Saturday, September 19, 2015

New Book News, and Hanging with Southern Writers

First things first: The pre-order period for my new chapbook, Hits and Sacrifices, has begun!  From now till Nov. 13 you can pre-order my book from Finishing Line Press for $12.49 plus shipping.  Every copy pre-ordered helps me get closer to the pre-sale goal of 55 copies, which will assure a full first printing. Please help support your favorite poet! (Okay, maybe I'm your second or third or 10th favorite poet, but please support my book anyway.) Click here to order from the publisher's website.

Second, I just wrapped up a wonderful weekend in Hickory, NC, attending the Fall Face-to-Face in the Foothills, as mentioned in my previous post. It was ostensibly a gathering of poets active on Robert Brewer's Poetic Asides blog, organized by two of the group's members, Nancy Posey and Jane Shlensky. (There were six of us members attending altogether.) It was a small conference of about 20 attendees, but the two days were packed with guest speakers giving seminars and workshops, including Robert himself, and three current and former Poets Laureate of North Carolina. It was a unique experience meeting and working with almost exclusively Southern writers.  (We did have attendees from Colorado and Alberta, Canada.) Hickory is a large town with lots of culture going on, including a beautiful art museum which was the venue for the conference. They currently have an impressive exhibit of photography by Steve McCurry (the National Geographic photographer who took that iconic photograph of the Afghan girl in the 1980's). Poets are invited to write about an art work that inspires them and submit their poetry, and if the directors like the poem, it is displayed next to the work and read aloud (by the poet, if possible) at a special quarterly art walk presentation. I plan to send them at least three poems inspired by the McCurry photos. We also had an open mic reading at Taste Full Beans, a great coffee house in town that has music, art and poetry regularly and is owned by a local poet, Scott Owens. (They provided us with coffee and lunch, too.) It was a 9-hour drive to get to Hickory, but it was worth every mile. Oh yeah, and I wrote four poems and cold eight of my previous chapbooks. Thanks to Nancy, Jane, Robert, Scott, The Hickory Museum of Art, and everyone else involved in making the conference a big success.

Poem: Here is one I just wrote about a very scary experience on the way to the conference, on the interstate in Baltimore.  This was for the weekly Poetic Asides prompt to write a "hesitation" poem.

He Who Hesitates is Lost 

I am minding my own business on the interstate,
doing 65 in the middle lane, when out of nowhere,
or more specifically, the merging lane, a pickup truck
careens out of control right at me. Instinctively,
I swerve to the left lane on the sparsely-traveled highway
to avoid a certain terrible crash. He misses me
by no more than ten feet, then somehow
wrestles his truck back under control
and drives off as if nothing has happened. All I know
is if I froze, even for a second, this would have had
a much different outcome. I thank my reflexes,
still quick enough, I guess, or my guardian angel,
if there is such a thing, because otherwise
neither this poem nor I would exist.

Monday, August 10, 2015

I Heart New York

About time for some updates, I suppose. It's been a busy summer, and one of the big highlights was my retirement from the Federal government in early July. I got a nice send-off in the form of a luncheon at work, organized my work friends and my family, and I got my first pension check this month. This is not to say I've spent the summer in a hammock with a Corona Light in hand. I have gone back to work part-time for a local attorney, and I've been devoting more time to helping my wife take care of our 2-year-old granddaughter, who is growing up before our eyes.  (Lately she has been declaring things that she likes as "pretty awesome".)  There are still plenty of projects to tackle at home, but finding the time to do them is still not easy.  The end of August promises to be rather hectic, with our former international student returning from Korea and getting ready for college, our new international student arriving from China on the same day, and our youngest son shipping off for his sophomore year of college the following day.

Despite all that, the two of us managed to take a mini-vacation to the Hudson River Valley of New York for four days and three nights.  She's been there before, but this is my first trip, and I loved it. We crammed a lot into those four days, touring many of the local historic homes and sites. We spent the first two nights in the Hyde Park area and visited all three of the Roosevelt homes: Springwood (the family home), Val-Kill (Eleanor's home), and Top Cottage (FDR's retreat).  The homes and museums only reinforced our opinions of what exceptional people Franklin and Eleanor were. Their homes were all fascinating in their own way, but for over-the-top decadence, they were no match for their neighbors, the Vanderbilts, who owned a mansion up the road that cost $2.5 million to build - around 1900!  After Hyde Park, we spent two days at Tarrytown, where we visited Sunnyside, the Washington Irving home.  Irving, we learned, was quite the superstar in his day, and the first American writer to be accepted worldwide as a "man of letters". We also saw Kykuit, the Rockefeller estate (last inhabited by Gov. Nelson Rockefeller). The Rockefellers were known as philanthropists and patrons of the arts, and it shows both inside and outside the mansion. Nelson was a fan of ancient Chinese artifacts as well as modern art, and there are dozens of unique pieces to be seen, including a series of  tapestry reproductions of Picasso works that he commissioned from Picasso himself.  Finally, we visited the nearby Union Church, which boasts beautiful stained glass windows by Marc Chagall and Henri Matisse.  The weather for all four days was perfect, the views and scenery were beautiful, and our tour guides were, without exception, excellent. The only thing we regret is that we couldn't eat at the Culinary Institute of America, which is apparently closed in August.  If you're interested in some photos from the trip, you can find them on my Facebook page.

Time now for a few poetry updates:

1. I submitted my final manuscript draft for Hits and Sacrifices to Finishing Line Press.  The pre-order sales period will begin in September, so you will be hearing more about it soon.

2. I am the featured poet for the latest issue of Chantarelle's Notebook. You can read the issue, including my five poems, here.

3. My poem "Shelter" has been accepted by US 1 Worksheets for their next issue, due next spring.

4. My poem "Backbreaking Mountain" placed 2nd in the Poetic Asides Poetic Form Challenge. It's in a form called a "dodoitsu" - a Japanese poem of 4 lines with syllable counts of 7-7-7-5, usually on a theme of love or work. Blogmaster Robert Brewer says he may publish the top three winners in his column in a future issue of Writer's Digest.

5. The early results of this year's Poem-a-Day Challenge from Poetic Asides are out - only four days' results have been announced so far, but my poem "The Man Peeling Yams on Easter Morning" made the top 10 finalists for Day 5.  As with last year's contest, the final winner for each of the 30 days of April will be published in an upcoming anthology.  So, fingers crossed!

6. Speaking of Poetic Asides, a couple of the regular blog site members, Nancy Posey and Jane Shlensky,  are organizing a two-day poetry conference in Hickory, NC in September, called "Fall Face-to-Face in the Foothills".  It's a chance to meet with several fellow Poetic Asides participants (including blogmaster Robert Lee Brewer) and enjoy sharing poetic activities. Although it's a nine-hour drive for me, I plan to go and I look forward to meeting a number of online friends in person.

Baseball:  My Phillies had the worst first half in the history of the team, going into the All-Star break at 29-62, a truly dismal record. Since then, they have really turned things around, winning 15 of their last 20 games. Part of the credit has to go to interim manager Pete MacKanin, but also Ryan Howard's resurgence at the plate, and talented rookies like Mikael Franco and Aaron Nola, might have something to do with it too. They have a big hole to dig out of to even finish at .500 for the year, but right now they have become fun to watch again. We had to say goodbye to Cole Hamels, who is the only pitcher in MLB history to be traded just after pitching a no-hitter.  He's now a Texas Ranger, but he's a classy guy and a possible future Hall-of-Famer. I wish him a lot of luck.

Poem:  Here's the dodoitsu finalist that I mentioned above:

Backbreaking Mountain

Workaday world, I can't say
goodbye yet.  Like that cowboy
in that movie, I wish I
knew how to quit you.

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!