Thursday, December 29, 2005

My Writing Resolutions

I know, I know, 8th of March resolutions should have just as much weight. But you know they don't. Here's what I'm planning for myself. Feel free to ask me anytime how they're going. After Valentine's Day, of course. Give me time to develop some momentum...
  1. Keep 2 submissions pending at all times.
  2. Touch my drafts and revisions folder twice a month.
  3. Do a writing exercise once a week.
  4. Get my Poets-in-the-Schools application completed by January 31. Actually submit it this year.
  5. Incorporate the feedback I've already received on the daughter poems project. Get more feedback. Submit it again.
  6. Read one new book of poems every month. Reread one old book of poems every month.

What are you holding yourself accountable to in the new year?

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Report from the Middle of Christmas Week

Mental flotsam for a Wednesday:
  • I'm almost past the holiday enough to start thinking for real about the terrific day of workshops we have planned in January at The Center. If you're in NJ or NYC, please contact me for more information.
  • Just a few days left before I delete the annual Christmas Commemoration (see last post). For a commemoration of an entirely different sort, check out Sheila E. Murphy's holiday poem (courtesy of Ron Silliman).
  • Best of Branches 2004 is now available, including my poem My Ants Are Dead. It's a fictionalized account of the reaction of a high school student whose science project was on board the Columbia space shuttle. I haven't decided yet, but I think I want to send a copy to the school, even though the students are all graduated. I don't know if it's a good idea or not.
Aside from these bits of useless information, my brain is still set on "gingerbread".

Hope you had/are having/will have/willan on-have wont rehaving a great holiday.

Friday, December 16, 2005

NJ: Finding An Identity

Maureen has been reminding us locals that the state of New Jersey is looking for a new slogan. You can go right now and vote for one of these finalists:

  • New Jersey, Expect the Unexpected
  • New Jersey, Love at First Sight
  • New Jersey, Come See For Yourself
  • New Jersey, The Real Deal
  • New Jersey, The Best Kept Secret

There is no write in vote, so you can't opt for any of these these fine attempts that didn't make the final hurdle:

  • New Jersey, You Got a Problem With That?
  • New Jersey, What Are You Looking At?
  • New Jersey: Tolls and Taxes
  • New Jersey: Close Enough to Get There By Train

None of which irks me near as much as Pennsylvania's old slogan: Pennsylvania, America Starts Here (with its corrolary, Pennsylvania, Those Last 90 Miles Were Just a Bad Dream).

In Gravedigger's Birthday, BJ Ward described NJ as "the short imperfect loveliness of groundhog". Doesn't work on a bumper sticker, but that may be the best way to sum it up.

What state is your state in?

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Aphorisms for December

  • 90% of what a child asks for is immediately grantable. 9% requires pixie dust. 1% will break your heart.
  • No matter the month it comes, no one is ready for the first snow except the squirrels.
  • It's easy to find presents for people you don't expect to see this year.
  • The longest night of the year comes when you realize you don't need extra folding chairs for dinner anymore.
  • Even if you've never read Dickens, Christmas comes with ghosts.
  • The present you miss most from childhood will be one you gave, not one you got.

A couple quick asides: I haven't forgotten about my promise to post "Reflections...", but I had forgotten how (ahem) rough a piece it was. A few more passes with the WD-40 and it should be ready to go up.

I have a Christmas poem soaking, too, and I even like it (which is always an even-money bet). But its hook is part Dickens, part WSOP. I'm waiting to see if I get an idea my mother will like before going with that one.

Am I the only person whose dead relatives are showing up everywhere the pen lands this month?

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

10/5/1 & 24/7

10/5/1:I'm fascinated by the 10/5/1/today meme that's dominating the blogs I follow this week. But I'm a little too private to give you too much of that, I fear. It's difficult being a conservative* exhibitionist at times. But I will dig out a poem I wrote built around something like that theme and post in a day or two. It's called "Reflections on the Ongoing Decay of the World". I know it's going to be painful to read again, coming as it did in that dark period between my acceptance that I was not Wallace Stevens and my recognition that using words I didn't fully understand did not improve my poems much. Wait, that was the same moment, wasn't it...?

24/7: What I want for Christmas this year is TIME. This season (and this period in my life, for a number of reasons I will leak gradually into this space over the next few months / years / decades; see "conservative" above) is packed from morning stirring to evening collapse with stuff. My books to read pile is starting to look like something out of a Dr. Seuss illustration, covers and bookmarks arcing and teetering like the tartoofers in the Grinch's bag. Short list of the books I'm fiending to get into (the ones on top, anyway):

  • What He Ought To Know, Edward Foster's latest book, a new and selected poems. He read some of these last Sunday in the Spoken Word series. Also, the latest issue of Talisman, dedicated to Gustaf Sobin.
  • The Secret of Me, Meg Kearney's novel in verse from the perspective of an adopted teenage girl
  • Conversations During Sleep by Michele Wolf. It's an old (1997) book, but I was reminded how much I like her work by her 2005 appearance in Poetry East, and I've finally gotten around to purchasing it.
  • Bradbury Speaks, collected essays by the man himself. I learned by the time I was 11 that SF wasn't my particular thing as a writer, but my prose has never really stopped imitating Bradbury's short stories.

Oh, but that doesn't include books I've taken off the shelf recently to walk through again, which are in a different pile: Blue Stones and Salt Hay, I Am That Hero, and a half-dozen others.

And I should really pickup that pen again at some point.

* - this word is used in this space in its former and non-political usage, meaning "traditional or restrained in style".

Monday, December 05, 2005

As Beautiful As Me

I have a pretty good singing voice. I hold tune well, I have good bass range, my voice blends. I'm not a soloist by any means, and have never thought myself one.

Nevertheless, my daughter is fond of hearing me sing Gaston's entry solo from Beauty and the Beast ("Right from the moment when I met her, saw her/I said 'She's gorgeous' and I fell/For in town there's only she/Who is beautiful as me/So I'm making plans to woo and marry Belle"). I love to sing it. Gaston is a great part - one any performer, particularly former Glee Club basses like me, should drool over. I can't do it justice, but when the lead-in vamp starts on the recording, my daughter invariably starts cajoling me: "Sing it, Daddy! Sing it!"

Why do I bring this up? A reminder to myself, I suppose. I've not been writing much lately; note here, not in my notebook, not in the empty effort I call a journal - not even in the car with my recorder, which is usually my most productive time. I don't know if this is a contributing reason for the drought, but I've also been wondering lately what my place in the "poetry canon" might be, if that makes sense - wondering what I have to contribute. Frankly, this feeling has been lately emphasized by a realization that a non-trivial fraction of what I write is "cute". It's nice, it reaches people, it's even fair poetry. But it's really not great poetry. I've always known this, and haven't had any pretense about it: some of what I write is good. A lot isn't, and it doesn't try to be.

But, like when my daughter wants me to be Gaston, that doesn't mean it doesn't have its audience, and it doesn't mean that practicing it doesn't have value; singing the Gaston solo keeps my voice in shape, after all. As does singing in church. And singing in the shower. I've lost sight of the value of writing just to write, just to stay in shape. Shame on me.

My daughter doesn't worry about how good other people are or what other people know or how accomplished other people are. She just knows what's fun to do, and what's fun to hear, and she wants those things around her. May it always be so, and may my princess continue to remind her overthinking old man from time to time.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Google, Sparky, Holiday Spirit

Item the first: I got this from Peter, who got it from a number of others: Go to, type in "(your name) needs" and collect the first lines from the first page of hits.

Why Dirty David needs a wash...
What David needs most is support from a stable and harmonious family.
David needs to roar with pride.
David needs prayers.
But David needs to be able to do this work independently.
David needs a wash.
Dave needs more volunteers for the following campaign activities:
Semi Driver tries to kill David, David needs help with revenge.

Not exactly a Google poem, but pretty funny, and definitely a good poemstarter. Peter's is better, by the way.

Item the next: I'm almost over my cold, meaning the rasp in my chest has quieted enough for me to hear myself thinking. I missed a lot in the last week, including Charles Schulz's birthday. I know I'm not the only one inspired by Sparky as a kid, but I'm always surprised at the number of people who cite Peanuts as a formative reference, in lines of work from writing to preaching to performing to engineering to teaching. I'm going to try to articulate all the crannies of my life that owe something to Sparky. Gonna take me a while, but I'll post it eventually.

Item the last: Every year I write a poem in celebration of Christmas, based on some image that elbows its way into my head during early shopping. But this year I'm doing most of my shopping online, and my wife is doing (as always) the lioness's share of the joint gift acquisition. Time for a new inspiration generator. What images does the word "Christmas" produce in your home?

Thursday, November 24, 2005


Happy Thanksgiving!

Things writers should be grateful for today:
  • An always-refillable well of inspiration
  • A plethora of good writers to emulate and good teachers to learn from, if you're willing to spend just a few minutes to seek them out
  • The proliferation of resources for us in Internetland, ranging from exercises to do, to legal form templates, to places to advertise our readings, to an infinite stream of distractions should we choose not to write today.
  • Our ability to be moved by words, and our desire to similarly move with our own; that sometimes, words you write and forget about show up somewhere and affect someone,

I'm also very grateful for everyone who's taken time to comment here over the last however-many months I've been using this space to refocus myself on creative writing. You are an accomplished crowd, and I enjoy the chance to learn from you whenever I can.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Trusting the Poem

My reading Monday night went very well, according to all reports. I'm still new enough at the process that I lose myself to the performance a little - having come to reading by way of acting, I tend to disappear into character when on stage. It's a character quite near to myself, to be sure, but it's still a character at the lectern reading those poems. But the feedback was gratifying and it felt good while I was up there.

Got some terrific insightful feedback from my cousin. He's not a big poetry fan - the only readings he's ever attended have been my mine, and not even all of those, but he knows me well and he knows good performance when he sees it. Summarized, he said he liked the poems, but couldn't understand why I spent so much time setting each of them up - explaining them in advance, as it were.

Of course, I didn't see it that way (I never do. Do I, Ben?). But I quickly realized that I had, in fact, inserted a set up before each of the dozen poems I'd read. I told myself (and still sort of believe) I was just designing good transitions, turning "some poems" into "a reading", but the bottom line (drumroll, please) is that he's right. I didn't trust a single one of the poems to start with its title.

I've heard poets do tons of set up and some do almost none. I'd once thought it was a simple matter of audience outreach, that poets taking seriously the task of making a connection with an audience would naturally want to present a show complete with crafted transitions. That may still be true.

However, my astute, observant cousin - who will (if I'm correct) never read this post and therefore go on thinking I've hated him since 1986 - was right. If I have enough confidence in the work, I should trust it to hook its own listener without me holding its hand. And if I don't, how could I possibly think of sending it off on its own in a book?

Saturday, November 12, 2005

One for My Mother

I'll be reading Monday night in Princeton, and my Mom will not be able to attend, so I thought I'd share one for her here.

After-Dinner Questions for My Mother


Talk to you tomorrow, Mom.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Maybe Little Brother Poems, Then

Here are a few annual index section headings from Writer's Digest (from the December issue, indexing the 2005 volume):
  • Business/Legal Matters
  • Grammar/Language Use
  • Interviews/Profiles
  • Marketing/Submitting
  • Personal Essays/Poetry

What, exactly, is that last grouping telling us? It's either a poor opinion of poetry, or some bad advice about writing it.

Or both.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Two Sides of the Coin?

Deb Ager, discussing "Grandmother poems":

After we write the poems about our families, it seems we then struggle to write something that isn't about family. It becomes a habit. We mine every detail of our lives for ideas. We run out of ideas. We don't want to share the truth. We don't want to use what few ideas we do have. We strike those poems out as too confessional or juvenile. I was familied out about a decade ago. If I write any poems about my family now, the poems are all lies. Lies are more interesting.

William Logan (from The Undiscovered Country: Poetry in the Age of Tin, currently excerpted at Poetry Daily):

Oh, and ... poems must be about the poet's life, because we should always write what we know, and what else does a poet know? How fortunate that Shakespeare was the close personal friend of Julius Caesar and that Milton supped frequently with the Devil.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

As Political As I Get

Here in NJ, we gave the privilege and duty today to select between two men of means with equivalently encumbered pasts and remarkable similar (for the most part) platform cards. I prefer one to the other - slightly - and will be be voting for him, though there are a couple interesting alternatives on the surprisingly vast undercard.

The whole process this year (at least in New Jersey) reminds me more than a little of the worldview of
Nancy Kress' Beggars' series. In that universe, most of society has become impoverished, and they choose from candidates based on promises to spend their own vast wealth on the people. Further complicating that society is commonplace genetic modification technology, making designer babies common, at least among the rich-enough. I don't want to give away the critical tech hooks or the plots (true SF fans never commit such abominations), but if you've never read the books, you should. They're good speculative fiction and, as most of her writings, they touch issues of interest and importance in 2005 society.

Kress also writes a fiction-writing column for Writer's Digest (which she shares now with other writers), and has won awards for her short and long fiction. Check her out.

And remember: Vote early and often! And vote smart!

Friday, November 04, 2005

Gina and John Larkin in Hoboken

The mostly-monthly Spoken Word Series has its November installment this Sunday in Hoboken. Gina and John Larkin run a magazine out of Edison, NJ. If you know Edison more for the view from the Turnpike than for artistic accomplishment, you need to come to Symposia Bookstore and get recalibrated.

I met Gina a couple years ago when she accepted a poem of mine for publication, but I knew I'd seen her around the NJ poetry universe before. What I hadn't realized until recently was that she'd beaten me out for recognition in a contest 6 years ago. Maybe I can goad her into reading the poem that made the grade that year.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Poetry Appreciation 101

Jeff and Josh have had a minor exchange over poetry critiquing the last couple days. It's very interesting to me, as someone slowly climbing the steepest part of the learning curve into the universe of creative writing, to see two voices I respect in disagreement. Let me try to cull a couple critical learnings, and (natch) interject an opinion or two of my own.

Jeff starts by pointing out that in poetry forums (critique groups), the tendency is to "microcritique", going line by line and identifying flaws, where discussions in blog entries tend to focus on the "strategy" of work(s) . I see this is a community norming issue, influenced by the form restrictions: in most blogs (Silliman excepted), entries of more than 100 words (like this one) are darn near unreadable. Of course, most blogs are darn near unreadable, but that's a different issue.

Josh came back to compare forum critique frenzies to fraternity hazing, and I think he's right on: it's pain you volunteer for in exchange for community membership. Now, my experience with these forums is limited and mostly second hand, but I'm not aware of anyone serious about writing who takes seriously, or can point to a piece significantly affected or improved by, comments from codenamed online writers.

And Jeff (whose motto seems to be "The only thing I really know about poetry is, occasionally, how to write it") returns with acknowledgement of Josh's good points, with a question of whether tactics really follow strategy in poems. If I understand properly, the issue on this count seems to be whether a poem can be judged outside of its context (the poetics or ambitions of its author or its surroundings in a longer work). I have a strong bias here, being a practitioner of short forms: I think a poem needs to stand on its own as a work of art, including consciously practiced elements of craft. It can be improved by its surroundings (as in novels-in-verse), but if an individual poem fails to present itself well (cliche-free, aware of its own sound , etc.), it fails on its own. On a side note, poems cannot be improved by their messages. A bad poem for a good cause is still a bad poem.

Josh made one statement on this point that intrigued me: "The result is a poet getting beaten up for playing chess on a checkers board". This may be an apt analogy, but I can't help but read a little disdain for checkers - for poems without ambitious literary construct - and I don't know if this was intended. I would certainly disagree if it were.

Jeff also noted that he sees no "correlation between brilliant poeticists and first-class poets". This is a fascinating issue for me, and it takes me in the direction of great teachers not needing to be great artists, but I'll come back to that in the weeks to come. Remind me if I forget, would you?

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Illustrated Elements of Style

Have you heard about the illustrated Strunk and White? Childrens' book illustrated Maria Kalman picked up an old copy of the classic handbook and found magic in the example sentences. Then, naturally, she turned it into an opera.

Don't believe me? It's true! You think Modern Materials Dance Engineering is next?

Me neither.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005


The Land-Grant College Review, a journal of short fiction out of NYC, has just published its third issue. I heard about LGCR early in its existence: I had just started planning year 2 of my reading series about the time the editorial team at LGCR was pulling Issue 1 together. We had a good fit, since I was determined to include literary forms other than poetry in my series and they were interested in showing off their wares in as many places as possible. Only thing is... I failed to produce an audience for them. It was early in both our life cycles, for sure, but LGCR procuded three readers, and I only turned up two for the audience. Counting me. They were very gracious about the whole thing.

Anyway, LGCR has continued to grow. There are many stories available in their archive and feature pages, which I encourage you to visit. Blogger
Laurel Snyder is credited as an editor-at-large and had an interview in Issue 1.

And it Josh, Dave or Tara is reading this - our audiences now typically number larger than 3 if you're interested in stopping by again!

Friday, October 21, 2005

Poet of the Light, I Am

Courtesy of Wil Wheaton in Exile, I have learned I am Yoda.

A venerated sage with vast power and knowledge, you gently guide forces around you while serving as a champion of the light.

Judge me by my size, do you? And well you should not - for my ally is the Force. And a powerful ally it is. Life greets it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us, and binds us. Luminescent beings are we, not this crude matter! You must feel the Force around you, everywhere.

This is from the "What Fantasy Sci/Fi Character Are You?" Quiz over at John Hubbard's TK421's Post. The geekiest of Star Wars geeks may get the reference, the rest of you should go here.

Ordinarily, I don't post my results of things like this, but hey: this one nailed me. Right? Right?

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Pieces and Bits

A few things you might be interested in:

  • The fine folks at JMilligan Design have a recently revamped website that features their rather impressive graphic and web design skills. And I'm not just complimenting them because....
  • ... the latest update of has reached the screen with updated pub credits and such. But the more useful info for those who are interested is a set of links I've posted in the Reading Room that will take you to tools and resources of value to teaching artists - particularly those teaching at the grammar school level.
  • Frank 'n' Furter fans be advised: Richard O'Brien's The Rocky Horror Show hits the stage in Hoboken this Friday night! The Center for the Performing Arts at DeBaun Auditorium invites you to attend in costume and be part of the fun. The link also takes you to post-show deals available in Hoboken when you visit.

And one think I'm sure you're not interested in, but I feel obliged to post anyway, is an apology to AJ at The Daily Mojocrat, whose Bills stuffed my Jets in spite of my trash talking. As an aside, can you call it trash talking when it's in the comments to a blog? Ca-ca-commenting, maybe? Putrescence-posting?

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Just read over in Aimee Nezhukumatathil's blog that David Citino has died. Citino is one of those poets I've come across many times in my readings but whose works I've never found the time to really dive into. Too bad it's always something like that this that makes me make the time.

Shivers in the trees, a stirring
of birds. The crickets chant

their names until my presence
quiets them. I hear the silence
of eternity. They'll sing again
only when I've gone home.

from "The Last Cricket in Ohio Sings a Song of Wilderness". Go to Verse Daily for the rest.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Friday Quirkinalia

A few random bits today, just because.

James Lileks' day job has gone daily. If you can't pick up the Minneapolis Star-Tribute at your corner store, you can read his humor column

If you're not already on the
100 Blogging Poets bandwagon, you have some catching up to do. There may be a more eclectic mix somewhere, but there's no other single list that captures this much creative writing energy.

Wil Wheaton is operating an
auxiliary blog while he contemplates repairs to the primary. The state of WWdN is not stopping Wil from hosting his own poker tourney, nor I suspect from participating in the first (that I know of) poker tournament exclusively for bloggers!

In someone's comment field recently, I noted that I only frequent online journals that give me something print cannot, otherwise I prefer the tactile feel of the book. Fairfield Review's hypertext treatment of the table of contents fits the bill there.

Finally, and completely out of character, I'm going to see a real movie in a real theater this weekend. Are you?

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Credential Check

What's the difference between "Studied with" and "Sat through a 1-hour seminar by"?

Sunday, October 09, 2005

The Reader Writes About Her Reading

Newark Star-Ledger columnist Kathleen Shea, who was (along with her son JT Aregood) this month's featured reader in the Spoken Word Series, had this to say about her experience with us.

Thursday, October 06, 2005


Deborah Ager challenged her readers thusly:

...identify those themes, imagery, elements, phenomena that reappear in your life and/or dreams and/or writing.... Whatever it is, let this guide you to write the poem. Use the "thing" as your title.The poem is due one week from today....

I immediately thought back to my first friendly contact with an editor whose name I unfortunately forget. Old Hickory Review was in the process of folding, and therefore returning my submission, but she took time to read and comment on them, and she noted to me how prominent rivers and rain were in the (I think) 5 poems I sent her. A quick perusal of my portfolio 15 years later confirms that water in all many forms has indeed shown up a lot. More recently the recurring metaphors have involved hands, but that's another exercise.

So here, just 11 minutes late (I know, I know -- too literal, too literal), is my effort:


Follow the water -
blessing from birth,
growing child of gravity -
do the souls it sustains
know their place in the line?
Do the lies it conceals
know the danger of depth?
In the absence of clouds
all the lakes lose their life,
In the hurricane's pounding
plenty, the same.
Follow the water,
like fear, like food,
a partner, a pretender,
a tool we always use,
a place we hate like home.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Wow. That's it. Just: "Wow".

Well, don't say I didn't try to tell you. The Warren County Poety Festival was a great success, and kudos to BJ Ward and his team for the effort. There's way too much to tell about, from the workshops to the panel discussions, from Gerald Stern singing Dylan to Adrian Louis ironically lamenting the end of his subversive impact on the world. One thing in particular I wanted to write about here: The impact of meeting Hayden Carruth.

I admit, I knew only a smattering of his work before I saw him on Saturday. But between my first impression of him and my last of the day, my admiration has gone through the roof.

First impression: I was asking the fine poet Joe-Anne McLaughlin to sign my copy of her book JAM when Mr. Carruth happened to walk past, and Ms. McLaughlin used something I just said to introduce me to him - and he graciously stopped, turned, and shared a few minutes with me. OK, he was listening to his wife, but still.

More impressively, as the last reader of the night, Carruth read well past his 30 minute allotment, at one point asking the audience if we'd "had enough" (we hadn't). Not even on-stage maintenance work on the oxygen tank he pushes around slowed him down. I think he read for about an hour; I don't know for sure, because it didn't occur to me to look at my watch. If we hadn't had to be out of the auditorium in time for late-night cleanup, we might still be there.

Maybe it shouldn't, but it amazes me how generous poets of such accomplishment can be. For the time my audiencemates and I were in his presence, it's as if there was nothing more important to him than presenting himself to us - poems, stories, recommended reading...

The great teachers are always teaching. I wish I could learn at the same pace.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Good Weekend, Good News, Good Idea

If you're in New Jersey this weekend, there are a half dozen excellent literary events to fill your first October days. A little simple searching will flag them all, but if you want to know what my choices are, these links will lead you:

Saturday, come early (10:15 start!) for the workshops and stay all day at the Warren County Poetry Festival.

Sunday. come to Hoboken and hear Kathleen Shea, as introduced by her son, J. T. Aregood, at Symposia Bookstore at 3PM.

If you're out of the area, please take in my poem "The Big Bounce", which was recently posted at Identity Theory. It's in the September Verse selections alongside some fine company. Check out the Verse archive while you're there; it's a young journal, but quite a good one. And visit the Poker Blog, too.

And if you're still looking for something to write about after all these choices, pop over to the 32 Poems blog for a challenge from Deborah Ager.

And if you're still stuck for something to do this weekend after all this, it's not my fault.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

At Least Look It Up, Would You?

Pet Peeve Alert: a "positive" review of a poetry product that reveals the ignorance of the reviewer.

In the library today, I picked up a copy of Book Page, a free paper whose sole function seems to be advertising new books. Therein, I found a microreview of the new Billy Collins Live. Without meaning any disrespect to the reviewer, whose other reviews I found useful and informative, her treatment of the Collins CD is just awful.

The review opens with this comment: "... I have a mad, albeit intellectual, crush on ... Billy Collins... and, more importantly, you don't have to like poetry or know anything about its structure or esoteric intricacies to love Collins' work." So, you love the former poet laureate because ("more importantly"!) you don't have to know diddly about poetry to love him. None of those inconvenient esoteric intricacies. That's encouraging. That would make a great blurb.

Later: "I can't think of a more listener-friendly poet, a fresher voice...". I need to ask: Fresher than what? And what does listener-friendly mean? Small words? Slow cadence? Poems about everyday objects? While I do enjoy Collins, I find his reading style to be a little monotonous. Stack him up against Coleman Barks at the Dodge festival, or even Sharon Olds (and let's not even mention more theatrical performers like Sekou Sundiata) and he's a weak cousin - he's a great speaker, but not a great reader. I've seen performances on Def Poetry Jam which might not have been as well crafted as his poems but were much more engaging to the ear than typical live Collins.

And the clincher - the truest sign of a fictionally positive review: "Don't miss (this CD), his first appearance on audio". Excuse me, but this is just wrong, and it would have taken nothing more than a simple Google search to turn up a prior recording. An error like that, one which the most casual of Collins fans could spot (not to mention one who purports to have a "mad...crush" on the man) sours me to everything else in the review. I simply don't believe any of it.

Is it wrong of me to dismiss the whole review based on that factual miss? Or is it reasonable to think a reviewer of poetry might find a few minutes to, you know, take in a little poetry?

Friday, September 23, 2005

Letting Me Hang Around

If it's true that people form opinions on you based on the company you keep, then the current issue of the Edison Literary Review is going to have to go on my resume right away. My little effort, "The Good Thing About Rain" is mingling alongside poems by Laure-Anne Bosselaar, Kurt Brown, and BJ Ward -- Laura Boss, Therese Halscheid and Peter Murphy -- 50 pages of strong efforts, mostly by poets within commuting distance of the industrial belly of New Jersey.

I can't wholeheartedly direct you to this year's Harvest of Poetry, the annual reading by poets represented in this issue, because I have a pretty fine event running opposite it, but I can encourage you to buy a copy of ELR.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Celebrating the Body

AAP announced a new exhibit in the September newsletter: poems about the body, inspired by a similar exercise at Salon. It's a pretty good exercise, albeit fairly predictable. Personally, I'd like to have seen less Sylvia Plath and more younger contemporary poets.

In a very quick walk through my home library, I came across a few good options for an extended corporeal poetry collection:
  • Kelli Agodon's "New Hips" (These are softer than the ones I wore/before she grew inside me) from Small Knots.
  • BJ Ward's "Instructions for Using The Tongue" (Don't be too careful--/better to be overflowing/with what the tongue can offer./Sweet generosity returns to your soft mouth) from 17 Love Poems with No Despair.
  • Beth Ann Fennelly's "Three Months After Giving Birth, The Body Loses Certain Hormones" (And my hair starts falling out. Long, red hair on the sheets, clogging/every drain, woven through the forest/of my brush, baked into brownies,) from Tender Hooks

Seems there are three motifs to poems about the body: wistful for what it was, wishing for what it might do (and with whom!), or whimsical at what its state says about our state of mind. Anyone got one that doesn't fit one of these molds?

Sunday, September 18, 2005

An Early Writing Lesson

Readers who share my passion for teaching creative writing to kids -- not to mention anyone with kids of their own -- may want to scrounge up a copy of the Harold and the Purple Crayon Board Game. This extraordinary little game by BRIARPATCH Games is simplicity itself: You draw a card with an object on it. Then, just as Harold does in the Crockett Johnson books, you draw the object onto the erasable gameboard, then you add that object to a story you're making up on the spot. If you're playing with winners and losers, the object is to remember the story and tell it reasonably consistently with all the objects in the correct order. If you're like the writers in my house, you skip the victory conditions and just tell the wildest story you can.

If mine are typical in any way, kids can start participating in this round-robin storytelling event as soon as they can handle a marker without getting a purple tongue. Most of the objects can be drawn well enough without much of an eye, and interesting visual interpretations can contribute to the story (this weekend we wound up with "a dragon the size of Massachusetts" because of the shape my daughter gave him).

There are a dozen ways this can be adapted to other writing exercises with young kids. But whether you teach kids, have kids, play with kids, or are a kid, this is something you should have on your shelf. I don't think BRIARPATCH is making it anymore (and there's not one on eBay that I can find right now), so if you spot one, grab it. You wont be sorry.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

One I Don't Regret (a Blogoview question revisited)

Jeff proposed today that blogging poets post their favorite of their own poems, and posted his own excellent Raku to kick the idea off. I took a quick look across my own published works* and was immediately reminded of a poem from BJ Ward's Gravedigger's Birthday, "The Poems I Regret in My First Book", which begins:

Irretractable, obnoxious children
having tantrums on the dog-eared tabletops
of these pages, screaming out
"Failure! Failure!"
in an otherwise classy joint.

Turns out that of the couple dozen poems of mine that have appeared in journals, I'm happy with about half. I wonder if that ratio holds true for others.

Anyway, it seems like a good idea to think about our own work from time to time and remind ourselves what we like about it, and why we think we're any good at this scribbling business. I picked this poem for this exercise because it still, 15 years after I wrote it, surprises me - first that I conceived it, and second that I can hear in it a little of what I eventually matured (I think) into some of the elements of my voice.

(this poem first appeared in
Grasslands Review**)

I dream of Lincoln lately
limping from his ancient attic
hand on whitewood handrail
softly moaning of peace.

Curtain clouds conceal
both the man and any reason
for his choice of me to see -
I'm no Illinois schoolboy.

Tonight, asleep, I'll call
upon the wispy words of Adams
whose honor lay in anger,
whose wars I understand.

* so limited in this exercise because I still think blogging = publishing.
** but is updated in form here slightly, because I just can't stomach initial caps in my own work anymore.

Monday, September 12, 2005

What P&W Suggests You Can Do

Poets and Writers suggests the following ways writers, specifically, can help in the rebuilding the comminunities of New Orleans:
  • The Katrina Literary Collective has been created to collect and distribute books to victims of the hurricane. For more information, contact the Amber Communications Group at
  • A Louisiana Disaster Relief Fund has been established to receive monetary donations to assist libraries in Southeastern Louisiana. For more info, visit the American Library Association at
  • The American Booksellers Association has created a Bookseller Relief Fund to assist independent booksellers affected by Hurricane Katrina. For info, visit
  • The Southern Arts Federation has set up an Emergency Relief Fund to assist arts organizations and artists in those Gulf Communities most devastated by Katrina. For more info, go to

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Indulging My Technophobia

First let me point out that I make my living turning technology into things useful things through the art of engineering. That said, stop telling me about the iPod nano already.

It's an odd situation, being an R&D professional and a technophobe all at the same time. Well, maybe not a technophobe, but certainly not an early adopter of personal technology. Heck, I still don't have cable TV in my house. I'm going to have to mooch off my cousins to catch my boys in action this fall.

This attitude of mine spills into to my writing. I don't think a great deal of most online journals except those that use the technology to deliver something the page can't. I don't compose at the keyboard - except entries this blog, and not even all of those. I compose audibly (dictating into a tape recorder) or with pen and paper. There are a couple reasons for my avoidance of the computer, but the main one is that I get so wrapped up in capability (formatting, spell-checking, etc.), that I often lose the idea. The point of composing, for me, is to translate the kernel in my head to some fixed form ASAP. Anything that distracts me from that - or God forbid, enables me to start editing it as I go - is bad for me - it slow my process and sometimes costs me content.

I have enough trouble defeating the editor within. I don't want my Dell contributing to the battle.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Letting Others Tell It

I don't feel like anything I could say about what's happening in N.O. right now would add much. Here are some more cogent commentaries than I have to make:

Friday, September 02, 2005

Pace Yourself

I'm thoroughly enjoying the current issue of Smartish Pace. Like a ball-player in his last year, this journal made its best effort in the last issue of my subscription. Among the delights:

  • Denise Duhamel's "eBay Sonnets", a linked series of 7 sonnets treating her poetic habits as auction items
  • Seven efforts by Bob Hicok, who is always worth a read
  • Emily Lloyd recalling an evening preparing to be Jackson Pollack on a difficult night
  • 32 Poems' John Poch collaborating on some hockey haiku

The whole issue is quite good. Smartish Pace cares more about the order of the works it offers, and particularly about poem sequences by single authors than many journals do (or so it seems to me), and remains a place to find interesting translations. You should think about subscribing.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Very Sharp Pencil. Too Much Eraser?

Just finished Sam Swope's I Am A Pencil, chronicling his time as a teaching artist with grammar school kids in New York City. It's a good read (you can find the first chapter here), and a valuable one if you are as interested in teaching artistry as I am. The book discusses many of the exercises that he does with one particular group of students, including a year-long one in his last year with them. It also highlighted for me some interesting issues about the concept of artist as teacher.

First, in the preface, he points out that he's corrected most of the children's poems and stories for grammar and spelling. And throughout the book, he provides evidence of his own examples of correcting them live in conversation. I have two small issues with this. Is it the role of the teaching artist to make such corrections? I regard the TA's primary task as infusing kids with energy and appreciation for the arts, and correction is at best neutral, and at worst counter to this. But this particular group of students were largely immigrants or first-gen Americans born to immigrant parents; should you reinforce "proper English" with these kids whenever the chance appears?

Because he spent three full school years with the same class, he got to know them well, and he discusses their personal issues in some detail, and his involvement with their lives and their young academic careers. I guess I was surprised at how much fifth graders were willing to discuss with Swope in his role, and how much he seemed to be able to influence them, and they him. One thing he alludes to but I don't think did very well was suspending his own feelings in trying to reach the kids. I think you need to be neutral-to-encouraging with a side of safety whenever you are dealing with children and you are not in a position of authority over them. By definition, the teaching artist is not the authority in a classroom; that's the teacher's job.

I Am A Pencil is definitely worth reading for a sense of the potential of and problems in the teaching artist's experience. You will learn a few new tips for teaching, but you'll learn much more about what writing and relationships can mean to children.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Best Bio Ever

This is from The Onion, where Wil Wheaton writes the Games of our Lives column for The Onion A.V. Club.

When Wil Wheaton (contributor) was in 9th grade, his English teacher, Mrs. Lee, told him that he'd never amount to anything because he was "a stupid actor" and "the worst writer [she'd] ever known." Wil would like to thank Mrs. Lee for her inspiration, and invite her to kiss his ass.

Though she was a little more gentle with me than that, Wheaton's experience reminds me of my 11th grade English teacher, who tried for six months to fit my writings into a 5-paragraph essay format, with the net result only of her disliking me and me disliking the grades she gave me. When we got to poetry, we began to undersand each other. After I handed this cinquain in, we got along fine.

fluent artist
adding to English class
a moment's sojourn from boredom*
to beauty

* - of course, I changed this word to "grammar" before turning it in. Weakens the piece, but you have to know your editor's preferences, after all.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Beat the Block

Writer's block is nonsense. Writer's distraction, writer's apathy, OK. And in my case, it's the old writer's-need-to-play-StarCraft compounded by writer's laziness. But there are ways to shock yourself out of the unproductive times. One such is Leevi Lehto's Google Poem Generator. After playing with it for a while (and creating something Mr. Lehto generously posted to his Google Poem Anthology) I find seed lines running through my head again. The trick is to collect enough seeds to do something useful with.

Friday, August 12, 2005

The Commish Speaks on Beer League Poetry

Jilly linked yesterday to an interesting article comparing poets without poetic training to weekend athletes. High school teacher Rob Keast writes:

I am proposing that we lower our expectations of amateur poetry, along with all amateur art. At the next wedding, when the toast turns into verse, just relax. Grade amateur poets on a lower scale, as we do adult amateur athletes and amateur gardeners. Forgive the once-a-month poets their lack of degrees, their ignorance of who Charles Simic and Adrienne Rich are, and even their banal observations. Amateur poetry should be as free from expectation and awkwardness as the beer leagues are.

Finally, I see a reference to define my position on the subject. Mr. Keast is right and wrong. Yes, there should be an equivalent low-pressure venue for amateur poets as for amateur softball players. But - and this is the the critical point for me - just as you wouldn't send onto the softball field someone wearing a hockey mask and bowling shoes, you* cannot send to the microphone someone who does not own a poetic softball bat - who does not own and use some of the tools of poetry.

I don't expect the open-mic readers in my series to be able to quote Frost or talk about ways to teach poetry to 6th grade English classes or know which journals are prestigious, which are well-respected and which proliferate crap. I don't expect them even to know if their own work is any good - even accomplished poets often struggle with that. But I do expect them to know what makes their poems different from prose, and their prose different from poetry.

For much of my audience, this means rhymed stanzas. That's fine. Even if I don't care for it, I respect that they attempted to craft something into a poem.

The foul line, the rules of courtesy, the scoring system... even beer league bowlers know there are rules.

*A note on "you": here, I'm talking about poets and reading series hosts with an educational component to their job descriptions. If you take seriously the act of spreading the art of poetry - no matter what way you practice your own poetry - then it's "you" I'm talking to here.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Funnies Business

Warning: Subject about to be taken way too seriously for far too long.

My local newspaper is having a week-long debate about the funny pages. The editors are considering changes to funny page content, and are soliciting input. It's a good idea:

The usual technique is for the newspaper to cancel the strip most disliked by the editors. Readers get up in arms, complain bitterly, and the comic is either restored or not.

We'd like to avoid that seemingly inevitable two-step. It doesn't work for us, and more importantly, it doesn't work for you. It's nothing but an exercise in aggravation for nearly everyone.

That's where you come in. Over the next few weeks, we'd like your help in guiding us in our upcoming evaluation. We'd like you to tell us who in your house reads the comics, and what you expect from those pages.

- from the Newark Star-Ledger, August 7 2005

Reader comments have been all over the map and fairly predictable, ranging from "keep the funny pages funny - put politics elsewhere!" to "I appreciate a thought-provoking comic aimed at my generation." I've been up and down that continuum myself, finally arriving at a comfortable place thanks to comments from my wife and Penn Jillette.

Critical point #1: After listening to me spew how "even though I've loved Peanuts for 35 years but shouldn't we let the strip go with Sparky's memory", my wife asked me a simple question: Who are the funnies for? Simple question. I'll come back to the answer.

Critical point #2: Studio 360 interviewed Penn on The Aristocrats movie. It's a brilliant idea and I can't wait to see it, but that's another issue. He made a simple point about the language: The movie's tagline is "No sex. No violence. Unfathomable obscenity." If you're surprised by the cussin', you either walked into the wrong theater, or you're looking for a fight. You're not being set up - you knew what you were getting into.

Back to #1: My daughter has fallen in love with the comics. We sometimes sit down and read them together, and she winds up asking me - repeatedly - "what's funny about this one?" Well, nothing. Often it's "nothing I can explain", sometimes it's just plain "nothing." But the things she does find funny, like the strips of Peanuts I read when I was her age (often literally the same ones) do reach her. Now here's my problem:

The juxtaposition of Peanuts and Garfield and Family Circus, and Rose is Rose with, for example, Wally Winkerbean's excursion into Afghanistan, creates a problem for me. I read Funky Winkerbean, but I'm not ready to introduce my children to the good and bad about Wally's minesweeping expedition. So I have to actively exclude (cover up) some material to have access to what I want, rather then simply opting into the content I choose.

I think that's the problem with people's gut reactions about the funny pages. The "think of the children" argument is ignorant and narrow. There's a place for Stephan Pastis's often brilliant and sometimes psychotically vulgar Pearls Before Swine. I just think that that place is not directly below Baby Blues.

Is it reasonable to ask the Comics Editor to consider consistency of target audience within a single presentation? For example, put Ziggy, Heathcliff, (yes, and Peanuts reruns, since so few artists are writing for that audience anymore) and such on one page, and strips with more adult content and targets somewhere else - not above them, not below them, and not on the facing page. In discussing The Aristocrats, Penn argued that vulgarity that surprises you, that prevents you from being prepared for it, can reasonably be considered unfair - that as a customer of an art product (TV, movie, etc.), you should not be assaulted with what you do not choose to see, and what you do not choose to permit your children to see. That's the argument for permitting more operating freedom on cable channels, isn't it? Doonesbury is already on the op-ed pages of many newspapers because of its content, no?. But by the same token, the market should provide what the customer wants - if that's grown-up content, political primers, and the occasional impaling of a criminally stupid crocodile, so be it.

I think Penn's got an excellent point. I wonder if the same argument applies to the comics. And I wonder what editors of other forms think.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Summer Date Saver #2

The new season of the Spoken Word Series has been posted. As my top two criteria in selecting readers for the series are individual excellence and variety across the group. I'm quite pleased with how the schedule worked out. We only have seven Sunday afternoon events scheduled this season, so mark your calendars now!

September 11, 2005 Linda Lerner & Amy Holman
October 2, 2005 Kathleen Shea
November 6, 2005 Gina & John Larkin
December 4, 2005 Ed Foster
February 5, 2006 Stuart Greenhouse & Sharon Lynn Griffiths
March 5, 2006 Charlotte Mandel
April 2, 2006 Delaware Valley Poets

Supplementing the Sunday readings we will have a writing workshop in January, and the second annual Visible Word, partnering the visual with the verbal, in May; more on those events as the details emerge.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

A Box to Hide an Idea

There's a terrific essay by the great Ursula K. LeGuin on the CBC Books site. I cannot represent her meaning here (and if you are in touch with her opinions on the Earthsea miniseries, you know I shouldn't try!), but I'll try to capture the critical point:

Stories are not packages designed for the delivery messages. You don't start with a message, then build a story around it.

This is a fundamental truth in writing, and not a new one. But its presence on the Children's Book Council site reminds me, as I consider year 3 in the evolution of my hobby/passion to teach poetry to children, that I must avoid teaching them to learn what a poem really means, because it can really mean different things to different people. I get so disappointed when people tell me "that was a great poem; I really understood it". That, my reader friends, is not a tier-1 compliment. Of course, I want you to find great value and connection with the work. And I want it to touch you in a way that is meaningful and particular to you (what I've called "The Hmm."). But if what I was after primarily were your understanding, I certainly wouldn't write you a poem. I'd present you a rational case, with straightforward logic and a clear conclusion. The opposite of a poem.

LeGuin says: "The complex meanings of a serious story or novel can be understood only by participation in the language of the story itself. To translate them into a message or reduce them to a sermon distorts, betrays, and destroys them."

You can substitute any art form for "story". Now how to teach this? More to come.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Summer Date Saver #1

It does get quiet in Poetryland this time of year, no? Well, here is something to look forward to:

Saturday, October 1, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m
Blair Academy, Blairstown, New Jersey

Events include readings, panel discussions, workshops, and open mics. All events are free and open to the public. Questions? Please contact BJ Ward, Artistic Director:

I've attended the last two of these events, and they're just marvelous. I'd gladly pay my way in, and yet we get it for free! Workshops in the morning, readings in the afternoon, opens around dinner time, and a 2-hour reading after dinner.

And don't worry, the nice folks at the Blairstown First Aid Station will help you find your way home.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Suspecting the Muse

I like to think I respect everyone's writing process. You may be excercise-driven, you may be wordplay-driven, you may court inspiration or wrestle with it whenever it visits. All of this is cool; I'm primarily a wordplaying inspiration-courter, if this matters.

But when your process results in 5-6 things a day that you call "poems", I have an issue. I just don't think this is possible. Call me a snob (which may be true), call me an academic (which I obviously am not), I just don't think it's possible to produce poems in bulk.

If every stone were a gem, gems would cease to hold wonder.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

The Week That Was

I spent most of the last week in a class for my job. It was really a terrific opportunity to learn things applicable to my job and useful for my personal and professional development. Sometime during the week, I remembered a conversation I had with my then-boss when I was a little baby engineer. He said he was going to take an American History course at a local college. When I asked why, expecting him to give me a well-roundedness, or management-degree argument, he said "Because I haven't learned anything in a while."

Hmm. I've been chewing on that in for a dozen years. This was someone who made his living researching and applying new technologies. And he was telling me he hadn't learned anything in a while. In a sense, I guess this was a well-roundedness argument. It also sets the scale for what he considered a "learning".

Lately I've been drawn to topics that require research moreso than I've been in the past. Been putting them off because I "haven't had time" to learn about them. That sets a scale, too, doesn't it?

Friday, July 22, 2005

Jersey Music

Since the grand total of my own literary output this summer has been -- wait, let me count -- zilch, let me leave words behind entirely and direct you to two musical events of note if you're in my neighborhood:

Maureen started a series about the New Jersey Music Hall of Fame. The first inductees have not been mentioned, but the pool of artists in contention is huge. NJ Music is as varied as NJ Poetry. Which tells you something.

And on the not-quite-ready-for-the-hall-of-fame list (because they have day jobs and just don't get to play much anymore, it seems) are the fine folk folks at Broadside Electric. I had the good luck to spend some time on stage with one of their ranks back when we were whippersnappers. He played the leading men. I yelled a lot and got pantsed. Some things never change. Anyway, Broadside Electric is helping build a Bridge to the Future in August. The show features an awesome line up. Plan to go. I'll remind you.

Finally, if I may, though many have already said it better: Goodbye, Scotty.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Game-Making as Creative Writing

I happen to agree with Bruno Faidutti that a good game is a good piece of writing. A good new game requires enough of a plot to be captivating to new and old players. This is especially the kinds of games I like to play: involved strategy games that expect one to spend hours learning rules and hours playing by them (and, if you're like my friends and me, hours arguing about them).

In the current issue of The Games Journal, Faidutti says:

Like a film or a novel, a game tells a story—but a story which changes with each game. Like a film or a novel, a game is inspired by all the works (books, films, and mostly other games) which have preceded it, and is part of a cultural tradition through references and quotes. This is definitely why I consider role-playing games, undoubtedly the least technical form of gaming but by far the most social and literary, to be the quintessence of gaming. There are of course technical and mechanical aspects in creating a game, testing and adjusting various systems, but the same applies to films and novels, neither of which are considered technical creations.

Children, especially, require a story to hold their attention in a game. Even a classic game like Sorry! takes on an added dimension when, instead of pawn chasing pawn, it's Peter Pan stomping on Captain Hook.

Well, it does in our house, anyway.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

In Your Own Words

Jilly links today to an article on a scam vanity publisher who "illustrated" an aspiring author's books with photocopies of the Berenstain Bears. Reminds me of a particular incident back at the college literary magazine: a "writer" submitted the lyrics of Perhaps Love and Annie's Song as her own poems. I don't know if she thought we were ignorant or idiots or if she was playing a joke on us. None of the editorial staff knew her, so the last seemed unlikely.

Sometime later, we included a list of "things we don't want to see" with the weekly call for submissions we ran in the school newspaper. I think the list looked like this:

Amazingly, we got more submissions from this person after this call. She did alter the name she submitted under though; she added an unusual middle name.

Anyway, this comes on the heels of hearing from a poet who read for me a couple years ago that a publisher who'd had his second manuscript "approved" and tied up for a year abruptly took down a website, disconnected phones and tried to disappear, except he happened to catch her before she could do so.

I suppose I can understand the disappearing publisher - that's simple embarrassment. The Berencopy Bears are simple greed. But what would prompt a person to represent the lyrics of a song that had only recently been on the radio (this was 1986 or 1987) as their own? And if you were going to do that, wouldn't you at least pick a song that didn't debut as Muzak?

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Science, Speculation, Introspection

As usual, Maureen's got another angle on things with her discussion of War of the Worlds. You should go read her summary (especially if you're from the Garden State), but I'll hit a couple key points for you:
  • War of the Worlds isn't about War. Or The World.
  • Don't mix death rays and Martians with Tuesdays and Morrie.
  • Science fiction is fiction based in science.

The last bullet derives from her Writing Prompt: "Write a little sci-fi story that has to do with some scientific fact that you know. (I learn most of my chemistry from the Food Network.) Make the science the solution to or center of the story. War of the Worlds? CSI? MacGuyver?"

This straightforward prompt gets at a huge point. I think it was the great Robert Heinlein who said (paraphrasing) he didn't like the phrase "science fiction"; he preferred "speculative fiction" because he was merely looking forward to futures that were entirely possible and writing about them. Bingo.

A great deal of science fiction simply isn't. I'm an original Star Trek fan, but very, very little of that original series was science fiction. Gene Roddenberry didn't even consider it SF; he called it "Wagon Train to the stars". Here's how you can tell: If the technology is integral to the story, and the story cannot exist without the techology, you've got science fiction. You could also apply a rule that you must change/enhance/eliminate one of the laws of our universe, thereby creating a different one. I think I've talked about this before.

But this new angle creates what I think is an extraordinarily useful question set for evaluating your own work:

  1. What am I trying to create? (narrative poems? speculative short stories? romance novellas?)
  2. What structures and styles defines what I am trying to create? (rhyme? use of dialogue? pages of exposition?)
  3. What have I included in my work that fits that definition (form? bug-eyed monsters? Prince Phillip's sweat-moistened pectorals?)
  4. What have I added that is different, special, and interesting to that definition? (??????)

This gets back to having to have a definition of poetry, but I'll hold off on rehashing that for a while....