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.