Sunday, April 26, 2009

Poetry Near Princeton

A great day in West Windsor, despite the heat. So many good poets in the audience! So many good moments....

... hearing Maria Gillan tell favorite and new stories about her life and her work...
... reading a poem about my daughter, which I've read in public before, and having the reactions of the audience make it a completely new experience...
... hearing people react with that strange unexpected recognition ("Oh, you're David Vincenti!")
... seeing a Met hat so close to Phillie country...

Unfortunately, the poet who conceived the event was (severely!) under the weather and unable to attend, so here's a poem from Catherine Magia, with my thanks for a terrific afternoon:


Somehow we had missed the eclipse

Slow thickening of shadow
Celestial molasses careening across
Smooth white dough, darkening and sweetening

To watch the moon close in my imagination
Curved silver eye; blinking, blinded, and reemerging
A survivor of the sky
A narrowing shutter unable to resist light

I don’t remember the sleeping,
Only the stirring, your isolated movements
How you position your body like a mummy’s
Indifferent as wood, unable to slumber with anyone touching

I dreamed of standing at the doorway
Perpendicular to the moon, elliptical light trickling
Through my bones, the momentary flickering
Of the earth’s silhouette, for a minute, swaying together
Like trees in the wind, an unlikely pair

It will be years before this happens again.

Go here to hear her read it.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Me A Poet

First the OSSP*: If you're thinking about coming to hear Maria Gillan and me read in the West Windsor Arts Council's Spring Poetry Awakening tomorrow, you can find directions here; it's not far from Princeton, NJ.

While preparing myself to read tomorrow, and to share the bill with one of my favorite poets, I happened to notice Bob and Margery at reporting that Lulu has taken over the domain and that Watermark Media, they of the International Poetry Library and their regular Parade Magazine advertising , are out of business. This is interesting - an online version of Lulu's print service. I've been looking very hard at Lulu as an open of for the first manuscript... but more on that another in a week or two. Or eight.

For the record, I got over thinking ILP and its ilk were a scam a while ago. Sure, they extracted money from people who didn't know how pobiz works, but that was kind of the point. These folks were people who derived great joy from having a nice gold-edged book with their poem in it, who wouldn't care about any difference (if they noticed one) between a book from CavanKerry Press and one from Kinko's. When they stopped delivering those books because of poor cash flow, that became a different story, of course. It's not all that different from the people I used to see in my bowling league with the special bionic elbow contraption and the special spray for their sliding shoe, and the special glove with the Power-Angle Palm(tm). I know all that stuff was worthless and affected their score not an iota. But it made them happy and made them feel "like a bowler". If that's all they wanted, not to score better or be part of a better team, who am I, even as a reasonably accomplished bowler, to put them down?

There's a little buzz at Publisher's Weekly about Lulu and, which may interest you (and give you a brief insight into one of those bowlers - I mean, poets - I just talked about).

It's also telling that Lulu is aware that much of what they print is bad. But that awareness is part of what makes them legitimate. I have seen a couple of very nice self-published products this year. Given where the "real" presses endowments are going to be over the next two years, it's an option that more poets without bionic elbows may be considering.

Thus endeth the only comparison of poetry and bowling you will encounter today.

See you tomorrow?

*OSSP - Obligatory Shameless Self-Promotion

Thursday, April 23, 2009


Kelli is much more thorough about her confessions, but every now and then an amateur can get a few things out in the open, right? So here goes:

I confess I purchased Valzhyna Mort's Factory of Tears entirely because she appeared on the cover of Poets and Writers with her accordion. Her ACCORDION!

I confess that I then dropped the book onto a pile and neglected to so much as crack the spine for months, reading more than a dozen other books before so much as taking the Copper Canyon reply card out of its original location.

And finally, I confess that upon reading the first two lines of "Music of Locusts", I resolved to finish the book before I read even the back of a cereal box:

what I wouldn't give

to be a small freckle on the wind's nose

Most of the poems have the Belarusian on the left face. And I confess, using the names in the dedications to sound out the phonetics of that alphabet and hearing those few words of Belarusian I can work out in my head is bonus fun for me in this book.

Here's the poem "Teacher", in its English entirety (the all-lowercase look is from the original):

if you are going to be my teacher
you will have to become a tiger
so that you can bite my head off
and i'd have to follow you everywhere
trying very hard to get my head back

Good stuff. Recommended.

Also good stuff, and since I mentioned her today, Kelli posted some good learnings she recently acquired on presenting your own work in public. Also recommended.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Some Time With Where Time Goes

This evening I was in the audience at County College of Morris for a reading from Sander Zulauf's new collection Where Time Goes (Dryad Press, 2008). I've been sitting with my copy since last year's Dodge festival, waiting for an overlap between his reading schedule and a night I could finagle to be free, and how lucky for me that tonight was that night.

Sandy read with a jazz trio, perfect for the tone of his poems (especially when they broke into "Inchworm"!). I wish I could recreate the mood of it here - the humor and nostalgia of both the poems and the songs, the warmth of the room (a wide white space with students' art projects behind the performers). I'm hopeful that bootleg DVDs of the event will be available someday, but for now, I leave you with the last few lines of my favorite poem in the collection, "Uncertainty", a kind of meditation on the observer-effect measurement disturbance frequently bundled with the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle with tribute to physicist-poet Natalia Zaretsky (who also wrote about it):

(I) wondered whether God is
Uncertain about us,
Whether everybody
Who looks at God
And claims to see God
Changes God
Makes God
To everyone else.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Cleaning Under The Couch

Preparing for Sunday's reading, and using the opportunity to do some overdue file cleanup, I've been sorting through a large (virtual) pile of writings that at one time or another I've regarded as "complete", and am fascinated to be rediscovering some of my own work. It's been interesting to me to become reacquainted with works that have been off my mind long enough to have somehow acquired some newness. Not always a good thing, of course, as without the benefit of "the moment" some of the works I thought were refined enough to be called a complete poem are a bit lifeless, pedestrian even. Worse, though, is finding something that I obviously though was a good idea, but not good enough to imbue the draft with craft. But those moments are a gift of sorts, as they remind me that it's not practical to expect myself to be objective about my own work, especially too close to its birth.

But there have also been moments where I find something I don't remember writing, at least not in that "final" form, and I see something I can see my handiwork in - or better, something that has potential but I didn't have the chops to do right when I started it, but feel like I have enough tools in the box to be able to finish today. That's probably the most exciting moment.

So I'm sorting into three piles:
  • Completed Writings - works that have been published or have had credible independent review (not that your opinion isn't important, Mom), plus some that I'm confident about. This is about half the work so far.
  • Writings to Revise - works that have something interesting -a couple of interesting lines, a good idea poorly executed (which in my case usually means it's too long). This is about a third of the work.
  • Old Writings - works that appeared in those early, forgettable, Poet's-Market-big-white-circle journals and are OK enough, but aren't interesting enough for immediate investment and which I wouldn't include in a submission package today. Some of these are candidates for the Revise pile, when it gets low enough. About a sixth of the work is in this bucket so far, but I have a feeling the remainder of the pile, which I've been slow in purging, is mostly headed for this category.

We'll see where it all winds up, but it's a good learning for me. Sharpening both my lens and my scalpel.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Don't Tell Me You Can't

I don't talk about the day job much, and I'm not going to start now, but for the next few minutes you need to know this: A substantial fraction of my career has been spent in roles designed to dealing with situations that begin: "We may have a problem here..."

Thirty-nine years ago today, Apollo 13 ended its mission by splashing down into the Pacific Ocean. If you've somehow avoided the movie for the last 15 years, this was a moon mission on which an oxygen tank exploded, and a series of improbable improvisations were employed to deliver the three astronauts home against incredible odds. It's one of those movies I'll stop to watch whenever it's on, and one I frequently throw into the DVD player. The story is a perennial reminder that just about anything is possible if you just "Work the problem". It's a tale I feel a particular kinship with. Because I'm an engineer, because it appeals to my problem-management-professional resume, and because I'm a poet.

Hmm? How's that?

The premise - assessing, deciding to, then doing - applies when there is no problem, too. If you have the tools and the desire, you can. Two areas where defeatism irks me greatly are poetry and music. Too often I hear people talk about how they "can't understand" poetry. Or when I produce my accordion, how they "could never" learn an instrument "at this age". Ugh. I had the good fortune one year to play alongside a 73-year-old man who had been playing the accordion for all of 2 years when he joined our accordion orchestra. He wasn't the most natural talent in the room, and he wasn't be best musician. But he was good - certainly good enough to hang with the rest of us amateurs - and he had by far the most joy in his playing.

Maybe it's not a direct analogy to writing poetry, but maybe it is. Maybe the energy that we B- poets bring to the band serves a purpose, feeds the soloists, keeps the literary tune lively, danceable, entertaining. One thing I'm sure we bring is a bit of knowledge, a bit of appreciation and a bit of dedication to the craft. Desire. An amateur's analysis, but a wealth of reading to inform our writing.

I don't know. Maybe it's a thin analogy, and maybe I'm too worked up about wanting to give accordion lessons again. But I see it this way: You can choose not to go the moon. You can choose not to get home. But if you want to do both, you may need help, but with that help will get you there and back.

PS: Three guesses who my hero in the movie version of Apollo 13 is. Hint: There's not even a close second.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Wishing you a Joyous Easter...

... and suggesting to you that now is just as good a time to make resolutions as January 1 was; maybe better. Do it for the holiday. Or for spring. Or for NatPoMo. But whatever's on your mind today, make it new. Yourself, too.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Things I've Been Doing Instead of Finishing My Taxes...

(1) Relentlessly refining for my PMINJ presentation in a few weeks. Check out the complete list of speakers who have been signed up; I'm in pretty good company!

(2) Flipping channels. There are some movies I'll always stop and watch, and I keep discovering new things to distract myself with.

(3) Organizing my material for the Spring Poetry Awakening. There's a pretty nice article about the event at; guess it pays to have that website, after all.

(4) Paying way more attention to my fantasy baseball team than is justified in April. But you can't blame me for being excited about picking Daniel Murphy, can you, Mets fans?

(5) Working on the day job. Catching up on my [redacted][redacted][redacted][redacted][redacted][redacted].

Eh, there's still time. What's on ESPN Classic right now?

Friday, April 10, 2009

National Whattity Month?

Thank goodness for the lovely invitation I received to read for the West Windsor Poets and Poems event this month. Otherwise, this April like the last several, would be consumed by other activity.

I'm not complaining, mind you. Taxes are predictable, my upcoming PMI-NJ talk bodes to be great fun and a great experience, and mid-year events for work are generally my own doing. But I do have a bit of jealousy when I click through Shanna's PAD, or Kelli's, or anyone's. I've avoided going to Poetic Asides because I know I'm not going to do anything with them. That's whining of course. What am I actually doing with my poetry this month?

Well, sorting through my old and current projects for the West Windsor reading, and having not done so in quite a while, I'm pulling some "finished" work for editing, discovering some unfinished scraps, rejecting some work I used to think was done... I think this is a fairly usual routine for the amateur, no?

Also, I'm forming more specific opinions about my manuscript, and I have made a couple of key decisions about it.

But I won't have time to do anything with them until after the 4th of May, also known as National Tardiness Month. I'll tell you about them then.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Rothenberg and Tobin

Through Silliman's Blog, I found Jerome Rothenberg's online presence this weekend; a delight to find. Primarily, for me, to see the way Rothenberg excerpts from his own prolific output into discrete and digestible nuggets. I know I'm not up to that challenge.

Also found the poems Rothenberg wrote in response to visual art by Nancy Tobin for the last installment of the Visible Word, an ambitious project the Spoken Word Series hasn't mounted in a few years. If you read these poems and check out the visual artistry behind them, I think you'll agree that's a shame.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Witte and Kelley in Hoboken

Come to Hoboken this Sunday to catch the NatPoMo action of George Witte and Tina Kelley at Symposia Bookstore at 3PM.

Not sure you can fit this into your schedule?

Go here. And here.

OK then. See you there.