Friday, June 12, 2015

A Busy June and Publication News

June is turning out to be one busy month. It started on the 1st with the senior prom at my international student's school. She chose not to go, but her best friend did - with my youngest son, who gallantly escorted her. They made a cute couple and had a really good time. We got some nice pictures, some of which included my granddaughter. Here's a sample - you can find more on my Facebook page. (Note: the photo with the umbrella is courtesy of

Then right on the heels of prom was high school graduation - our student and her friend both graduated and are headed back home to Asia for the summer. (No photos because our student is notoriously camera-shy.) They'll both be back to attend college here in the fall - our student will be attending nearby Rutgers so we hope to still see her often.  In the three years she's been with us, she has really bonded with the family, and we will miss her as a member of the household.  Heck, that's an understatement - she's been like a daughter to us and we love her a lot.

My son will be returning to Boy Scout camp this summer for his second year as an adult counselor, teaching "adventure sports" like rock climbing and mountain biking - he's really in his element there.
Later this month we will have a family member recuperating at our home after surgery, and I am preparing for a big rite of passage: retirement!  As of this writing, I have 14 working days left. Like I said, this is a big month.

In poetry news, I just got word from Finishing Line Press that they have accepted my chapbook manuscript of baseball poems, tentatively titled "Hits and Sacrifices". I hope to have it out by the end of this year - more news as it becomes available. I've already started to solicit "blurbs" for the cover, including a famous poet I've worked with, but he politely declined.

How about a poem?  This is one I wrote in May, in response to one of Robert Brewer's weekly prompts on Poetic Asides. I decided to follow Jane Hirshfield's example from her new book, and title a series of poems entitled "My  _______," using the key word from each of Robert's prompts in May,

My Childhood
I won’t bore you with the details –
it was just a normal life.
Well, there was the time
I was abducted by aliens –
no, they didn’t probe me;
they just gave me ice cream.
I was in a war, too, and I took the hill
for our side. Yes, I died a few times,
but a minute later I’d jump up,
a marvelous resurrection.
And I’ll never forget the day
I walked on the moon.
You can still see my sneaker prints
in the undisturbed dust.
Then there was the Indy 500,
where I lapped the competition.
and the Kentucky Derby
which I won by a nose.
Oh yeah, and I almost forgot
that walk-off home run I hit
in the bottom of the ninth to win
the World Series for the Phillies.
Like I said, a normal childhood.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Baseball Poetry and the "Slush Pile"

A couple of quick notes:

I did my part and just finished wading through over 700 poems from one day of the Poetic Asides Poem-a-Day Challenge in April. It was a bit daunting, but I was able to eliminate at least 85% of the entries by the first read-through. That still left me with nearly 100 poems, which I had to pare down to a maximum of 60 to send to blogmeister Robert Brewer. He will, in turn, pick what he thinks are the 10 best and forward them to a guest judge, who will pick the winner for that day, to be published later this year in the anthology/craft book Poem Your Heart Out, from Words Dance Press.  I have some personal favorites from that batch that I will be rooting for, and of course I hope one of my poems from the other days will make it too.

Secondly, I just got my copy of the new issue of Spitball Magazine, which contains my poem "Randy Johnson Kills a Bird, March 24, 2001".  My Facebook friend Pat Myers (a.k.a. "The Empress", redoubtable leader of the Style Invitational weekly humor contest for the Washington Post), requested that I post the poem on Facebook, but instead I decided to post it here with a Facebook link:

Randy Johnson Kills a Bird,
March 24, 2001

Pity the unlucky dove that decided
to swoop down between home plate
and the mound, just as Johnson released
a ninety-mile-an-hour fastball.
Halfway between origin and destination
for both bird and ball, one could plot
the intersection of two curves,
 one graceful and inverted,
one flattened out by sheer speed,
and at that intersection,
an explosion of feathers. 

People laugh at the video today
but I'm sure Johnson was shaken up
when the bewildered ump called "no pitch".
What else was there to do but clean up
the mess and continue the game?
The odds against such a meeting
were astronomical, but the universe
is a cruel and funny thing.
We plot our own parabolas every day
not really knowing what will intersect them -
drunk driver, aneurysm, asteroid.
All we can do is move along
and avoid fastballs when we can,
as we try to complete the arc.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Five Poems from April

My friend Shana Ritter (whom I met at Marge Piercy's workshop on Cape Cod a few summers ago) responded to my open Facebook challenge to pick your five favorite poems that you wrote in April.  She posted them together on her blog last week - they are all really good, and you should check them out here.  I thought that was a good idea, so I'm taking a cue from her and posting my five favorites on today's blog post.  This way, dear reader, you won't have to scroll through thirty days of blog posts to find what I think were my best of the month. Of course, feel free to explore, because you may think there are up to five others that you like better. (And if you wrote five or more poems in April and have a blog, you can do the same as Shana and I.) Anyway, here they are. Not coincidentally, I guess, they all are in some form or other - a terzanelle, a "fourteener", an abecedarian, and two Shakespearean sonnets.

April 16:
Science Fair Volcano

As a teacher, I've seen them many times
the peaks of conical and homemade plaster
backed up by the obligatory signs.

It doesn't take a lot of skill to master
this impressive demonstration - inside
the peaks of conical and homemade plaster,

a vinegar-and-baking-soda bromide
two strong conflicting forces that react -
an impressive demonstration inside

the gym.  Fourth-grader Tyler did, in fact
make a project like this. Under pressure,
two strong conflicting forces did react,

exploding from his model house.  He'd measure
all the damage done, but didn't keep a chart.
He made a science project under pressure

of a home about to blow itself apart.
The damage done, nobody kept a chart.
As a teacher, I've seen it many times,
backed up by the obligatory signs.

April 3:

Deus Ex Machina

I want the gods descending on a crane to bear me up
like in Greek tragedies, just when it seemed that all was lost
and certain death, or worse, dishonor, reared their ugly masks.

I want majestic eagles to swoop down and lift me up
securely in their talons, just like those in Middle Earth
who rescued Sam and Frodo from the red slopes of Mt. Doom.

I want a billionaire someday to knock upon my door 
and say, “My friend, there’s way too much for me to spend myself,
So take this cash to fix your roof and send your kids to school.”

I want to hit the lottery, an unknown aunt to die
and leave me in her will. I want my dream job falling
in my lap, a fast machine to take me out of here

and land me in a tropic paradise, a margarita 
in my hand. I want a happy ending to my story
no one would expect, that I didn’t even have to earn.

April 14:

Last Bouquet

Love's promise in cellophane lace
Or dead giveaway?
                - Nick Lowe, "Stoplight Roses"

My dear, come see these flowers that I brought
for you - I thought you'd like a special treat.

I have no love for roses that you bought
from homeless guys who sell them on the street.

How can I gain your trust, how to preserve
the spark of passion both of us could share?

You can't, because I've nothing in reserve;
that spark was snuffed before your last affair.

Will you have  feelings if I go away?

Just  for the flowers, strangely, I feel sorrow.
We'll live to curse and fight another day,
but like our marriage,  they'll be dead tomorrow.

I always thought our love could be much more.

Just leave - and take those roses to your whore.

April 6:
Robin's Aubade

The sun, that warm alarm, has caught me waking -
I see your sleeping form curled in our bed.
The view from here at daybreak is breathtaking -
the budding trees, the pink clouds overhead.
I hear the neighbors too, their music drifting
in on chilly air. So rise, my lovely mate -
I'll sing a morning song, something uplifting.
I'll take you out for breakfast - don't be late! -
a place whose owner puts out quite a spread.
I've got an early flight, and true to form,
I'm all decked out, as usual, in red,
and you've our unborn children to keep warm.
I will return with worms, and straw and string -
I'll spread my wings, but you're my everything.

April 10:
How a Toddler Learns the Alphabet

Carried around,
Druidic runes on
Each page,
Fascinates her.
Grandpa reads, she
Hears words.
In time,
Just a little
Knowledge starts to
Loosen the code:
Mmmm goes the M,
Nothing is rounder than
Picking them out,
Quick study,
Reading's not far away:
Snaky S goes ssss,
Tongue-staccato T.
Under the influence of
Vocabulary, growing
Wiser every day.
X marks the spot where a
Young mind consumes with

Friday, May 1, 2015

April PAD in Review

What a month!  Writing poems every day just seemed to make it go by faster. My final tally was 41, not counting five more short poems that were part of two groups.  Of these, I wrote a "fourteener",  two "palinodes", a Fibonacci, an abecedarian, a Sapphic verse, an acrostic, a terzanelle, four "landays", only one haiku, some rhyming couplets, three clerihews, a "hay(na)ku sonnet", and five regular sonnets. I wrote about science fair volcanoes, burying a gerbil, a skywritten apology, the Oklahoma City bombing, London Bridge, the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia, Beethoven's Sixth Symphony, a toddler learning the alphabet, money as a girlfriend, tornadoes, sweet potatoes, and many other subjects. 

Now all I can do is hope that at least one of my poems I posted on Poetic Asides is picked for the next edition of Poem Your Heart Out. It would be especially sweet if one of the guest poets with whom I've worked in the past (Marge Piercy, Molly Peacock, and Dorianne Laux) picked my poem as a winner, but the odds of that happening are pretty slim.  In fact, the odds of getting any poem in the anthology are slim, when you figure there are about 10 to 20 thousand entries and only 30 get picked as winners. That reminds me: my next job is to slog through all of one day's entries on Poetic Asides (I'm not saying which one), then send what I consider the best 30 to 50 to Robert Brewer, who will pick a top 10 to send to the guest judge, who will pick the daily winner.  By the way, thanks again to Robert, and NaPoWriMo's Maureen Thorson, for 30 days of inspiration!

Before the guest judges and the anthology, Robert used to ask us to send what we thought were the best five poems we wrote during the month, and he would compile a top 25 or top 50 list of what he thought were the best of the month. (I had one selected as #2 one year.)  So last year, and this year too, I compiled my own list of what I think was my best work of the month.  I also invited fellow poets who are Facebook friends to do the same. (My one regret about April is not having time to read more of my friends' poetry.) I decided this year to do a "top 20", since I was pretty pleased with at least half of the poems I wrote in April. You can find them all here on my blog.

Here's my top 10 (numbers in parentheses are the days on which they were posted):

1. Science Fair Volcano (16)
2. Deus Ex Machina (3)
3. Last Bouquet (14)
4. Robin’s Aubade (6)
5. How a Toddler Learns the Alphabet(10)
6. My Brain, the Junk Drawer (20)
7. For Love of Money (7)
8. Suburban Pastorale (22)
9. The Man Peeling Sweet Potatoes on Easter Morning (5)
10. Handyman (12)
And here are the ten honorable mentions, in order of when they were written:
The Stars Obliterated (2)
Domestic Departures (4)
The Gleaning (11)
Storm in a Violin (12)
Disavoweled  (17)
Empty Chair (24)
Transatlantic Crossings (25)
26 (27)
Public Apology (29)
Bury the Gerbil (30)


Thursday, April 30, 2015

PAD Day 30: Made it Again!

I can't believe that April's over already. I'm pretty happy with my production this month - depending on how I count them, I've written at least 41 poems this month (46, if you count all the two-line landays and four-line clerihews separately).  As usual, the results varied - I hope there are at least a few contenders for the daily prize of publication in the next edition of Poem Your Heart Out.  On some days writing was easy, and on others, a struggle, but I did write at least one poem for every day in April, and that feels great, especially after a few months of inactivity and "you-call-yourself-a-poet?" self-doubts.

Today's final prompts from Poetic Asides and NaPoWriMo:
(1) Write a poem with the title "Bury ________", and
(2) Write a poem "backwards". By this, Maureen Thorson means to start with the last line of a poem and write it, working your way up to the first line; or you can take a poem you already wrote, reverse the order of the lines, and tweak them to make them more cohesive and coherent. I didn't mash up the prompts today, even though it might have been possible, so here's my "Bury" poem:

Bury the Gerbil

First take a shoebox – children’s size will do,
and gently place your fragile furry friend
inside, then pack with shavings and a few
small bits of kibble for his crypt. Pretend
you are a preacher – say a few kind words,
how he scurried on his wheel and seemed to smile
for lettuce, stuffed his cheeks and looked absurd,
the way he skittered on the kitchen tile
when he got out. Now find a proper place –
the rhododendron seems a pretty spot –
then say a creature’s prayer and dig a space
just deep enough. Throw dirt into the plot,
then take the spade and hand it to your kid.
The gravel rattles on the cardboard lid.

And here's my "backwards" poem, a rewrite of my Day 4 poem, "Domestic Departures". I thought it was a good choice because of the speaker's ambivalence in the original poem, and also the last line of the original suggests a certain cyclical nature to this relationship.

Domestic Arrivals

So everyone who leaves comes back again -
I walk through the arrivals to make sure.
And as your plane lands, I think that I might
feel I need you. You wrote now and then,
we parted friends, but I wished it was more.
I see you coming - what a lovely sight.
I have a soft spot underneath my smirks
for you.  I thought again - this is no game
inside my chest - there is a burning flame,
and yes, I think the sentimental lurks.
When you left, I felt like such a jerk,
my dry-eyed goodbye later felt so lame,
and it's my fervent hope you feel the same.
I swore I wouldn't but - look, waterworks.

I hope you all had a swell National Poetry Month!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

PAD Day 29 Part 2: Written in the Sky

As promised, here's my more "serious" poem.  When you're really stumped, there's always Google, and when I googled "nobody knows", I got two news stories from the past day or two - one was about the terrible earthquake in Nepal, and this other one, much lighter, out of Australia:

Public Apology

No one knows who paid for the message
that appeared in the deep blue air
over Brisbane yesterday:

♥ U XX
I'm Sorry

The skywriter claims the customer was anonymous,
and for $4000 cash, he didn't press the issue.
Half an hour later, the characters were gone,
wisped away by the afternoon wind.
Who was that man, and what did he do
that would warrant a message more ephemeral
than roses, but indelible on the intended heart?

And how many lovers on the ground below,
trying to dig out from under a huge mistake,
took credit for that cloud-apology,
guaranteeing contentment in bedrooms
all over the city that night,
thanks to an act of contrition
written on the billboard of the sky?

PAD Day 29: Trashing Dr. Bill

Today's prompts from Poetic Asides and NaPoWriMo:
(1) Write a "nobody knows" poem, and
(2) Write a poem in the form of a review.

So here's the deal.  I know I still want to write a "serious" poem today because the judge at Poetic Asides is Marge Piercy, one of my favorite poets, with whom I worked for a week in a workshop a few summers ago, and whom I know best of all this month's judges. (See my prior blog entry here for a chronicle of my experience, one of the best weeks I ever spent with poetry.) But I had so much fun responding to the NaPoWriMo prompt that I had to post it early. I'll post another poem later once it comes to me.  This may not qualify as a "poem", and it's certainly not a serious trashing of one my favorite poets of all time, but like I said, it was fun.

Poetry Review

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white
chickensso much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white
chickensso much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white
so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

William Carlos Williams’  latest poem is a study in obfuscation. 
How can only sixteen words
(or fifteen, if one reconnects the maddeningly dissected “wheelbarrow”)
be so obscure and confusing?   

He begins with a statement that “so much depends”
on this piece of farm equipment. What exactly does depend on it?
Apparently, it’s been left out in the rain –
an object thus abandoned would seem to have outlived
its utility, in this humble writer’s opinion.
Methinks that not much really depends
on a wheeled hopper left to rust in the elements.  
And why state the obvious regarding the hue of this device?  
Everyone knows that wheelbarrows are red.   

Regarding the glazing by rain, of what other substance
would rain be composed other than water? 
This writer has never seen motor oil or orange juice
fall from the sky.  The fact that it sits beside the white chickens
seems trivial and coincidental at best.
Of course there are chickens – this is a farm, for pity’s sake. 
And is it really significant that they are white? 

The unusual line breaks only further confound the issues
in the poem, the aforementioned fracture of  “wheelbarrow”
being one such example.  Conceits such as this only help perpetuate
the distressing trends in today’s poetry, which include
the abandonment of classical themes, rhyme and meter,
and even sensible, syntactical arrangement of the words.
If Dr. Williams were not so busy with his medical practice,
and used paper larger than a prescription pad,
perhaps he would have had time to produce a longer,
more substantial poem. As it stands, it is chopped up
like a salad. It could be simplified just by eliminating
the line breaks and unnecessary words: 

So much depends upon a wheelbarrow glazed with rain beside the chickens. 

Congratulations, Dr. Williams – you have written a sentence.
But then we come back to the enigmatic question:
What depends on that goddamned wheelbarrow? 
This writer has lost sleep the last three nights attempting
to decipher its meaning. I guess we will never know. 

-        Reginald Overcrom, The Fusty Review of Literature, December 1962.