Monday, July 28, 2014

A Midsummer Night's Blog

It seems like I blinked and summer was already half over. My son is almost done his summer job as a Boy Scout camp adult counselor, and before I know it, we will be moving him in for his first semester of college. We have also planned a couple of short vacations, and we will be welcoming back our wonderful international student as she returns from Korea the end of August. Where did you go, July?

A few bits of poetry news:  First, I learned that my poem “Señor Morning” was accepted for the next issue of US 1 Worksheets. I’m happy to be appearing in their fine journal once again.

Second, Robert Brewer announced a few more winners for his Poem-a-Day Challenge Contest on his Poetic Asides blog. Robert has a daunting task, slogging through literally thousands of entries and picking the ten best from each day of April to send to his guest judges for a final decision. I’m happy to report that my poem “Romantics” won for Day 15!  It was selected by the judge of the day, poet Barbara Hamby, and it will appear with the other winners later this year in an anthology, Poem Your Heart Out, to be published by Words Dance Press. I also had three other poems make the top 10 among the fifteen days that have been judged so far – there are still another 15 days of winners to be announced.  A couple of other poets have had multiple wins for this month so far, so I still have a chance of getting another winning poem, but I’m quite happy with the one win.  Thanks to Robert and Ms. Hamby for their appreciation of my work.

Third, I was invited as a featured poet to the monthly reading series “Poetry Aloud and Alive” at the Big Blue Marble Bookstore in Philadelphia, last Friday the 25th.  It went very well – they are a talented and very appreciative group of fellow poets, and they really seemed to enjoy my work. Thanks to Mike Cohen and Dave Worrell for inviting me to read.

Music:  Recently my wife and I attended two music events that we thoroughly enjoyed.  The first was the movie Jersey Boys, about the 60’s singing group The Four Seasons, directed by Clint Eastwood.  The other was “Classical Mystery Tour”, a great live concert featuring a Beatles tribute band backed by the Philadelphia Orchestra. The band was really good, and you can’t do much better than the Philadelphia Orchestra for your back-up musicians. They played a variety of Beatles songs, featuring especially the ones that were originally recorded with orchestral arrangements, like “The Long and Winding Road”, “All You Need is Love,” “Yesterday”, and so on. You haven’t lived till you have heard “A Day in the Life” performed live with a full orchestra.  They also did two solo numbers, John Lennon’s “Imagine” and Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die”.  There was even an arrangement of the head-trippy “Tomorrow Never Knows” – it’s not easy to replicate electronic effects with an orchestra, but they pulled it off admirably. The Kimmel Center in Philadelphia is a wonderful venue too, by the way.

Poem:  Once in a while I feature poems by other poets, and today I thought I’d introduce you to one from a new collection, Sisters and Courtesans, by my talented friend Anna M. Evans. This is her first full-length book, an impressive collection of sonnets in the voices of women through the ages, from a vestal virgin and a geisha, to Victorian streetwalker and a gangster’s moll.  The book is available on Amazon.com.

My Life as a Russian Orthodox Nun
by Anna M. Evans

My grand duchess took orders long before
the trouble started. I was glad to go
with Europe heading for a bloody war.

And then the revolution struck. The snow
was knee deep on the night they came for us -
she was an aristocrat, I guess, although

she'd sold her jewels to help the poor, owned less
than anyone. They held us in a school,
then gave us to the cheka. I confess

I was afraid. But my lady kept her cool
even as they threw us down, tossed in
the hand grenades. She said, The golden rule

is: don't let the bastards have a single thing.
She squeezed my hand and then began to sing.

[©2014, White Violet Press; used with permission of the author]



Monday, June 30, 2014

Billy Collins and the Virtual Blog Tour

First things first:  I recently learned that I've been accepted into the Billy Collins workshop at the Key West Literary Seminar next January!   I'm really psyched because he's one of my favorite poets.  The wife and I will be making a vacation of it too - never been to Key West.  Jane Hirshfield will be there too so I'll have a chance to say hi to her.

Now to the business at hand: I was invited to join a "virtual blog tour" by fellow poet Janet Rice Carnahan. Here's how it works: a fellow poet or artist invites you to participate, then you acknowledge them on your blog, answer four questions about your creative process, and refer your readers to three other poets or creative artists and their blogs. Those artists, in turn, do the same and each one refers their readers to three others, etc. It's a great way to get traffic to your blog and also introduce others to creative folks you think are worthy of attention. Janet and I know each other from Robert Lee Brewer's Poetic Asides blog, which I've mentioned several times right here.


Janet Rice Carnahan was born into a fifth generation family on the California coast.  Inspired by the ocean and the ever changing tides of a big family; including a husband, two adult children, a son-in-law and one precious grandson, her love of water is her constant muse! Janet’s journeys have taken her to Lake Tahoe in Northern California, Lake Mead in Southern Nevada, Laguna Beach, California, Hawaii on the island of Kauai, and currently to La Jolla in Southern California. After a twenty year career in early childhood education, earning a Master’s Degree in Human Development and Family Studies, Janet continued developing interests in spirituality and metaphysics.  Photography and writing, in particular poetry, are her favorite mediums for expressing and exploring her various interests.  Her poetry has been published on several online poetry sites and in three anthologies with a cover photo and caption credit. Janet has self-published four poetry books that are highlighted on her web site, Hear Earth Heart, which includes her blog, “Captured Moments.”

So here are my questions, done in a self-interview style:

1. What am I currently working on?
Currently I'm in a bit of a creative lull (I don't like to use the term "writer's block"), but recently I enjoyed participating in an "ekphrastic poetry" project, in which area poets wrote poems inspired by a juried art show at a local gallery. (Read more about it in my previous blog entry.) I'm also thinking of shopping around a chapbook manuscript of baseball poems, many of which I wrote last November as part of a challenge on the Poetic Asides blog.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I don't know if there is anything really unique about my poetry, but I try to impress readers with a certain degree of craft - I write mostly free verse but also a fair amount of formal poetry. I enjoy writing "persona" poems - maybe it's my psychology background, but I like trying to get into the head of a character, whether real or fictional.  My latest published poem was from the point of view of a Japanese-American man who was interned as a boy with his family in World War II.  I try to move the reader emotionally with understatement rather than melodrama and overbearing sentiment, though I probably do border on the sentimental at times.  Occasionally I like to give them a good laugh, too. I usually try to give my poems a "twist" or "punchline" at the end, even the serious ones. And I love metaphors.

3. Why do I write/create what I do?
I've been writing off and on since grade school.  It's a conduit for amusement, catharsis, and self-challenge, but I don't think I ever seriously considered it as a career. It's my way to share and be heard in the big world. All of us who create like to have an audience, unless we still hide our poems in the sock drawer.  I get a thrill out of reading something I've created to others, whether it's a single person or a hundred or more. It's also gratifying to have a poem published, whether it's in a little journal or a national magazine. God knows I don't write poetry for the money.

4. How does my writing/creating process work?
When it wants to. Lately I've thought that I've become too dependent on prompts - ideas that others throw at me, though it's a good way to jump-start the creative process. Of course, prompts can also come from everyday life - a conversation I heard, something I saw on the news, a person or thing that intrigues me. The trick is in paying attention to them. I don't have a favorite "writing place" or time of day - usually whenever and wherever I can squeeze it in - often on my lunch and coffee breaks at work.  My self-discipline comes in spurts - I wrote a poem a day in April this year but little else since then. A famous poet friend assured me that's okay - she often goes through the same process. Another poet compared inspiration to a well - an obvious metaphor, perhaps, but a good one. Sometimes you just need to stop dipping into a dry one and let it fill up over time. On the other hand, you can't always wait for the muse to comes to you. I am always trying to improve my poetic skills and craft, and one my favorite ways of doing that is by attending writing conferences and workshops. I've met some pretty famous poets this way, and they have all been helpful and supportive.

And last but not least, here are three poets I know and respect, and who deserve your attention. I've known Anna Evans and Kendall Bell for several years - Kendall is a prolific poet, editor and publisher who has published two of my chapbooks including the latest one, Twenty-four by Fourteen. He is also a fellow member of a small critique and reading group called the "Quick and Dirty Poets". Anna is a former member of that group, and she's a rising star in the poetry world.  I've learned a lot from her about formal poetry, especially sonnets, and she has an excellent new book out. Vince Gotera is one of my newest poetry friends, with whom I started conversing during the Poem-a-Day Challenge in April.  He too is a gifted poet who likes to dabble in forms. 


Anna M. Evans’ poems have appeared in the Harvard Review, Atlanta Review, Rattle, American Arts Quarterly, and 32 Poems. She gained her MFA from Bennington College, and is the Editor of the Raintown Review. Recipient of Fellowships from the MacDowell Artists' Colony and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and winner of the 2012 Rattle Poetry Prize Readers' Choice Award, she currently teaches at West Windsor Art Center and Richard Stockton College of NJ. Her new sonnet collection, Sisters & Courtesans, is available from White Violet Press. Visit her online at www.annamevans.com.


Kendall A. Bell's poetry has been widely published in print and online, most recently in First Literary Review-East and Drown In My Own Fears. He was nominated for Sundress Publications' Best of the Net collection in 2007, 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2013. He is the author of fifteen chapbooks. His most recent chapbook is "Be Mine". He is the founder and co-editor of the online journal Chantarelle's Notebook and the publisher/editor of Maverick Duck Press. His website is www.kendallabell.com and his chapbooks are available through www.maverickduckpress.com. He lives in Riverside, New Jersey.




Vince Gotera is the Editor of the North American Review and a creative writing professor at the University of Northern Iowa. His collections of poetry include the forthcoming Pacific Crossing as well as Dragonfly, Ghost Wars, and Fighting Kite. His work has also appeared widely in magazines, anthologies, textbooks, and online venues. Vince is also a guitarist and bass player; he is the lead guitarist of the band The Random Five. His favorite color is blue in all its various flavors: aqua, cobalt, electric, indigo, periwinkle, robin's egg, royal, sky.  Visit his blog, "The Man with the Blue Guitar" at http://vincegotera.blogspot.com. 





Sunday, June 8, 2014

Breaking the Silence

When I said "farewell" after writing a poem a day in the month of April, I didn't really mean forever. Still, over a month is close to "forever" in blog-time. Yeah, I got a little lazy after the April spurt of creativity, but not totally idle. Personally, the last several weeks have been pretty busy, mostly revolving around our youngest son, who had his Senior Prom, graduation and the subsequent party, and now, already, a summer job as an adult counselor at Boy Scout camp. Next weekend is my nephew's wedding, and right after that we say goodbye to our international student for the summer, so May and June have been a whirlwind so far.

The other big event was a combined Mother's Day/birthday gift to my wife and me from my son and his significant other. We were treated to dinner at John's of 12th Street, an Italian restaurant in the East Village that was featured on the Food Network show Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. It's actually none of those, just a great little bistro with deliciously-prepared food. I had the Tuscan Ragu over Homemade Pappardelle (one of the dishes featured on the program) - the meat sauce melted in my mouth, and the pasta was done perfectly. Afterward we went to Carnegie Hall to see a concert of music by the Estonian-German composer Arvo Pärt. If you're not familiar with him, he is a former serialist composer who, after a hiatus of several years, embraced other types of music like minimalism and Gregorian chant, and has created a beautiful body of choral and orchestral work largely on religious themes. The concert was wonderful, and Mr. Pärt was in attendance - we even got his autograph at a "meet-and-greet" after the show. It was a splendid evening in New York.

Poetically, the highlight for me in the past month was participating in an art-and-poetry event at the Markheim Art Center in Haddonfield, NJ. There is a juried exhibit there called "Power of the Flower" - a variety of artists working with different media who created a stunning display of all things floral. A poet friend, Dave Worrell, invited a number of local poets to view the works and write poems about them (there's a word for this: "ekphrastic" poetry), and on May 31, we read our poems at the gallery as the works that inspired them were displayed. Several of my poet friends were there to share their works: Dave, Barbara Daniels, Tammy Paolino, Rocky Wilson, BJ Swartz, Walt Howat, and nine others including me. Several of the artists and photographers were in attendance, too, and I think they appreciated our response to their works. I got to read last, and though I actually wrote six short poems for the works on display, I didn't expect to have the opportunity to read them all, but Dave asked if I would, and they all got a nice response. It was a fine evening of visual and written works of art. I'd love to do it again some time.

I have had one recent publication: The baseball-themed journal Spitball has published my poem "Baseball in Manzanar" on their website as Poem of the Month. This is my third appearance for Spitball (the other two were poems for their print edition). Thanks to editor Mike Shannon for his support of my work. I also have two upcoming readings: Barnes and Noble in Marlton NJ on June 16th, and the Big Blue Marble Bookstore in the Mt. Airy section of Philadelphia on July 25th The other news is that I have been asked to write a blurb for a posthumous collection of the poetry of my friend John Bourne. It's an honor, and I'll share more details as they become available. (Still waiting to hear about whether I'm accepted into Billy Collins' workshop at the Key West Literary Seminar next January - I'm supposed to be notified by late June.)

Poems: Here are two of the six poems I wrote for the above-mentioned event at the Markheim Gallery, along with the art works that inspired them.














Bird of Paradise
(after stained glass art by Tom Sharp)

sprung
from itself
a riot of yellow and orange

at the end of the stalk
birdlike
ready to launch

while afternoon light
filters through
from behind

speared sunshine
bright splinters
of the day



Ravens and Foxglove
(after art by Jonathan Greenberg)

Harbinger birds,
black as an omen,
carrying powers
on tips of their wings,

roost near a garden
of fingertip flowers,
small purple bells
that do many things –

poison our foes
or keep our hearts beating.
Life hangs, we suppose,
on what each symbol brings.

We’re all in the throes
of indefinite hours.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

PAD Day 30: So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiederseh'n, Goodbye

Wow, I can’t believe another National Poetry Month is over, and so is the poem-a-day challenge. I didn’t write quite as many poems as I usually do in April (counting today, thirty-two) but at least I was conscientious and got at least one out every day. They included a sestina, a villanelle, a terza rima, a lune series, a nursery rhyme, an elegy, a “charm” poem, an Anacreonic poem, a “New York School” poem, and two forms I hadn’t tried before, the curtal sonnet and the rubaiyat. Now I have to wait to see if one of my poems is selected for the Poetic Asides collection – each of Robert’s daily guest judges will select one poem from each day for the anthology. I tried not to worry too much about this, and just offered what I could muster up each day – maybe some of these are worthy of consideration, but I realize that most probably will not be serious contenders. There were many good poets participating there this month.

In the past, Robert has selected a list of what he considered the 25 or 50 best poems of the month – I usually made the cut (until last year) and one year I made it to #2. This list was based on participant’s submitting what they thought were their best five poems of the month. Since it doesn’t look like he will be doing that this year, I thought I’d offer my own list of the five poems I think were my best in April. If you haven’t read them, you can review the blog and consider them highlights, I suppose.

1. The Weird Family’s Kid (Day 13)
2. Aquaphobia (Day 26)
3. Changeable Sky (Day 17)
4. Shelter (Day 9)
5. Romantics (Day 15)

Okay, time for my final poem of the month. Today’s dual prompts from Poetic Asides and NaPoWriMo are very similar: (1) Write a “calling it a day” poem, and (2) write a “farewell” poem. I guess this could run the gamut from “see you tomorrow” to “goodbye forever”. But I thought I’d go out with a flourish and add two additional challenges for today. I will write a “hay(na)ku” which was suggested earlier in the month by Vince Gotera, who is both a NaPoWriMo participant and a guest judge at Poetic Asides. Hay(na)ku is an invented form which is haiku-like but with much simpler structure: 1st line= 1 word, 2nd line = 2 words, 3rd line = 3 words. Also, since I didn’t use the Day 1 prompt from NaPoWriMo, I will use it today: Select a random quote from the website Bibliomancy Oracle and write a poem inspired by it. My epigraph is the quote I got.


Departing

a squirrels’ dart
wakens
the gravel path
-Lidija Šimkutė


this
loud goodbye
stirring up stones

draws
my attention
toward the path

straight
gravel-paved
to the horizon

when
I leave
I’ll make noise

you’ll
remember me
from the ruckus

you
can follow
the crunchy road

or
stay there
wishing my return

but
don’t expect
my dark silhouette

rising
back over
the shouting hills

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

PAD Day 29: The Poet's Obstacle Course

Just a quick mention that I made the top 10 again in the Poetic Asides Poetic Form Challenge.  I wrote a "triversen" (an 18-line poem of tercets inspired by the poetic form of William Carlos Williams) about the ill-fated Flight 370, but also about flight in general and the wish for safe landing. Thanks again to Robert for selecting my poem as one of the finalists.
Today's dual prompts from Poetic Asides and NaPoWriMo: (1) Write a "realist" and/or "magical" poem (in honor of the late Gabriel Garcia Marquez) and (2) this one is a doozy.  I'ts called "Twenty Little Poetry Projects" but I like to call it "The Poet's Obstacle Course".  It instructs you to include very specific elements in your poem, more or less in order too.  I actually did this exercise several years ago when I saw it in the book The Practice of Poetry by Robin Behn and Chase Twitchell.  Here it is:
1. Begin the poem with a metaphor.
2. Say something specific but utterly preposterous.
3. Use at least one image for each of the five senses, either in succession or scattered randomly throughout the poem.
4. Use one example of synesthesia (mixing the senses).
5. Use the proper name of a person and the proper name of a place.
6. Contradict something you said earlier in the poem.
7. Change direction or digress from the last thing you said.
8. Use a word (slang?) you’ve never seen in a poem.
9. Use an example of false cause-effect logic.
10. Use a piece of talk you’ve actually heard (preferably in dialect and/or which you don’t understand).
11. Create a metaphor using the following construction: “The (adjective) (concrete noun) of (abstract noun) . . .”
12. Use an image in such a way as to reverse its usual associative qualities.
13. Make the persona or character in the poem do something he or she could not do in “real life.”
14. Refer to yourself by nickname and in the third person.
15. Write in the future tense, such that part of the poem seems to be a prediction.
16. Modify a noun with an unlikely adjective.
17. Make a declarative assertion that sounds convincing but that finally makes no sense.
18. Use a phrase from a language other than English.
19. Make a non-human object say or do something human (personification).
20. Close the poem with a vivid image that makes no statement, but that “echoes” an image from earlier in the poem.
It's looks pretty daunting, but once you get rolling, it's still challenging, but fun. I find that starting with a really good metaphor gives you a jumping-off point from which to expand and digress.  My previous effort started with "My body is an old car."  So again, I tackled the subject of aging in this one.  See if you can pick out where I included each of the 20 elements. (I think there's a little "magic" in this one to satisfy the Poetic Asides folks too.)

Señor Morning
Age is a noisy leaf-blower at 7 a.m.
It’s shiny red, gas-powered, and speaks in Russian.
When horizontal sun slices through my window
and coffee fumes climb the stairs,
I bury my face in a soft comforter
before I rise and plod to the bathroom.
Headache – I can hear the toothbrush and toothpaste
between my ears. My mouth is a car wreck of mint.
Like Hannibal in the Alps, my elephant-feet
clomp down the slope of the steps.
Really, I like the morning – it validates the fact
that I’m still alive. Who’s making coffee, anyway?
I don’t even like the stuff. Last night I dreamt that
everyone was saying “Twenty-three skidoo”.
I think Roaring 20′s slang gave me this headache.
Each day begins like a can of corn,
and I have to deal with the grumpy pit bull of aging.
Pop-pop can break-dance and do the limbo.
Tomorrow he will free-climb El Capitan.
Is this possible? It won’t matter someday soon,
when we will all clone ourselves at twenty-nine.
We will banish ugly beauty and progressive lenses.
Today, I wrestle with that monster Weltschmerz
while the mirror sticks out its tongue and razzes me.
But I’ll get the last laugh when I blow away
like a leaf in the Russian wind.

Monday, April 28, 2014

PAD Day 28: A Slightly Revised Horoscope

Today's dual prompts from Poetic Asides and NaPoWriMo: (1) Write a "settled" poem (anyting to do with settling - pioneers, tie games, compromises, etc.) and (2) write a "found newspaper" poem - take an article from a newspaper and use the words from that article in any way you want. what I did was to search for the word “settle” on the website of my local paper for today. It came up in the horoscope, so I wrote an “excision” poem (where you use the words from another source in the order they appear, but cut out as many of the other words as you want). I did this once with Billy Collins' poem "Victoria's Secret" and trimmed it down to something about 90% shorter and more surreal - it was fun. Here’s today's result:


Today’s Horoscope

Your imagination will be as you imagine it.
Spoil yourself – you’ll need to make more money.
Much depends on the immobile solar eclipse.
Focus helps immutable circumstances –
boy, do you have it. Several people recognize you.
You’ll be stymied by today’s puzzle –
let it be chaotic. Emotions eventually
will settle themselves. If you kick the problem,
the situation will be lost, a solution never thriving.
Hypotheticals waste the end of the day.
Who could ever be sure of that?
The door isn’t standing wide open, it’s ajar.
Stop thinking big. Create some minor rock songs,
even if it’s a bad one. Be kindly.
Your next idea doesn’t really work,
and it doesn’t look cool.


[Source: Holiday Mathis' syndicated column in the Camden Courier Post, April 28, 2014.]

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Happy Birthday to Me; Not-so-happy Halloween

Yep, it's another birthday, all right, and a pretty quiet one so far.  Lots of birthday wishes from Facebook friends, including Marge Piercy, whose intensive workshop I took a couple of summers ago.

Today's dual prompts from Poetic Asides and NaPoWriMo: (1) Write a "monster" poem, and (2) write an "ekphrastic" poem based on one of four photos provided (or one of your own choosing).  I actually wrote three poems today (the first time all month I wrote more than one in a day), and I'll share two of them here. The first one is in keeping with my personal tradition of writing a poem about my birthday on my birthday. The second is much darker, and was inspired by, not a literal interpretation of, one of the photos on NaPoWriMo, which featured a rather whimsical Halloween decoration in someone's yard.


Birthday Monster

It's cute when it's young
and you look forward to its annual visit,
bringing joy, cake and presents.
But then it matures, gets moodier.
Sometimes it even surprises you
when it shows up at your door:
"Weren't you just here a few months ago?"
As you get older, it becomes more of a nuisance,
and you start to dread when it's due to stop by.
It's grizzled and ugly now, a little grumpy too;
It sings the same song every year
and blows out all your candles.
It makes lame jokes about your age
and reminds you that you're closer
to the end than to the beginning.
And yet, you never lock your door
when you know it's on its way,
because having it call on you again
is much better than the alternative.



Monsters

In October, they took my neighbor out
in handcuffs. A seventy-ish woman
in a shabby housedress, she didn't
look much like a criminal.  Then guys
in hazmat suits filed into her house,
past all her Halloween decorations
of smiling skeletons and ghosts.

Later I learned that she had smothered
her ninety-three-year old mother
in her sleep and sealed up the room
with duct tape to keep in the smell.
Then she continued to cash her mother's
social security checks until her next-door
neighbors complained about the stench. 
Seems that duct tape works only so long.

Eventually someone put up a for-sale sign
and took down all the Halloween decorations.  
Then all the monsters were gone.