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?