Saturday, December 01, 2007

Bloghopping + Best Books

Interested in reviewing? Like free books? As Tim Green's blog title puts it, "Write a Review, Save a Book or Two." Cool idea, saving books by appreciating/analyzing them.

Am I the only one who hates those "Best Books of the Year" lists that appear at holiday time? They all read like ads from the publishing establishment.

In other blogs, the ever excellent Fringe has a new issue up, and also a list of alternative Best Books on their blog. And you can vote! I'd vote, but my Best Book author never changes from year to year: Jane Austen. I do, however, liberally rotate the titles around to Best Book. This year's Best Austen is Northanger Abbey. Try it. You'd forgotten how clever and sly it is.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

On Putting Together a Poetry Manuscript

Poet and novelist Cheryl Snell invited me to meditate on this process at her blog, Shiva's Arms. Today my essay "Soft Landing" went up. As I reread it, it occurred to me (a) how kind it was of Cheryl to invite me to guest-blog and (b) what a tough subject so little written about this is.

I have one book on the topic, Ordering the Storm. I recommend it, although I find its essays uneven and sometimes maddeningly self-referential. Most pieces come down to the famous "laying all the poems out on the floor and picking them up in the right order" recipe for manuscript development. One or two dare to point out the obvious: screeners in contests probably only skim the first and last few poems of your manuscript. But after reading this, I wanted much more on the topic. So I wrote my essay, and now I'm looking for others. Do you know of any?

Karen Weyant has a discussion of the above book and the ms. creation process on her blog.

And here's an idea: a poetry collection -- on the assembling of a poetry collection. (Kidding! Sort of.)

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Pushcart nomination!

Thank you, Cindy Reynolds, Editor of Kaleidowhirl, for nominating my poem "A Raft" for a Pushcart Prize! I'm delighted, and especially happy that it came from this excellent zine, one which I have had the pleasure of guest-editing for an issue, and of reading for every issue. Smart choices of work, paired with beautiful images make this a zine you should bookmark. And not just because Cindy was so kind to me.

So I have that lovely glow to add to my thankfulness today, Thanksgiving day. Jon Carroll, SF Chronicle columnist, today has a column on gratitude and its healing power. It's a keeper, the kind of thing to re-read when you hit the low points that make you forget why you live and write.

Happy Thanksgiving! And while we're being grateful, let's raise a toast to all editors and small presses.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Rocket Kids and Other Fictional Matters

A funny thing: I started this blog to promote what my agent hoped would soon be my forthcoming memoir, Rocket Lessons. On the way to the publishers (many), I discovered I am primarily a poet with a bad fiction habit.

Like any addict, I don't know how I found myself again working on a novel that's been hidden in my trunk for a few sober years. I suppose it was the Austen Influence -- perhaps my 13th re-reading of Northanger Abbey (my book club made me do it). That novel reads like a series of gossipy letters, fascinatingly detailed gossip with wit and a rather dry wisdom about the follies and fantasies of youth. It gave me ideas.

Of course I also pulled out my short stories and began to send them around. This is just to garner nice quotes from people who don't want to publish my fiction. I think it's rather like an Austen drawing room: editors sometimes like to amuse themselves by their excessively inventive wit in civil rejection.

I do have some short story publishing credits. But what should I do with them? They're like mismatched socks. You hate to throw them away, in case the mate shows up.

Do any of you poets have a secret fiction life? Do you sneak away from the seriousness of po-biz to slip unorthodox prose to editors who have no idea what level of Emerging Poet you might be? To be again just an over-the-transom sub with delightful delusions of fame and fortune, hearing in every contest entry the strike of literary lightning? Sadly, I cannot claim the excuse of youth.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Thanks and poetry

With the American day of declared thanks approaching, I find myself thinking about poetry of praise and thanksgiving. Contemporary poems on such topics are increasingly rare. I've been looking and collecting, and here, in no particular order, are poets I've found to be writing on these themes fairly consistently from book to book:

Mary Oliver
From the blurb on this website:
"IN AN INTERVIEW with poet Mary Oliver published a few years ago in Giving Their Word (University of Massachusetts Press), Steven Ratiner remarked that 'poets of praise' are 'almost an endangered species' and that the 'happiness necessary to write in praise of life is almost considered a weakness in the art world's very definition of modernity' ... Oliver has never bothered to follow poetic fashion. Instead she has persisted for over 40 years in simply doing what she does well: practicing loving attention to the natural world."

Naomi Shihab Nye
She is that rarest commodity, a poet whose work merges politics with praise. It's hard to define her work as one of thanksgiving, until you consider that everyone who ever encounters this poetry uses the word "heart" in connection with it. The deepest praise, I think, is that which is fully conscious of every aspect of the praised. It requires a capacious heart like Nye's to write a poem about Kindness from an encounter with vicious bandits.

Pattiann Rogers
Unusual also is the ability to blend science and thanksgiving, but I read and reread Rogers' work for that marvelous feat of juggling and expansive comprehension of the spiritual resonances in the physical world. Rogers has a poem called "Supposition" about what might be the physical effects of an act of praise, and this is my favorite part of the poem:

Suppose the molecular changes taking place
In the mind during an act of praise
Resulted in an emanation rising into space.
Suppose that emanation went forth
In the configuration of its occasion:
For instance, the design of rain pocks
On the lake's surface of the blue depths
Of the canyon with its horizontal cedars stunted.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Circle Widens + Bloghopping

Cheryl Snell put up a nice notice about my book, Another Circle of Delight, on her blog Shiva's Arms. Look for Cheryl's books there, including the forthcoming Shiva's Arms, a novel. I always like novels by poets. It's almost always a guaranteed good read when prose is written by someone who loves words. As I recall, it was poet and writer Annie Dillard who defined the difference: if you love sentences, write prose; if you love words, write poetry. I could be wildly misquoting, but I think she said it in her fantastic book about writing, The Writing Life. Hardly a writing day goes by that I don't think about that typewriter bursting into flames.

Kate Evans has blogged about the Bay Area oil spill and its impact on bird life. This tragic and, it seems now, avoidable event makes us all sad. An article in the SF Chronicle somewhat offset that melancholy, however, when it cited the great increase in numbers of birds along the Pacific Flyway in recent years. Decreased burning of rice fields, increases in wetlands and other kind acts toward nature by humans are responsible for the resurgence. Unfortunately, that brings lots more birds into the spill zone, which as Kate's item points out, is enlarging daily.

Suzanne Frischkorn has a new poetry book coming out in Autumn of 2008. The book is Lit Windowpane, from Main Street Rag Press. Yay, Suzanne!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Free Rice

It's addictive, it's vocabulary-building, it feeds hungry people and it's free! What could be more appealing than Free Rice? I have only reached a high score of 48, though I understand no one has gone over 50. I promptly dropped back down to a consistent 46, which is still respectable. And I'm learning near words I'll never use in poems. As they're too abstruse. Oh, there's another one.

The new wave of philanthropy is online, individual giving directly to the recipient, or in something different than a gift -- say, a microloan. As a fundraiser, I can predict this will transform the way contributions are made in decades to come, and even possibly affect national economies. And as a fundraiser, I can also say it's a good thing when more giving is less handled by professionals. Though you want to be careful your gifts are going where they're supposed to, and that means professionals will always be needed. But not so needed, and that's perhaps a very good thing.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Bloghopping again - fast forward poetry

Blue's Cruzio Cafe -- what poetry will look like in the 21st century, after we get a little farther into the new millennium. Check out "What My Father Loved About Melmac" by David Alpaugh (itself a poem about a paradigm shift) and Marcia Adams' "All the Difference."

And for another forward look at the new ways we might be reading poetry in times to come, MiPoesias. Also on Bob Marcacci's The Countdown, which in Episode 20 featured a reading of my poem "Wine Under a Fig Tree".

Heard as much as read, poetry in the new age will, perhaps, return more to the oral side of the tradition. Except perhaps that a visual dimension might be added. Blue's Cruzio Cafe and Billy Collins' clever animated poetry on YouTube demonstrate a new "animated poetry" form, something new and engaging that is sure to offend many, appeal to many more, and become a force as the technology becomes more accessible (who doesn't have a video camera or a video camera phone?), encouraging a melding of visual and aural arts. Where once marrying static visual art and poetry -- only feasible on the Web -- was state-of-the-art, now marrying video art and poetry is looking like the new-new thing.

At least, that's my guess. And hope.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

It's Here - Another Circle Debuts

My new chapbook is out! Another Circle of Delight has hit the stands (well, okay this blog and my website). I did a preview reading in Crockett at Valona Cafe a couple months ago. Publisher David Alpaugh (Small Poetry Press) found the cover art, which thrilled me. Click on the cover art to see a bigger version. The title and cover art refer to the keynote poem (is that an actual term?), "A Walk After Reading Dante's Paradiso."

If you have a whim to get a copy, it's $8 + $1 postage and handling (envelope), payable by either emailing me your request and I'll give you snailmail info. or using Paypal buttons on my website:

Jeannine Hall Gailey and Christine Potter said nice things about the book -- press release quotable kinds of things, such as:

Because Rachel Dacus believes "we live in a heaven we take great pains to avoid," the poems in Another Circle of Delight connect us with what we've been missing: joy.
-- Christine Potter, author of Zero Degrees at First Light

Rachel Dacus' intelligence and wit serve her well in this chapbook collection as she interrogates the world of the divine and the mysteries of nature.
-- Jeannine Hall Gailey, author of Becoming the Villainess

J & C, thank you so much! I'm just delighted with these kind words.

Having a new book is a good way to begin recovering from a loss: being in that "I have a new book out" circle.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Dog Running & Rich

Blogging and other literary activities have been severely interrupted by caring for my failing canine companion Keegan and his death last Sunday, October 28. The only words that have come to me in the last few weeks are those of praise for a phenomenal person in a furry suit. (Keegan's the guy on the left.)
Here are two from my book Earth Lessons:


The dog runs nose to ground
as we run with our eyes wide open.
The dog uses tongue for hands
and prefers his nose to his eyes.
No human runs with closed lids
and a tongue hanging out
unless it's raining lemonade.

How does the world seem
smelled and tasted like a stew
instead of seen and codified?
The dog runs on pliant earth
with open paws,
catching the coin of soil,
spending as he goes.
As I want to run
through life.


Scattering across the grass, May raindrops
pelt me as the puppy Keegan retrieves
downed apples from under the tree.
The yellow globes are striped: each one
corrected by a red pencil.
Across the lawn, fallen fruit,
gold, or plum-dark and rotting --
rich variety of a dreamt creation.

Eve might have mused in such a garden,
amid fruit drowning in its own juice.
Because he had not smiled today,
she might have tossed a round thing --
not yet named Apple. Rain rustled the grass
and the animal played. What worm could lurk
in one small bite?

Our apples juice the eye with hue,
bright orbs on black soil, contents
of a farmer's basket spilling waves of scent.
Keegan munches the rottenest
apples with his new incisors,
savoring an occasional spicy ant,
knowing Apple for the first time.

Rich in apples, we stretch out
and let wind play our hair like harpstrings.
Happy as the players in the cautionary tale,
we hardly feel the slither of knowledge,
wet and green wounds of mortality,
red-lining us from paradise.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Gore's Nobel

I don't usually blog politico, but I find it a moving event that the Nobel Award was given to Al Gore for his work raising awareness of our global climate crisis. It seems a very good thing that he didn't wind up being President. If he had, we might not know what hot water (hot weather) we're in. Destiny is a funny commodity. You can't see it forward, only in a rear view mirror. What if he had been too busy dealing with terrorists to notice that no one was getting the fact that our planet is tilting toward catastrophic change?

Here's Gore's speech, in case you've been on another planet. Or your news source has.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

More Bloghopping

Autumn Sky Poetry - a smart, fresh online magazine. Some excellent work in this new issue, and a beautiful visual experience, with well-chosen photos and eye-friendly colors and layout.

Editor Christine Klocek-Lim in the recent issue likens good poetry to carrying things when on crutches: economy and focus are paramount. Well, she put it better than that, but the current issue lives up to that idea. Good images, readable, vivid work. Her blog has excellent resources and links. Take a gander. Sorry about the leg, Christine! I made a similar discovery about crutches focusing the mind on economy of effort when I broke my foot some years ago. I've never forgotten how much effort it took to plan a trip up or down stairs.

Tarpaulin Sky (why do I gravitate to zines with the word "sky" in them?) has a great list of online publications, divided into four categories: those that do accept email subs, those that don't, small presses, and something called Selby's List of Experimental Poetry Magazines. A rich site for poetry.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Got crit?

Got crit?

Everyone does. No poet reads a book of poetry and just says to herself, “huh.” But few of us write down our responses in any literary form. Few magazines carry poetry book reviews. One suspects few readers read them.

Why the apathy? Maybe because poetry book reviewing is stuck in an academic rut that induces alpha waves in the brain. The essay by Rigoberto Gonzales at Poetry Foundation website on poetry reviewing, an alternate approach, is worth a look. Poetry zine editors, take note! If poetry reviews were as interesting as poems, perhaps you’d be more interested in publishing them, and we’d be more interested in reading them.

Gonzales’ essay at Poetry

I love reading a good poetry book review, one that gets into the mind of the poet as well as dissecting the work on the page. I can read Helen Vendler on dead poets for a poetry vivissection lesson, but to hear about what real living poets are up to can be a breathtaking kind of cross between soap opera and lit-gossip that just fascinates me. I also like the reviews that quote heavily from the book and have very subjective reader responses. It helps me decide on books to buy. As I don’t teach, that’s what I read book reviews for.

So how about more zines that publish reviews I can use?

And how about we each undertake one passionate, very personal book review in the next month?

Monday, September 17, 2007

Bloghopping goes on + computing pain remedies

Who knew there was this much poetry news? And why doesn't the San Francisco Chronicle carry it anymore? Thank heavens (Part 3,128) for the Internet, for providing po-bloggers to relieve my fingers from doing all that keyboard walking:

Dumbfoundry (check the extensive links -- divided by country and individual or group blogs)
Books, Inq. - always readable, link-through-able, quippy, provocative

In continuing computer-related issues, I'm on the trail of a setup to relieve symptoms of incipient carpal tunnel -- a disaster for a writer. I've investigated keyboard commands (a very good thing), the fully articulated keyboard tray arm, the Rollermouse (using it as I speak), and various other ergonomic considerations = beaucoup bucks (fancy chairs, keyboards, input devices, etc.)

But one of the very best two devices I've discovered I bought at my local drugstore for under $10 for both. A wrist supporter with a built-in palm pad, and one of those silly squishy balls you squeeze while doing something besides computing.

In two days, significant relief. Anyone have any other ideas?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

More bloghopping + RU Backed-up?

No, not that backed-up. The digital variety, and now's the time to do something you've always been meaning to do, if you haven't already secured off-site backup:
Cnet article - online backups
PC World article - old but still good

Sheer visual-poetic-quirk-fest fun site -- Robin Reagler's:
Big Window
More bloghopping TK

Monday, August 20, 2007


Browsing poetblogs this morning to get ideas, see what's new, who's writing/publishing what. Lots of po-bloggers out there.

One of my favorites is Diane Lockward, whose Blogalicious enries are so well-written it's like picking up a favorite newspaper column.

On Diane's blog, I found Poets Online, a site that posts poem-prompts. Today's is a poem by Mary Oliver (from the new book, Thirst). That got me thinking about what prompts me to start poems. Often it's a line that comes while I take my morning walk -- a line I usually wind up throwing out of the poem after it has served the purpose of informing me about what's roiling under the surface-mind. Today's was: Divinity everywhere awakening. Now that's an eminently vague line, but it turned into a terrific prompt. And will ultimately not appear in the title or body of the poem.

I also regularly read Kelli Russell Agodon for interesting topics and a great blogroll. Kelli has a terrific poem on Verse Daily.

For poetry news you can't beat Jilly Dybka's fabulous Poetry Hut Blog. A sample of interesting things I learned there: they're making a movie of Kerouac's On The Road; Kelli's poem is on Verse Daily; the world's first "itinerant poet librarian" may be visiting your city soon; Virginia Quarterly Review and U. of Georgia Press are teaming up to create new poetry book series; and much more. I don't know how she finds all this press on poetry -- my local rag, the San Francisco Chronicle seems to barely know poetry exists -- but it's rich reading and a huge service to the po-community.

And last, but surely note least, Steve Mueske's Poetry 365, in which Steve (of Three Candles Press fame) is posting a notable poem for every day in the year. When he reaches 365, he'll start a new poetry year. Links to all poems. Good reading.

It's good to have so much poetry news to read of an August morning.

erest. I find in the blogosphere the entries that are actually worth the time are fewer and farther between the more people start blogging.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Poems about poetry + other news

Ars Poetica is a new blog with an interesting idea: an anthology (at first virtual, eventually print) of poems about poetry. Forget submitting -- it's network-invitation only. But if you adore this genre of poetry, what a delicious, long read you have ahead of you. Some of the poems I sampled and liked are by Denise Duhamel, Marilyn Taylor, Robert Sward, and the blog's creator, Dan Waber. His short poem targets why I like poems about poetry and why I am in that tiny cultural minority that adores reading and writing poetry. I hope Dan won't mind my quoting this brief -- but huge -- poem:

You don't go looking for poetry finds.
You go, looking, for poetry finds.

I just love it when punctuation matters. Now, that could be a whole other web anthology: poems driven by punctuation. Okay, a very short anthology. Still.

In other but related news, Kelli Russell Agodon's blog has a series on tapping into the unconscious. It's filled with interested ideas, quotes and links. "For poetry finds" might be her theme as well. My favorite quote, in today's entry:

One novelist here (who doesn't believe in writer's block) said to treat the subconscious as a muscle and approach it as something that needs to be exercised.

Since studies have been done showing that the memory responds to daily exercise, I see no reason not to assume the unconscious mind does as well. There are even people who practice something they call "dreaming awake." I don't recommend anything verging on an occult exercise, yet the idea of staying close to dreams and as aware of the subconscious processes that power our feelings seems that it would aid creativity.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Is Lit-Blogging Following the old Print Dinosaur?

Interesting article by Sven Birkerts on whether or not literary blogging is really a new-new thing, or just a marketing venue for the old-old thing -- literature in print. He makes a case for the fact that the new literary paradigm, a wholly Web-based form of literature, has yet to take hold. Are litblogs simply grazing behind the dinosaurs, heading only down their paths and thus a mere camp follower of a doomed print culture?

Of course I read about it in the Web version of a print dinosaur, the Boston Globe. As book review sections that might carry such speculative articles on literature and its forms and formats are fast disappearing from print, perhaps literary reviews and articles, increasingly to be found only online, will lead the way for the new-new literature.

Nice article on Charles Simic's dual honors this week, appointment as U.S. Poet Laureate and Academy of American Poets Wallace Stevens Award ($100,000). I figure with the Laureate salary ($35,000) and his AAP award, Simic can just about buy a small, old-fashioned print magazine and run it for a couple of months.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

American Luminous

American Luminous
-- after "California Spring" by Alfred Bierstadt

The canvas is so large I have to walk four steps
to the right to see the whole valley and to get out
from under the towering cloud. Lit by a sun-flare
it still drips mist onto the green hills.
In the museum's dim light I might bump
into the foreground cow as I watch roving
sun-spotlights cross the hills in the storm's wake.
This land wants to encompass, wants to open
its earthquakes in welcoming chasms
that branch and branch into thinnest air
like the oak's proliferating curls.

Twenty shades of gray illuminate the clouds.
They unroll like smoke, spill fountains
of birdsong you can almost hear
as you wander alongside the river's
cold rustle of alders. America made luminous
by great weather and imperatives of geography
seems to go on beyond the verge to where
we exceed ourselves daily in invention
that creates in the brain long, illumined canyons
of will's first urge. And here we can wander
following them, grandly abandoned
as this overarching purple, accompanied
by the lupine like drops
from a creatively restless empyrean.

This painting is one of the reasons I keep going to the DeYoung Museum. I haven't often posted drafts of my poems online, but it feels right to include this one, as I read Emerson and think about a recent trip to Philadelphia, visiting the splendid new Constitution Center and the stirring, history-brimming Independence Hall.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Reading Emerson

It's funny that his lectures and essays are more poetic than his poems. It's as if he had a formal standard to write to in poetry that didn't at all suit his mentality. He seems stiff and self-conscious in the poems, relaxed and exuberantly expressive in the essays. Too bad free verse didn't come along earlier so he could take advantage of its expressive vehicle.

"Commodity" is the essay I'm on now, and I find it surprising that in a few paragraphs he can encompass the sweep and point of human history. I never thought of Emerson as ecstatic, but this passage from the essay leaped out at me in that tone:

The misery of man appears like childish petulance,
when we explore the steady and prodigal provision
that has been made for his support and delight
on this green ball which floats him through the heavens.
What angels invented these splendid ornaments,
these rich conveniences, this ocean of air above,
this ocean of water beneath,
this firmament of earth between?
this zodiac of lights, this tent of dropping clouds,
this striped coat of climates, this fourfold year?

The line-breaks, of course, are mine. But isn't this a better poem than the formal one he wrote on a similar subject:

Lo! I uncover the land
Which I hid of old time in the West
As the sculptor uncovers the statue
When he has wrought his best;
I show Columbia, of the rocks
Which dip their foot in the seas
And soar to the air-borne flocks
Of clouds and the boreal fleece.

I will divide my goods;
Call in the wretch and slave:
None shall rule but the humble,
And none but Toil shall have.

I will have never a noble,
No lineage counted great;
Fishers and choppers and ploughmen
Shall consititute a state.

Go, cut down trees in the forest
And trim the straightest boughs;
Cut down trees in the forest
And build me a wooden house.

Call the people together,
The young men and the sires,
The digger in the harvest-field,
Hireling and him that hires;

And here in a pine state-house
They shall choose men to rule
In every needful faculty,
In church and state and school.

The verse, over-tidy and preachy (it was given as a sermon), lacks the soar and scope of the essay. Interesting that the poetry Emerson looked to -- including translations of Sufi poets Hafiz, Rumi and Saadi -- was of a past age, while his prose looks entirely and surprisingly forward. Because he wasn't bound by poetic convention in the prose, it breathes.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Facing the Book

I just joined Facebook. I have no idea why. Someone invited me. I'm a sucker for new trends, hate to be left behind. But no, I didn't line up to get my iPhone. I figure, let them work out the bugs and then I'll pony up the $500 + $1200 a year to be able to surf the Net with my thumbs while waiting in the doctor's office or in line at the grocery store.

Funny thing was, the minute I got on Facebook, I got a message from someone I had lost track of who's on sabbatical and in India. You figure if someone's halfway around the world and without an email address, you're out of touch. Not in this world, anymore.

Speaking of facing books, I'm facing the last tasks involved in getting my new chapbook together for publication. ANOTHER CIRCLE OF DELIGHT will be available from Small Poetry Press in September. Also from me directly, via my website or my snailmail waiting list. Please let me know if you want to be on the list to be notified. And I will personally hand deliver it, if you live in my neighborhood, or if you are in Washington, D.C., where's I'm heading soon.

Finally, does anyone have a suggestion for a good, portable, engaging airplane book? Nothing with explosions, thankyou, or espionage. Nothing with guns or dying pets. Preferably funny. Appreciate it!

And now, to return the favor in advance, my recommendation: Eat, Pray, Love. Nice, easy read. Funny. Poignant. No one dies or is seriously maimed. It's kind of like an Anne Lamott book, if Anne Lamott ever left the Bay Area and if Anne Lamott were into yoga.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Greatest dancing duo

You can argue Fonteyn & Nureyev (and their Romeo & Juliet was something to see), or Nijinsky & Karsavina, or Gene Kelly and Jerry the Mouse, but for my money, it was and always will be Astaire & Rogers, as this tribute demonstrates.

Beverly - remembering her and her books

Today I was trying to remember the name of a book I usually refer to as "The White Camel Travel Book." It's a delicious novel disguised as a travel memoir of the old English Empire style. It's actually called The Towers of Trebizond (only took me three Google pages to recapture the title).

That exercise made me think of all the wonderful books my friend Beverly introduced me to. They include I Capture the Castle, another wonderful, quirky novel. I love how it starts: "I write this sitting in the sink. That is, my feet are in it; the rest of me is on the draining-board, which I have padded with our dog's blanket and the tea cosy. I can't say that I am really comfortable, and there is a depressing smell of carbolic soap, but this is the only part of the kitchen where there is any daylight left. And I have found that sitting in a place where you have never sat can be inspiring -- I wrote my very best poem while sitting on the hen house."

Beverly died almost two years ago (Sept. 2005) after an 8-year battle with lung cancer. Beautiful, lively Beverly will be remembered by her friends for, among many things, her incredibly good taste in books. She was an intrepid reader and had read lots of good books. She didn't watch TV. All the more room for books in your life, I think she once said. I just wish I had asked her for a complete list of her literary favorites.

Although I couldn't get into her very favorite books, a series of historical novels about Scotland by Dorothy Dunnett, I adored everything else she suggested. Most books she liked were set in foreign locales, probably because Beverly was a great travel agent. She had been everywhere ... really.

Maybe I will try those Dorothy Dunnett books again. In remembrance of Beverly. And the hilarious white camel.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Dedications & Bios -- Yikes!

For anyone who has ever agonized over a book dedication -- either in the reading or writing of it, read this article. I now plan never to dedicate a book again. I had no idea how many people might be offended by being left out.

And if that didn't give you a case of literary anxiety, consider the craft of writing your literary bio, as this helpful website has. I didn't even know you could put that much into your bio. Now I'm worried. I've been using the same boring string of literary credits for years now. Who knew I was supposed to have a personality in my bio. Think of yourself as a brand, as this About article suggests. Yikes!

Monday, June 11, 2007


It seems to me that the problem with all types of poetry publishing is how to get a book distributed nationally. I hear all the time that most small press-published poetry books do not get picked up by the major U.S. book distributor.

And then there's promotion of poetry books. Show of hands: how many authors feel their publisher has sufficiently promoted their book? Or do you feel you had to do too much work -- including mailings, printing your promotional materials, setting up web pages or sites, putting up your book's Amazon page, etc.?

Of course budgets of small presses are tiny and small press publishers are heroes just for continuing. I don't dispute that for a second. Isn't it because so many of us want to sell more poetry books than we want to buy? It doesn't take a math wiz to do the calculations: selling more books than buying them means ever-shrinking budgets for poetry publishers.

Of course, there's self-publishing. And how about changing the equation? Why not buy more books of poetry than you sell? Maybe also encouraging people who aren't poets to read and buy poetry. I have a drawer full of poetry books I give as gifts. My friends groan when I hand them a birthday present, because they know it's a little bit of homework. But they never mind, as they usually like the poets I foist on them.

Foist poetry on someone today! Or start a poetry salon. Or offer your book club a poetry book as their next selection. I made my book club read a Mary Oliver book that also had prose, to ease them in gently. No one had a problem with it.

About self-publishing: my agent (for a prose memoir) suggested I consider self-publishing as an alternative to publishing with a small press. I would make more money, she said. What a shocker. It gave me a whole idea: to think like a publisher. Sometimes it's an exciting thought. Sometimes an exhausting one.

Interesting times in literature, if you make them interesting.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Small presses depressed

I've had several discussions this week with those who decry the constant struggle of small independent presses to keep independent literature alive, despite the machinery of academic with its relentless careerism and New York publishing with its tunnel-vision on profit-margins.

The debate about poetry reading fees goes on and on. Does charging a fee make you a vanity press? Is it ethical? I think anything that sustains a legitimate press is ethical. That doesn't mean I'm going to pay reading fees. And you can go to my website for a list of presses that manage to exist without doing so, including my publisher, David Robert Books (a WordTech imprint).

That said, it does strike me that by charging fees, publishers are selecting out poets and writers who can't afford fees. Imagine the tremendous loss to literature if in the last 100 years those writers who couldn't afford, say, $1,000 to enter enough contests to win had never been published.

It's a sign of deep dislocation in our culture, the preeminence of money over every other value in cultural life. Poetry has all but disappeared from the mainstream culture. It's hardly even reported on and never makes an appearance on the medium of our time, television. It is, however, accessible and thriving online. But because I too still like to have a print book in hand, I will go on cheerfully paying my fees. I feel lucky to be able to afford them. I wish presses offered scholarships to talented but broke writers. Of course, given their slim margins, that's not possible.

And why isn't the Poetry Foundation helping to shore up the wonderful American small press establishment? Their support of American poetry seems more like SUV-in-the-fast-lane behavior: a festival of back-patting and self-aggrandizement. This is just one fundraiser's opinion, but I think their 501-c-3 nonprofit status should be yanked. We've given them several years to get going. But where's the activity, where's the impact? All I hear is that things in the world of American poetry are getting worse by the day.

According to their 2006 report, the Foundation's funds were spent on:

"The Poetry Foundation has operated this year out of new offices in Chicago, just a few blocks from the first home of Poetry, with 15 employees and a budget of $7 million."

The Foundation’s programs put money—$600,000 in 2006—directly into the pockets of poets and their publishers: authors’ payments, copyrights and permissions payments, and a wide range of prizes and awards."

$600,000 directly to poets and publishers vs. $7 million to -- themselves. Hmm ...

To be fair, among Poetry Foundation's current initiatives are: to support their own magazine and website, to research poetry in America, to enhance the presence of poetry in the media (and when's the last time you read a poem in your newspaper or heard on television?), to identify the needs to teachers and school libraries. Many of these initiatives read to me as setting themselves up as the ultimate arbiter of quality in American poetry. And who are the famous poets running Poetry magazine and Foundation? Hmm ....

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Radio poetry

I can't believe I haven't mentioned MiPoRadio's show The Countdown with Bob Marcacci. My poem "Wine Under a Fig Tree" was on it awhile back. It's a delicious hour of poetry reading by various voices, usually the poet him/herself, but if (as happened to me) you can't get your computer recording thingy to work, they will have someone read your poem for you.

Listening to poetry while you work is very nice. Distracting if you write for a living, but nice in a sneaky sort of way, since you have to toggle between actually working and listening.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Internet poetry - an oxymoron?

I've been dismayed to read a recent discussion by poets who feel they don't want their work in a forthcoming anthology to be promoted as "Internet-related." This is, they say, because they fear damage to their literary reputations from being associated as "Internet poets." As though it carries an actual taint, rather than just being a new form of publishing.

Well, I never. And this discussion -- not to mention the whole anthology coordinating project -- was carried out online. By a virtual poetry community, a group that wanted to publish a representative anthology. Yet some don't want to be identified with the Internet that brought them together.

The argument against being identified as an Internet poet is that there are no standards that can be enforced in a virtual literary community. You can't uphold literary standards such as exist in the print world. The print world, where you can self-publish a book that looks just like any other published, glossy-covered book, and mass-produce magazines on your own computer.

And that's the problem they have, these I-phobic poets, that it's a form of self-publishing, this anthology collective. Maybe they should have thought about the nature of an Internet collective before they signed on to be part of it.

Old prejudices die hard. It's absurd to think that you can't write a good poem if you aren't a professor, but that's where some have taken the "literary standards" they are upholding.

This elitest stance and knee-jerk stigma hardly supports the spirit of art -- discovery. I'm sure the same kind of thing greeted the first mass-produced book -- "Look, it's not a papyrus. What junk! Where's the scrolling, the spindles?"

And the same will be said of the first truly downloadable (in some manageable, readable form), full-length book. Internet-related sea-changes have arrived in journalism and are coming in publishing, where in book sales "flat is the new up." I predict that people won't stop buying conventionally bound book, but will find new ways to locate what they wish to read.

Well, would you like to continue to shuffle the pages of your thinning newspaper in the hope of find a single poetry book reveiw every month or so? Or would you rather bring your coffee cup into the family room and log onto Smartish Pace, where the number of interesting in-depth book reviews is sure to stretch your poetry-purchasing budget?

Let's don't be stupid about this. The future is here, thanks to the Internet. And it's artist-friendly.

For good online book reviews, try: Rain Taxi, The Elegant Variation, Books Inq. (with a great blogroll of reviewing blogs), Arts & Letters Daily.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

More poetry heroes & open reading periods

I can't resist adding a few names to my list of poetry heroes:

Franz Wright
Kay Ryan
A.E. Stallings

And a list someone sent recently of presses that have open reading periods and no fees:

Arktoi Books
Ausable Press
BkMk Press
Carolina Wren
Coffee House
Eastern Washington UP
Melville House
Milkweed Press
Plain View Press
Rager Media
Red Morning Press
Steel Toe Press (but not this year)
University of Arizona Press

In case you're wondering what to do with that ms. you'v been kicking around for some time. As I have.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Poetry Heroes

Over at Jeannine's blog, there's a game going called Poetry Heroes. Your list of contemporary poetry heroes can't include friends, dead poets, poet mentors (something like that, I forget the exact rules), but basically anyone with whom you're in contact. I love this idea, as I woke up this morning thinking about who are my contemporary favorites, and this is a partial list of what came to mind:

1. Alice Oswald
2. Seamus Heaney
3. Mary Oliver
4. Kate Light
5. Pattiann Rogers
6. Sharon Olds
7. Jane Hirshfield
8. Joy Harjo
9. Alice Fulton
10. Billy Collins
11. Naomi Shihab Nye (even if I do know her, I can't leave her off the list -- I read her almost every week)

And who made up the silly rule about not including contemporary poets you know? Wouldn't you try to get to know living poets you admire? Duh ...

So who's on your list? I'm tagging you.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Poem-a-Day Exercise

I discovered many things in the poem-a-day exercise, but the prime discovery was that imagination is like any muscle. As any dancer or athlete knows, the more you stretch and tone, the more articulate that muscle becomes. Writing a poem a day, even a stinky poem, strengthened that muscle to the extent that I don't fear the blank page or the need to write as much as I did at the start of April. I wrote my daily poem, and then some. I did my annual 12 poems for my local school's graduation ceremony -- one for each student -- and I didn't even flinch this year.

Are you afraid of the blank page? Do you shrink from writing assignments and constraints such as the poem-a-day exercise, or any others? I'm curious how many poets and writers feel spooked by the process, as I have. Inspiration (as they call it) is mysterious. But what I discovered was that it's always lurking under the surface. I imagine if one really wanted to, it would be possible to write a poem an hour. Well, not and hold a job. But still.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Last Night NaPoWriMo

I have been very impressed with the daily poems I read from our little group. Also with the diligence and determination to finish the poem-a-day thing for April. I nearly made it -- a few gaps, but I have good excuses. The dog ate my poem. I got a virus and the virus ate my poem. I got a virus and couldn't think through the phlegm in my nose, throat, ears -- pretty much everything from the tonsils up.

But even so, I think I only missed about five days. I had scribbles, unfinished. I could count those and say I did it. BUt the truth is I came close.

One of the reasons I came close, instead of making it, was that I stopped to revise along the way. I couldn't help it. I even stopped to submit a few new things. Thus proving that it really is true, the time you take to submit stuff takes away from the time to generate new work.

Unless you're retired, and then what's your excuse?

Saturday, April 21, 2007

How's it going, April poets?

I think it's extremely unfair that there was major national news in the middle of poetry month. What we want is a nice, quiet period of time interrupted only by the odiousness of taxes in which poetry can shine like a subtle star brightening out of the dun end of sunset. Can appear larger than usual because of the earth's curve. Can unfold what we thought was a fruit and fly away from the tree, free.

And all of us who labor at the Poem-A-Day exercise can feel relaxed and receptive at the start of each day, instead of having been bombarded with more of this lock-and-load culture's dysfunction. It did make my poem about a caterpillar seem ... well, irrelevant. But then I suppose a poem about a caterpillar is supposed not to be too relevant. That's the idea of it.

So if you're doing the daily poem thing, how's it going? We're two-thirds of the way through, and some of my efforts have been pretty thin. But for very many more days than I would have guessed beforehand, surprising things have come through my pen, things I could swear I hadn't been thinking about before I started to write.

But then that's why most of us write, isn't it?

By the way, you do know about The Human Flower Project, don't you?

Thursday, April 12, 2007


That last blog was pure coconut cream pie and local anesthetic speaking -- the giddy relief from back pain. I would like to retract it, but I just stated elsewhere that I'm very interested in rough drafts and the process of time in working out a piece of writing, so the sad thing is I am honor-bound not to delete that late-night gobbledygook. (And if you must indulge after reading thing, check out this healthy recipe. I esp. love the Himalayan salt.

In that regard, I was steered to a magazine you probably know all about, LUNGFULL! "Poetry in progress" might be its subhead (hint to editors). Especially of interest is the area How The Editors Decide What To Accept Or Reject. The magazine (print) boasts big and little names (but are there really any little poets?) in every issue. I just wish they would post samples on the website (BIG HINT to editors).

The antithesis to LUNGFULL! is Quickmuse, which does have a subhead "Poetry under pressure." As I am engaging in the NaPoWriMo, or poem-a-day for April, I have recently had some experience with this. The poem composed at

Whether you like your poetry raw, al dente or thoroughly cooked, you'll enjoy these sites. I got the idea of wanting to look over the poet's shoulder while reading through the fascinating Elizabeth Bishop work-in-progress/stasis, Edgar Allan Poe and the Jukebox. I especially like the handwriting (almost medical in its obfuscation) and the alternate words she places in the margins in parentheses, to ponder.

(Can this blog count for my poem today?)

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Epidurals & coconut cream pie

Nuff said. Oh, and don't bother with sedation. It'll just make you slow in getting to the pie. Try a light sleep aid instead, like Ambien, one that won't interfere with your midnight dash -- okay, shamble -- to the kitchen.

Oh, and be sure to leave the fridge door open while consuming same with knife -- it counteracts the flushing brought on by the steroid.

Happy painless dreams.

Tomorrow you'll see the poem about the epidural team. All pet owners, it turned out.

New contests

No, I'm not going to become THAT kind of site. And I eschew contests in general, but sometimes when a friend is running one to support a really good magazine and you get an actual subscription worth something for the entry fee, or the entry fee is less than I tip the waitress on an average lunch ticket, I take the plunge. As I will for these contests now running:

Atlanta Review
Smartish Pace - Erskine J Poetry Prize
Alehouse - Happy Hour Contest

Alehouse is a new print journal out of San Francisco, edited by Jay Rubin. Last year's contest was judged by Alicia Ostriker and won by Allison Joseph with "Blind Date," an amazing pantoum. They blend free and formal verse easily and include book reviews and essays on poetry. An excellent read, their Issue 1. Though they could use an image or some blurbs on their plain back cover. I look forward to more.

My friend the poet David Alpaugh prints the magazine and that's how I heard about it.

Atlanta Review has produced another unique issue, one featuring contemporary poetry from Iraq. Their claim to be a worldwide poetry magazine is about the most justified of any I've read that make similar claims. Featuring a different country in each issue, they have spanned the globe in the years I've been reading them. Worth submitting and subscribing to, in or out of contest. And Dan Veach writes nice notes even if turning you down.

In other news, signs of a new humanity emerging: a Naomi Shihab Nye poem is making its way around the Internet as evidence that kindness does exist in the world. The same thing happened after Sept. 11 with one of Naomi's poems and I wrote and asked her what she thought about this unauthorized use. She wrote back that if her poem made one person feel better at such a time, she was gratified.

So here's a link to the poem, posted on Kelli Russell Agodon's blog.

Friday, April 06, 2007

I am not the knife-thrower

Do you ever google yourself? Aw, come on! Admit it.

This is just to say
I am not that Rachel Dacus, the knife-
throwing gal who lives at The Great Throwzini.
I am the poet Puako Beached, at the 1000 Cranes Auto Repair,
and otherwise under the Umbrella.
I can only say in my own defense I once traded
ballet lessons to a circus troupe in order to learn
to juggle and balance on a bongo board.
Well, at least I can juggle.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007


As in quick, as in cue, as in inspire --

All these meanings come to mind as I peruse a wonderful list of writing prompts that was posted on my poetry listserv today. Among the many good prompts, the following are my favorites. Hope they help you, if you're writing a poem a day for the month of April. And if you have some prompts to add, please contribute!

1. Write a poem with an invented biography for yourself.
2. Take a piece of junk mail and black out most of the words so that what remains is a poem.
3. Write from the number six.
4. Write to your pain: "Dear Pad of My Thumb, Will you kindly stop hurting? It is very hard for me to stir a pot or write a poem when you hurt like this..." Let your pain write back to you: "Dear Lisa, if you would lay off the text messaging and playing minesweeper it would help me a lot, then you can write your poem or stir a pot...".
5. Write to your hurting country, city or community, as a variation on the theme. Take the dialogue as far as it goes, then distill the essence. See if you can arrive at a fresh insight about what ails you and yours.
6. Write a poem of at least 40 lines that is a single sentence.
7. Write about a family secret.
8. Write an apostrophe to some abstraction (e.g., "To the End of the World" or "To My Birth").
9. Take any object out of your bag or pocket or purse. Speaking in first person as the object, answer the following questions: What is your favorite thing? What are you scared of? What is your secret? What is your wish for the future?

> This one worked really well for me several times. "Ode to My Purse" and "A Pot of Humuhumunukunukuapua'a", which are in my book Femme au chapeau, resulted from this exercise. But it wasn't during NaPoWriMo.

More tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Promise

I made the promise to myself, and here I am breaking it. What kind of ethical dilemma is it that compels me to do the one literary thing I told myself I'd never do -- compose poetry in public. But it's NaPoWriMo, the versifier's month of madness, and I have so much to do today that the only time I have this morning to myself has to shared with you.

It's what you do when you rise from the bed
that becomes really interesting -- the way you cover
up or don't, the first want
after the dissipated tidal wave.
Is it toast or car keys in your hand?
Or simply to stare
at a hummingbird's manic stasis, a green
bud dawn-tinged, dividing with unseen wings
the total past from the day ahead,
and its vast flock of decisions.
It's what you say with the water
running, the words that waterfall away
unheard that will determine the shape
of this morning as it fleshes
over the years into the body of memory.

I was looking for a site to include in this post, a site where two poets compose on the same theme in a 15-minute period, and we can see their progress as they develop their poems, the words adding themselves, the strike-outs and ongoing revisions. Does anyone know the name of this marvelous site, and has it disappeared? What a shame. A daring idea. Maybe not enough famous poets wanted the exposure.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

National Poetry Month - the Egg & I

So here it is again, the made-up holiday for poetry only American poets even know exists, and most of us find the festivities and publicity to be on a par with National Beetroot Day.

The one thing I like about National Poetry Month is the NaPoWriMo challenge. I don't know where it came from, but the idea of poets across America gearing up to begin on April 1 to aerobicize their muses and write a daily poem -- makes me want to write a poem. So I jumped the gun:

Getting the Jump

Usually jumping only for news or puddle,
or leaping in spring along with the clock,
I find myself tonight elevating via my fingers
on keys, limbering up for the exercise
of National Poetry Month’s oeuvre-a-day –

or is it oeuf? An egg on a plate, golden eye
of verse targeting me instead of the other
way around. I’m staying up late the day before,
trying to cheat by seeding ideas onto the white
plate of the page, and hoping the jump
of a few – well, four and a half hours – will count
me nimble in the game of daily poetry.

And if that isn't your cup of tea, you can sign up at to be emailed a poem every day from recent collections. Sounds awfully dull to me, but we all celebrate in our own way.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Rocket Launch Anniversary

March 16, the day after tomorrow (at least in the Pacific time zone) will be the 76th anniversary of the first liquid fuel-launched rocket by Robert Goddard, father of American rocketry. I found myself thinking about the early days of rockets, and what it was like to grow up in a family involved with that field, after I talked to my father on the phone last night. He has Alzheimer's and these days I'm the one who tells his stories back to him, so he can enjoy his own past life.

One of the names I always like to bring up to get a spark out of him, maybe a chuckle even, and every so often an actual reminiscence of his own, is Bob Truax, the wunderkind protege of Goddard and the guy who hired my Dad to manage the Naval Air Rocket Test Station in New Jersey. Truax is the reason my father went into rockets as a career, I'm sure of it. And even now, I can remember his hyena laugh and high spirits. Our families went on camping trips together after Truax moved west where the rocket business went.

One of the stories Dad likes to hear best is the one about the NARTS test lab he blew up. A colleague, J.D ("Doc") Clark, told about the wildness of their experimenting to find a liquid rocket fuel in that early lab:
We had a lot of pyridine around the place, and for some unknown reason, a
tank of liquified trimethylamine. Plus of course, unlimited nitric acid, so
things went fast.

They named the pyridine nitrate/acid mix "Penelope" and tried to fire it.
Normal ignition methods did not work, so Bert Abramson, who was in charge of
the test work, then took an acetylene torch and heated the motor red hot,
and opened the prop valve. This time he got ignition, and some half hearted
operation for a few seconds.

Inspired to further effort, he crammed about a yard of lithium wire into the
chamber, and pushed the button. Penelope sprayed into the chamber, collected
in a puddle in the bottom, and ***then*** reacted with the wire.
The nozzle couldn't cope with all the gas produced, the chamber pressure rose
exponentially, and the reaction changed to a high order detonation which demolished
the motor, propogated through the fuel line to the propellant tank, detonated the
propellant ***there*** (fortunately there were only a few pounds in the tank)
and wrecked just about everything in the test cell. Penelope should have
been named Xantippe. She also scared everybody to death - particularly
That's my Dad. That's the sort of solution he brought to just about every problem in my childhood.

His other favorite story is about how a piece of a rocket he had launched nearly started a war between America and Castro before the Cuban Missile Crisis, but that's a tale for another evening.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Blogrolling & NaPoMo

One of my new year's resolutions is to clean up my online act. Included in that will be to update my blogroll more often. I was aghast (yes, aghast!) to find that a number of the links were obsolete, or that the most recent entries were around 12 months ago. With so much to read on the blogosphere, there's no excuse for pointing people to dead-ends. This blog will endeavor to appear more often and to contain more current and updated information.

National Poetry Month is coming up. Last year at the Gazebo we had a thread for those celebrating the occasion by writing a poem a day -- the NaPoWriMo Exercise, as it came to be known. What are you doing to celebrate? I like the suggestion at about memorizing a poem in honor of NaPoMo. It's so much less work! But yes, I do intend to do the daily poem exercise again. Results will not be posted here. I made a deal with my Muse.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Dart - mini-review of a great book

Dart by English poet Alice Oswald is a book I've carried around in my purse for months. You can dip into it at any point, as you can approach a river, and find something fascinating. The text includes quotes from the hours and hours of people she audiotaped talking about their work on the River Dart, fishermen, people who canoe, mill workers and water engineers, poachers and town boys. She was commissioned to create a community poem (take note, Poetry Foundation and NEA). The result was a masterwork, a book-length poem that reports and comments on Oswald's River Dart interviews and periodically breaks into a heightened lyric by one of the best lyric poets writing in English. But even the monologues are poetic. One of my favorites sections is the water engineer:

You don't know what goes into water. Tiny particles of acids and salts. Cryptospiridion smaller thana fleck of talcom powder which squashes and elongates and bursts in the warmth of the gut. Everything is measured twice and we have stand-bys and shut-offs. This is what keeps you and me alive, this is the real work of the river.

The river is also full of delicious surprises, and Oswald makes the most of them:

On a good day, I can hear the wagtails over the engine
Or I'll hear this cough like a gentleman in the water
I turn round and it's a seal

But it's the people in Dart that are most moving:

Who’s this moving alive over the moor?

An old man seeking and finding a difficulty.

Has he remembered his compass his spare socks
does he fully intend going in over his knees off the
military track from Okehampton?

keeping his course through the swamp spaces
and pulling the distance around his shoulders

Dart is as fascinating as a trip down a great river. I carry it in my purse and dip into it, at any point finding a whole story on a half-page, a high lyric, a song, a tragedy or a laugh. The minute I finished reading it I was furious at her for being so good and thinking of this book before I did, and grateful to her for adding another book to my great books list.

I grew up on the ocean in a fishing town. Dart rang a lot of bells for me (pun intended -- in the 1950s along the docks a lot of ship's bells range on those old-fashioned purse seiner boats of San Pedro's tuna fishing fleet). The only thing we had that River Dart doesn't have is a magnificently moaning foghorn -- Moanin' Maggie, it was called. I remember being awakened by it many mornings, and knowing even in my dreams it meant time to get up and get dressed for school, and that the walk to Seventh Street School would be a foggy one. We lived on the San Pedro hill, several miles away from the harbor, but Moanin' Maggie carried all the way up the hill. Probably carried almost to Lomita and Long Beach.

I should have interviewed all those fishermen and net-menders and boatbuilders before I left San Pedro. But I didn't have the idea of a long poem about San Pedro until that San Pedro no longer existed, had become the port for cruise ships and Toyota boats. Timing might be an essential ingredient of genius.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Umbrella's Up

The new issue of Umbrella is out -- open it up and enjoy the excellent work assembled by editor Kate Bernadette Benedict. Be sure not to miss Chris Mooney-Singh's selections from his series, Bonehead Ghazals.

I have a poem reading on Bob Marcacci's show The Countdown at Miporadio. Program #20 includes a reading of my "Wine Under a Fig Tree." Sadly, it's not my reading, as I couldn't figure out how to get a decent sound level from my #%*&@+!! built-in mic on this iMac. If somebody has a tip, it will be appreciated.

Speaking of poetry recordings, and shameless self-promotion (see last blog), if you're interested in hearing poetry online, you can sample some of my CD, A God You Can Dance, over at CDBaby. My favorite of the cuts is "A Pot of Humuhumunukunukuapua'a" -- mainly because I won a free drink once in Hawaii for being able to pronounce it. Naturally, I then had to write a poem. Unfortuantely, CDBaby links that title to the wrong poem -- click on it and instead you get "The Whim," a group reading of a poem. Ah, technology, the joy!

For some weird reason, Amazon now lists the CD at $38 for a used CD. Forget that. You can write me directly and I'll sell you one for $15 + $2 postage.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Shameless Promotion -- The Upside

We all know the downside. And we think we know the upside. But I, for one, feel that shameless self-promotion of poets and poetry needs to be widened in its definition, expanded beyond the confines of publication credits, book awards and academic appointments and honors. It needs to drive toward the center of the culture, not just the noble fringes.

For example, last night's Oscars struck me as having some notes of class not commonly found in an Oscar event -- namely, a first-rate dance troupe interpreting the movie titles. As a former dancer, I've long been a Pilobolus fan. I also like The Pickle Family Circus, and have even been known to get on a bongo board, but that's another story.

But where was Billy Collins to give us, at intermissions, a wry take on famous lines from past Oscar-winning movies? Or Robert Pinsky to simply read "The Shirt", staring with his amazing deadpan at the camera, after one of those really goofy moments with a starlet overspilling her dress and her lines?

Poets need to be more inventive as a group with getting into the shameless self-promotion act. We need to co-opt a celebrity or two. I will never forget the night I was introduced to a Hollywood producer at a dinner, and when I admitted to being a poet, he retorted, "There's a lot of money in that." I think he thought it was witty, but is that really how we want to be top-of-mind portrayed in the culture --- if they portray us at all?

I'm calling for a bombardment of Hollywood with poems. I say send them so many poems they begin to think of ways to put them in movies. And not just bad movies about blocked writers, but mainstream movies, where -- as in real life -- when things happen that move people, they call up their poet friends and ask for good poems for the wedding, the wake, the anniversary, the birthday party, the death of a dog. I say plaster poems on the bathroom walls of the of the best restaurants in cities across America, but especially L.A. and New York, until they unconsciously imbibe the rhythms and heightened language and feeling, and begin reproducing poems in tv ads. Then we will have shamelessly self-promoted in a really good way.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Change is so annoying

And there are way too many passwords in life for one human brain to store. Then they tell you to never write your passwords down next to the thing you need a password to get into. It's designed to fry brain cells, that riddle.

So I'm putting this aide-memoire where it will be ever handy -- right here on the blog.

NOTE TO SELF: Sign in to Blogger using gmail address, not regular email address.

Having wasted your time on my admin activities, I'll now post a poem. I was reminded of this one when I talked to my mother-in-law on the phone recently, and also during the last thunderstorm:

Waking Early at Dottie Lou's

Thunder and lightning. Dark cocooned hours.
First the flitter, then a flash – a tusking crack and shudder.
Sinking back under covers as the rain drums into dreams
of a painter scumbling on canvas who dips and swashes
color in arcs, a spattered ballet dancer.
Dreams of dolls in my mother-in-law's house,
dolls holding Halloween court, sentencing
the Toby jugs to a century of flag-carrying.
The interior designer's Majolica pitchers
spawn litters of cabbage-covered creamers.
The china cats nurse soda bottles on end
tables while the candlesticks of crystal, brass, iron
out their differences by growing nobs and studs
and marching the glass chickens
to their fate with the Staffordshire dogs.

Nutcracker dreams in this house of color.
A forest of exclamation marks, each upholding
a red votive. House where I can't find the stove
under the world Santas. House where even Matisse fades
into the background behind a basket of Japanese scarves
and the actual ivies hide among fakes,
while photographs tuck into an army of witches
wandering in a thicket of hatboxes and tobacco tins
rusted and hoarsely creaking when opened to crow
the shopper's Lucky Strike, her coup, the cutest
and almost authentic Chinese platter, the glittery bats
enshrined under black lampshades, in snow
globes and dreams of waking, your skin stroked
by a big brush, flattened under bands of orange and fuchsia,
of being zapped and frozen, captive of a framing eye.

Thursday, February 08, 2007


I discover what I did all last year in assembling the numbers to send to my friendly local accountant so he can get the IRS to send me money. I did not remember buying a camcorder -- really I didn't. I had forgotten about that trip to Napa Valley and the seventy dollar bottle of wine that seemed like such a good idea at the time. Though I did get a poem out of it. I have made no New Year's resolutions because I have been too fascinated finding out what I actually did in 2006 via the paper-trail I have left in Quicken. It's better than a journal.

Oh, and here are the opening lines of the poem:

A lot to learn from a fig tree.
That any tiny winged thing
may explode from you without warning.
That you can’t have too many
green hands to widen your summer evening ...

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

On Not Smiting Google

My previous post regarding smiting a major computer company has been canceled due to embarrassment. In fact, I'm going to set time limits on my blogging -- late night blogs are proving not up to the standard I hope to set of interesting someone besides myself.

To atone for a ramble about how hard (or easy) Google made the switch to the new Blogger, I'll offer a derivation for the word "smite" (a juicy-sounding verb if ever I heard one):

O.E. smitan "to hit, strike, beat" (strong verb, pt. smat, pp. smiten), from P.Gmc. *smitanan (cf. Swed. smita, Dan. smide "to smear, fling," O.Fris. smita, M.L.G., M.Du. smiten "to cast, fling," Du. smijten "to throw," O.H.G. smizan "to rub, strike," Ger. schmei├čen "to cast, fling," Goth. bismeitan "to spread, smear"), perhaps from PIE base *(s)mei- "to smear, to rub," but original sense in Gmc. seems to be of throwing. Sense of "slay in combat" (c.1300) is originally Biblical, smite to death, first attested c.1200. Smitten in the sense of "inspired with love" is from 1663.

This derivation courtesy of one of my new favorite writer-tool websites, Online Etymology Dictionary. You can't really use an unusual word effectively in a poem, I find, unless you know all its possible resonances.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Ah, January

The month when my muse is so swathed in mufflers and shawls I can hardly hear a thing he's saying. When my typing fingers are tapped out, having completed two play scripts in the last year, and the new poetry manuscript lies fallow and unfetching, the first 60 pages of the novel fatten in imagination, but will not let their engine jump-start. When each new poem seems like a spring thaw, only to ice over again the next day.

Reading Mary Oliver's book of essays, especially loving her Emersonian essay on Emerson for its insight into his mysticism. Reading and writing and even blogging seem like someone else's habits, pursued out of a memory of habit, like a muscle once used for a ballet step that no longer can be commanded with any subtlety and vigor.

This will all change as soon as it stops freezing around here and I can get outside more often. The last few days have been California again, afternoons sunny and clear, the atmosphere so clear the disk of the new moon was a silver shadow upholding the brilliant crescent. I have been to many nighttime rehearsals the last two months, and last night's was the first sky that gave me hope of writing.

Oh, January, you are beating me up again, but not as badly as last year, because this year I remembered to enjoy the fallow a little. And there are always the neighborhood geese returning to the local pond from wherever they have been, early morning and dusk. If they can take January, I can.