Thursday, June 26, 2008

NJ Publishers In The News

What a happy surprise to open the paper this morning and see Ed Foster gracing the front of the Today section. My prolific former professor was featured along with other publishers of poetry in the Garden State. And it's not even April!

The featured publishers were Foster's Talisman House, Roxanne Hoffman's Poets Wear Prada, CavanKerry Press, and Barbara Worton's Great Little Books in Glen Rock (be diligent in your Google searching on the last one - there seem to be at least a half-dozen companies publishing in English under that name).

This is an eclectic set, by the way. I don't know if it was purposeful, but this article covers a huge spectrum in poetry.

As does my home state. For which I am grateful, as always.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

More Counting Down to Dodge

Father's Day, the end of the school year, and various other hobby-crowding obligations over, we're back to looking forward to Dodge. Today's featured reference is Jane Hirshfield. My favorite of her present-tense-dominated poems is "Mule Heart", which begins:

On the days when the rest
have failed you,
let this much be yours --
flies, dust, an unnameable odor,
the two waiting baskets:
one for the lemons and the passion,
one for all that you have lost.

She's not always so meditative, but I think she's much more effective when she is. Of all the returning "big name" poets, I'm most interested to hear what she has been working on.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

A Minireview (and practice with more complexly formatted posts)

Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography by David Michaelis

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
A well-researched and thoughtful biography, this work by David Michaelis does not dwell on the spectacle of the Peanuts empire, but rather sees it through the eyes of its talented but flawed creator. This book provides some profound (if redundantly developed) insights into the person behind Peanuts, and shows with great clarity another layer with which to read Schulz's deceptively simple strips. Be warned: This is not a book for someone committed to keeping an untarnished image of Charles Schulz in their minds; the Schulz in this account is talented, driven, difficult, frequently mean, always competitive, and often unlikeable. Like most great creators.

View all my reviews.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Father's Day Take 2

I didn't get a chance to perform my Father's Day ritual visit with my father (yet) this year. In the years since Dad died, I've made it a point to enjoy a few of the things we shared interest in. We didn't seem to agree on a great deal - at least from the time I was 11 or so - but in my adulthood, we found more and more common ground (Yes, Mark Twain, you were right. I admit it).

The last few years, this day has been a bit of an emotional jumble for me. I love the deal my kids make of it, and I want to be completely present in the moment for them (and for myself, of course). And my father-in-law always deserves celebration (even when he's not making his meatloaf). But it's hard not to lose a few moments during the day thinking about the man who was most like me.

This melancholy isn't all that unusual, even for those who didn't catch the last hour of I Never Sang For My Father Sunday afternoon on TBS. Michele Melendez wrote about it this year, and there's a terrific essay by Kelli Agodon covering nearby territory over at Literary Mama. So I give myself permission to spend an evening in the next week to have a couple good beers, read a little about the history of math, and watch Scent of a Woman.

I've spent years trying to write my way through understanding my relationship with my father, with varying degrees of success. Part of the hurdle is the nagging memory that he really didn't understand my interest in poetry. When I had a poem published in the Christian Science Monitor, his first question was "Did you have to convert?" He read my poems diligently, and he was appreciative when I showed enthusiasm, but he never really "got" it. So whenever he wanders into a poem, he seems to bring a skepticism with him that takes the poem in a predictable, unresolved, direction.

I don't permit most of my "father poems" to see daylight, but here's one that first appeared in Paterson Literary Review. I'll let it complete the thought that let me to start this entry in the first place.

Friday, June 13, 2008

A Draft for Father's Day

sorry, this poem has been deleted....

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Ambiguous? Or Wishy-washy?

Reading David Michaelis' good biography of the legendary Charles M. Schulz, and just came across the following anecdote:

One Sunday in October 1963, Sally had hidden behind the living room sofa to confess to Charlie Brown that she had prayed in school. Both side of the school-prayer debate wanted to reprint the strip, each seeing in it an affirmation of their position. Sparky himself later came out and said that he personally was opposed to prayer in the schools. But he did not actually care that both parties could find their message in a single strip -- this happened over and over to Peanuts with any number of public causes.

Now, I know this will irk some of you, but I think there's a great kinship between the four-panel funny and the poem: both are constrained forms, requiring the writer to be impactful in a small space - even when it's part of a larger arc or whole, etc. So I found Schulz' sentiments landing pretty close to home even before I realized how closely they align with my own feeling on people's readings of my poems.

It's not that I'm a terribly shadowy writer, with layers deliberately intertwined for you to approach with Poirot-ish persistence. But I hope I've evolved a bit from the poetry-is-non-fiction, moral-in-the-last-couplet poet I was in grammar school. So when a reader greets me with "What does xxx mean", it feels like a poke in the eye. On the sliding scale:

"What do you mean by...?" -- I hate. See above.
"Where did .. come from?" -- I don't mind, but I do resist answering; it shouldn't be relevant.
"You know what I think when I read ...?" -- I like, because it means I've provoked a non-obvious response.
"Hmm." -- I love. Just live with the poem for a while.

The Michaelis book is pretty good as of the half-way mark, though anyone who has and wants to retain an image of Peanuts as nothing more than a cute strip for children should probably skip it. Complicated man. Can't read the strip the same way knowing that.

Let's have a bit from another 2008 Dodge poet as long as we're here. These are the first line of "First Memory", the first poem in Joe Weil's new collection, What Remains:

I remember the delicious heaviness
of an old yellow cab
the thick green-leather upholstery
cracked and torn
as if a giant moth
had cracked from it

Friday, June 06, 2008

Small Worlds: The Dodge, The Earth

The Dodge line-up is slowly reaching completion, and it's pretty exciting. As usual, I'm a bit more excited about the poets whose performances will be away from the main stage, which this year include several current and old friends of the Spoken Word Series (Renee Ashley, Kate Greenstreet, BJ Ward). Of the Main Stage evening programs, I think Thursday and Friday are more interesting than either Saturday or Sunday - which suits me, as I usually run out of energy and/or free time somewhere around 8PM Saturday night. I enjoy being at the festival Thursday, when the programs are intended for students, because that's when the conversation is more about craft and less about "Oh, Mr. Poet, read this one!"

Looking forward to hearing Beth Ann Fennelly, whose book Tender Hooks I've had on my shelf for years; it was one of the first books that started me thinking there was a bit of a market for collections with a young child at the center. Since then, I've seen a few of them by poet mothers; no memorable ones from fathers. You reading this, publishers?

Anyway, here's a bit from Fennelly's "A Study of Writing Habits":

4. Why We Don't Want Our Children to Be Poets

Think about Stephen Dunn
washing his clean laundry at the laundromat
because he wanted to write a poem
about the laundromat.

Think about yourself
thinking about Stephen Dunn.

Here's a bit of trivia about me, just for you, my six loyal readers: Did you see the news about Dwight White? He and I worked at the same company for a short time. White was quite a successful investment banker after he retired from the Steelers, and was an officer at the small (and now defunct) Daniels and Bell, where I was employed during college as (among other things) a generator of mathematical stock price analyses. We only met once, I think in 1986, but I do remember thinking was just what I expected a smart ex-NFL player to be: an impressive, formidable presence. Hearing his name on the radio, aside from saddening me at his passing so young, reminded me that it's really not as big a world as we give it credit for.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Festival! Festival!

The annual Poetry Festival organized by Diane Lockward happened Sunday in West Caldwell, and if you weren't there, I feel sorry for you. The energy level was so great, the poetry was top-drawer with a great mix of new (to the area) talent and respected favorites.
  • Among the poets that registered with me for the first time today (I'm never sure anymore that I haven't heard a poet before and just failed to internalize their names) was Teresa Leo. Her reading was brilliant, and I can't wait to digest her book. She also very generously took a minute while inscribing her book for me to offer (what really seemed to be) genuine support for my own effort to make my book a reality. (Bottom line: took her 10 years; I've only been at it for three; keep going!)
  • Edison Literary Review Gina Larkin has joined the blogosphere; her fledgling effort is indexed at right.
  • Got the skinny on Sandy Zulauf's upcoming book, Where Time Goes, from Dryad.
  • Learned how to pronounce "Schuylkill". Hey: If Worcester can be Wooster, Schuylkill can be "Skookle".
  • Picked up Joe Weil's new book. What Remains. There's some jumpy video of the book launch reading over at YouTube. (NOTE: I don't know if this is authorized; if someone in the know can clarify for me, I'd appreciate it and I'll react accordingly). The video has piano, chant, and harmonica, but not "What I'm Waiting For", with which Joe had the crowd absolutely rolling.
  • Got to see the wittiest man in Po Biz, Hal Sirowitz. Hal is one of the most widely respected an enjoyed poets I've ever heard read. When I first started going to readings, his book Mother Said had just come out, and I followed him around to all the readings I could get to for that book.

And here's the best bit of recognition I've ever had for this page: "David! Thanks for what you wrote on your site. The Bologna Blog, is it?" "Cosmic Liverwurst, actually" "That's right. I knew it was lunch meat".

FYI, I've reluctantly dropped Kate Greenstreet's hiatused blog from the list; be sure, however, to be alert for her next book, due in October from Lame House Press.

After 15 years, I'm still impressed, though no longer surprised, at the great generosity of the NJ (and neighboring!) poetry community.