Saturday, February 19, 2011

Discomfort=Success. Pluto=John Gould Fletcher

Wonderful post from Wil Wheaton yesterday. He recently shared a story which, if comments can be trusted, was replete with evil and short on happy endings. A reader sent in a note requesting that future stories not be so dark. The author loved the feedback, posting

HUNTER is just 2700 words, but it affected this reader so much, he/she/it wrote me this e-mail, and I've been walking on air all day because of it. HUNTER is set in a dark and desperate world, where good and evil is really a matter of perspective, and if readers left that world feeling really good, I either didn't hit the target I was aiming for, or I'm going to keep my distance from that reader if it's at all possible.

That's the perfect reaction. Clearly, Wheaton is not evil (The Big Bang Theory notwithstanding), but his piece was designed to contain and portray evil. Obviously, it was successful, and he revels in this evidence of his success. Wheaton maximizes his online presence and is quite innovative in distributing his work (Hunter is a pay-what-you-like downloadable story), which makes the feedback channel direct and immediate. Of course, Wheaton, being a Trek icon and Prime Minister of his corner of The Internet, has a constituency disposed to use the direct and immediate route, which helps, but how great to get a response and be able to see how it proves that your experiment worked. Congrats to him.

Wheaton is also an excellent source and model for us as poets because he deliberately and routinely challenges his limits as an artist, both as actor and writer. And he lets us tag along on the ride.


It was 81 years ago this week that Pluto was discovered and labelled a planet. Of course, after having a Disney dog named for him and providing the punctuating object in a classic grammar school mnemonic*, Pluto has since been repurposed as a big ice cube, but I don't know that ever knew the exact reason, which emanated from new rules that said planets must "clear the neighborhood around its orbit." Since Pluto's oblong orbit overlaps that of Neptune, it was disqualified. Despite having such an impact on science and culture for his period, it's likely that Pluto will have little or no such impact on future generations.

Which brings me to John Gould Fletcher. Now, I'm sure there are regular visitors to this space who are quite familiar with Fletcher's literary legacy, but here's what I knew about him before some very recent research: He's not in my (c)1976 New Oxford Book of American Verse. The Poetry Foundation website associates him with Amy Lowell, but includes no links to any of his poems. Lowell's page links to 29 of her poems and a number of other writings. Fletcher's page has no links.

I first encountered Fletcher when I found in a second-hand bookstore a 1960 anthology called American Poetry, edited by Karl Shapiro. There's one Fletcher poem in there: "Elegy on an Empty Skyscraper". I enjoyed the poem and it got me started wondering about Fletcher. This one poem was all of his legacy that Shapiro, an important opinion at the time (?), felt worthy of sharing. This despite his inclusion of three Oliver Wendell Holmes poems - all inferior (IMHO) to "Elegy..." - in the same edition.

Who will be the arbiters of poetry's future solar systems? Who decides if Williams and Pound remain planets or become asteroids in the belt? For that matter, who decides who decides? Shapiro was Library of Congress Consultant in Poetry (forerunner to the US Poet Laureate) and a fairly prolific writer and educator, but when the poets I follow today discuss their influences and loves, the name "Shapiro" doesn't encroach on the conversation.

And don't tell me that distance in time is the reason. Dickinson, Freneau, Whitman, and others from their eras I see and hear about with some regularity, and they all predate Shapiro. And Fletcher. Is this my ignorance talking? Perhaps. I'm pretty well-read in American poetry, but I'm not a scholar. And much of my reading comes at the recommendation of contemporary poets whose work I love, so my biases, in effect, define the sphere of my readings. Believe me, I'm aware of that.

I don't know that I really have an answer or even a meaningful question here. But with appreciation for Pluto's teaching us that more than just art is fleeting, maybe I'll make a little more time for reading the great words of the past that are no less great for having been eclipsed by later learnings.

Just 'cause he's not a planet anymore doesn't mean he's not still in the sky.

*My Very Eager Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas =
Mercury Venus Earth Mars Jupiter Saturn Uranus Neptune Pluto

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Bits and Bits...

Average submissions pending per day so far this year 0.9. Target: 2.0. My iGoogle DaysSince gadget is merciless in pointing out the distance to my goal.


I don't know if I'm leveraging Facebook the way I should, and I still maintain an author page separate from my personal page (I don't "friend", I ask people to "like" me...), but it did permit an out-of-state poet whose work I have liked for many years to locate me to tell me about her new book. I'll mention the book here when I've had a chance to take it in.


Adele Kenny has created a nice list of love poems, from the traditional to the modern, and challenged us to write a love poem that is not sentimental, maudlin, or mushy. She suggests a funny love limerick (among other forms). Maybe.

AAP has a list, too.


Working on my poetry and praise workshop for next month. I don't want to give anything away until I share it in its final form, but it's been interesting putting together a program specifically anticipating an audience with limited (or at least untapped) interest in poetry. Emphasis on presentation and meaning, though form is the point of the talk. To a point, that is.


I don't post a great deal of personal stuff here, but I did a long time ago explain our tradition of midFebruary KFC, an ongoing reminder of the night I learned that "impressiveness isn't what shows love - the making do is where the heart shows itself off." I still believe it.

Enjoy the day.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Death of an email

After months with neither solution nor response, I have to conclude I've lost my access to my email accounts. I'll correct the information at the website at some point, but for now I'm unable to receive mail at my addresses. The best way to reach me for the foreseeable future is to message me through my Facebook page ( With the grace of a kind muse and a benevolent ISP, I'll get the Mailing List running again soon.

If you've emailed me since November 15, please accept my apologies and try me again with a Facebook message. I'm not ignoring you, honest.

Thanks for your patience, and as always, thank you for your support.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

In which the author shifts his impudence to the world of horror prose...

Famous Author's Comment (courtesy Google's Daily Literary Quote): Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule. - Stephen King

David's Response: Phhbbbbbththth.

Among the many and useful exceptions:
  • When, in prose, you are filling the mouth of a character with a dialect, style, or vocabulary other than your own; it is frequently a good idea to know the point you'd like to make, make it in your voice, then use your BBOW* to explore ways to revoice it.
  • When you are jumpstarting a particular idea in verse and you are experimenting with the musicality of the line. Illuminate offers different possibilities than does Light.
  • When you are working with a young writer in any form, and you have a teaching opportunity to open novice eyes to the idea that there are many ways to make the same point, each of them correct.

There's an episode of Family Guy** based on some King stories. In one scene, King himself appears, gets hit by a car, decides it's a great story starter, and completes the story in the time it takes him to come to rest after the collision. Funny and satirical. And quite complementary to his quote.

Don't get me wrong. I enjoy King (Thinner is my favorite), but I much, much prefer his short stories to the novels, and language is one of the keys why - the books take on a sameness of language, apparently quite purposefully, which drives me into page-flipping mode. I also find the most interest in King's characters. They're excellently drawn, but once I feel I've come to understand the character, I'm waiting for something interesting - language, a character flaw I missed, a plot twist not deployed in three other books - to lead me eagerly through the rest of the book. I don't get that from King's novels.

I feel like I need to apologize for taking a stance opposite a respected writer. But then, I'm a poet. Which means never having to say you're sorry. Or something like that.

* - Big Book O' Words

** slightly toward the brilliant side of the brilliant-offensive continuum.