think of screenplays in that light? Novels? Some, to be sure, but we don't start with their truthfulness as the assumption. I don't think we do, anyway.

And that, I'm afraid, goes back to how poetry is taught. It's either dry and dead or first-person pathos. That's one reason I like to follow the Poetry Out Loud competition; giving voice to other's work breaks wide open the idea that the poem must be a confessional or observational moment.

Truth is not the element that makes the poem essential or beautiful; it is not the reward. It's not even essential to the poem. It's just another way into the moment. No, I don't think the conversation's over, or that I'm winning many people over, but I intend to keep trying.

* - Not all of it. Sorry, Mom.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

A night out with words

Had an unexpected opportunity to catch Lyn Lifshin (prolific poet and teacher) and Michael Mirolla (writer and editor of Guernica Editions) at the Montclair Public Library tonight - a delightful reading. Michael opened and read poems from several books, then closed with a story that was twice a gift. The first gift was his discovery that he'd brought the piece at all. It turns out he was unable to bring his books with him for reasons I'll leave him to work out with the folks responsible, and he happened to have a hardcopy of the story from his files. The second manifestation of gift happened when I approached him after the reading and mentioned I'd enjoyed the story and thought I could find an eager audience for it at home, and he opened his briefcase and handed me the story - proving to me again that the rule is true talent generally shows true generosity.

I hadn't seen Lifshin read in about 15 years and she was exactly the same as I remember her. Picked up her new book, All the Poets Who Have Touched Me, which she read a bit from. It's a fun collection in which she addresses her relationships with many other poets and she insists that some of it is true! As is the rule (at least with me; don't know about you), I tried out something new in the open, which forced me to put the pen to paper. My iGoogle counter has been yelling at me again - 89 days since I completed a poem - and it was great to finally click the reset button. \

And.... just heard tonight that Generations of Poetry, an online journal with a genealogy focus, has accepted a poem; more on that when it appears.

Hope your tax season is going well!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

.... And, We're Back.

What's the expression? March comes in like a lion, tears into all your stuff like it's been dipped in zebra gravy then poops all over the debris? Well, it's something like that.

Wild, wild month. Not the least contribution to the craziness came from preparing for and delivering a talk this month title "Poetry in Praise: Tools for Praying" to a (predominantly) non-writing audience. This was part of an adult education program my church (along with 3 others) presents during Lent, and I'd received a clue from some of the planned participants that expecting participation in a writing exercise would be akin to calling for wax fruit to be juicy when bitten. Nonetheless I relied heavily on an introduction to poetry lesson that I've used in grammar school workshops before. It's an orientation that borrow shamelessly from material and advice from Elizabeth Lund and BJ Ward, and it went pretty well with this mature audience. I was determined to provide an element of discussion of craft even if I didn't expect much of the crowd to apply it in the room.

The highest praise came from someone who commented that they had signed up for the session of loyalty (to support me), but - and this is a direct quote - "actually enjoyed (her)self". I like to think that's part how I organized the lecture, part my entertaining style of presentation, and part the anthology of poems I present which, though all on Christian themes (obviously), ranged from Greeks writers circa 150AD to post-WWII Japanese writers, from the cloistered life of Thomas Merton to the busy life of the modern secular American.

And yes, I foisted a little of my own work upon them; you don't need to yank my guild card, fellow shameless self-promoters. I'll type up the anthology over the rest of this weekend.

Happy PoMo, BTW.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Overanalysis of a Marge Piercy Quote

Today's Literary Quote of the Day (courtesy The real writer is the one who really writes. Talent is an invention like phlogiston after the fact of fire. Work is its own cure. You have to like it better than being loved. - Marge Piercy.

This is a terribly rich quote. Let's take it a bit at at time.

The real writer is the one who really writes. - This seems obvious to most creative writers but let's parse if both ways and see what it means. Forwards: To be a real writer, one must really write. True; if you're more interested in the trappings of "being a writer" than in acquiring craft and producing quality output, I don't think you can claim to be a real writer. Backwards: If you really write, you are a real writer". This is a bit less obvious to me. If one defines "really writing" as "writing containing a progressive and expanding sense of craft and desire", I'm down with the definition. I suspect a prolific and widely-reaching writer like Piercy probably meant it that way, or something like it. I do not, however, accept the position that all creative writing hobbyists are "really writing"; many are occupying time with literary sameness.

Talent is an invention like phlogiston after the fact of fire. - A brilliant line, but I don't buy it. Perhaps this is the geek in me poking out, but consider the origin of the phlogiston: Before the isolation and discovery of oxygen, there was for a short time a theory that all flammable materials contained a substance - phlogiston - could be liberated by fire. Clearly, the theory was wrong; flammability is raw material, plus oxygen, plus ignition. Now, I believe completely that combustion is a great analog for writing. One must have fuel (interesting content), oxygen (your personal contribution of style, form, genre, etc.) and....

Work is its own cure. -- this is the real ignition. While I believe in inspiration, work is the real spark. It's what takes the fuel and the necessary environment and makes it come to life with meaningful heat.

So back to the phlogiston, I'd say the need for something to burn is a necessary input in writing, but that's not "talent". Talent is the combination of fuel and spark. However, I do believe that good writing is not understood by those who do not study it well; perhaps there's the implication of that belief in Piercy's use of an unlikely and incorrect theory in comparison.

You have to like it better than being loved. -- What's the old saw? "If you can imagine yourself being anything else, go be that, because you're not a writer." A poetic overstatement by Ms. Piercy, but true enough.

Interesting challenge, trying to define the "real writer" and "real writing". In a poetry spectrum that ranges from Silliman to Collins (and beyond them on both sides, to be sure), I don't think it's really possible to define "writer" to the complete satisfaction of the trade. But I think the analogy of the solitary builder of a nourishing fire (using the correct modern definition, that it is) is good place to start.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Discomfort=Success. Pluto=John Gould Fletcher

Wonderful post from Wil Wheaton yesterday. He recently shared a story which, if comments can be trusted, was replete with evil and short on happy endings. A reader sent in a note requesting that future stories not be so dark. The author loved the feedback, posting

HUNTER is just 2700 words, but it affected this reader so much, he/she/it wrote me this e-mail, and I've been walking on air all day because of it. HUNTER is set in a dark and desperate world, where good and evil is really a matter of perspective, and if readers left that world feeling really good, I either didn't hit the target I was aiming for, or I'm going to keep my distance from that reader if it's at all possible.

That's the perfect reaction. Clearly, Wheaton is not evil (The Big Bang Theory notwithstanding), but his piece was designed to contain and portray evil. Obviously, it was successful, and he revels in this evidence of his success. Wheaton maximizes his online presence and is quite innovative in distributing his work (Hunter is a pay-what-you-like downloadable story), which makes the feedback channel direct and immediate. Of course, Wheaton, being a Trek icon and Prime Minister of his corner of The Internet, has a constituency disposed to use the direct and immediate route, which helps, but how great to get a response and be able to see how it proves that your experiment worked. Congrats to him.

Wheaton is also an excellent source and model for us as poets because he deliberately and routinely challenges his limits as an artist, both as actor and writer. And he lets us tag along on the ride.


It was 81 years ago this week that Pluto was discovered and labelled a planet. Of course, after having a Disney dog named for him and providing the punctuating object in a classic grammar school mnemonic*, Pluto has since been repurposed as a big ice cube, but I don't know that ever knew the exact reason, which emanated from new rules that said planets must "clear the neighborhood around its orbit." Since Pluto's oblong orbit overlaps that of Neptune, it was disqualified. Despite having such an impact on science and culture for his period, it's likely that Pluto will have little or no such impact on future generations.

Which brings me to John Gould Fletcher. Now, I'm sure there are regular visitors to this space who are quite familiar with Fletcher's literary legacy, but here's what I knew about him before some very recent research: He's not in my (c)1976 New Oxford Book of American Verse. The Poetry Foundation website associates him with Amy Lowell, but includes no links to any of his poems. Lowell's page links to 29 of her poems and a number of other writings. Fletcher's page has no links.

I first encountered Fletcher when I found in a second-hand bookstore a 1960 anthology called American Poetry, edited by Karl Shapiro. There's one Fletcher poem in there: "Elegy on an Empty Skyscraper". I enjoyed the poem and it got me started wondering about Fletcher. This one poem was all of his legacy that Shapiro, an important opinion at the time (?), felt worthy of sharing. This despite his inclusion of three Oliver Wendell Holmes poems - all inferior (IMHO) to "Elegy..." - in the same edition.

Who will be the arbiters of poetry's future solar systems? Who decides if Williams and Pound remain planets or become asteroids in the belt? For that matter, who decides who decides? Shapiro was Library of Congress Consultant in Poetry (forerunner to the US Poet Laureate) and a fairly prolific writer and educator, but when the poets I follow today discuss their influences and loves, the name "Shapiro" doesn't encroach on the conversation.

And don't tell me that distance in time is the reason. Dickinson, Freneau, Whitman, and others from their eras I see and hear about with some regularity, and they all predate Shapiro. And Fletcher. Is this my ignorance talking? Perhaps. I'm pretty well-read in American poetry, but I'm not a scholar. And much of my reading comes at the recommendation of contemporary poets whose work I love, so my biases, in effect, define the sphere of my readings. Believe me, I'm aware of that.

I don't know that I really have an answer or even a meaningful question here. But with appreciation for Pluto's teaching us that more than just art is fleeting, maybe I'll make a little more time for reading the great words of the past that are no less great for having been eclipsed by later learnings.

Just 'cause he's not a planet anymore doesn't mean he's not still in the sky.

*My Very Eager Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas =
Mercury Venus Earth Mars Jupiter Saturn Uranus Neptune Pluto

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Bits and Bits...

Average submissions pending per day so far this year 0.9. Target: 2.0. My iGoogle DaysSince gadget is merciless in pointing out the distance to my goal.


I don't know if I'm leveraging Facebook the way I should, and I still maintain an author page separate from my personal page (I don't "friend", I ask people to "like" me...), but it did permit an out-of-state poet whose work I have liked for many years to locate me to tell me about her new book. I'll mention the book here when I've had a chance to take it in.


Adele Kenny has created a nice list of love poems, from the traditional to the modern, and challenged us to write a love poem that is not sentimental, maudlin, or mushy. She suggests a funny love limerick (among other forms). Maybe.

AAP has a list, too.


Working on my poetry and praise workshop for next month. I don't want to give anything away until I share it in its final form, but it's been interesting putting together a program specifically anticipating an audience with limited (or at least untapped) interest in poetry. Emphasis on presentation and meaning, though form is the point of the talk. To a point, that is.


I don't post a great deal of personal stuff here, but I did a long time ago explain our tradition of midFebruary KFC, an ongoing reminder of the night I learned that "impressiveness isn't what shows love - the making do is where the heart shows itself off." I still believe it.

Enjoy the day.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Death of an email

After months with neither solution nor response, I have to conclude I've lost my access to my email accounts. I'll correct the information at the website at some point, but for now I'm unable to receive mail at my addresses. The best way to reach me for the foreseeable future is to message me through my Facebook page ( With the grace of a kind muse and a benevolent ISP, I'll get the Mailing List running again soon.

If you've emailed me since November 15, please accept my apologies and try me again with a Facebook message. I'm not ignoring you, honest.

Thanks for your patience, and as always, thank you for your support.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

In which the author shifts his impudence to the world of horror prose...

Famous Author's Comment (courtesy Google's Daily Literary Quote): Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule. - Stephen King

David's Response: Phhbbbbbththth.

Among the many and useful exceptions:
  • When, in prose, you are filling the mouth of a character with a dialect, style, or vocabulary other than your own; it is frequently a good idea to know the point you'd like to make, make it in your voice, then use your BBOW* to explore ways to revoice it.
  • When you are jumpstarting a particular idea in verse and you are experimenting with the musicality of the line. Illuminate offers different possibilities than does Light.
  • When you are working with a young writer in any form, and you have a teaching opportunity to open novice eyes to the idea that there are many ways to make the same point, each of them correct.

There's an episode of Family Guy** based on some King stories. In one scene, King himself appears, gets hit by a car, decides it's a great story starter, and completes the story in the time it takes him to come to rest after the collision. Funny and satirical. And quite complementary to his quote.

Don't get me wrong. I enjoy King (Thinner is my favorite), but I much, much prefer his short stories to the novels, and language is one of the keys why - the books take on a sameness of language, apparently quite purposefully, which drives me into page-flipping mode. I also find the most interest in King's characters. They're excellently drawn, but once I feel I've come to understand the character, I'm waiting for something interesting - language, a character flaw I missed, a plot twist not deployed in three other books - to lead me eagerly through the rest of the book. I don't get that from King's novels.

I feel like I need to apologize for taking a stance opposite a respected writer. But then, I'm a poet. Which means never having to say you're sorry. Or something like that.

* - Big Book O' Words

** slightly toward the brilliant side of the brilliant-offensive continuum.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

In Which the Author Takes Presumptuous Umbrage with Galway Kinnell

Just when I resolve to be comfortable calling myself a poet, along comes the estimable Galway Kinnell with this little bit of rebuke in American Poetry Review:

A poet should not call himself a "poet." Being a poet is so marvelous an accomplishment that it would be boasting to say it of oneself. I thought this well before I read that Robert Frost took the same view.

At the risk of impudence, I think Mr. K. is completely wrong.

Being a "poet" just means you've written a poem, know it's a poem, and know what you did to write it. Being an accomplished poet is a different thing entirely, but to be aware enough to know what goes into creating poems and then skilled enough to create those poems is not something we should be reluctant to name in ourselves.

Look at it this way: I'm an engineer. I don't need anyone to tell me that I have the credentials for that title. I have the knowledge requirements (through education). I have the behavioral tendencies (a relentless quest to fill my head with details on how things work*). And I have the tangible output, among which is an issued patent, publication in conference proceedings, products launched, etc., all of which are work products deemed acceptable by technologists other than me. I am an engineer.

Am I a good engineer? Well, 20+ years of continuous employment in the field suggest that I probably am, and when I look over my career portfolio, I admit that I think I'm pretty good. In the end, of course, the quantitation** of that goodness something others will do. It's for my boss and his peers to evaluate at my job. It's for my peers to consider when they choose to come to me (or not come to me) for counsel. It's for young professionals to ponder when they decide if mine is a career path they would emulate. But I'm an engineer. This is not debatable.

Likewise, I'm a poet. I have sufficient knowledge in the art to define it and to distinguish it from "greeting card verse". I have the behaviors that cause me to mull over word choice like Snoopy on a dark and stormy night and to find the occasional line so compelling in my ear that I repeat it until my tongue aches. I have the tangible output in journals managed by poets whose talents are not debated.

Am I a good poet? Well, I have some ground cleared for a career there - albeit a smaller foundation than the one I've built in engineering. And I would argue that just I am aware of at least some level of proficiency in my engineering, I am aware of some level of proficiency in my poetry. I recognize elegance in analysis and I recognize the witness markings of poetic craft. Yes, I believe I'm a good poet; if I didn't, I'd not be here. But irrespective of my opinion of myself, I am a poet.

This is not debatable.

* - for example, I probably know more about the design of beverage bottle closures than all but the people who work with them daily. I certainly know more about them than most people care to know. Not because I work in the field, but because I think it's neat to know.

** - Yes, it's a word.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

In Which The Author Does Not Blame Weather, Jury Duty, Or Illness

... but oy, what a month.


I keep a card with me most of the time with "my numbers" on it. These are mathematical reminders of my personal goals - weight, hours spent with my kids, etc. One of those numbers is 2; this is the number of journal submissions I want to have pending at any time. I've failed to meet that at any time in 2010. I'll attribute that to a single-minded focus on publishing my chapbook, but that's (of course) not the whole story. The big reason is that I permitted myself to be overwhelmed. I'm targeting a particular caliber of magazine, I decided a couple years ago to aim outside my own backyard (read: not to bombard editors with whom I have a relationship), and my acceptance ratio went into the abyss. And of course, about the same time, my cumulative contest fees reached the level at which I had decided to consider self-publishing. You'd think, having been at this for a decade, I'd not crumble in the face of rejection. Heck, I'm a accordion-playing poet who roots for the Mets. Still, sometimes you sit down and wonder.

But 22 days into 2011, I'm feeling like I'm over it, finally. I'm meeting the number (even challenged by the courtesy of a quick reply from one zine). I've migrated my ISO-registrable submission tracking system online and am leveraging electronic submissions exclusively at this point; but in doing so, I've learned that tracking and printing and signing and mailing were maybe 10% of the time involved in preparing a submission for me. I have learned, to my horror, that I like to tinker. I would rarely spend minutes worrying about word choice once I'd printed a poem for submission. Now that I'm just formatting for upload, I cold lose a whole afternoon reworking a single line. That's a whole different risk of being overwhelmed.

So what? So this just comes back to my single, simple resolution for the year - just to be confident, unembarrassed, and persistent in being a poet. Simple, right?

Not that I lack good projects to rally myself to: My lunchtime writer's group in my office will be elevating the energy level this year, taking on some larger projects and scheduling more time for critique and revision. I'm designing this month a program on poetry and prayer for an adult-education series a group of churches in my area present every year. And I have a box of chapbooks that ask me every time I walk past them when I'll be showing them a little daylight.

More on each as progress warrants. I'm resolved.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Leaving the Blanket Behind

That's literally (a nice warm quilt) and figuratively (my nice, secure silence). After two days where a nasty chest cold had me horizontal for the vast majority of its contained hours, I got out into the world again today for a wonderful event hosted by Jim Gwyn - "EXPRESSING ELVIS", poems and music in honor of the king on his 76th birthday. I used the event to introduce an aunt to the world of poetry; she has a shelf full of Elvis books, busts, and brickabrack in her den, and I thought this was as close as her orbit would ever be to the art. It was a great deal of fun, and included a local chef presenting a sampling of Elvis-endorsed (horribly-bad-for-you) foods, including catfish po-boys, fried PB&Bs, and sweet potato pies. Just delightful.

And yes my aunt, who's never been to a poetry reading before, ran into someone who knew her. You just get used to it after a while.

Also got to see two of the grand ladies of NJ poetry, Maria Gillan and Laura Boss, to sing a little bit (quite and down an octave because of the darned cold), and to read a new work of my own. That little 90 seconds of my own reading let me live up to my 2011 resolution. I hadn't planned to read, but when asked to by the organizers, I "penned up" and said yes. I hadn't planned to sell books, but when Jim encouraged the audience to visit the poets' book table, I put a few books up and moved a couple. Poet. Don't use the term unless you mean it.


Confidential to the green and white: Breathe while the air is good, fellow fans. And recall that we know the next beast well and have slain him before.