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.