Friday, December 14, 2007

Happy Holidays!

Still in the doldrums - I can count the number of poems I've written in the past two months on one hand. Nothing seems to inspire these days. Even a writing assignment my Q&D buddies came up with hasn't sparked me yet. And tonight I missed our reading at The Daily Grind - Kathy got caught in a horrendous traffic jam, a combination of Friday rush hour and mall Christmas shoppers, and came home 45 minutes late, which obliged me to stay home with my youngest. On top of that, I've had this miserable sinus infection for almost two weeks. My ears are so clogged it's affecting my hearing. So poetry reading just wasn't in the cards tonight. At least I made it to our monthly critique session/Christmas party earlier in the week.

I did also get out to Media, PA earlier this month for the Mad Poets Review launch party. (A shout-out to editor Eileen d'Angelo, the sweetest workaholic I know.) They published my poem "March" (Q&D pals Anna and Rachel were in the issue too) and it's always a fine little soiree - got to see some poetry friends I haven't run into for a while, like Dan Maguire, Therese Halscheid, and Diane Guarnieri.

And back to my Q&D pals: Rachel Bunting has a new book coming out from Finishing Line Press called Ripe Again. And Anna Evans is about to finish her MFA at Bennington College. Way to go, ladies!

Despite the crowds and the hype, I do like this time of year. It's a bit of a downer this year, being the first without my late in-laws (my wife is particularly despondent), but I do get some joy out of the music of the season. Yeah, some of it is hackneyed and played to death, but some of it is quite lovely or fun. I try to find stuff that's a little off the mainstream. Here are some of my most recent discoveries, most of them new releases:

1. The Smithereens - Christmas with the Smithereens: The rockin'est Christmas album I've heard this year. They do some originals, but also cover the Ramones, the Who ("Christmas" from Tommy), the Beach Boys, and the Beatles (their rare fan-club song "Christmas Time Is Here Again").

2. Mindy Smith - My Christmas: she comes off as a barely-disguised Christian artist, but she has a lovely voice, sort of a cross between Emmylou Harris and Norah Jones. Very mellow alt-country fare, a fine mix of originals and standards.

3. Over the Rhine - Snow Angels: Another mellow winter-season album, not ostensibly "Christmas" but the all-original songs, sung by Karen Bergquist, definitely set the mood for a Yule log and some egg nog.

4. Steeleye Span - Winter: one of my favorite folk-rock bands of the 70's is still around, and Maddy Prior has returned to the fold. This may not rank with their best albums ever, but it has enough classic Span (rock guitar, fiddle, some lovely a cappella four-part harmony) to satisfy long-time fans like me, and folk-rock enthusiasts in general.

If you want to see my current Top 30 favorite Christmas CD's of all time, click here.

Poem of the... Month?

Yeah, it's been that long. How about something seasonal (recently workshopped and revised - thanks, Q&D's):

Solstice Fires

When we touch match to wick,
we light a long line, receding to the horizon,
past the Seven Principles, the birth of Jesus,
the perseverance of the Macabees,
through a haze of ages, brightened
by flames of tallow and oil, illuminating December
before it even had a name,

back to a primordial fire, wild and crackling,
that sent red stars into the black.
Our ancestors huddled close to stay warm
and keep the beasts away,
as they murmured incantations
into the darkness on this,
the longest night of the year.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Creative Doldrums/Year-End Music Review

It's been a while, but after Ireland everything seems anti-climactic, and there hasn't been a whole lot to say. I've been very lazy poetically lately, having written maybe four poems in the past month - inspiration is at a premium these days. Not much happening in the publishing world either, although Mad Poets Review has accepted "March" for publication in their issue due out in December. Still no word from Poetry magazine. Not too much of note in my poetry groups, either. The one group that meets at Barnes and Noble monthly is just about dead - the other night I went and the only attendees were the host and me. Pretty pathetic - I'm starting to wonder if poetry groups are becoming as passe as country line dancing. Oh well - I'm not going to stop writing just because poetry no longer seems as "hot" as it used to be.

Music: WXPN has started the voting period for the best-of-2007 list - this year they're doing not only the top 50 albums of the year, but the top 50 songs as well. Here are the top 10 I submitted for each category:

1. Iron and Wine - The Shepherd's Dog (a creative departure but the best yet from this "band")
2. The Shins - Wincin' the Night Away (catchy, catchy pop)
3. Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (they just keep getting better - excellent power-pop not afraid to take chances)
4. Feist - The Reminder (several of the best pop tunes of the year in this album)
5. The Cat Empire - Two Shoes (mix of ska, rock, r&b, lots of fun - great live band)
6. New Pornographers - Challengers (maybe not their best album, but still really fine)
7. Bruce Springsteen - Magic (the E Street Band is back, and Bruce fans are rejoicing!)
8. Augie March - Moo, You Bloody Choir (excellent Australian band in the Coldplay vein)
9. Richard Thompson - Sweet Warrior (his best in several years, probably since Mock Tudor)
10. Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova - Once: Motion Picture Soundtrack
(fine duets from Frames leader and friend, from the endearing Irish indie film)

Honorable Mention:
Peter Bjorn and John – Writer’s Block
John Butler Trio – Grand National
Son Volt – The Search
Wilco – Sky Blue Sky
Arcade Fire – Neon Bible
Beirut – The Flying Club Cup
Joni Mitchell - Shine
Amy Winehouse – Back to Black
Radiohead – In Rainbows
Ryan Shaw – This Is Ryan Shaw

1. "Dad's Gonna Kill Me" - Richard Thompson
2. "Boy with a Coin" - Iron and Wine
3. "Phamtom Limb" - The Shins
4. "My Moon My Man" - Feist
5. "No Cars Go" - The Arcade FIre
6. "Girls in Their Summer Clothes" - Bruce Springsteen
7. "Australia" - The Shins
8. "Sly" - The Cat Empire
9. "Frank and Ava" - Suzanne Vega
10. "When Your Mind's Made Up" - Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova

Honorable Mention:
"Night of the Iguana" - Joni Mitchell
"Don’t You Evah" – Spoon
"My Rights vs. Yours" - New Pornographers
"One Crowded Hour" - Augie March
"This Hand is a Mighty Hand" - Hoots and Hellmouth
"Don’t Make Me a Target" – Spoon
"Falling Slowly" – Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova
"It Makes No Difference" - My Morning Jacket
"Gone Gone Gone" - Robert Plant and Alison Krauss
"The Picture" - Son Volt

Overrated album of the year: Robert Plant and Alison Krauss - Raising Sand (not nearly the classic that many rave that it is - nice vocal pairing but little musical energy)

Most annoying song of the year: "Young Folks" by Peter, Bjorn and John (I really like the album, but for some reason this song got under my skin. Maybe it's the whistling, or the "twee" vocals, or maybe it's just that it was so overplayed.)

Poem of the Week:

Fat November

Today feels like a holiday –
the air, apple-crisp,
just chill enough for vigor,
under a blue superdome sky,

and trees in costume,
feathered like the Wild Tchoupitoulas –
brilliant reds, yellows, oranges.

It’s the Mardi Gras of Autumn,
a seasonal send-off,
Nature’s last indulgence,
with a bontemps of color.

Soon this parade will turn the corner
to white, brown and gray,
and Winter’s long, ascetic Lent.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Poisoned Minds

I was very disturbed by a news item I read today: the father of a young soldier killed in Iraq won a lawsuit against a fundamentalist Christian group whose mission appears to be to picket funerals of soldiers who have died in action. Seems they are of the belief that we are embroiled in a war in Iraq because of our tolerance for homosexuality. (Huh?) These hatemongers go to the funerals with T-shirts and signs that say, "God hates fags" and "Thank God for dead soldiers". What possesses these people?? It certainly isn't God. They are beneath contempt. I'm no fan of the Iraq War, but how dare they disrupt a somber and personal event like this to advance their own twisted agenda? The father was awarded $11 million, but he'll probably never see most of that money. At least it was a personal victory and a message to these lunatics, one would hope.

Music: One of the most buzz-worthy downloads these days is Radiohead's new album In Rainbows, which is being offered for free (or for whatever you wish to pay for it). It's legitimate and being offered by the band. Here's the link:
Also, Paste Magazine, one of the best music and video review magazines out there, is offering almost-free one year subscriptions (for as little as $1.00, or whatever you wish to pay). Each issue also includes a CD sampler of new music, which is quite good, featuring mainly "adult alternative" stuff. Here is their link:
But hurry! These are available only for a limited time! (That sounds like a "special TV offer pitch, doesn't it?)
The Radiohead CD, by the way, is quite good - much less experimental than the previous few albums - more like a cross between OK Computer and Thom Yorke's recent solo album.

'Tis the season!

Top Ten List: Favorite Halloween Songs
1. Werewolves of London - Warren Zevon
2. Monster Mash - Bobby "Boris" Pickett
3. Thriller - Michael Jackson (worth it just to hear special guest Vincent Price say "yall's"!)
4. Bad Moon Rising - Creedence Clearwater Revival
5. Tam Lin - Fairport Convention
6. Ghostbusters - Ray Parker Jr.
7. Zombie Jamboree - Rockapella
8. Theme from Halloween - John Carpenter (yes, it's a ripoff of Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells [theme from The Exorcist] but I find it even creepier)
9. This Is Halloween - Danny Elfman (from Nightmare Before Christmas)
10. Wolf Like Me - TV on the Radio

Poetry: I missed the annual "Harvest of Poetry" book party for the Edison Literary Review - always a nice little fete, with tasty noshes and good poetry from the new issue, hosted by editor Gina Larkin. (It was the day after I returned from Ireland, and between jet-lag and obligations that piled up while I was away, I just couldn't make it. I've missed a depressingly large number of poetry events this year.) Anyway, it's another fine issue, and my poem "Magnetism" (see below) is featured in it. Still no word from Poetry magazine, or Mad Poets Review, though I know I didn't win anything in their annual contest - there's still a chance they'll publish one of my poems, though. I've been writing some poems about Ireland, particularly the natural wonders I saw there, like Ladies View, The Gap of Dunloe, and the Torc Waterfall.


It must have been second grade,
my first encounter with hands-on science,
the day Mr. James stood in front of our class
with a large white cardboard card
littered with hundreds of slivered black bits.

What are they? we wondered.
Ants? Beard trimmings? Chocolate sprinkles?
Then, suddenly they sprang to life,
standing on end like cat hairs,
dancing in waves, circles and arcs, swooping
over the cardboard like a blackbird flock.

These are iron filings, he told the wide-eyed audience;
They make patterns in a magnetic field.
He lifted the card and revealed the conductor
of this miniature ballet: a horseshoe magnet,
red with yellow tips. And I thought,

wouldn’t it be amazing if I could attract
everything I loved in such a way?
Candies, army men, comic books,
puppies, baseball cards, a new bike.
They would arch across a magnetized earth,
dancing right up to my fingertips.
It was much later, though, that I learned
that I would be the sliver, standing on end,
doing other magnets’ bidding.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Back from the Emerald Isle!

Ireland is fantastic! What a beautiful place - you can't swing a camera without finding a perfect scenic shot. We arrived on Saturday Oct. 13 at Killarney Country Club, a timeshare resort near Killarney in County Kerry (southwest Ireland). Our accommodations were comfortable, but there were few amenities and virtually no activities onsite. That was okay, though, because the wife and I intended this as a relaxing holiday for the two of us. Our cottage had a view of the nearby mountains out front and the rolling green hills out back. We went into Killarney, which borders on a huge national park, and explored both the town and the historic and natural sites of the park: St. Mary's Cathedral, Muckross House, Muckross Abbey, Torc Waterfall, Ross Castle, and Innnisfallen Abbey, just to name a few. We also took a bus tour out to the peninsula and the "Ring of Kerry" - splendid sights of the mountains, the Dingle Bay and the ocean, as well as some quaint towns along the way. We also took a day trip to Blarney Castle (my wife kissed the Blarney Stone). But some mornings we'd just sleep in - it was wonderful. (if you'd like to see some of our photos, click here.

Music: Got a good collection in Ireland called A Woman's Heart: Trilogy - it's a box set of three CD's from a series of Irish-based music by women artists like Mary Black, Sharon Shannon, Sinead O'Connor, Maura O'Connell, etc. Some of it gets a bit "poppy", but generally it's a nice series of anthologies - the singing is fine across the board, as are Shannon's instrumentals. It was somewhat of a bargain at 20 Euros.
Also got (from Strangers Alamanac by Whiskeytown, a 1997 release from the band fronted by Ryan Adams and featuring Caitlin Cary (this album also has guest artist Alejandro Escovedo). Really fine alt-country, some of the best I've heard in the genre.

WXPN finished their "885 Most Memorable Musical Moments". No big surprises (especially since the top 100 were pre-packaged, so to speak).
#1 - Woodstock
#2 - Beatles on Ed Sullivan
#3 - John Lennon shot

Poetry: Despite the wondrous landscapes of Ireland, I haven't been inspired to write more than one poem, and that's still a work in progress. I finally relented and sent Poetry magazine a followup letter about status of my submission. No response yet - I don't know what to make of their silence any more.

Poem of the Week: Since Halloween is coming, how about something fun? Here's a Halloween limerick:

A pumpkin from Kalamazoo,
wished to be Jack-O-Lantern, too,
but he looked like a squash,
so he got the ki-bosh,
now he's part of a vegetable stew!

Monday, October 8, 2007

Wait Till Next Year

Yes, my beloved Phillies came up short again this year. They managed to clinch the NL Eastern Division on the last day of the season, which was great. But they looked over-matched when they went to play the Colorado Rockies, who won the wild card slot in the playoffs, and who have been red-hot. The Phils' offense just seemed to go south, and the Rockies' pitching staff befuddled them. They scored more runs than any team in the NL this year, yet they only managed 8 runs in the entire three games. They were swept 3-0 in the best-of-five series. Oh well, there's always next year.

Looks like our trip to Ireland, which was in jeopardy not long ago, is back on, and just my wife and I are going - no kids! I can't wait - we leave Friday evening.

Poetry: I hosted the first reading of the season for Quick and Dirty Poets Friday night. The featured poet was Aaren Perry, a dynamic performance-oriented poet from the Philly area. I took his workshop at this year's Philadelphia Writers Conference, so I invited him to read for us. He was a big hit, and the evening in general had a really good vibe. We Q&D's read our works, which were well received (Rachel was absent), and even the open reading was quite good. I was a little put off by a guy who had come with Paul L. - his poetry was a vitriolic, profanity-laced rant against someone who'd done him wrong. I guess it was okay for the type of piece it was, but I'm glad no kids were in the audience. It was good to see Anna again too, after her surgery - she was lovely as always, but said she still gets tired easily.

My friend Lorraine has been trying to keep a weekly poetry prompt going with me. I was rather satisfied with my last effort, based on a poem by William Stafford about finding a dead deer in the road. Mine was about performing euthanasia on a suffering gerbil. Uplifting, eh?

Music: Two big purchases this past week:
(1) The next Bruce Springsteen album, Magic - folks are really raving about it, especially those who don't care much for his side trips away from the E Street Band. They consider this a return to form. I think it's excellent too, but I also think his last three albums were on a par with this one - I liked the rootsy departures of Devils and Dust and We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions. Favorite tracks: "Radio Nowhere", "Girls in Their Summer Clothes".
(2) Iron and Wine: The Shepherd's Dog - Sam Beam, who is essentially Iron and Wine, seems to be coming out of his hyper-mellow shell and actually doing some passionate singing here. And the rhythmic changes and surprises in this album are brilliant. One song even approaches "rock n' roll". It's really excellent, and one of the best albums of the year.

Poem of the Week: How about this one, which was published in Sunken Lines last year, and was recently featured as Poem of the Day on Pathetic. org. I had a lot of fun writing this one:

Mr. Cliché Reflects on His Love Life

It was love at first sight,
as I bellied up to the bar
and said, “You come here often?”
She was built like a brick pagoda,
and after a few rounds on me,
we were chewing the fat.
Before I knew what hit me,
it was “Your place or mine?”
The rest is history.

It was a whirlwind romance,
a match made in heaven.
We were over the moon,
with stars in our eyes.
But then, it was crunch time,
bottom of the ninth,
time to fish or cut bait.
So I popped the question.

It was wedding bells for us,
we tied the knot, for better or worse.
And after that, “home sweet home”.
I joined the rat race
and she had a bun in the oven.
Then came our bundle of joy,
the patter of little feet,
rug rats in our humble abode.

But then, I got the seven-year itch,
and I fell off the wagon.
The shit hit the fan,
and in a New York minute,
she wrote a “Dear John” letter,
saying, “Sayonara, sucker,”
and “Hasta la vista, baby!
See you in court!”

I was between a rock and a hard place,
left high and dry, without a pot to piss in.
Well, that’s the way the ball bounces.
That’s the way the cookie crumbles.
C’est la vie.

Friday, September 28, 2007

It's That Time of the Year...

You won't see a lot of sports talk on this site, but I've always been a baseball fan in general and a Phillies fan in particular. A long-suffering Phillies fan, for about 45 years. Most of those years, they were mediocre at best and awful at worst. They had some glory days, too, like the late 70's and early 80's, the heyday of guys like Schmidt and Carlton, and they won their first and only World Series championship in 1980. They've gone to the big dance twice since then, in 1983 and 1993, but lost each time. The last time, Joe Carter of the Blue Jays won the series with a walk-off home run against Mitch "Wild Thing" Williams. I could've cried, and some fans probably did. In recent years, the Phillies have tormented us fans with several teams that have come oh-so-close to the playoffs only to miss out in the last week or so of the season. This year is another nail-biter, with the Phils surging of late while the division-leading Mets have been in free-fall. As I write, they are tied for first place in their division with the Mets, with three games left to play. If they can sweep the Nationals, they are pretty much guaranteed at least a wild card spot in the playoffs. Less than that, and it gets more complicated, though if they win at least two out three they have a shot. A lot depends on the Mets, too. So once again, they are about to either pleasantly surprise us with a come-from-behind finish, or let us down for yet another year.

My friend Lorraine wrote a French-form poem called a rondeau which she asked me to critique. That inspired me to write a rondeau for the long-suffering Phillies fan:

We Phillies Fans

We Phillies fans are used to loss,
World Series hopes so often tossed
like errors in the outfield green
or infield dirt – this flawed machine,
this rolling stone that gathers moss.

And yet it’s true some heroes crossed
the diamond – Carlton, Schmidt embossed
in Hall of Fame – the best we’ve seen,
we Phillies fans.

Too often by October frost
our chance of any title’s lost.
But then there’s ’80: Dallas Green
brought home the crown, and we could preen
and strut around like we were boss,
we Phillies fans.

More poetry news: for the second year in a row, my name is in The Poet's Market, the "bible" of any poet striving to be published. My name appears as a contributor in three journals (Baby Clam Press, Chantarelle's Notebook, and Sunken Lines), and my chapbook, Wire to the Heart, is cited in the listing of my publisher, Maverick Duck Press. It helps to have friends who are editors, LOL. I'm very flattered to be mentioned by them - thanks again, Kendall, Andrea and Paul!

Music: Not much to report - I did download two CD's by Beirut, a band that could best be described as "alternative gypsy" music. I'm not kidding. They have a distinctive Eastern-European sound, with mostly acoustic instruments the likes of fiddle, ukelele, accordion, bass drum, trumpets, hurdy-gurdy, etc. It's fascinating stuff. If you like big-sounding, melodramatic bands like Arcade Fire, the Decemberists, and even Sufjan Stevens' bigger productions, you may like these guys. Get either Gulag Orkestar or the EP Lon Gisland. Or like me, you can get both.

Top Ten List: Pop Songs about Baseball

1. Glory Days - Bruce Springsteen
2. Centerfield - John Fogerty
3. Mrs. Robinson - Simon and Garfunkel ("Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio...")
4. Right Field - Peter, Paul and Mary
5. Did You Ever See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball? - Count Basie
6. A Dying Cub Fan's Last Request - Steve Goodman
7. Catfish - Bob Dylan
8. Talkin' Baseball - Terry Cashman
9. Cheap Seats - Alabama
10. The Greatest - Kenny Rogers

Go Phillies!!!!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Going Green!

Well, I feel I'm doing my small bit for the environment: I just bought a hybrid vehicle, a "pre-owned" (they don't say "used" any more) 2006 Ford Escape, and so far I love it. It gets 31 mpg on the highway and 36 in the city - the reason for the better city mileage is that at lower speeds it kicks into electric-only mode. Very cool - this car does not "idle" in the traditional sense of the word, either. In fact, it feels like it shuts down when you come to a complete stop. That's got to be better emissions-wise. I'm eating my words though - I vowed several years ago I would never buy an SUV. But it's okay because this is a relatively small one and it's "green". If I had the option, I'd buy an all-electric car. (See the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car? for an eye-opening story of what happened recently to that short-lived market.)

In honor of that, my Music Top Ten this week is "Songs with an Environmental Theme":

1. Big Yellow Taxi - Joni Mitchell
2. If a Tree Falls - Bruce Cockburn
3. Pollution -Tom Lehrer
4. Blue Water - Poco
5. Nothing But Flowers - Talking Heads (a rather ironic spin on the topic)
6. To the Last Whale (Critical Mass/Wind on the Water) - Crosby and Nash
7. Whose Garden Is This? - Tom Paxton
8. World Party - World Party
9. It's a Different World Now - Rodney Crowell
10. Don't Kill the Whale - Yes

Thanks again to XPN "boardie" buddies for some of these suggestions.

Some of my recent CD discoveries:

A.C. Newman - The Slow Wonder: The driving force behind The New Pornographers put out this solo album about 3 years ago, and it's excellent power-pop. A number of tunes are as good as the best of NP, especially "The Town Halo" and "On the Table" - catchy, brilliant stuff.

Arcade Fire - Neon Bible: I'm still warming up to this one, but it's got at least one thing going for it: "No Cars Go" is one of the best damn songs of the year.

Matt Pond PA - The Green Fury: These guys are becoming one of my favorite "new" bands. Sound a bit like the Shins but a little mellower. This 2002 release has been my entry point to their full-length catalog.

Here's one I wrote about visiting my poet friend James Byrne (editor of The Wolf) in London in 2005. It was nominated for a "Best of the Net" award by Sunken Lines:

Down from Hampstead

(for J.B.)

At the top of the climb
the Spaniard’s is closed,
so we hike to another café

for screw-top Rothschild
and a sandwich of rocket and egg,
then out to the overlook –

the city laid out like our oyster
(and I with my card) –
before we descend to the town,

muck of the Heath still on our shoes.
(Mine, camouflage brown; yours red –
do the angels still want to wear them?)

We accost bookshops and barkeeps,
clink cheers with a pint or two, or more,
and carry on to our true destination,

a cramped and smoky club
packed with fellow travelers
guilty of poetry,

cleaning the muck
from their own psychic shoes,
with a stiff brush of language.

After words, another pint
chased by last orders,
the night thus rolled in.

Trading valedictions,
we carry good books and thoughts back
to our own little nooks of the world.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

September Transitions

It's a significant month in my house for two reasons: (1) my youngest started middle school this past week, and (2) my second-oldest is finally cutting the cord and getting his own place. My sixth-grader seems to like his new school (the Catholic school at my wife's parish), and I hope it will be a comfortable fit - he's a kid who does better in a structured environment, and he and his mom have been active in the parish for some time now. My second-oldest got a nice roomy two-bedroom apartment about two miles from home and is rooming with his old high-school buddy. But it's been a long gradual transition as he moves all his stuff out of the house.

Poetry: Still not much going on poetry-wise. I'm becoming very annoyed with myself for my lack of production. And I still haven't heard from Poetry Magazine, which has me worried. I thought I would have heard from them by now, one way or the other. I submitted in mid-June and they were supposed to respond within 6-8 weeks. I just wish if they were going to reject me they'd just let me know, because they're holding what I consider four of my best unpublished poems. I've heard from one of the editors of US1 Worksheets, though, and she wanted me to send her more poems. It was her nice way of saying they didn't like the first five enough to publish them - at least I'm getting a second chance. She said I "spoiled" them with "Chocolate and Tylenol" last year (see previous post), which may be the best sonnet I ever wrote.

Music: Not much here lately either, but I did get Yo La Tengo's I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass recently from Freaking brilliant album! A lot of folks thought it was one of 2006's best, and I see why. In my opinion, they do what Wilco have been trying to do on their last three albums.

Top Ten: Combining my two favorite topics - songs about poets or poetry:

1. Poetry Man - Phoebe Snow
2. Walt Whitman's Niece - Billy Bragg and Wilco
3. The Dangling Conversation - Simon and Garfunkel
("And you read your Emily Dickinson/And I my Robert Frost...")
4. Tangled Up in Blue - Bob Dylan
("Then she opened up a book of poems/And handed it to me/Written by an Italian poet/
From the thirteenth century....")
5. Cemetery Gates - The Smiths
("So I meet you at the cemetery gates/Keats and Yeats are on your side/While Wilde is on mine....")
6. Poets - The Tragically Hip
7. Poet - Sly and The Family Stone
8. Sylvia Plath - Ryan Adams
9. Bukowski - Modest Mouse
10. Desolation Row - Bob Dylan
("And Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot
Fighting in the captain's tower
While calypso singers laugh at them
And fishermen hold flowers....")

Poem of the Week: Here's my most recent haiku (actually a senryu), returning to my original topic.

new clothes and backpack
a big smile on the face
of his mother

Monday, August 27, 2007

Supplemental: Music Top 10

I couldn't go too long without a top 10 list, now could I? I was thinking how three of my favorite newer bands - John Butler Trio, The Cat Empire, and Augie March - are all from Australia. So I started compiling a list of Australian bands (not individual artists, which would include folks like Ozzy Osborne, Kylie Minogue and Olivia Newton-John). There were quite a few excellent and influential bands over the years from Down Under. Here are ten of the best, in alphabetical order:

The Bee Gees
The Church
Crowded House
The Go-Betweens
Men at Work
Midnight Oil
Split Enz
The Vines

Also worth mentioning: Air Supply, Architecture in Helsinki, Divinyls, The Easybeats, Hoodoo Gurus, Hunters and Collectors, Jet, Little River Band, Mental as Anything, The Seekers, Silverchair, The Wiggles(!), Wolfmother, and the three bands I cited above. Quite a diversity, mate!

I almost lumped Split Enz and Crowded House together because they were both founded by the Finn brothers (who I know are from New Zealand), but both bands have strong Australian connections, and they were, after all, two distinct bands from distinct musical periods, each influential in their own right.

Have I left anyone out? Let me know! Comments, people, give me comments!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Fighting the Dog Days

I'm back from our vacation in Williamsburg, VA, one of our favorite holiday spots - we go at least every other year, and we own a timeshare down there. We usually spend most of our time at Colonial Williamsburg, being the suckers for history that we are. And the place was jumping, as much as a "living history" place could jump, that is. It's the 400th anniversary of the Jamestown settlement (even the Queen visited this spring), so everything's been spruced up and "kicked up a notch". We did both Jamestown and Yorktown on separate days, and each location has two separate sites to visit, one run by the National Park Service and the other by a proprietary organization. We kept busy at Williamsburg though, planning our week to see a pirate trial; a colonial-style comedy show; a wonderful program by re-enactors of African-American music on a replica of a plantation; an "apprentice tour" where my 11-year-old got to work with a blacksmith, a wheelwright and a tailor; a behind-the-scenes tour of the stables where we got to meet some horses and see them hitched up to the carriages; an audience with Thomas Jefferson; and a lot more. But the most interesting new feature is the "Revolutionary City", a series of interactive dramatizations at different locations in town, where the re-enactors really get the visitors involved in the simulated events leading up to the Revolutionary War.

Music: Also while on vacation, Mrs. N. and I got to see the film Once, and we both highly recommend it. In case you're not aware, it's an independent Irish film about a Dublin busker (Glen Hansard of the Irish band The Frames) who meets a young Czech emigree (Markéta Irglová). They start to collaborate performing and writing songs, while forming a close friendship and trying to achieve success with their music. It's a feel-good movie with a bittersweet end, and the soundtrack is terrific - much of the movie, in fact, plays like a musical, with the songs integrated directly into the action of the film. See it if you can.

Recent CD acquisitions:
1. Augie March - Moo, You Bloody Choir: My first "freebie" from the Amazon Vine club (see August 7th blog) - it's a strong album by this Aussie band - a bit hard to pigeonhole, but imagine a cross between Crowded House and Elbow. You can see my full review here.

2. New Pornographers - Challengers: Still deciding how this stacks up to their previous three albums - the last one, Twin Cinema, was one of the best albums of 2005. For those unfamiliar, they are a Canadian-based "supergroup" whose members include alt-country chanteuse Neko Case, and they do power pop better than anyone since Lindsay Buckingham-era Fleetwood Mac. This time out their sound has mellowed a bit, but a lot of their trademark style is still there. Chances are it will end up on my final best-of-the-year list, as will Augie March.

No Top Ten list this time out - the XPN bulletin boards, my source for these lists, has been down for several days.

Poetry: Still trying to weather a creative drought - dashed off a couple of short pieces last night, but nothing to brag about. No new publication news, either. So I'll pull another old favorite out of my hat. This one appeared a few years ago in Edison Literary Review:

Clouds in the Jaguar Window

Natural selection on the highway –
the Jaguar cuts in front of me at the light,
buffed and detailed, a sleek animal
the color of a Colt revolver,
its occupant, suited, cellphone to skull,
speaking to someone, no doubt,
more important than me.

But before the light changes,
before he gets another five-second jump on life,
cumulus clouds from the windy blue sky
reflect on his rear window.
They roll across like screen credits,
chiaroscuro on smoky glass,
steaming majestically to their next country.

And when we ply the road again,
I want to pull my unworthy minivan
abreast of him, and mouth these words
to his air-conditioned window:
Thank you.

Thank you for reminding me
that the clouds still travel untethered
even over you.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Music: Tracks and Trivia

Lots of musical topics on my mind this week: First and foremost, I just got Bruce Springsteen’s 4-disc box set Tracks last week, at Tunes, a local record store chain. It was a used copy in excellent condition for only $15.99. I couldn’t pass it up. Now, I’m not a rabid Boss-ophile like some folks I know, but I do like most of his songs. That said, I have to admit that this set is probably the best collection of unreleased rock songs I’ve ever heard. Most of these could easily have been included, as is, in any of Bruce’s albums. Just a thoroughly enjoyable collection of tunes, especially, of course, the ones that feature the E Street Band.

This coming week marks the 38th anniversary of the Woodstock Festival, which I didn’t attend. But I did attend a festival in 1969 that was very nearly as good. Here’s my description as written for XPN’s Most Memorable Music Moments:

“The Woodstock Arts and Music Festival in August 1969 was such a generation- and culture-defining event that it completely overshadowed the festival that occurred just two weeks before: The Atlantic City Pop Festival at the Atlantic City Racetrack on August 1, 2, and 3, 1969. Call it a dress rehearsal for Woodstock, but without the mud. The lineup was every bit as impressive as the more famous festival’s was: Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Joe Cocker, Santana, Chicago, Joni Mitchell, The Byrds, The Mothers of Invention, Procol Harum, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, B.B. King, Dr. John, Little Richard, Sir Douglas Quintet, Canned Heat, Mother Earth, Iron Butterfly(!), Buddy Miles, Three Dog Night, The Chambers Brothers, and many others. . Since it was less than an hour from my home, it was a no-brainer for my friends and me to camp out nearby and groove to three days of fun and music. (And we were in the foreground of a crowd shot on the front page of the Philadelphia Bulletin!) The weather was perfect, and an estimated 110,000 people attended. Let others brag about being at Woodstock, but I have no regrets going to Atlantic City Pop instead!”

This past week also marks the 50th anniversary of the national debut of American Bandstand. Below you’ll find a poem I wrote about that phenomenon a few years ago, after reading an article about former teen dancers from the show. Trivia questions:

1. Who was the original host of Bandstand, before Dick Clark?

2. On what Philadelphia TV station was the original program broadcast?

3. What is the name of the American Bandstand theme song, and who performed it?
(answers below)

Top Ten Music List of the Week: Ten Songs that Created Controversy

1. Society’s Child – Janis Ian (her original song from the 60’s about interracial romance)

2. Cop Killer – Body Count (‘nuff said…)

3. My Sweet Lord – George Harrison (he was sued – and lost – in a plagiarism case – unfairly, I still maintain)

4. Big Muddy – Pete Seeger (he sang this song, a thinly-veiled criticism of the Vietnam War, on the Ed Sullivan Show and was banned from future appearances)

5. Let’s Spend the Night Together – The Rollings Stones (another Ed Sullivan moment: they were forced to change the lyrics to “Let’s spend some time together")

6. Subterranean Homesick Blues – Bob Dylan (with this song, he was the first artist to “go electric” at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965, and was virtually booed off the stage)

7. Short People – Randy Newman (hard to believe this silly satirical ditty from the 70’s raised such a ruckus, but groups representing short-statured folks complained about it so much that it was banned from some radio stations)

8. Louie, Louie – The Kingsmen (rumors floated around for years about the unintelligible lyrics, which some claimed were “dirty” –they weren’t)

9. Girl You Know It’s True – Milli Vanilli (the kings of musical fraud – they were top 40 darlings till it came out that someone else was dubbing their vocals)

10. Not Ready to Make Nice – The Dixie Chicks (Natalie Maines’ answer to all the middle Americans who blackballed the girls for their anti-Bush comments)

Poem of the Week: as promised…


Kinescopes smudged gray and white
burn the screen like old dreams.
These are days for those who remember Dick Clark, standing avuncular behind the podium,
announcing the current hit, or the next big one,
as kids began to prowl the floor
in poodle skirts, bobby socks,
skinny ties and plaid jackets,
bouffants and pompadours bouncing in time.

In the camera, movement is the color –
the Stroll, the Cha-cha, the Bristol Stomp,
couples with names like Carmine and Angela,
some regulars, some fresh-faced newcomers
picked from the gaggle of hopefuls
outside the West Philly studio.
The Catholic girls wear sweaters over their uniforms,
so the nuns won’t scold them in school tomorrow.
Inadvertently, they start a fashion trend –
girls all over the country look for the cool dickie collars the kids on Bandstand wear,
unaware that they’re uniform shirts.

Now, years later, when they all get together
(most with grandchildren and Social Security)
they summon up good times and bad:
the fan clubs, teen articles, and the threats
received while slammed against their lockers
by kids that didn’t think them “cool.”
Their sighs waft to that time and back again,
as someone resurrects a jukebox –
Frankie Lymon, Bobby Darin, the Shirelles.
They partner up in the old combinations,
gliding across the diner’s checkered floor,
all the way back to seventeen.

(Answers to trivia questions: 1. Bob Horn. 2. WFIL (now WPVI), Channel 6. 3. “Bandstand Boogie” (various versions were used over the years, including Barry Manilow’s vocal version, but the original, most well-known theme on the national program was by Les Elgart. The tune was composed by Charles Albertine.)

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Amazon, New Poet Laureate, Pirates, and Other Stuff.

I got an interesting e-mail today from They invited me to join "Amazon Vine", an exclusive "club" for their most popular and helpful reviewers. I have 137 reviews posted on Amazon, mostly music reviews, and some DVD and book reviews as well. As a "Vine" member, I'll be getting free promotional releases and pre-releases (which I get to choose), with only the requirement that I write reviews for some of them. How cool is that?

My latest favorite CD is The Cat Empire's Two Shoes. It's almost as energetic and fun as the band was in person at the XPoNential Music Festival a couple of weeks ago. It will definitely be on my best-of-the-year list.

My youngest is in the midst of his two-week Boy Scout camp in Bucks County, and from all accounts he is having a swell time. In light of that, and as a public service, I am about to introduce a new feature: the Weekly Top 10. This is culled from the XPN website - I started a bulletin board thread a few months ago that's still going strong, where members suggest ten songs with a common theme. We've had some rather ho-hum themes, and some pretty creative ones too. So this week's Top 10 is:

Songs About Camping, Scouting, Hiking, or Similar Outdoorsy Activities

1. Honeymoon with "B" Troop - 10cc
2. Tent - Bonzo Dog Band
3. A Campfire Song - 10,000 Maniacs
4. Be Prepared - Tom Lehrer
5. Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah (Camp Grenada) - Allen Sherman
6. Fishin' Blues - Taj Mahal (my son's going for his fishing merit badge this week)
7. Battle of Kookamonga - Homer and Jethro (a spoof of "Battle of New Orleans" set at a kid's summer camp)
8. Poison Ivy - The Coasters
9. Under the Milky Way - The Church (sleeping under the stars)
10. Kumbaya - Pete Seeger (the ultimate campfire song!)

Thanks to my XPN boardie buds, jtd7, skatenlayton, cromag, and obi y kenobi for some of the suggestions.

Poetry: Charles Simic has just been appointed the new Poet Laureate of the U.S. Interesting choice - I like his work; it's whimsical and sometimes a bit surreal, but I never found a real emotional connection with it. I'm not saying he doesn't deserve the post - he does - but I was really hoping it would go to my favorite American poet who hasn't held the title yet: Yusef Komunyakaa.

Still not doing much these days poetry-wise - I've written hardly anything worthwhile in about a month, and I'm getting pretty disgusted about it. Still waiting on some submissions, the most noteworthy being Poetry magazine. Their non-response so far could be because (a) they're backlogged with a mountain of submissions, since they invited poets not previously published by them to submit, and haven't been able to respond as quickly as they promised; or (b) my poetry is so unworthy they won't even dignify it with a response; or (c) I did something horribly wrong, like inadvertently insult the editors in my cover letter, or forget to enclose a SASE; or (d) my poetry is so wonderful that they're holding it for possible publication. I think "a" is the most likely scenario, followed by "c" and "b".

Poem of the Week: I'll go with this one, which was published in The Fairfield Review (Winter 2003) and was also selected by them as an Editor's Choice:

Heart’s Pirate

There’s the story they tell on the Outer Banks
about Blackbeard, and the other privateers –
how they would hang lanterns on mules
and run them up and down the sandy beach.

This confused incoming ships
especially in the fog of night –
they thought they sighted a lighthouse
and sailed into the sound,

scraping the shoals, running aground,
helpless to the plunderers
who awaited ashore
and waded across to breach the gunwales.

That’s how it feels
to talk to you.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Sing-Song Sonnets and '07 CD's

Still feeling like I'm in the poetry doldrums, though I enjoyed hosting my Quick and Dirty peeps last week. We had a good meeting - Kendall arrived early so we got to b.s. about music before Anna and Andrea showed up. I offered up a sonnet for critique, which Anna, our formal verse maven, liked but suggested that the meter was "too perfect". I know what she means, and it's a weakness of mine when I write formal verse - I tend to try so hard to get the meter right (iambic pentameter, in this case) that it often comes off "sing-songy". Modern formal verse likes to mix things up a little, with enjambment and variations in the meter here and there, and the best formal verse doesn't even sound like it when read aloud. Anna's quite good at it. My sonnet will be better with some tweaking. I was also asked to approach Aaren Yates Perry, an area poet whose workshop I took at this year's Philadelphia Writers Conference, to be our guest poet when we begin our readings this fall at The Daily Grind in Mt. Holly. More on that later.

My latest publication is on a new online journal called Word Catalyst, edited by one of my acquaintances, Shirley Allard. The poetry is a bit "traditional", but I'm happy to be part of it, and the August issue features two of my "older" poems, one about my Indian "e-pal" and one I wrote a few years ago about my grandmother, who passed away this year.
Also, I found out about the Shadow Poetry Biennial Chapbook Contest: I didn't win. I lost to a collection called Faerie Folk and Fireflies. Go figure. I did get 9th place, which entitles me to a 25% discount on a chapbook publication with them. I doubt I'll take them up on it, though.

Music: Finally, I'm getting up to speed on the 2007 album releases. My latest acquisitions were Hoots and Hellmouth (whom I saw at the Xponential Music Festival a couple of weekends ago) and Lily Allen's Alright, Still. I'm still deciding how much I like her, but she will probably end up on my ultimate best-of-the-year list. So far, my top faves are:

1. The Shins - Wincing the Night Away
2. Feist - The Reminder
3. Richard Thompson - Sweet Warrior
4. Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
5. Peter, Bjorn and John - Writer's Block
6. Son Volt - The Search
7. John Bulter Trio - Grand National
8. Wilco - Sky Blue Sky
9. Ryan Shaw - This Is Ryan Shaw
10. Loreena McKennitt - An Ancient Muse
11. Norah Jones - Not Too Late
12. Hoots and Hellmouth - Hoots and Hellmouth
13. The Smithereens - Meet the Smithereens
14. LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver
15. Various Artists - Endless Highway: The Music of the Band

I'm probably forgetting one or two others, and the list will certainly change before the end of the year, but there it is for what it's worth.

Poem of the Week: Oh, I don't know. How about this one, which was published in Mad Poets Review and The Wolf (UK) a couple of years ago:


There is no translation for silence.
For touch, there are volumes.

I have never astounded you, yet
you invite me with every look.

So often you are as close as pain.
My joints ache, as before a storm.

I am awash in your affection, but
the lightning always seems to miss.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Sad Poetry News, Happy Music News

It's interesting how we make friends these days on the internet. Most of us with some degree of life experience can intuitively tell when we're meeting someone genuine, and it's really possible to form a "friendship" electronically. That said, when you lose a friend you've met this way, it's almost as intense as losing any other friend. My Canadian poet friend Maureen Glaude passed away this past week after a long battle with cancer. She was 53. She was well-loved on, and she was a talented and active woman who always had kind words for everyone. She was a very good poet, and I especially liked her haiku, so in her memory I wrote a haiku for her:

her desk lamp turned out -
the Ottawa skyline
is one light dimmer

You can visit her library here.

On a somewhat more upbeat note, I will have a few poems appearing in a new online journal called Word Catalyst, in August and September. More on that later.

Music: I attended WXPN's "Xpontential Music Festival" at Wiggins Park in Camden NJ on Saturday. (It's actually a 4-day festival, but I could only get away for one.) The weather was picture-perfect, and a couple of my friends and I enjoyed some really fine music. In order of favorites, I heard:

1. Los Lonely Boys - I knew I liked these guys - I have a few of their albums - and I'd heard how they can tear it up live. Now I know. They were fantastic! The three Garza brothers, on guitar, bass and drums, are amazingly talented musically, a mix of Santana, Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan, what they call "Texican rock n'roll". Some folks might think their performance was a bit showy and over the top, but they got everyone on their feet and got the biggest cheers of the night. And granted, they could be better lyricists. But man, that doesn't matter much when they play like they do.

2. The Cat Empire - The biggest surprise of the day for me. This six-piece band from Australia plays a blend of ska, rock, jazz and a pinch of hip-hop, with great percussion, keyboards, rhythm guitar, vocals and two trumpets. My son listened to them and said they sounded like what would happen if G. Love started a ska band. Sounds about right. They also remind me a little bit of Cake. They had lots of energy, and the majority of the XPN "boardies" I surveyed thought they were the best act of the day.

3. Will Hoge - This guy from Nashville had a cookin' roots-rock band, almost a Springsteen kind of vibe going on. The other pleasant surprise of the day.

4. Ryan Shaw - This young soul singer with a strong gospel background (and his frequent references to God made that obvious to the crowd) has an amazing set of pipes and sounds like a throwback to 60's and 70's Motown and Memphis sounds. No surprise, though, as I was already a fan - I downloaded his album from iTunes a few weeks ago. I got to meet him afterward and got an autograph - nice guy.

5. Hoots and Hellmouth - a local acoustic band that's getting some good national buzz, with an eccentric, passionate leader. Hard to describe them - kind of a bluegrass/folk-rock jam band. I liked them.

6. Grace Potter and the Nocturnals - I left during their set only because I was getting tired and wanted to beat the crowds, but she and her band were a good blues-rock unit. A bit anticlimactic though, after Los Lonely Boys tore up the place.

7. Martin Sexton - a excellent singer-songwriter, but someone had to be last on this list. Suffice to say I didn't hear anyone on Saturday I didn't like.

There was one downside to the day, but not personally. Some drunk in an SUV rammed through the gates and plowed into a trailer in the festival area. A couple of people were injured, but fortunately not seriously. All in all, it was a good day for music.

Monday, July 16, 2007

MMMM (Most Memorable Music Moments)

Supplemental music entry: WXPN just announced their "885 Greatest" list for this year: they've had great countdowns the last 3 years featuring the 885 greatest songs, albums, and artists of all time, as voted by the listeners. This year it's a more personal theme: "885 Most Memorable Music Moments". It's up to us to decide whether to include archival, historic moments that affected everyone, or personal moments that were special to the individual. Just off the top of my head, here's a chronological list of 10 moments that were most memorable for me:

1. 1964: The Beatles on Ed Sullivan (everyone my age will have this one on their list!)
2. 1967: Hearing Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band for the very first time.
3. 1969: Attending the Atlantic City Pop Festival (2 weeks before Woodstock and every bit as good, but without the mud).
4. 1969: Seeing Miles Davis at the Village Vanguard.
5. 1971: Getting a DJ job at my college radio station, WRLC, Livingston College (Rutgers U.)
6. 1986: Hearing my very first song on CD ("Bloody Well Right" by Supertramp) - I bought my first CD player a week later.
7. 1987: Winning a one-hour gig as "guest DJ" on WIOQ-FM in Philly. (They switched from adult alternative rock to oldies two weeks later - it wasn't my fault!)
8. 1992(?): Singing the chorus to an acoustic cover of "In Your Eyes" with Jeffrey Gaines (and the rest of the audience) at the WXPN "5-Star Night" at Mann Music Center in Philadelphia - the recording of that concert performance later became a popular radio hit.
9. 1999: Meeting my musical idol, Richard Thompson, at the WXPN "Singer-Songwriter Weekend".
10. 2005: Getting my first iPod.

Perhaps, if you are so inclined, you'd like to share your top musical memories here. Don't be shy!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Haiku and The Best Music Year

Good news on the publication front: I had four haiku published in an Australian print haiku journal, Paper Wasp - yesterday I got their Winter 2007 issue in the mail (I did a double-take -isn't it a little late for Winter 2007? Then I realized that it's winter now Down Under.) It's exciting because it's the first time I've had haiku published in a "legitimate" haiku-only journal. (I've had a few published a few years ago in journals that weren't exclusively for haiku, which means they are a little less selective in regard to the form.) I'd tried some of the better American haiku journals (Frogpond, The Heron's Nest, The Acorn, and Roadrunner) but to no avail. Then a poetry acquaintance on the poetry community site, (who happens to be an excellent, award winning haiku poet) suggested I try Paper Wasp. Good advice - thank you, Agnes! Here are the haiku they published (you won't find them on their website, but maybe later when they feaure selections from their 2007 issues):

April snow
almost as white as
the apple blossoms


slice a peach
surprise the sunrise


humid evening -
mosquitoes sing in my ear
before dinner


morning rain -
under the weeping cherry
a dead robin


Music: Downloaded from iTunes, Writers Block by Swedish band Peter, Bjorn and John (or "PB&J" as they're cleverly known) - really good album with an eclectic range of pop stylings. "Young Folks" is the breakout track, and after repeated listenings it's become a bit annoying (a bit on the "twee" side with a lost of whistling). But the rest of the album is definitely worthwhile.

WXPN, my favorite radio station on the planet, had a really fun programming day on Saturday - they played nothing but songs from 1967. Pop, rock, psychedelia, blues, jazz, country, folk, just about every genre. What a great year for music! Maybe I'm only saying that because i was 16 at the time, but still, I'll put that it up against any other when it comes to great music years. This was the year of the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's..., The Doors first album, Buffalo Springfield's second album, Arlo Guthrie's Alice's Restaurant, Aretha Franklin's "Respect", James Brown's "Cold Sweat", Jimi Hendrix's Are You Experienced?, Jefferson Airplane's Surrealistic Pillow, Cream's Disraeli Gears, and debut albums from The Grateful Dead, Velvet Underground, Big Brother and the Holding Company (Janis Joplin), and Procol Harum, and a whole bunch of classic Motown hits.

Still dealing with car woes, but won't bore you with the details. That's it for now!

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Cars Redux

More car misfortune: Last Tuesday my son, who's only been driving regularly for about a month (to work and back mostly) was rear-ended about four blocks from home while stopped to make a left-hand turn. The woman who struck him said she was distracted by a young bicycler who threatened to swerve in front of her. The car, a 1992 Plymouth, is totaled. Fortunately, no one was hurt. Ironically, the other driver is a personal injury lawyer, but she admitted from the beginning that it was her fault, and her insurance company intends to pay for everything. Of course, we'll be lucky to get more than $2000 for the car, even though it had only about 86,000 miles on it. So now we are in the unusual position of having had two serious accidents in the family within 10 days of each other (neither of which was our fault). Fortunately again, our insurance has a rental car provision, so my wife and I are driving his-and-hers Ford Focuses until things get sorted out with our cars. And we still have the other two cars which the sons will drive.

Not much new on the poetry front - still in a major creative slump. Waiting to hear on my other submissions. Picked up a volume of poetry by A.R. Ammons which I intend to read.

Music: I just saw the documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston - fascinating bio of a creative but tortured soul - sort of like Brian Wilson but even further out there. He grew up in West Virginia in a fundamentalist Christian household but always aspired to be a songwriter. artist and musician. He chronicled his life from his early teens through a series of home movies and self-produced music tapes, and he had a history of mental illness - mainly manic depression with paranoid delusions. But he developed a cult following largely from his tireless self-promotion - he serendipitously landed in Austin, Texas in the mid-1980's just as that city's music scene was exploding, and succeeded not only in winning some awards at the annual music festival, but even insinuating himself onto MTV. But mainstream fame always eluded him, despite having influential fans like Kurt Cobain and Yo La Tengo. He sabotaged a generous major label contract because he was too paranoid at the time to sign it, and he went through a period where he ranted on about the Devil (hence the movie's title). But it's a fascinating film, and he's had a bit of redemption in the end. See it if you can.

Most recent album acquisitions:
1. Dog Problems by the Format (bombastic power pop - think Queen and Jellyfish with a dash of Squeeze thrown in, and a bit of old-style dance hall music)
2. This is Ryan Shaw by Ryan Shaw (a throwback to the old 60's and 70's Memphis soul sound, and he's got a great voice to carry it).

That's all for now - I'll give you my latest poem, a "double dactyl" (a humorous form invented by Anthony Hecht and Paul Pascal) about our "leader of the free world".

Dubya Dactyl

Hubble-yoo, bubble-yoo,
President “W”,
malaprop champ, no one
else can compete.

His forte’s not to speak
extemporaneous –
with foot-in-mouth one can’t
think on one’s feet.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

A Quick Rundown....

...of my week: (1) car problems, (2) car problems, and (3) car problems. We own four cars, two of which are driven by our older sons, and we had problems with three of them in the past week.
1. My wife was in an accident last Saturday when a guy blew a stop sign and she sideswiped him near the shore. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but she was very upset, not only because of the damage to her beloved PT Cruiser, but also because the policeman implied that she was at fault - she had the freakin' right of way and wasn't speeding!
2. The radiator went in the van I drive. Six hundred bucks.
3. The battery died in the car my one son drives, and my other son (the same evening, no less) locked the keys in his car and I had to rescue him.
It's enough to make you take the bus.

It's also been an interesting week because, while all this was going on, I had a medical procedure on Wednesday. No big deal, just one of those things they think all folks my age should have. All I'll say is they gave me some nice pictures of a certain internal region. I'd share them with you, but thought you might rather take a pass, so I won't impose them on you. Everything so far looks okay.

Not much poetry happening this week - I'm stymied creatively - not even the writing exercises seems to be working for me. I did judge an online poetry contest this week, which I sponsored, and though I didn't agree with the other judges on the final choice, the winning poem was rather brief and witty. I sent the winner ( a guy in Texas) a copy of my latest chapbook and the latest issue of Journal of New Jersey Poets.

Music: I still haven't figured out how to link a video to my blog directly, so this will have to do:
It's a video by Canadian artist Feist, who I'm really starting to warm up to. My son turned me on to this video, which is quite clever, and the music is great too. Check it out.

Poem of the Week: How about this one, which won the 2003 ByLine Magazine Short Fiction and Poetry Award. It's about my visit to the historic home of Walt Whitman, just a few miles from my house. Bye for now!

328 Mickle Boulevard

Walk through this city of noise,
of horns and sirens and shouting,
and find a nondescript two-story house
across from the bars and wires
of the new prison.

A guide invites you into a quiet parlor,
where you find rockers in every corner,
floral wallpaper in clashing patterns,
the Victorian style,
paintings and daguerrotypes
of somber men and women,
his friends and acquaintances,

and a photograph of him sitting
by the corner window,
the light catching him, illuminating
his great white bush of a beard,
the same light glinting off a decanter,
placed in the center of a jumble of pens,
papers and books.

Legend says he would throw money
out the window to passersby.
You can almost hear the neighborhood kids
whispering about “mad old Mr. Whitman.”
Yet he held court here in Camden those last years,
entertaining the likes of Dickens and Wilde.

Upstairs in the bed chamber,
papers are stacked all about the floor,
as though he has just taken a break from
the latest revision of Leaves of Grass.
A cane leans in the corner,
perhaps the same one he used to rap the floor
and tell his housekeeper to quiet
her infernal dog’s barking.

You half-expect the old Yawper to lumber in the door,
rumpled, wide-brimmed hat over his eyes,
and converse with us about
the restoration of the Union, the rights of women,
the bountiful apple trees in his back garden.

As you descend the back stairs to leave,
the stained glass window over the landing
filters the afternoon sun –
bright blocks of red, yellow and blue
wash you in color
like an old benediction.

Friday, June 22, 2007

On Fathers, Among Other Things

Last week I finished of a pretty active week-and-a-half of poetry by MC'ing a gathering in Haddonfield hosted by Ilise Feitshans, who does these events out of her home about 2-3 times a year and calls them "Poetry by Candlelight". We had refreshments on her backyard patio, and then I read for about twenty minutes and was well-received. We had an open reading, too, with some other local poets, including my friend Sheila McDonald, and some of the kids who came along read their favorite children's poems from Dr. Seuss, Shel Silverstein, et al. It was a beautiful night weather-wise and poetry-wise, and although we only had maybe 15 people, including kids, it was quite enjoyable. And I sold a couple of books!

I've been submitting like a nut lately - sent off four poems to Poetry (well, why not), U.S. 1 Worksheets, Edison Literary Review, and Mad Poets Review (the rest of whom have all published me before, which gives me pretty good odds). I also entered the Shadow Poetry Biannual Chapbook Contest with a manuscript entitled Octaves - all the poems contained therein have exactly eight lines, but thematically and form-wise, they're all over the place. My son Jeremy once again did a fine job designing the cover. The prize is $100, 50 copies of the book, and 25% royalties on any book sold on Shadow Poetry's website. Fingers crossed!

Summer vacation is here, and Ryan, my youngest, couldn't be happier. He graduated from fifth grade on Wednesday - it was a wonderful ceremony, featuring performances by the band and chorus (both of which he is a member). And he was very proud to get straight A's for the year!
Next week he starts four weeks of theater camp, then two weeks of Boy Scout sleepaway camp. He's got a full dance card this summer.

Father's Day was low-key but good - I stained the deck and got the grill primed up for my first barbecuing of the season (burgers, of course). I got a couple of nice shirts and a Netflix subscription. Already saw my first movie from Netflix this week: The Pursuit of Happyness with Will Smith - rather appropriate movie coming off of Father's Day. Will Smith's young son Jaden, who plays his son in the movie, was excellent.

Music: Got the box set Forecast: Tomorrow by Weather Report, a four-disc CD/DVD career retrospective. In case you don't know, Weather Report was the premier jazz-rock fusion band in the 1970's and into the 80's. They had a hit with "Birdland" in 1977, I believe. Their only serious competition was John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra and Chick Corea's Return to Forever. Interestingly, the founding members of all of these groups (Weather Report was founded by Wayne Shorter and Joe Zawinul) worked at one time or other - some of them together - with Miles Davis, particularly on the In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew sessions. Anyway, the Weather Report box set is excellent. I haven't seen the DVD yet, which is supposed to be the video of a killer concert they did in 1978.

I'll leave you tonight with a poem I wrote about five years ago, when I just got my barbecue grill. (I'd dropped some heavy hints for a new one for Father's Day, but to no avail. Maybe next year....) So here it is:


What is this primordial urge
that lures us men outside,
we, who chafe in the kitchen,

only to sear meat alfresco,
taking pride in parallel lines
black-grilled on our product?

Some archetypal memory
grabs us – the time we used
this new technology, fire,

for light and heat, and suddenly,
accidentally, they say, for cooking,
the fresh kill for the family
skewered on a stick in a flame.

No matter that this modern bounty
wrapped in plastic and Styrofoam
came home in a paper bag.

It’s the offering up that satisfies,
the sacrifice of sustenance
over hot coals,

the charcoal smoke to the heavens,
the ancestors smiling down
on my grill, my gift from the family
for Father’s Day.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Hello Again!

It's high time I updated this sucker. I was at the Philadelphia Writers Conference this past weekend, and in the session on blogging, the presenter said you have to post regularly, whether it's daily, weekly, or whatever, to expect to get any kind of regular audience.

Speaking of The PWC, this year was the third year in a row I attended, and it was possibly the best one yet. The poetry instructors, Leonard Gontarek and Aaren Yeatts Perry, were both excellent, and the other workshops were quite good too. But the highlight for me was winning first prize in one of the three poetry contests for my poem, "Dream". The prize is free tuition for next year's contest plus a small cash prize. I actually went for free this year, too, thanks to winning first prize last year as well (and second prize too). I can't print "Dream" below because I've submitted it for publication elsewhere. ("Elsewhere" is Poetry magazine, where I have a snowball's chance in you-know-where, but at least this summer they're accepting poetry only from poets who have not been published there previously.

Hung with my homeys at the Quick and Dirty Poets meeting tonight. (Alas, Anna was at a reading in North Jersey tonight.) Great bunch of folks, and incredibly talented too. We enjoyed a nice backyard barbecue (thanks, Don) and swapped critique of our poems. Donna, our "honorary" member, wrote an incredible three-piece (triptych) poem about spontaneous human combustion.

Music: Most recently enjoyed the Faces 2-disc "Definitive" collection. You can read my review on (I'm thinking of switching my reviews over here - I wouldn't get nearly as many reads, but at least I would still own the reviews.) The Faces weren't technically a "pub band", but they sounded like one - what the Stones would have been if they didn't start to get arrogant. And Rod Stewart was their front man, before he forgot how to rock. His mates weren't too shabby either: Ronny Wood (who later joined the Stones), Kenney Jones (later joined the Who), Ian MacLaglen and Ronnie Lane.

That's enough for now, kids. It's 11:56 and we old folks turn into pumpkins at midnight. Meanwhile, I'll leave you with my poem that appeared in this year's issue of
Journal of New Jersey Poets:

Mister Peanut in Atlantic City

For years you could see him
in front of the Planter’s Peanut shop
on the Boardwalk. Dressed to the nines,
this six-foot legume sported top hat,
monocle, spats and cane.
He waved a white-gloved hand
to passersby, patted children on the head,
while standing outside the store
where the aroma of roasted nuts
enveloped him like a cologne.
Kids and pigeons loved to hang out here.

If you were lucky enough to have some change,
you could go inside and buy some of his wares,
or at least a red plastic bank in his likeness,
with a long slot in the back of his head,
where you’d put your nickels and dimes,
saving for a game of miniature golf,
a box of boardwalk fudge, or even more peanuts.

I imagined him stepping out in his younger days
with that little tycoon from the Monopoly cards.
They’d check out the 500 Club,
the little tycoon with a diminutive blonde on his arm,
Mr. P. with an exotic Brazil nut, or a Jordan almond
in a pink candy coating, her perfect manicure.

He disappeared when the casinos sprang up,
but he was an institution in his time,
welcoming visitors with a handshake
and a painted-on smile,
as the city around him
slowly turned into an empty shell.