Friday, December 31, 2010

Roundup of my year in poetry

I don't normally do the brag thing on this blog, at least not too much. But when I thought back on my 2010 in poetry and prose, I wanted to make a list just for my own aide-memoir. It surprised me. I didn't remember doing all this until I started the list. All in all, a good literary year. Here's the list:

Took two poetry workshops with Kim Addonizio

Published eight poems in literary journals (print and online)

Attended Associated Writing Programs Annual Conference in Denver, made new friends, and met many poet friends from online workshops, listservs, and Facebook

Gave three poetry readings in Colorado

Appeared on M.D. Friedman's poetry television show (see my website for a clip)

Had my poem "Designer" read aloud by Nic Sebastian on Whale Sound

Had my recording of my poem "Every Morning I Try" published in The Cortland Review

Placed as a semi-finalist in the Akron Poetry Prize contest with my manuscript Gods of Water and Air

Finished the first draft of a novel about a group of college teachers touring the Renaissance sites in Northern Italy and finding romance, marital mishaps, and new life directions as they travel

So here's my short list of resolutions for 2011:

Take another poetry course or workshop or conference
Succeed in getting a book under contract by the end of the year
Give more readings
Go to more readings
Finish editing my novel
Become a better poet

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Good books to read over the holidays

So many blogs and websites (not to mention booksellers) are offering gift-giving book ideas that I thought I'd offer an alternative: good stuff to dig into for a break to soothe your ruffled holiday feathers. This time of year is hectic, even under the best of circumstances. Diving into a good book of poetry or fiction can be a good way to cope.

Some ideas -- gift yourself!

Tinkers -- I found this novel fascinating in the way it documents a dying man's last days in kaleidoscopic splinters of memory and love. Sounds dismal, but it's really not. I found it uplifting and beautifully written, though it did jump around a little more than I liked.

A Summer of Hummingbirds -- fascinating story of the intertwining lives of Harriet Beecher Stowe, Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, and the painter Martin Johnson Heade.

Kay Ryan's The Best of It -- She'll make you laugh with those wonderful twists, and yet it's not exactly light verse. More de-light verse.

Juliana Baggott's novels and blog -- I just discovered her and plan to delve into her novel Which Brings Me To You.

An American Childhood -- Annie Dillard's radiant memoir is one of my must-rereads, along with an annual excursion into Jane Austen.

Emma -- Rereading Jane Austen is a perennial pleasure for me. Maybe you too? And if you haven't read her, I think this is the Austen to start with. Pride and Prejudice of course gets voted the classic, but I found this funnier and more profound.

Femme au chapeau (disclaimer -- it's MY book of poetry!) Okay, I'll even quote from a blurb on the Amazon page: "If Femme au chapeau were music, it would be a piano sonata: humming sonics and graceful rhymes, use of form that is technically supple without sacrificing emotional heartbeat" - Cheryl Snell

Have a tranquil reading break or two during the holidays! (And for those of you who object to Amazon, apologies for not linking to Powell's, where you can find all of these titles.)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Bloghopping for the Holidays

I intend to spend as much of the holiday season as I can reading, and that includes bloghopping around among the amusing, informative, intimate, surprising, and sometimes hilarious posts of my fellow literary bloggers.

Just in a few minutes of bloghopping via my blogroll and those of the blogs I link to, I found these great resources and blogs:

Mira's List (includes funding for writers and artists)

How a Poem Happens

Kristy Bowen

Poetry Publishers Who Accept Email Submissions

I'm slowly, slowly reconstructing my blogroll, lost when ceased operations without warning. Maybe I should take it as a hint from the universe that it's good to clean house sometimes, throw out the old stuff, and start as if you've never before done this. Becoming a novice over and over is an art in itself: cleaning the house of the mind.

Let me know if you have a blog you'd to swap blog links with me!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Revision has begun

I did it! I finished the first draft of my 265-page novel, took a breath, had some excellent champagne, and the next day, began revising. It took a year to draft it; it will take that long to revise it, probably. Naturally, I don't want to embark on this journey without companions. Here are some friendly advisers I've found to hold my hand and brave the adventure by my side:

How to Revise a Novel (Holly Lisle)

Some Thoughts on Revising A Novel

Revision Checklist (Nathan Bransford)

Finish Your Novel in Four Simple Steps

These are just so I'll remember where I put them. But if you have a big stack of printed paper you'd like to mess around with, you might find these links useful too.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Voice Alpha - "the poem ultimately belongs to the reader"

I'm pleased to have my guest post appear at Voice Alpha, an exciting new blog that's "a repository for thoughts, theories, suggestions, likes and dislikes and anything else related to the art and science of reading poetry aloud for an audience." My blog entry went live today. Thanks, Nic Sebastian, for inviting me to write on this topic. I'll be continuing to read, and also listening and reading on the companion site, Whale Sound, to poems and interviews. The Internet and its visual and audio capabilities is making this an exciting time to be a poet! I do still love print, but I have to prefer hearing a poem to reading one on the page. Maybe it's just me, but the voice is powerful, and sound is an important dimension in a poem.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Google Bookstore

It has arrived, and it will let me read e-Books bought there on my iPhone, laptop, desktop, or any device -- best of all, my new book is stored in the cloud! I can access it anywhere.

Check it out: Google Bookstore.

Also best of all (can I have two "bests? -- I think this warrants it), Google Bookstore carries Powell's Books and other Indie Bookstores. That means, "Hello, small press industry, come on into the e-Bookstore!" Some are of the opinion that this will not only increase the market for small press books, but the market for books in general, as titles will now come up on Google searches.

Life in poetry just might get a lot more interesting.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Blogrolling - Bah, Humbug!

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah from your favorite third-party software, They just posted this terse little announcement:

Blogrolling Has Ceased Operation

The Blogrolling service is no longer available.
If your site is still using Blogrolling code you should see a blank space where your blogroll used to be. That is because is currently serving up a blank file.
We will continue to serve this blank file for six months.

My entire, carefully accrued blogroll: GONE! Thanks,, for this lump of coal in my stocking.

If any of you want to add your blogs to my blogroll (which will now be hosted by Google, which isn't going anywhere anytime soon), please add a comment here or email and let me know. Sorry!

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Poetry & art of the sacred

For centuries, until the Renaissance, pretty much all art was commissioned by religious authorities. Churches, temples, mosques, paid artists and musicians and poets to celebrate and illustrate their particular faith. Now things have pretty much reversed, and most art is produced outside of the religious  context.

Yet a healthy percentage of contemporary American poetry is based on spiritual feelings, if not overly religious ones. However, the market devoted specifically to publishing spiritual poetry is minuscule. It's much more common to see poems with spiritual undertones in academic and independent literary journals than the few journals that are focused on spiritual art.

Because I'm interested in writing and reading spiritually-based poetry, I've looked into the few litmags that focus on this subject matter. While I don't think a literary magazine should restrict itself in terms of subject matter, I think these few (and any others you can suggest) have come into being because this subject matter has been often excluded from the generality of literary publishing. Here are a few magazines that focus on contemporary spiritual poetry:





And for online anthologies of spiritual poetry from all ages:

Poet Seers

Poetry Chaikhana

Undoubtedly, there are more that I don't know about. Suggestions are welcome! Maybe I'll start a page on my website if I get enough listings. But hopefully the mainstream literary journals will increasingly include overtly spiritual poetry. It does seem to be tending in that direction.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

My poem read at Whale Sound

I'm very happy to have Nic Sebastian's lovely reading of my poem "Designer" up today at Whale Sound, a marvelous site of poem readings. Thanks, Nic, and Amy MacLennan, who submitted it!

If you haven't yet discovered Whale Sounds, you're in for a treat. Poems are made to spin out on the air, like birdsong, not just sit in hieroglyphics on a page. At least, that's my thought. Whale Sound's readings are a pure pleasure, in large part because of the beautiful way Nic reads. A good reader of poetry is a treasure, and too few poets cultivate the ability to read aloud as well as write.

Thanks for Whale Sound! And including my poem in it.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Kelli Agodon's new book + bloghopping Pushcart nominated poems

I had a preview of Kelli Russell Agodon's Letters From the Emily Dickinson Room by Kelli Russell Agodon before it was published, thanks to a manuscript swap, and I'm delighted to see it out, and sporting a stunning cover. Kelli's playful way of musing on life, relationship, art, and self through engagement with words, right down to their component letters, is highly original. The poems have a breezy, dancing quality that evokes the more buoyant moments in Dickinson, justifying the title. The word "letters" is apt for this book, as its attention to the letters, sounds, and layered meanings of words form a vital subject matter here. A great read, and a thought-provoking collection. (And Kelli's comments on my manuscript were very helpful!)

It's that time of year: no, not the holidays, but Pushcart nominations. Redactions has a nice lineup of nominated poems to enjoy. Able Muse also has posted their Pushcart-nominated poems for this year, a nice read. If more online magazines nominated and posted the poems in an easy-to-read list of links, we could enjoy editors' picks of the best of their zines for the year. Many zines list the poems a year later, but with no links to read the works. As so few nominated poems actually get the prizes, it would give those poems another boost of publicity, a nice thing to do for the poets.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Favorite poems

Sherry O'Keefe shared a wonderful Frank O'Hara poem on Facebook as one of her favorites.

It tickled me so much to read a terrific poem on Facebook, where even poet usually share music videos and political articles, that it made me wonder about starting a series here, asking you for links to your favorite poems.

Here's one of mine, a poem by Stanley Kunitz, "The Round." It includes his reading and introductory remarks. Sadly, the print Atlantic Monthly no longer publishes poetry. And I no longer subscribe.

What's a favorite poem of yours? Add a comment or email me and I'll post it here. Could be an interesting list.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Listening to poetry

"Spoken Word" has come to mean slam poetry, or rap, which are in themselves interesting new literary forms

-- though I don't know if I put them in the same category as poetry readings, and I much prefer the quieter way of reading and writing.

Listening to poems has become for me a very stimulating part of my writing practice. So I'm pleased to find audio poetry spreading rapidly throughout the Internet., The Cortland Review, quarrtsiluni, and recently Nic Sebastian's new Whale Sound are sites I've enjoyed listening to. Whale Sound does a twist on the poem-read-aloud: it includes poets reading the work of other poets. This is a practice my local poetry group has tried, and it's a revelation to hear your own work -- or someone else's -- read in a different way than the author might read it.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Reading and Bloghopping

Reading C.K. Williams luminous book On Whitman. Few seem to get the spirituality of Whitman, the layered use of the first person, stretching from the earthly to the divine, but Williams does. Of course, his own work has a layered, luminously spiritual quality that balances, as Whitman's does, the divine with the quotidian.

Also reading the fascinating and poetic novel Tinkers, and wondering how someone got a first novel so short published. It's only 191 pages. Excellence in the writing, I suppose, is the answer, though I'm skeptical that New York editors these days would even notice that dimension in a book. Color me jaundiced by my own adventures with agents and publishers and efforts to get a book accepted.

One of the pleasures of "friending" writers and poets on Facebook is discovering and connecting to their blogs, for fascinating reading such as Nic Sebastien's Very Like a Whale and Diane Lockward's Blogalicious. Ah, too much to read, too little time to read it all!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Autumn (I hate to call it fall)


The universe, say surprised astronomers, has twice as much accumulated starlight as can be explained by all the known stars and galaxies. -- Newspaper article, 1998.

We have twice as much starlight,
it seems,
as stars to explain it.
This can only mean
a hidden conflagration
burns in the cosmic whirl.
Where can it live, this occult fire --
not at the center
galaxies are escaping.
Not at the frontiers of space
where new suns are being pioneered.
Where does the pure pulse of light beat,
racing out of nowhere,
a night light switched on in the void?
There is evidence that deep in the spin
of atoms is a tiny sun, a heart of radiance.
In the same way,
I have lived through days
when there is twice as much love
as people around me to explain it.

-- first published in Earth Lessons

Sunday, October 24, 2010

New Poetry Presses on My Non-Contest List

Thanks to tips from Facebook friends, I've updated my list of non-contest poetry presses. Take a look, and send me your suggestions, if you know of a poetry book publisher that reads queries or manuscripts outside of contests:

Non-Contest Poetry Book Publishers

Rainy day, writing day. I'm reading Kim Addonizio's wonderful new book Ordinary Genius, A Guide for the Poet Within.

Here's a little video clip of Kim talking about the book:

Kim - Ordinary Genius

Have a good writing day!

Sunday, October 17, 2010


Thinking about the change of seasons and the last burst of bloom and color in summer's outgoing. We had a week of warmth around here, last bit of near-naked ease in wearing our clothes loosely and feeling the breeze and sun on skin.

Wine comes in many forms, but it's best imbibed under an old tree, preferably one laden with summer fruits.

Wine Under a Fig Tree

That any tiny winged thing
may explode from you without warning
and after that, a long rearranging of leaves.
That you can’t have too many green hands
to widen the town’s summer evening.
That the wind’s smallest breath
can rock your whole being,
root your grasp on a changeable breeze
that will ever slide over and through you.

A lot to learn from a fig tree’s
small white ovals. How growth
often comes in the shape of tears,
yet the fat stem holds. A lot to glean
from the abundance, even after your leaves
have piled up like shoes gathered on a doorstep.
How your life’s work can be picked, peeled,
and sautéed, can glisten dark and lobed
in someone else’s pan. That you can give
everything and stand bare yet full
of sky. Some things a fig tree has to say
can only be said to the stars.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Interviewing poet Susan Rich

My interview with Susan Rich, author of The Cartographer's Tongue, Cures Include Travel, and The Alchemist's Kitchen, is up at Fringe Magazine. Susan has received awards from PEN USA, The Times Literary Supplement, and Peace Corps Writers. Her fellowships include an Artists Trust Fellowship from Washington State and a Fulbright Fellowship in South Africa. She has worked as a staff person for Amnesty International, an electoral supervisor in Bosnia Herzegovina, and a human rights trainer in Gaza and the West Bank. She lives in Seattle and teaches at Highline Community College. I had the fun of asking her how her travels influenced her writing, and if in her new book travel has been supplanted by a different muse, or remains one of her constant themes and catalysts. Read the results.

Monday, October 11, 2010

A Kick on the Apogee

Another excerpt from my memoir, Rocket Lessons.

Newton's First Law of Motion: An object in motion tends to stay in motion unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.

Mitch's Corollary: Become an unbalanced force and beat the Reds into space.

Cutting off his finger at the age of twelve must have turned my father into a worrier, but as always, he turned it to good use when he became the project manager for rocket design projects. He worried his way into space with the world’s first functioning telecommunications satellite, though he did nearly set off World War III.

My father was a dazzle and a puzzle to me, from an early age. He is even now, when I am middle-aged and he in his dementia can recall none of his own remarkable history. The worry gene was passed down liberally to me and my brother, who are now bonafide rocket scientists of panic and alarm. He went far as a rocket engineer on Murphy’s Law: “If anything can go wrong, it will,” which speaks to the perceived perversity of the universe. Yet he made this catechism funny, as he twisted us into knots of his paranoid wisdom. By second grade, I not only knew Murphy’s Law, but also many of its corollaries, such as Finagle’s Law: “Whatever can go wrong will go wrong, and at the worst possible time, in the worst possible way.” Mitch found these laws hilarious, and thought it was hugely entertaining to train us to imagine every possible disaster, then find ways to engineer a course around it. He showed us how to graph and plot, to connive and use subterfuge. He was a font of deception, taught us to box, to shoot down any oncoming snipe with bigger firepower. He taught these things by wounding, maiming, and hobbling us, his neophytes, as he had been wounded, maimed, and hobbled by his father’s caustic tongue. 

It seems tragic that my father was so wrong about life. Not everything that can go wrong does go wrong. Not everyone you trust betrays you. Love does exist and can be depended on. He does not know these things, but he is learning to depend on people he has no cause to trust, but who do care for him although he has done little to deserve it. And although dementia is a pretty big hole in your boat, he is oddly the happiest and most content he has ever been, doing without his booby-trap intellect. My rocket scientist father can no longer work a simple telephone.

I do still have a healthy fear of knives. Thanks to Dad, loud noises, anything resembling his explosive shouting, can make my nerves quiver for an hour. I also have an acute organizational ability to wield like a samurai sword at my anxieties. I know we are doomed because my father made me repeat his creed of fear and contemptus mundi, but I have foiled him by falling in love with life and its unpredictability. To spite him, no doubt, I developed in childhood a thirst for God.

Perhaps it was a quest to best my manic, paranoid, competitive parent by aligning myself with a Higher Power. Nothing quite irks an atheistic Jew more than a fervently mystical, Catholic-leaning daughter. From age nine, I craved the Eucharist, mysteries and magic,  saints, and oh, yes, reincarnation, ancient Egypt, and eventual satori. Yeah, the Tao too, and haiku. I became an eclectic mystic, a yin-yang of philosophies blending into poetry, with a dash of mythology.

All this roils through my mind tonight as I weep. I just talked to a kindly social worker about placing my father in what they call a “secure unit.” That means you cannot escape, which is Dad’s worst fear. It means others will control his every movement. This makes me grieve for our entire past, the past which until this moment I have been ready to dump hog-tied off the nearest pier. This is a man I have wished dead so often it no longer shocks me. Now I grieve because he will go into a locked ward. He is no flight risk. His vascular issues, which have caused his dementia, are again diminishing him. They lopped off all the toes on his right foot because of poor circulation. My father is again disappearing by digits. Full circle, it would seem. Life is full of paradox. And Murphy has no law for this.

But I get ahead of myself. I should begin at the beginning. Rocket science and I were conceived at about the same time, four years after the A-bomb, the year my parents moved to Buffalo, New York, during one of the coldest winters on record. How I came to be growing up in San Pedro, California with the Vice President of Camping is a simple tale of opposites being attracted. My parents met in the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. Both were in Navy uniform after World War II. Dad was a brashly funny Russian-Hungarian Jew with a distaste for snobbish society and a taste for shiksas with good legs. My mother, Marybeth, was descended from a line of Episcopalians, Mayflower-proud and socially ambitious. Yet both my parents were classic products of their Depression and World War era, a simple and dutiful world of black and white choices. Mitch, my father, was helping to create our complexly technical world, with its quantum mechanics of decision-making, through his life's glorious passion: shooting things into outer space.

 Mitch had been sidelined from overseas duty in the Air Force by a deathly allergy to buckwheat. If not for a pancake, I might not have come to be, as the average lifespan of pilots was much shorter than that of aeronautical engineers. On a routine ferry flight, Mitch began chatting with "a knockout brunette." She was a control tower operator whose amusing idea of efficiency was to give the okay to two planes to take off at the same time from opposite ends of the runway. Marybeth's career in air traffic control was understandably brief, but it didn't matter. She had met the world's most exciting man on that airplane ride. They married as soon as Mom was discharged, and spent their first married year in his fifth-floor walk-up artist's studio. Her momentary doubts before marrying him had been quelled by a conversation with Mitch's Aunt Rivka, who told Marybeth she better get over her cold feet or Mitch might not survive being jilted a second time. Mitch and Marybeth married, at her mother's insistence, under the traditional crossed swords of a military ceremony – a prophetic touch, I always felt.

Soon Mitch grew tired of what he thought was to be his life's passion: painting portraits for picky, eyelash-counting rich people. He decided to capitalize on his chemical engineering degree and Air Force experience to get into this new rocket business. Rockets in those days were Rube Goldberg affairs, gigantic Roman candles put together with electrician's tape and rudimentary aerodynamics. They carried enough explosives to make a good crater. Engineers and scientists were shooting them off with no more than a few slide rule calculations, and as long as they didn't kill anyone on re-entry, everyone was happy. In those days, even rocket science was not exactly rocket science.

Mitch and Marybeth stayed in Buffalo one winter after my birth. Then Mitch was hired by a young Naval Lieutenant Commander, Robert Truax, who was famous as the protégé of Robert Goddard, the dean of American rocketry. Commander Truax asked Dad to manage the new Naval Air Rocket Test Center. Dad bought a house in Whippany and while he and Truax were inventing new and more powerful rockets, my infancy flowered in a farmland being divided up into housing tracts. I had a happy thundercloud-and-buttercup infancy, despite the invasion of a tubby little alien called Danny. My younger brother came one day from a hospital, was plunked into a teeter-totter and was – outrageously – made the center of our attention.

Mitch did well. He blew up one test laboratory and achieved a fuel efficiency so impressive that Dr. Louis Dunn, the head of Jet Propulsion Laboratories in Pasadena, asked him to come and work in Los Angeles. Because the JPL job didn't start soon enough for him, Dad wound up working instead for Dr. Simon Ramo and his partner Dean Wooldridge. Ramo-Wooldridge Corporation had just been awarded a contract to do  the systems engineering and technical direction of the Air Force's new Atlas ballistic missile. Dad had six weeks to pack up and get us to the West Coast. We flew out to join him in a rental house in Inglewood. It didn't take Dad long to find us a new, architect-designed house dramatically poised at the ocean's brink. Miraculously – even in 1955 – the ocean-front house was in our price range. Sale papers were prepared. My parents were ready to sign, but when the pens were poised, the realtor casually mentioned that of course a Jewish family could not expect to be invited to join the area's new country club.

Dad's face had turned five successive colors, from greenish-white to lobster. He choked out a few words, ripped up the sales contract and flung the pieces in the man's face. He then piled us back into the station wagon and drove furiously down the road. We knew better than to ask questions when Dad's head was twitching that hard, jerking back over his shoulder. Within forty minutes of leaving Portuguese Bend, my father had seen a "Houses for Sale" sign in San Pedro, port of Los Angeles and a town of Italian, Serb, Croat, Portuguese, Greek and Mexicans, where there were two canneries and the nation's largest commercial fishing fleet.

"Mom, do we have to go in?" I said, tired of traipsing through model homes.

Mom, fixing her lipstick, looked at me through the rearview mirror. "No, we don't. Your father wants a quick look. He'll be right back. Tomorrow we're going to look at the house in Brentwood again. That's when you'll need to be patient."

But I had to be patient today. We waited a long time. Dad finally came out, waving a piece of paper which he thrust through the open window at Mom.

"We got it!" he shouted.

My mother stared at him, mouth open and lipstick in hand. "What do you mean?"

"The house is ours. I bought it. There were two other couples in there, I had to move fast – why didn't you come in?"

"Mitchell!" she said, then slumped down to lay her head on the back of the seat. She did not say another word all the way back to Inglewood.

So the modern bungalow on Fourth Street became ours while my mother was still fixing her lipstick. We would live within sight of the sea, and near Dad's beloved fishing. I would learn to cross myself before I learned to say the Shma Israel. Through my father's impulsiveness, I was to spend my vaguely Jewish, middle class childhood in a blue collar Catholic town.

Dad's purchase was also an impulse of revenge, rewarded in cinematic, Biblical proportions. Two years later, the hillside shifted. Half the new houses slid into the ocean, along with the brand new, completely non-Jewish country club. Dad always went out of his way to drive past Portuguese Bend.

"Look at that!" he exclaimed, as though we had never before seen the block lettered signs: "Danger! Slide!"

He shook his dark head until the shaking became his twitch. "They've moved the road over again. Twenty more houses are going to go into the sea. Mazel Tov! What kind of crazy people would build here? Look at the cracks in that hill."

"I feel sorry for them, losing their homes," said my mother. "Imagine how you'd feel."

"Thank you, Lady Bountiful. Oh, I'm sorry for them. About as sorry as you can feel for snooty morons. Now they can have their country club parties on the beach, if they don't mind barbecuing up to their keisters in water."


"What? I can say 'keisters' in front of my own children."

"Children should be protected."

"Says you and Dr. Spock. What's the fuss? Raising kids isn't rocket science. Any numbskull can bring up kids."

This stunned my mother, with its deft combination of insult, insensitivity and the implication that she wasn't pulling her weight. The daughter of an Army colonel, a harsh disciplinarian, she was used to being chided as selfish, but she never got used to being called stupid. It was a rankle that oystered her genteel calm, a nit she could not slough off, no matter how many times she changed the subject. She had a great consolation, though, in the form of Southern California's beaches. Every summer day, she took us to Cabrillo Beach to encounter that vast, dark blue expanse that lay around every bend of San Pedro. Holding her hand, I summoned the courage to wade in, keeping in the shade of the pier. At every wave that luffed me up and down in its cold, cradling silk I felt a terror and a thrill. During that first year in San Pedro, I had constant nightmares about the ocean, a panic probably learned from my father. He approached the beach like an enemy, barking instructions to NEVER TURN YOUR BACK ON THE OCEAN.


Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Rocket Lessons - Fog: Launch Scrubbed

I started this blog at the suggestion of my agent, who thought blogging excerpts from my memoir of growing up as a rocket kid would be a good idea. And yet, thanks to the readers of this blog, it's turned ever more toward poetry and away from prose. Today, I offer the opening of one chapter of Rocket Lessons -- a kind of prose poem.

Fog: Launch Scrubbed
Einstein's Theory of Relativity: Due to the natural curvature of space, the shortest path between any two objects is never a straight line, but a curved line called a geodesic. An example of this is that we can see stars that are located in a straight line behind the sun appearing near the edge of the sun.

Dad's Corollary: Unless there's fog.

I knew before I opened my eyes it would be socked-in, with Foghorn Maggie's groans weaving into my dreams. She sounded like my mother crying in the bathroom, like my father pushing away from the table with what he called a complimentary belch. Maggie groaned like Dad's rockets as they ripped away from the gantry and slowly ascended, a scene we had viewed in black-and-white on our new television. "Oh, Fog," was what I think Dad said when Mom mailed the bank deposit to the phone company – what he had said when the Russians launched Sputnik a year before the Americans were ready to launch.

San Pedro's fog seeped through balding ice plant and effervesced off Bixby Slough, tumbled over docks where men on crates mended fishing nets and tuna boats bobbed red, green and useless. Fog meant bad fishing, sport and commercial. It meant launches scrubbed, Dad coming home with an empty sack. The look in my mother's eyes when he rambled on about some jerk who would not give over when Dad hooked his only fish of the day, a gathering of cloud that meant I was likely to get lost.

Mist slipped behind Mom's eyes and made her hear us from a distance: "What? What?"

My job was to sound the horn when it got too thick, prevent blind collisions in my family, the ramming thud that sickened me in the night remembering its sound in their voices. So far, as a fog horn, I had only managed a few croaks, which were mistaken for insolence and got me sent to ruminate alone on how the fog descended to cut off the tops of the houses across the street, leaving only a sly wink of a window here and there.

She sent us walking to school in fog so thick it dewed my jacket. Houses floated and shifted, unmoored from Bynner Drive. The blank descended only as far as the red, but not the green, stoplight. Palm trees rose into the mist like mastodon legs, suggesting a prehistoric swamp where my school should be. Inside the classroom, time rusted and flaked. All over San Pedro, you could hear children's minds evaporating. Finally the afternoon cannery whistle set us free to race out into drizzle, but I was afraid to venture off my regular route. My own neighborhood blurred and gapped with pockets of blank. I hurried, thinking to outrun it, hurry in case my own house turned up missing. But there it was. I hardly noticed that I slowed when I saw it.

By dinner, the fog burnt off, leaving a cloud scrimshaw on the apricot sky, but night fog roared back and fell like snow. Fog fell indoors, into our TV. Dad pounded the set. "Geezacrist! What did you do to this set, Betts? Did you fiddle with the rabbit ears?"

Noise frothed in the kitchen, and Mom's voice said, "Why would I do that?"

For a moment, the atmosphere cleared. Dad's eyes flared, as they did when a car veered into his lane. Then kitchen noises clattered. Dad went back to fiddling with the antenna, and we all sank back into grayness.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

My Reading up on the Poets Coop TV Site

I had the privilege of being invited to appear on Poets' Co-Op TV show on Channel 54 in Boulder County, Colorado, on September 5. M.D. Friedman, a poet, artist, and musician, hosts this monthly poetry show. He had also invited me to give a reading in his series at the Loveland Museum, which was great fun. It's a lovely venue and a good group of poets regularly attend.

It's interesting to watch yourself reading. I'm taking notes for next time (smile more!). I really appreciate M.D.'s invitation to appear. His work to produce this show, and the professionalism and pleasant presence of his colleagues who do all the camera and sound work is awesome. Support Channel 54 if you're in Boulder County! It's a good station providing good programming.

I wish someone around here (Contra Costa County, CA) would start a poetry TV! Poetry on TV is such a natural.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Poems of place

Working on a novel set in Italy reminded me of my poem about Venice. I love poems of place, especially Elizabeth Bishop's South America poems.

Wearing Venice

I have taken to wearing Venice
on my wrist. Beads of glass
with foil hearts dangle
from my hand as I jog
around a geometrical landscape
ruled by science and not art.
I have crafted a bracelet of glass
to wear a city water whisks,
echoing through airy loggias,
sloshing on slimed stones,
dazzling the ogee-arched
windows from which Venetians hung
gold flags and corpses.

A world winks on my arm, mysterious
as the eye of a bronze horse.
Green beads click a rosary of longing
for luminous sheets of pink water.
Venice shimmies up my forearm
and a sighing Venetian crosses a bridge.
In summer, when gondoliers pole
black boats through stone canyons,
pushing down on fathoms of muck,
you sink into a spell, surging
around the cloud-colored city
on this wave and that.
Then Venice wears you,
a swinging bauble of glass and light.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Readings in Colorado

This is a thank you letter to everyone who kindly came to hear me read in Colorado. I read first at the Loveland Museum, where the open mic portion was unique and fascinating. Then I was on M.D. Friedman's local tv poetry show, The Poet's Co-op TV Show. It was a blast, though I didn't know which camera to look into, but all cameras (and camera operators) looked friendly. If you live in Boulder County, Colorado, you should watch this show regularly. They've had some stellar poets on, people like Lynn Emanuel. I was honored to be in such good company, and really enjoyed the process. When the show is archived on the Poets Co-op website, I'll post an announcement.

And last but surely not least, I read at the fabulous Cannon Mine Poetry Series in Lafayette. This series has also had a stellar lineup of featured readers, and has an excellent open-mic following. I was delighted to appear there again, with such a warm welcome, and such an interesting open-mic following my reading, including poets Barbara Ellen Sorensen, whose new chapbook, Song from the Deep Middle Brain, is forthcoming from Main Street Rag and Lew Forester, who read a stunning new poem.

All in all, major fun for a poet. Thanks to everyone named (and not named) for your kind hospitality, great welcome, and sharing your poetry with me!

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Reading here, and here, and here ...

I'm in Colorado, mixing business, pleasure, and poetry readings. The first one I did here was at the Loveland Museum, as part of the Internet Poets Coop Series, run by poet, musician, and artist M.D. Friedman. The evening began with an open mic -- an unusual arrangement, as usually the featured reader is first and open mic second -- which allowed me to hear some Colorado poet voices before giving my reading. It was fun to hear my audience before addressing them, as I don't usually get to do that.

And it's always interesting to hear the poetic context in any reading series. Often reading series that include open mics have followers, regulars who often participate in the open mic and thus know each other's work. There are discernible poetic sub-cultures that grow around groups that meet together regularly. They influence each other as poets. You can hear what the group as a whole encourages and perhaps subtly discourages in their responses.

My next Colorado event will be The Poets Coop TV Show, live on Sunday, September 5 at 7 pm, Boulder County Comcast Channel 54.  The video will be archived on The Poets Coop TV Show website and on my website.

And next Thursday, September 9 at 7 pm, I'll be the featured reader at the Cannonmine Poetry Series, at Cannonmine Coffee Company, 210 S. Public Rd., Lafayette, CO. (303) 665-0625.

Wow! I feel handsomely welcomed here in Colorado.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Writing a novel

I've heard it likened to creating a quilt the size of a soccer field (Jane Vandenburgh), to cantilevering out a floor built on nothing underneath (Annie Dillard), to a feral beast kept in a room (Dillard again), and perhaps my favorite quote is from Somerset Maugham, who said there are three secrets to writing a novel and no one knows what they are.

All these are true in my current experience of working on a new novel. Set in Italy, it follows a group of thirteen travelers, college instructors, in search of a new life, or a renewed life, by studying and then touring through the art and architecture of the Italian Renaissance. Along the way, through mishaps and misadventures, several of them get a new life, but perhaps not in the way they had planned.

I got the idea to mix in a little magic, a little Midsummer Night's Dream mayhem, and of course a lot of gorgeous Italian settings, which would allow me to grab chunks of a memoir I wrote once about taking such a tour. My life was much less dramatically rearranged than my fictional travelers, following my tour, though it did make an indelible impression.

Now the book follows me around. Yesterday, I was having a glass of wine with some friends when they asked me what I was writing. I sketched out the plot and was asked, "Did the Renaissance come before or after the Middle Ages?" At this point, I was struck with the realization that I really had to explain the Renaissance much better at the outset. I was assuming things about my audience I perhaps shouldn't assume. As I heard myself stumbling through an overly long explanation, I took a giant step back from my big quilt of character, setting, event, and history, and wished I were a much better writer. One who could explain the Renaissance and its impact on Western civilization -- and why America wouldn't exist without it -- in a sentence or two.

Feral beast, I'm thinking today. Throw it some raw meat! Yikes!!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Noise pollution

I was going to spend an hour this morning before work playing with a poem revision, but the gardening service our condo association has hired has a crew full of men wielding the loudest instruments I've ever heard: edgers, mowers, and blowers. And they have no pattern of work, perhaps finishing our side of the complex all at once, then moving to the next area. First, the edger comes along, with a noise like a table saw that starts up and powers down every few seconds, making me wish I were deaf. A half hour later comes the mower, who goes over and over a tiny patch of balding grass that in the 15 years I've lived here has never thrived, probably because it's never properly thatched. Just as soon as peace descends for another 15 minutes, the blower guy comes by, and he's clearly marking time, making the most elaborate passes back and forth to cram all downed leaves into the edges next to the buildings, where they will absorb moisture and create dry rot.

This, sadly, is not a poem or a poem revision. It is a gentle screed against this rape of the environment, powered by noisy gasoline engines. Before we worry too much about exhaust from cars despoiling the atmosphere, maybe we should consider the fact that one of these crews works on almost every yard once a week. There is no mitigation of the exhaust or the noise. Maybe we need to rethink this whole way of caring for the landscaped environment.

And now, for the 15 minutes of quiet, I will consider my poem.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Femme au chapeau

I've been thinking about ekphrastic poetry again lately, how much I enjoy poems that use paintings as touchstones. I'm a big fan of a wonderful illustrated book by Lynne Knight called Snow Effects after an exhibition called "Impressionists in Winter" that came through San Francisco some years ago. My father was a painter, and I'm sure that watching him gave me ideas about creativity.

This is one of my poems based on paintings, from my book of the same name. I think I need to go to a museum soon. Or visit a friend's studio!


– after a painting of his wife by Matisse, 1905

She’s ready to doff tradition’s muff and the cane
on which she stylishly leans. Yeats is about
to write: The bees build in the crevices. Her mane
of red is upswept, but wants out.
Hollowed by chaos, her face is Internet
turquoise and neon pink, cartooned as if
she were a television on which we get
the perennial game show, What’s the Dif?
Miracles of the time are all around her—
the German and his unconscious, Pavlov’s reflex—
a patent examiner with a theory that avers
time’s not absolute. Matisse goes psychedelic
on a woman’s face. Titled Woman, like so
many painters’ wives, she seems not to see
the changes or first she’d remove that chapeau,
and its crushing fruit, its dour antiquity.
Eyes wild as pinwheels whirl questions:
If we can’t escape birth or condition,
what’s the point? If not now, when?
Who will I be, Henri, when I come to fruition?
as a woman all rainbow atomic ignition.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Another Walking Poem

A Walk After Reading Dante’s Paradiso

We live in a heaven we take great pains to avoid.
Shielding our cheeks from a winter sky’s
chilled fur, we hunch against the brush of air
that has rushed gloriously everywhere. We listen
into our phones so as not to be pierced
by arias in the pines. Clench
worry’s hands to keep a woodpecker’s drumming
from entering our bones. Stay separate.
Refuse to sail a cloud into evening’s gold.

I circle your neighborhood. You switch on your motor
to cancel my hellos and drive by, tunnel-gazing
at the road. You will not allow yourself
to be distracted by a flock of red butterflies
that seem to have settled on the quince. You work
at not seeing the cherry trees’ candlelight parade. Busy
yourself steadying a tea tray on your head.
It’s hard not to look into each other’s eyes,
down wells of the water we daily draw up,

but bliss is trying to leach into our cells
from the sheer forces of nature and humanity.
Happiness can sprout in a moment, absurd
amid the gray towers strafed by centuries.
Don’t make a habit of paving over any space
where a tiny flower could pop or hold
your breath so you can’t nose around
as easily as an old dog finds a neighborly scent
and comes upon another circle of delight.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Morning and walking poems

I don't know if you have daily cycles related to your writing, but I find morning energy combined with the mental palette-cleansing from a good night's sleep lends itself to creative ideas. I've even tried to write about the state I sometimes find myself in during this period, especially if I go walking in the morning.

This one is from my chapbook, Another Circle of Delight, which has a number of walking poems:

As Yearning Is Red

Sudden as a hat is ripped away
by the wind, he was over my head.
Long black legs scissored together
as he plowed the seamless sky
with a beak pointed like a boat’s prow.
The wings rowed lazily.

There’s little reason to look up when I walk,
I passed just as he paused to float on a thermal.
I was heading downhill and he was gliding down
to the creek. We were nearly eye level.
I had a precarious feeling, as if my marching feet
had risen off the ground.

His wings rippled several times
as he held on and I did. They rippled again:
a lace bedspread shaken out.
He was white as yearning
is red, still as night’s first sip of moon.
Then the luminous being was gone,
leaving me ruffled and aired, forever feathered,
able to lift on the beat of a breath.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Walking as writing practice

Marian Haddad pointed me to a marvelous article, "Solvitur Ambulando," by Carol Keeley on Ploughshares on this topic.

I walk every day, often in the evening or at night, and sometimes twice a day, midday and evening. I walk when I feel anxious, tense, expansive, in need of a break, bored, even tired. I walk in the morning often to glean natural images, not necessarily to write about but just to wonder at. I think sometimes poets are the last people on earth to cherish a sense of wonder and make it their job to do so.

Walking always brings me at least one wonder, whether it's something as predictable as a star or moonrise, or a surprising scene in the street, or a wonderful smile from a complete stranger than alters the way I feel about the world.

I'm happy to learn from this article the long, long list of writers and philosophers who made daily walks part of their meditative practice. I think in the East they sit in caves. In the restless West, many of us walk.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Is the print book dead?

Anis Shivani has an interesting article in the Huffington Post that argues for the future of the book in print, and literature in general, as lying with the fearless small presses. It's a series and he invites comment from readers as part of what he plans to address in future articles.

What do you think? Which presses should or should not be mentioned as among the top 25? Is the print book dead with the advent of Kindles, iPads, etc.? I love stashing a small book in my purse to take to a field or park and read. Poetry, of course, or small books about it, like Richard Hugo's delightful Triggering Town. But I know devotees of the Kindle et al delight in having thousands of books tucked in pockets and purses. That does sound like fun, but then I'd have to choose. Sometimes the best part is having only that one little book with you, and no computer.

Monday, June 28, 2010

New Interview at Fringe with Poet Eliot Khalil Wilson

My interview with the author of The Saint of Letting Small Fish Go and This Island of Dogs is up at Fringe, in the new summer issue. I had the chance to ask him about how he became interested in poetry, what it’s like writing as a Southerner and an Arab-American, and how MFA programs have improved poetry.

It was a lot of fun to ask him a variety of questions, simple things like "What is poetry's purpose?" He's a witty, knowledgeable, and wonderful poet. Read him. Buy the books, look him up online. He's going to be a big deal. No kidding.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Bloghopping + A Recommendation

The Smoking Poet is full of interesting work, including a poem, "Tarnish," by Jim Valvis that I very much like for its simplicity and subtlety. The issue includes a good interview with poet Derek Burleson and reviews of both poetry and prose books. They also have a unique feature "A Good Cause" in which they showcase a charitable project. This warms my fundraiser's heart!

I've had two of my poetry manuscripts edited, the first time I've done this. I'm really glad I did. Not only did it improve the manuscripts (and make me decide to put one on the back burner, needing further work), but it has already improved the responses I typically get from editors on both individual poems and the manuscript as a whole. Economical and well worth it if you consider the cost of contest fees.

Red C Services provides business and literary editing, as well as editing for students. Check it out. If you decide to try an editor, tell Bryan I sent you.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Corium Magazine

I'm happy to have my poem "Genesis" in the new issue of Corium Magazine, The second issue of this exciting new zine just published today. Corium is the venture of Lauren Becker, Editor-in-Chief, Poetry Editor Heather Fowler, and Associate Editor Greg Gerke. It publishes poetry, fiction, and very short fiction, as well as art work. It's named for the under-layer of the skin, as described in their mission statement:

The corium is the dense inner layer of skin beneath the epidermis, made up of connective tissue, blood and an elaborate sensory nerve network. Corium aims to showcase work that touches on nerves and lingers. That evokes and awakens. That leaves an imprint that sticks around for awhile ...

A good-looking, good read! Take a look, submit.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Best American Poetry?

Anis Shivani, in a review of the Best American Poetry series in The Huffington Post that some might say gives new meaning to the word "scathing," takes on David Lehman's sacred cow series, Best American Poetry, charging that:

"Compile Lehman's increasingly desperate forewords in defense of his precious anthology year to year, and you have the record of the poetry establishment's grotesque self-justification. We do not need to be relevant or exciting or new or accomplished or anything, damn you! It's the reductio ad absurdum of an aesthetic that builds from banal diversity and ends in democratic piffle." This gloves-off indictment of the poetry establishment's darling anthology is worth reading for its challenge to complacency about the state of poetry, especially among those who lament its increasing unpopularity in American culture. Why, some ask, is poetry so marginalized? And at the same time, some of those same critics and poets are working hard to marginalize and obscure what once was an art form that could be enjoyed by anyone reasonably literate and knowledgeable. I agree with Shivani's point that much of what's found in contemporary poetry makes no sense, but passes for art through political correctness or sheer obscurity.

I found this one of Shivani's more interesting points:

" ... the bulk of the academic poetry written today is from a stance of moderate, earnest, entirely boring emotion; there is nothing at all subversive about it."

Boring, that's about the worst thing in writing!

To be sure, The Huffington Post isn't known for moderate viewpoints and editorials. But if only to see a thorough dishing of the BAP series, this article is a must-read.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

I Guest on Woman-Stirred Radio

I was invited to appear on Merry Gangemi's delightful weekly poetry radio show, "Woman-Stirred Radio" during National Poetry Month. A link to the interview is now up at WGDR, Goddard College, which hosts Merry's show. Thanks, Merry! I had a great time talking to you and enjoy following your show.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Ordering your own poetry retreat

It doesn't take much more than a lawn, a laptop, and some wi-fi. At least that's all it took for me this Memorial Day weekend to find myself on a luscious three-day (nearly) writing retreat of the kind I could have expected to pay hundreds of dollars for. Honestly, we like to call it "work" -- as in "my work has gone to a new level" -- as in "I had work in that issue" -- but it's really intense play for poets to write and read poetry.

Be honest. We don't do it for the money, even if we must publish or perish. Even if we just have to get another book out or be thought "played out." It's intensely playful, working at art. Artists don't just love to be poor, they do it because it's worth the price. Because to "work" at art is the best thing since you grew up and stopped getting to play games half the day.

So I took myself, my laptop, my dog, and a few snacks out to a lawn under a tree and lost all track of time as I painstakingly re-ordered my current manuscript, while tweaking a few poems here and there, and reading Kim Addonizio's Tell Me slowly, between bouts of work. It was one of the best holiday weekends I've ever had. I forgot all my problems, I spent no money, I was in my favorite place (a garden), and I had my cell phone in case I got lonely and wanted to reach out farther than this blog or Facebook.

Being self-employed, I don't get a lot of holidays. I do get time flexibility -- no, I'm not complaining, except about the difficulty of getting health insurance -- but being my own boss means I work for one mean bitch who is never satisfied. So giving myself three days off in a row felt very nice. Very healing. Very unusual.

Have to try this again very soon -- maybe on the Fourth!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Memorizing poems

At a meeting of my poetry workshop this week the subject of memorizing poems arose. The leader of the workshop asked if any of us wanted to recite poems we'd memorized. It was surprising how few of us had any committed to memory, though we were all quick to cite favorite poems and poets. My editor has a surefire technique for memorizing poems that involves writing them out repeatedly, line by line, accumulating lines after a certain number of times of writing each line or set of lines. He claims that you'll never forget a poem you once memorize this way.

I'm still working on Stanley Kunitz' "The Round," which I was only able to recite imperfectly, remembering later the lines I had omitted. Carrying a poem around in heart and mind is a special delight. Have you memorized any poems in your literary life? Any special quotes or pieces of prose? How did you do it? I'd love to hear about memorization techniques and how common or rare it is these days to memorize poems.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Airplane poems

I started a series of these awhile back, to keep myself from having hysterics on airplanes. They so don't like that these days. This is one of the first (first published in


Salvavida bajo su asiento.
It took me awhile to translate: lifesaver
under your seat. Under this fragile body
of lofting steel, our tennis rackets and rain
coats, our bathing suits, and below that,
turbulent pockets and updrafts.
And under that, what no lifesaver
can cushion. But in the air they soothe
in every tongue: salvavida
is below your asiento, and that’s all you need to know.
That, and at the press of a button, everything
in featherweights – the five-ounce can
of tomato juice at ninety-minute intervals,
two cookies and twenty chips, a pillow
small as a cloud measured with fingers
on the window. They float up the aisles
to keep you warm and half-asleep,
to make sure that salvavida is handy.
Someone like the mother you ought to have had,
who salvas your vida while it hurtles at five hundred per,
someone who says, in case you speak English –
and only up here: salvation is at hand.

Ever wonder where your time goes?

Thanks to Sherry Sheehan, I found this wonderful illustration in the comic strip Pearls Before Swine of the time-suck that is social networking and bloghopping. When I wind up at the end of a ten-hour day with two billable hours of work, I now know that this is what happened.

Adding to your Internet-induced ADD, here are some stops online you should check out:

Electric Literature -- a quarterly anthology of the best contemporary short fiction delivered in every viable format: eBook, audiobook, Kindle, iPhone, Paperback.

Poets for Living Waters -- poetry action in response to the Gulf Oil Disaster and a call for poems about the Gulf Coast.

Donors Choose -- donate to help out a classroom of your choice; a little or a lot, every dollar helps and goes right to a classroom in need (and aren't they all these days?).

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Gulf

The gulf between care for our earth and thoughtless use of its vast resources couldn't be more starkly portrayed than in the current British Petroleum mis-statement and consequent mis-handling of its catastrophic undersea oil spill. We have placed the future of what we CAN control of the planet's future in the hands of people for whom its welfare is not the first priority.

water pictures by

There are so many aspects of the planet's health that are beyond our control. It would be good to do what we can to attend to those aspects we can control. Which put me in mind of this poem of mind, first published in Poetry Magazine:


In Tadepallegudem, it’s raining scarlet
and teal again. Villagers saunter through orange
fields and do not ask why their clothes are sky-stained
and their crops melt in rainbow rain. They stop
at the chai walla, heads waggling No, no while they mouth
Yes, yes. They would not believe that a meteor's
dust could gush fuchsia. In Tadepallegudem,
they step around stones of belief,
unlike the man at Cal Tech who peers
into the Big Bang and shrugs,
pondering the hand or blunder that set the spin.
Down the hall, a professor pens a prize-winner
that says over and over, I will not admit
what I cannot see. His monolith will not be jarred
loose by a sky splashing puce.



The earth’s burners heat up. Poles shift
right side up. A man calculates the speed
of a butterfly’s wing as it churns the air,
triggers a cooling that lifts warm into cold
jet stream, whirls up sea spouts to touch down
off the coast of Brittany. He leans back
in his chair and frogs rain around him.
In Tadepallegudem, umbrellas open
even on sunny days. Pounding out
the inexplicable stains on rocks,
living under constant wonder’s no great strain.



In Tuvalo, high is low. Islands sink as stratosphere drinks
in warm oceanic gulps. Tuvaluans agree to go to New Zealand
if flight is a must. Ocean’s rise is no surprise
to the man who charts Pacific waves for New York,
Beijing and Delhi, where they simply turn the page.
Katabatic wind, fire storm, chromatic rain and glacier melt,
noted every Saturday in Earth Week. If a plan exists,
is it from the hand of blunder or wonder?
In Tadepallegudem, no one thinks of extinction's
brink, nor in Cuzco, where they find that snakes
now writhe in mud slides, earth now a conga line.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

IOU: New Writing on Money

I just got a free book from Concord Free Press, which touts its new publishing model as "generosity-based publishing." You ask for a free book and agree to donate money (unspecified amount) to any charity or person of your choosing. They report having raised more than $134,000 for worthy causes so far. How they're funded is a mystery, as is who's behind the scenes, how books are selected, etc. Most intriguing.

Naturally, as a poet and a fundraiser and a one-time accountant, I'm interested in this new model, and so I selected a literary book about money as my first free book. Some good poems on the topic surprised me: Denise Duhamel's "Loaded," Ruth Ellen Kocher's "Professor Lacy N. Igga Looks Up the Word Parasomnia," and Hailey Leithauser's "Having Discovered a Windfall by the Side of the Road, the Cautious Miser Is Visited by the Angel of Profligacy" (which should win a prize for the title alone).

I've written a few poems on money, but found it a tough topic for poetry. Here's mine, first published in qarrtsiluni:


A pip, a tip, once a minute
of parking, its worth snipped,
a coin less in diameter or value
than a nickel yet brighter, warm sun
to a five-cent moon — so how did it roll
down to ground level, flat
disc lying unretrieved on streets,
forlorn beside the parking meters
it can no longer feed?

I’m penny-wise and foolish
about artifacts, keep penny bowls
on bookshelves, as if the penny and I, now middle-
aged, had grown up in the same town,
walked the same streets, rolled to the beach
on Saturdays. The cent has diminished
though not dimmed, while I’ve dimmed
and enlarged my diameter.
It’s natural between old friends, the change
of places. We might be change
made from the same register,
sad breakdowns of a haughty dime
taxed to the minutest, rendered
and reckoned as beyond Caesar’s interest, left
to the heart’s differently hued
apportion and shine.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Soon to appear in animation at Blue's Cruzio Café

I will soon make another animated poem appearance at Blue's Cruzio Café. Red leather jacket is all I'm saying for now. At the moment, you can find my previous appearance (a tandem turn with the marvelous art of Patricia Wallace Jones) in the Stage Upstairs, rubbing elbows with Robert Bly, David Alpaugh, and Tony Barnstone.

New poems up at Prick of the Spindle, a fine zine I'm happy to have work in. Especially happy they took "Wine Under Fig Tree" and "Things to Say to the Clouds."

Also, I'll soon have an interview up at Paradigm.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Ghost Hours

Thanks, Craig, for asking to see the poem in Atlanta Review. Here it is:

Ghost Hours

1. Spring Forward
The government’s at it again, tampering time.
We stagger behind, wishing Salvador Dali minutes
would lag instead of leap. April, the month of taxes
and poetry, trails us like an urchin, asking for thanks
while we are thanked by the government
with jet-lag and loss of easeful dark.
Do you really expect us to pump
the big-top minutes in this shell game
with lifespan, this unsought forward-swap?
And where do the authorities keep
my acrobat hour? My purse’s emptiness
holds shadows and stars.

2. Stashed
Perhaps Congress has stashed the saved time   
in a teak box inlaid with mother-of-pearl roses
and lined in dawn-like blue satin.
Or perhaps they use a big penny jar
shaped like a trumpeting elephant.
The lock in his triumphant, raised trunk.
Too many of us must have keys,
for every fall we find it looted
like the empty bank I once saw hung with a For Sale sign.
The silver-hinged vault lay open
for deposits of dust. Ghost hours
must have danced in that mouth at midnight.
I won’t put my overtime
in anything so mawed
or keep my memories under its picked lock.

3. Fall Back
When skeletons dance
and red devil leaves seesaw,
the clock spins backwards. Spring
forward, fall back, I repeat to timepieces
whose hands I wring.
The powers-that-save have conjured
the phantom hour. It imps my night, keeps
afternoons whirring like hummingbirds.
I see now why we must hoard every spark
of light against night’s snip-end and hold life
by the tail – the dark dot
of the question mark.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

The Atlanta Review

My poem "Ghost Hours" appears in the new issue of The Atlanta Review. Thanks to Dan Veach for selecting the poem! It's an interesting issue, with a section on poets from Iran, edited by Sholeh Wolpé, and five new translations of Rumi by Coleman Barks.

I'm having a good week! Even though I did get two rejection slips today. Nice to have two pub credits to balance them out.

Friday, May 07, 2010

The Cortland Review

The cool thing about this publication, aside from its being one of the most respected on the Web, is that they publish sound files along with the poems. I believe they were one of the first to do it. So I'm doubly happy that my poem, "Every Morning I Try" appears both in virtual print and sound in their Issue 47, which just went up.

And thanks, Cynthia Bryant, for linking my poem in Poets Lane's Rave On page!

Another zine that includes sound files is qarrtsiluni. It's the new way of attending poetry readings! Though the coffee isn't as good, and the lack of rickety chairs and wobbly tables online leaves out a certain poetry reading ambience that I do miss! But hearing the poet's voice often adds so much to the experience.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Why I shouldn't blog late at night

I am tempted to compose poetry online.
I forget the way to the delete key.
My cursor keeps wrapping to the front of the line and I type over what I have just written.
I eat a piece of chocolate after every sentence I type.
Blogger keeps losing the return key. (What is that about?)
Another piece of chocolate gets on the keyboard.
I will wake up in the morning and have enabled anonymous comments.
I will wake up tomorrow and have enabled anonymous blogging.
I will wake up anonymous.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Speed Interviews at AWP

I did four "speed interviews" while at AWP in Denver, now online at Fringe Magazine. Mary Biddinger, Susan Elbe, Carol Willette Bachofner generously allowed themselves to be shanghaied for five quick questions while at this intense conference. Don't speed-read through them, there's lots to chew on here.

Making a run at some favorite journals

Submitting poetry this morning. I don't usually blog about where I'm submitting or which journals have turned me down lately (that would be whiny beyond enduring, and a lengthy list), or even blog about acceptances unless I can link to a poem. But today I'm thinking about the process of submitting, having had a discussion on Facebook about how the proliferation of online submissions may have contributed to lengthening response times due to a deluge of submissions made ever so much easier and cheaper than paper subs.

I find Duotrope Digest a blessing for recordkeeping, superior to the Excel spreadsheet I used to use for its links, automated categories, and generous notes area. I also like online submissions, as I can upload Word files to preserve formatting just as in print. And sending out a packet now costs $1.18, so I'd rather not spend the money. But I note that the better journals rarely take online submissions. Maybe they know it will only increase the amount of reading they have to do in their slush piles.

This morning I'm taking a run at River Styx, Crazyhorse, The Cincinnatti Review, and (blush to admit it because I have criticized their recent taste) Poetry.

And yes, the fact that River Styx and Cincinnati Review only take paper submissions is beginning to be persuasive. I'm beginning to think that $1.18 is worth it to have what might be less competition.

Anyone else finding response times growing longer? I used to get responses on average in three to four months. These days six months seems to be the average. And I don't think it's because my work is getting more careful consideration, as my batting average remains about the same. I think online submitting is swamping the editors.

Anyone looking for editorial assistance out there? I might be available, as long as I don't have to print everything out.

Friday, April 30, 2010


The competition for Poet Laureate of the Blogosphere, while exhibiting some of the more lamentable aspects of our poetry world -- such as popularity contests and bogus distinctions that have nothing to do with the quality of writing -- did introduce me to a new blogger whose writing is well worth following. Sina Queyras, blogging as Lemon Hound, eschews the more superficial aspects of the poetry community while providing us with thoughtful commentary on aspects of the art of poetry, such as anthologies, the prose poem, the poet's job as silence (a brief, apt entry), and also great links.

Sina was voted co-Poet Laureate of the Blogosphere, along with Robert Lee Brewer's Poetic Asides. He's  professionally blogging for Writer's Digest. Not exactly a level playing field, so Sina's achievement is all the more noteworthy. If you count popularity as an achievement. In both cases, the blogs earn distinction, and I am happy to follow both. But I think I'll be reading Lemon Hound more often, when I want to think about aspects of making, rather than promoting, poetry.

When I went to AWP earlier this month, and found myself amid 7,000 poets and writers all busily shuttling from reading to reading and panel to panel, the sense I had was of a carnival of people hawking their wares. While I love a carnival and enjoyed the frenzied atmosphere -- where else can you be so thickly stuffed into a crowd of your own nerdy kind? -- I noted the general mediocrity of many offerings. Perhaps I picked poorly among the panels and readings, but I heard a lot of bad to forgettable poetry, saw a lot of less-than-qualified people expounding on an art they clearly hadn't mastered. Because of the contest/MFA/tenure-seeking atmosphere that surrounds poetry now, much of what I read seems to have devolved into pop culture literature: writing exhibiting fads, superficiliality, an excessive love of the quirky and novel. Poetry has held a higher place in civilization. I wonder if an emphasis on the newness of a metaphor and the edginess of a theme really creates great art. I wonder and keep reading, and as I read, I find poets who give me reason to hope for a deeper and richer art to emerge from the wild and diverting carnival of today's poetry scene.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Campaigning for Poet Laureate of the Blogosphere 2011

I am hereby officially campaigning to be Poet Laureate of the Blogosphere in 2011. After reading the rules (always a last step for me), I discover that this requires that I post some of my own poetry to the blog.

Here goes, then (they didn't say it couldn't be previously published poetry):

 Ode to My Purse

The three French handbags came
with lifetime warranties. Clasping
heavy straps, I cinch them saddle-tight
against the grasping world.
Dark wells, they incubate details,
stash my days in hidden rooms.
My black postman's case clacks
clock-neat on thigh, ticking tasks.
Weekends I sling a red pouch that eats
torn tickets and topless lipsticks. Keys
to many locks eel through my caramel creel.
Open Purse, I say: swallow phone, glasses, cash.
Bring home to me, magician's hat. I chant,
lovely Coach-crafted clutch, catch! You
soft maw, yawn to gorge and stow
my emblems. Stretch and hold the zoo
of me, the proof, spoil and tool.

-- originally published in The Atlanta Review

There. Hat in ring! I urge you all to do the same.

Poet Laureate of the Blogosphere + guest blogging

Until midnight tonight, you can vote here. Of course, I am a little miffed not to have even been nominated, but I would guess there are something like 8,000 poets blogging -- to judge from a few blogrolls like Ron Silliman's -- so really I'm only disappointed it comes down to a few bloggers I don't follow, except Ron Slate.

I'm conducting my own little poll here. If you avidly follow a poet blogger, please mention it in a comment. This is a small sample, meaningful only to those of us who read and write here.

Speaking of which, I'm thinking of inviting some guest blog here at Rocket Kids. If you have a topic to propose, I'm all ears.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Poems at Prick of the Spindle, bloghopping, more AWP memories

I have two poems up in the current issue of Prick of the Spindle: "Wine Under a Fig Tree" and "Things to Say to the Clouds." If anyone's doing a wine or cloud anthology out there, I'd love to give them a print life!

Prick of the Spindle was a new zine to me, located through Facebook, which is increasingly my form of bloghopping. On Facebook, I learned of Barn Owl Review (hi, Mary!), and located old friends Caketrain Journal and Black Lawrence Press, plus many more. Duotrope Digest and New Pages are great ways to find poetry journals and zines, but Facebook puts personalities behind the publications.

At AWP (offsite), we had a great reading for the anthology Beyond Forgetting: Poetry and Prose About Alzheimer's Disease. I'm so glad to have met and read with the wonderful poets and writers who were there, a moving and meaningful reading organized by the editor, Holly Hughes -- especially glad to have met Holly! Here's a picture of the group.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

AWP Readings and Bookfair

Those were the two events I most enjoyed, and wish there had been more of, less overlapping times, and more time to enjoy. The Bookfair especially was a kick -- a carnival of rickety tables and hopeful staffers with displays that made me wish for a UPS packing station and drop box right there on the premises (idea for the future, guys!). I met Joyce Jenkins of Poetry Flash. She's not twenty minutes away from where I live, and we've been on the phone several times, but we only met in Denver. I met  Facebook friend Susan Schultz of Tinfish Press, Stephan Reichert of the marvelous Smartish Pace (which has published my work), the good people at New Pages, Tupelo Press, Copper Canyon, the outgoing staff of defunct Triquarterly,  and many more (forgive me for forgetting to mention you, and/or please remind me). 

The Bookfair brought a lot of my literary life alive for me. I suppose that's the best reason to have a conference: to create a forum where those of us who only can correspond (unless we skype) can meet in person. The literary arts community is a fragile backwater of contemporary culture; it's good to become real people to each other, especially those of us who don't toil in academe and have few opportunities to meet and talk.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Associated Writing Programs (AWP) in Denver

It was, as someone quipped to me, a tornado inside a whirlwind of activity. Too many panel discussions and readings all going on at once, too many people to meet and have coffee with, many I didn't get to and will have to catch at another conference or retreat. The Bookfair alone was a blast of meeting and greeting, not to mention picking up cheap or even free books. I just wish I could have packed in more of all of it.

I did two readings, one at Cannonmine Coffee in Lafayette, CO as the featured reader. There I met many lovely, welcoming, and talented poets. The other was an offsite AWP reading,  a group reading for Beyond Forgetting, Poetry and Prose About Alzheimer's Disease, organized by the indefatigable, wonderful Holly Hughes, editor of the book. I'm so pleased to have had those opportunities, and thrilled to have gone to my first AWP. Everyone told me I'd be overwhelmed, but they didn't mention what a delightful overwhelm it would be. And hearing Gary Snyder read was a special thrill.