Thursday, December 4, 2008
My poetry group’s journal, Up and Under: The QND Review, is moving right along, and we now have about a dozen poems as definite acceptances. This means, of course, that there’s still plenty of room for good poetry if you want to submit. Click here to reach our website.
Music: There are already lots of best-of-the-year lists either already out or in process, including NPR blogs, Paste Magazine, WXPN, eMusic, etc. I’ve compiled my list too, and I’ve sent variations on it to the various sites that solicit votes for favorites. Though it’s still not written in stone, here’s my top 30 for 2008, with some comments:
1. Stay Positive – The Hold Steady: I agree with Paste Magazine, who said these guys used to have a lock on the being best bar band in America, and now they’re one of the best bands in America, period. Best songs: Most of them, but “Sequestered in Memphis” and “Slapped Actress” are my favorites.
2. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend: Sprightly Afro-pop from an unlikely source: a group of young guys from Brooklyn. Best songs: “A-Punk”, “Cape Cod Kwaasa Kwaasa”.
3. Fate – Dr. Dog: Philly band with a lot of 60’s psych-pop sensibility – this is their best album to date. Best Songs: “The Breeze”, “My Friend”.
4. Accelerate – R.E.M.: My vote for Comeback of the Year – their best since Monster, maybe better. Best songs: “Living Well is the Best Revenge”, “Man-sized Wreath”.
5. Viva la Vida – Coldplay: After a weak previous album in X&Y, they’re back with what may be their best album yet. Watch this one at Grammy time. Best songs: “Viva la Vida”, “Lost!”
6. Real Animal – Alejandro Escovedo: The venerable roots rocker just seems to get better and better. Best songs: “Always a Friend”, “Sister Lost Soul”.
7. The Seldom Seen Kid – Elbow : Fourth album by the Brit band that seems to combine the best of Coldplay and Radiohead, and here, a dash of Peter Gabriel. Best songs: “Grounds for Divorce”, “The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver”.
8. A Larum – Johnny Flynn: Brit-folk singer-songwriter backed by a very capable band, the Sussex Wit. May be the heir apparent musically to Richard Thompson (sorry, Teddy). Best songs: “The Box”, “Tickle Me Pink”.
9. Flock – Bell X1: Band sometimes referred to as the “Irish Coldplay” – best-sellers in their home country and for good reason. This was released a couple of years ago there but just came out in the States this year. Best songs: “Rocky Took a Lover”, “Bad Skin Day”.
10. Worrisome Heart – Melody Gardot: Philly chanteuse has an inspiring story (recovered from a near-fatal accident), but all that aside, she has a wonderful jazzy style and sophisticated original songs. If you like Norah Jones, you’ll love this gal. Best songs: “Worrisome Heart”, “Love Me Like a River Does”.
11. The Midnight Organ Flight – Frightened Rabbit
12. Narrow Stairs – Death Cab for Cutie
13. Gift of Screws – Lindsey Buckingham
14. The ’59 Sound – The Gaslight Anthem
15. Soldier On (EP) – Andrew Bird
16. Blame it on Gravity – Old 97’s
17. Angels of Destruction! – Marah
18. Life Like – The Rosebuds
19. Volume One – She & Him
20. Oracular Spectacular – MGMT
21. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes
22. Mockingbird – Allison Moorer
23. The Stand Ins – Okkervil River
24. Golden Delicious – Mike Doughty
25. Everything that Happens Will Happen Today – David Byrne and Brian Eno
26. Vol. 1: Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails – The Baseball Project
27. Rambling Boy – Charlie Haden and Friends
28. Carried to Dust – Calexico
29. Mescalito – Ryan Bingham
30. 49:00 – Paul Westerberg
Poem of the Month: Here’s the poem that Thick with Conviction picked as their “best of issue” for their October issue:
Old Man at Bedtime
At ten-thirty he sits at the edge of his bed
and swallows the last pills of the day,
then draws water from a straw
stuck in his favorite cup.
He places it on the night table,
then pulls two tissues from a box,
folding them in neat triangles
and tucking them into his pajama
shirt pocket (always blue plaid).
He removes his glasses, folds them,
and places them next to the cup.
His rosary beads lie on the bed
like a cross in a pile of beans,
but he has placed them exactly
two inches below the left corner
of his pillow, as he does every night.
You have to have a ritual
when you get old, he explains.
Otherwise you lose your place,
become confused, unmoored,
adrift in the mystery of your own house.
He turns off the light, reclines
on his right side, clutching the beads,
and begins with a prayer
modified from childhood
and covering all possibilities:
that he will wake again tomorrow
and begin his well-mapped routine
Sunday, November 9, 2008
I for one am quite pleased with the results. Mr. Obama made history on Tuesday night, and I hope he rises to the occasion - he certainly has his work cut out for him. I have a feeling that anyone who expects him to be a savior, or to change the country's woes overnight, will be in for a disappointment. He's certainly an intelligent and extremely capable man, though, and with the right administration behind him, he could make a real positive difference for this country.
Poetry: Finally, I got the results of the Writer's Digest contest. I knew I didn't make the top 10, but I was disappointed to learn the other day that I didn't even place in the top 100. I've made it into the top 100 each of the other three or four times I have entered, and in 2005 I placed 10th. I figure there are three possible explanations: (1) they never received my entry, (2) I somehow disqualified myself, or (3) the competition was stiff this year and my poetry just wasn't good enough. I did notice that some entrants placed as many as eight of their poems in the top 100, which means they may have entered at least a dozen poems for the competition. That's a small fortune in entry fees.
(Writer's Digest charges $10 for the first entry and $5 for each additional entry.)
So maybe the fact that I only entered three poems (as I usually do) was a factor - I may have been crowded out by some poets the judges considered better. Oh well.
On the good-news side, I also learned that my poem "The Jena 6" was selected as a finalist for the annual Mad Poets Review contest. I have entered that contest several times before and hadn't won (although I've had poems accepted for publication by them before). The judge was Leonard Gontarek.
Also, and I think I mentioned this before, my poetry group, the Quick and Dirty Poets, is now accepting submissions for our annual journal, Up and Under: The QND Review. Click here
if you want to read our submission guidelines. The deadline is 12/30/2008.
I'm also involved in another "poem-a-day" challenge for the month of November. Robert Lee Brewer, whose Writer's Digest blog I've mentioned before, has offered an alternative for poets to the National Novel Writing Month challenge: write a poem a day this month, preferably with a unifying theme, with the intent of having enough material for a chapbook at the end of the month. He says he may even have a prize for the best chapbook collection when the month has ended. I needed something to spark my productivity, so I figured, "why not"? I"m trying for a music theme with this series of poems.
Music: I'm really into downloading lately, and it has probably exceeded buying CD's as my preferred method of music acquisition. Besides my eMusic membership, I look for cheap or free downloads on iTunes and Amazon.com. Amazon has had some pretty sweet deals lately, from classic album downloads as low as $1.99, to free full-length samplers, and one of the best deals of all, which I just acquired today: the equivalent of a 12-disc box set from ECM, one of the premier jazz labels, for $18.06. That's 124 jazz tracks for less than 15 cents a song. If you love jazz (specifically, Pat Metheny, Keith Jarrett, Jack De Johnette, Paul Motian, Carla Bley, and a host of others), you can't pass up this deal. I've also been enjoying Paste Digital magazine's free album downloads of "discovery" artists. This month featured The Rosebuds, an excellent power-pop band.
Poem of the Week/Fortnight/Month: I'm not sure what to call it lately since I post so sporadically. How about this one, which is practically brand new. I wrote it for the second day of the Poem-a-day challenge this month. The prompt was to write a poem that makes a statement about your theme, possibly in the voice of another person, real or imagined. So without further ado, here's John Lennon:
An Open Posthumous Letter from John
Let me remind you people,
it’s only music, and I weren’t no bloody saint.
Just because that crazy git gunned me down,
doesn’t mean you need to canonize me.
Yeah, it was a bummer, but life goes on,
doesn’t it? If I was still around, would I still
be with Yoko? Who knows? Would I be proud
of me sons? What do you think?
Would the Beatles’ve gotten back together?
Not bloody likely. ‘Course, we lost George too –
poor old George, and now we got “Sir Paul” –
that’s a laff. But why worry about all that –
why not make your own bloody music?
That’s right, pick up a guitar, pull up to a piano.
Learn a few tunes – “Imagine”, maybe –
God, I was proud of that one.
Stop yer bleedin’ whining and play,
then make yer peace – I know I made mine.
Leave the world happier than you found it.
I hope I did that too.
Friday, October 31, 2008
And Charlie Manuel just out-coached Joe Maddon. When Charlie opens his mouth, he’ll never be mistaken for a college professor, but he’s a baseball lifer (46 years in the business), he knows the game inside-out, his players would take a bullet for him, and right now, he seems like the smartest guy in the world.
Some of the great stories of the series:
1. Former Phillie and baseball great Jim Thome visiting Manuel , with whom he has a “father-son” relationship.
2. Country superstar Tim McGraw spreading the ashes of his dad, pitching legend Tug McGraw, on the pitcher’s mound before Game 3.
3. Ryan Howard’s bat finally coming alive.
4. Cole Hamels continuing his undefeated post-season streak.
5. Brad Lidge: unbeatable and perfect.
6. Chase Utley’s brilliant throw to home in Game 5, saving the win and possibly the series.
7. 45-year-old Jamie Moyer tossing a gem in Game 3 and coming full circle from young Phillies fan attending their last victory parade in 1980, to being in the parade himself in 2008.
On the down side:
1. Game 4, the longest rain delay in history (46 hours). In retrospect, the game should never have started that night, and at the very least it should have been halted before the 6th inning. Those guys should not have been made to play baseball in those conditions. A bonehead move by the commissioner and the powers that be.
2. I'm so glad I don't have to hear four things on Fox Sports any more:
a. The Phillies' subpar stats with runners in scoring position,
b. "Feliz is in the lineup more for his glove than his bat" (I think his series-winning hit shut them up about that),
c. The “Rocky” theme played after every Phillies half of the inning, and most of all:
d. The “curse of Billy Penn” and the 25-year championship drought!
3. Tampa Bay Rays, you guys are a talented bunch of young players, and I’m sure we’ll be hearing a lot more from many of you in the future. But I’ve gotta tell you, you just might have the ugliest park in major league baseball.
4. And a big sarcastic "thank you" to those Phillies fans the other night who reinforced the stereotype of the Phillies fan - loud, drunken, obnoxious, profane, mercilessly insulting to anyone who's not a Phillies fan (including members of the Rays players' families in the stands during the Series), and disrespectful of public and private property (my friend's 78-year-old aunt's car was trashed, for example). You must have been very proud of looking like totally out-of-control morons on local and national TV. Thank you - it makes it that much harder for a sportsmanlike, respectful, law-abiding Phillies fan like me to get any respect elsewhere.
I think the fans redeemed themselves today, though, when some 1.5 million(!) of them converged on downtown Philly to see their champs parade down Broad Street to the stadium area. There were very few incidents and the weather was perfect. The only down side was that the public transit system (which the media encouraged everyone to take, rather than drive in) became a state of gridlock for hours. But the city and vicinity are in a state of euphoria right now, because as Queen sings, “We are the Champions”!
Friday, October 24, 2008
My big event last week was attending a writing conference, "Push to Publish" at Rosemont College, near Villanova University outside Philadelphia. It was sponsored by Philadelphia Stories, a very good (and free) lit mag in the area. It was a good day - I attended three workshops: one on chapbooks and how to get them published; one on poetry craft and what editors consider a "good poem"; and a session on the pro's and con's of enrolling in an MFA program in writing. There were also "speed-date" sessions, 15 minutes each, with a variety of editors and agents. I got to meet Conrad "Bill" Weiser of Philadelphia Stories and Rosemary Cappello of Philadelphia Poets, another good local journal. I also saw some friends and acquaintances who were on the panels, including Eileen D'Angelo of Mad Poets Review and Peter Krok of Schuylkill Valley Journal. I schmoozed with some fellow writers too, of course, including a gentleman with a heavy German accent who teaches geology at Penn and is working on a book of essays in a pop-science vein, sort of like Isaac Asimov or Stephen Jay Gould.
GO PHILLIES!!! Or should I say, "Get going, Phillies!" They're tied one game each with the Tampa Bay Rays (I keep wanting to call them the "Devil Rays", but they dropped the "devil" a few years ago. Probably some evangelists raised a stink.) Anyway, they need to start scoring guys on base if they want any chance at winning this World Series. They were lucky to get a pitching gem in Game 1 from Hamels, Madson and Lidge, but in Game 2, they just couldn't put it together. Rollins and Howard are in major post-season slumps, and even Burrell and Utley could be playing better (though Utley hit a two-run homer to help win Game 1). Here's hoping they get in the groove again when they return Saturday night to Philly.
Music: WXPN, my favorite music station, finished their fifth annual 885 countdown - this time the theme was "885 Essential XPN Songs" - not necessarily the greatest songs ever performed, but the best songs that represent the alternative-music spirit of XPN, as voted by listeners. (We were invited to send a ten-song list, and all the votes were tabulated. In the end, eight of my ten songs placed in the top 100,and two in the top 10, including the #1 song.) Here's their list, if you're curious - you'll find it interesting that the Beatles did not place a song in the top 100.
Poem of the Week/Month:
...but who's counting?
I wanted to offer a poem that tied in with one of the above topics, but failing that, I dusted off an oldie that was published in the journal which I now help edit, Up and Under, the QND Review. (By the way, we are now accepting submissions - check the website here.)
So here's the poem:
It’s a miracle this leaky old boat
has made it so far.
Long as we have ploughed
through whitecaps and whirlpools,
everything the pissed-off Poseidon of life
could throw at us,
your rudder-steady hand has navigated
past Scylla and Charybdis,
and so many lesser hazards.
And the sirens, oh the sirens.
If it were up to me,
we would be dashed upon the rocks.
We will make it through this voyage,
Even if you have to lash me to the mast.
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
Bill" was initially defeated.) But as his grandmother used to say, "I'm real proud!"
As to the debates so far - well, I won't get too political here. I've already made my choice, but suffice to say that (a) I'm disappointed that neither candidate has any designs on considering a national health care plan, and (b) Sarah Palin is the worst VP running-mate choice since Ross Perot's boy Jim Stockdale. (Remember him? - the guy who said during his debate, "I don't know what I'm doing here!")
Poetry: Well, I did attend the Dodge Poetry Festival this year, and it was great as usual. As planned, I hung out with my Quick and Dirty buddies, and though it was rather dismal weather-wise, it was a literary feast for anyone who's into poetry. To witness a panel conversation with five U.S. Poets Laureate (Maxine Kumin, Robert Hass, Billy Collins, Ted Kooser and the current Laureate, Charles Simic) was alone worth the price of admission. And the Saturday night "concert" and Sunday "matinee" were super as well. Besides the previously mentioned Laureates, I saw Lucille Clifton, Franz Wright, Mark Doty, Jane Hirschfield, Edward Hirsch, Sharon Olds, Linda Pastan, Joy Harjo, Coleman Barks, and two poets whose workshops I took at previous conferences at Rutgers, Chris Abani and Thomas Sayers Ellis. There was good music too, courtesy of the Paul Winter Consort and the Andean music group Yarina, both of which have become "house bands" of the festival. I also got to see a poet friend, BJ Ward, read as one of the lesser-known "Festival Poets". He's excellent and a crowd-pleasing reader, so he got an enthusiastic ovation from the audience. Maybe he won't be "lesser-known" much longer. I didn't participate in any of the open readings this year - I was more involved in soaking it all up.
Other poetry news: Thick with Conviction just put up their October issue, featuring three of my poems, of which one, "Old Man at Bedtime", won their "Best of Issue" award. I'm pretty chuffed about that. That balanced the letdown of learning that I wasn't a top 10 winner in this year's Writer's Digest competition. They haven't published the honorable mentions yet, though, so I hope I at least got one of those. (I did place 10th in the 2005 competition and got honorable mentions in previous contests.)
Music: Not much new stuff since last time, but I decided to subscribe to the Paste Magazine Digital VIP program. For a nominal monthly fee, I get a digital version of one of the best music and media magazines out there these days, plus a monthly album download by an up-and-coming artist, a full-length music sampler, weekly live music downloads, and a quarterly video download. My cup runneth over! I just signed up this week and I've downloaded three albums worth of music I still have to hear.
Poem of the Month: I'm going to break with tradition here, and instead of featuring one of my own poems, I'll present one by BJ Ward. I was going to use a baseball poem of his, "Upon Hearing that Baseball is Boring to America's Youth", in honor of my beloved Phillies, who are about to take on the Dodgers for the NL championship. But instead I'll offer his wonderful Pushcart Prize-winning poem:
Roy Orbison's Last Three Notes
12 mph over the speed limit on Route 80, I realize
the way I know the exact size of my bones
is the way I know I am the only one
in America listening to Roy Orbison
singing “Blue Bayou” at this precise moment,
and I feel sorry for everyone else.
Do they realize they are missing
his third from last note?—Bluuuueee—
and how it becomes a giant mouth I’m driving into—
“Bay”—pronounced bi—becomes the finger
pointing back—biiiiiiii—and all the sealed up cars
greasing along this dirty, pot-holed clavicle of New Jersey
don’t know this “you”—constant as my exhaust smoke—
yooooouuuu— and the beats underneath, more insistent
than the landlord knocking on the door—horns, drums, guitar, bass—
my Toyota Corolla is now one serious vehicle,
and the band and I are all alone, filling it up—
Roy and me in our cool sunglasses up front
and his musicians barely fitting their instruments in the back,
driving into the blue—bom bom bom—pulling ahead
of the pollution faster than New Jersey can spit it out—
Bye—boom bom—his leggy background singers must be jammed
in the trunk because suddenly I hear them and suddenly
we are Odysseus and his boys bringing the Sirens with us,
and the cassette player is our black box
containing all essential details in case we don’t make it,
but I know we’re going to make it because
Roy, my cool copilot, turns to me and says,
like the President says to his top general
after a war has been won, or like Morgan Earp
on his deathbed said to Wyatt when vengeance
was up to him, or like Gretchen Honecker
said when I knew I was about to get my first kiss,
Roy turns to me and says, “You—”
[From Gravedigger's Birthday, North Atlantic Books, 2002. Used with permission of the author.]
Sunday, September 21, 2008
Summer was full of activity, especially for my twelve-year-old, who did three weeks of Boy Scout sleepaway camp (coming home on weekends), three weeks of theater day camp (and landed a major role in their play), a week of basketball camp, and two weeks of vacation with the family. I previously mentioned our South Carolina trip, but in August we trekked to New England. We stopped over at my aunt's and uncle's house in Massachusetts, then planned to spend a few nights at a timeshare in Bethel, Maine, then up to mid-Maine to see my sister. I say "planned to spend a few nights at a timeshare", because we only spent one night there. Let me just say that if we expected to stay at a motel instead, we would have been disappointed with the place. But the fact that it was an RCI timeshare exchange was practically an insult - it was a converted two-star motel (at best) and it was dingy, not very clean, and had bugs in the bethroom sink. I had to talk my wife out of sleeping in the car that night, she was so upset. We'd thought we'd booked one of the other resorts in Bethel that had a "Gold Crown" rating (RCI's highest quality level), but instead felt like we were victims of a "switcheroo". I guess it was our own dumb fault for not checking the confirmation form closely enough. Anyway, we checked out the next day (after calling RCI, who promised to give us back our week and our exchange fee) and booked two nights at a very nice Hampton Inn and Suites in Waterville. In all our fifteen or so years of timeshare exchange, we were never so disappointed with the accommodations. Oh yeah, the name of the place is the Riverview Resort. Other than that, our vacation was fine. We also visited Acadia National Park in Maine, as well as Sturbridge Village in Sturbridge Mass. and the national park in Lowell, Mass. All are highly recommended. My sister also announced during our visit that she getting married to her longtime boyfriend, a native State-of-Mainer and a really nice guy. I wish them both the best.
Poetry: Again, I've been very disappointed with my lack of inspiration and work ethic these last couple of months. I wrote more than 30 poems in April for the "Poem-a-day Challenge", but I probably haven't cranked out more than a dozen since then, if that. Maybe my upcoming pilgrimage to the Dodge Poetry Festival in northern NJ will turn me around. If you've never been to this event, often called "the Woodstock of Poetry", you have to go at least once. (It's held every even-numbered year.) This will be my fourth trip, I think, and I'll be there all day Saturday and Sunday.
There is some good news on the publication front: my poem "Ladies' View" won third prize in the "Simian Poetry Contest" sponsored by Shakespeare's Monkeys, a poetry community site with publishes the Shakespeare's Monkey Revue. I won $25, publication and a year's subscription. Not too shabby! I've also sent off chapbook manuscripts to ByLine Magazine and Finishing Line Press - fingers crossed. Sadly, ByLine has suspended print publication - I've been a longtime subscriber and had much success with them in publication and prizes - I won one of their big annual prizes in 2003. Their chapbook contest is still on, though, and an excellent poet named Ellen Bass is the judge. (I got her latest book after learning that she was judging, because I wasn't familiar with her work - now I'm a fan.) I'm still waiting for the results of the Writer's Digest Annual Writing Competition, too - last time I entered (2005?) I won 10th prize for poetry. (My friend Anna Evans won first prize!) Don't know if I'll get so lucky this year.
The big news from my poetry group, the Quick and Dirty Poets, is that one of our founding members, Rachel Bunting, is leaving. Though I understand her reasons, I'm sad to see her go - she's a sweet person and has become an amazing poet. The other news from our band of bards is that we have restarted our journal, Up and Under: The QND Review, and are now accepting submissions. Click here for more information.
Music: Well, what's been going on in music lately? The first thing to pop into my head is a great new band out of New Brunswick NJ (home of Rutgers, my alma mater) called The Gaslight Anthem. They sound like what Bruce Sringsteen would be like if he'd been born 30 years later and had listened to more punk music. They reference a lot of Springsteenian themes and imagery too, yet they still avoid sounding derivative. Their second album, The '59 Sound, is rockin' and excellent. Check out their website here. Other CD's that have caught my ear: the new Okkervil River album The Stand Ins, Johnny Flynn's A Larum, The Hold Steady's Stay Positive, and the Fleet Foxes' self-titled album.
Poem of the... Quarter?
What better choice than my prize-winning poem that just appeared in Shakespeare's Monkey Revue. It's based on a breathtaking natural site in Killarney, Ireland, where I visited last October, and the poem is also based on a local legend that inspired the name of the place, Ladies' View:
When Queen Victoria came to Killarney
and stayed at Muckross House, she sent us ladies
up the hill to find a picnic spot. Dutifully
we bounced along the road in one-horse carts,
carrying wicker baskets of paté, aspic, and sandwiches.
But when Her Majesty mounted the hill herself,
we were unprepared, so she rebuked us
in front of everyone assembled.
How could we tell her we were delayed
by seductive nature? A glacier-carved valley
lay before us, spread between the thighs
and shoulders of the mountains, with the jewels
of Killarney Town in the distance, in the nape
of the neck of this land, the river and lakes
like fingers caressing it all. And as we stood
on the overlook, the wind lifted our petticoats
and loosened the bonnets from our hair.
Sunday, July 6, 2008
We had planned two long road-trip vacations for this summer before this gasoline thing got out of hand. We just returned from the first vacation - to South Carolina - and spent over $200 on gas alone round-trip - and that's with a hybrid SUV that gets almost 30 mpg. Not that I regret the trip - we spent 8 days at Wyndham Ocean Ridge on Edisto Island, a beautiful, natural and quiet vacation spot with gorgeous beaches and interesting flora and fauna (palmettos, Spanish moss, live oaks and crepe myrtle, plus alligators!). We took day trips to Charleston and Savannah, both beautiful cities with lots of history, as well as Fort Sumter and Boone Plantation. I hope to post some photos on my Flickr account soon (stay tuned). Our August destination is Maine.
Poetry: Not much going on since the conference last month. I've written a couple of new poems but nothing to crow about. I did enter a few contests held by Mad Poets Review, Shakespaeare's Monkeys, and Finishing Line Press, and submitted some poetry to US 1 Worksheets, so we'll see what comes of all that. This Friday my group, Quick and Dirty Poets, continues their summer reading series with featured poet Tammy Paolino, whose day job is editor for the Camden NJ Courier Post, and who writes some excellent and often very funny poetry. We Q&D Poets are also planning a group excursion to the Dodge Poetry Festival this fall.
Music: If I could only recommend one album this month, it would be the new one from Alejandro Escovedo, Real Animal. The guy is just one of the best roots-rockers and songwriters around. This album is a bit of a return to his earlier days - whereas his more recent albums had a certain gorgeous craftmanship to them, this one has a harder edge and pays homage to his beginnings as a punk-rocker in the late 1970's. He hasn't abandoned the beautiful melodies, though - they're still represented on a few tracks. Sadly, it appears I'll miss his upcoming local appearance (at the XPoNential Music Festival this week) due to a schedule conflict - I've missed the last three or four appearances he has made in the Philly area.
Poem of the Month: Here's a silly little verse that was published in the online journal Sunken Lines. The origin is courtesy of my youngest son, who when he was much littler, went through a bedtime routine where his stuffed animals who were in bed with him all kissed me on the head, and I was obliged to kiss them back. One evening when he'd brought his stuffed alligator to bed with him, I said, "Isn't the alligator going to kiss me good night?" And he replied, "Dad! Alligators can't kiss!" Instant inspiration!
Alligators Can't Kiss
It's a fact: alligators can't kiss -
sharp teeth and a long snout like this
make their oral affection remiss.
Alligators aren't able to kiss.
And what's more, armadillos can't hug -
they'd rather roll up, tight and snug,
so attackers walk off with a shrug.
Armadillos just don't want to hug.
And centipedes, you know, cannot dance -
legs'll tangle; they don't stand a chance.
So forget any ballroom romance!
Centipedes don't know how to dance.
So that brings this poem to me -
I kiss and I hug admirably!
But dancing, I can't guarantee.
Still, that's not too bad, two for three.
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Recently, talk on the WXPN bulletin boards turned to summers at the shore (or as we in the Philly/South Jersey area say, “down the shore”). So we compiled some top-ten lists of songs about three of the best states to hit the beach:
1. 4th of July,
4. On the Way to
5. Wildwood Days – Bobby Rydell
7. I’m from
9. Neptune Ciy – Nicole Atkins
10. No Left Turns in
List #2: I know the year isn’t even half over yet, but I already have a top 10 favorite albums list, which of course may look significantly different by the end of the year. So far, these are my ten favorites (some of which I've mentioned before):
1. Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend (they do a very catchy Afro-pop kinda thing) (another album of covers with an original or two thrown in - pretty good stuff)
3. R.E.M. - Accelerate (Their best since Monster, at least)
4. Elbow - The Seldom Seen Kid (grossly underappreciated Brit band that is best described as Radiohead meets Coldplay)
5. Old 97's - Blame it on Gravity (after a power-pop detour, they're back to the alt-country stuff that they do best)
6. Frightened Rabbit - The Organ Fight (edgy, emotive stuff - an indie sleeper)
7. Marah - Angels of Destruction! (kick-butt alt-country/rock band from Brooklyn by way of Philly)
8. Allison Moorer - Mockingbird (fine covers album from Mrs. Steve Earle)
9. Melody Gardot - Worrisome Heart (Philly chanteuse does original, soulful jazz tunes as well as, maybe even better than, Norah Jones)
10. MGMT - Oracular Spectacular (fun neo-psychedelic band - "Time to Pretend" is a pretty catchy little ditty)
Ryan Bingham - Mescalito (it's a 2007 release, but XPN featured it in January, and I didn't hear it till this year - excellent alt-country from a 20-something guy with a voice like an old prospector)
She & Him - Volume One (actress Zooey Deshamel teams up with M. Ward for some frothy, entertaining pop with not a little homage to "girl groups" - the results are surprisingly good - are you listening, Scarlett Johannsen?)
Mike Doughty - Golden Delicious (not the near-classic that his previous CD, Haughty Melodic, was, but still pretty friggin' good)
Bob Mould - District Line (ol' Bob is mellowing out and experimenting with different studio techniques, but he's always interesting)
Cat Power – Jukebox
(another album of covers with an original or two thrown in - pretty good stuff)
I also just got Kathleen Edwards’ Asking for Flowers, which has been getting excellent reviews, but I haven’t listened to it yet. I’m betting it will eventually crack my top 10, as will the new Death Cab for Cutie and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds albums, if and when I get them (the title track to “Dig, Lazarus, Dig” by Nick Cave is possibly my favorite song of the year so far). If you have a favorite album or two from this year, leave me a comment and maybe I’ll give it a listen.
Monday, June 9, 2008
I attended the 60th Annual Philadelphia Writers Conference this weekend – I’ve gone for four years straight now, and it seems to get better every year. The theme of the three-day conference, which is celebrating its diamond anniversary, is “Diamonds Are a Quill’s Best Friend” (I know, it’s a wincingly bad pun). Despite that, I had a great time – didn’t see quite as many of my closer poet buddies as usual, but a number of friends and acquaintances, including two who ran sessions there.
As usual, there was a wide variety of workshops and seminars, including juvenile fiction, literary and contemporary fiction, flash fiction, memoir, nonfiction, journaling, creativity and writer’s block, and of course poetry. And there are agents and editors available by appointment. Poets Barbara Daniels (with whom I’m friendly) and Kate Northrop led the two poetry workshops, both of which I took, and though they had contrasting styles, they were both excellent. I also took a flash fiction seminar, and a journaling seminar led by another poet friend, Therese Halscheid – they were excellent as well. But the highlight for me was the creativity workshop run by Bonnie Neubauer, who wrote The Write-Brain Workbook: 366 Exercises to Liberate Your Writing (Writer’s Digest Books). She gave us three one-hour sessions of some of the most productive and fun writing exercises I’ve ever done. While I’m plugging books, let me recommend Barbara Daniels’ Rose Fever and Therese Halscheid’s Uncommon Geography, both excellent books of poetry (both are available on Amazon.com).
The keynote speaker opening the first day’s events was Michael Smerconish, a local radio talk-show host. I thought I’d bristle at his conservative politics throughout the presentation, but I was pleasantly surprised that he’s not a blowhard bully like some of those other guys. He was diplomatic, knowing that a lot of folks in the audience may not share his views, and pointed out that he doesn’t always subscribe to conservative dogma: for instance, he supports stem cell research and says we should get out of
The guest speaker for the Saturday banquet was Mark Bowden, longtime Philadelphia Inquirer reporter and author of Black Hawk Down, who gave us interesting insight into his career and how he came to write his bestseller, which of course became a very successful film. Then came the annual awards ceremony, which the presenter, Mad Poets president (also PWC board member and new president) Eileen D’Angelo, described as the “Academy Awards for
This is a long entry for me. I’ll post a separate blog in a few days on a music topic. Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with a poem I wrote two years ago at the conference, after coming back from lunch and seeing the annual Gay Pride Parade:
Gay Pride Parade
I am returning from lunch in the city,
when the parade crosses my path.
Led by a row of butch Harleys,
they march down
rainbow flags snapping in a stiff June breeze.
Drag majorettes lead a rousing drum corps,
setting the rhythm and the pace.
Following them, a group of alternative families –
two mothers pushing their stroller,
a six-year-old boy riding the shoulders
of one of his dads; then the float
with the bearded beauty queens
waving to a cheering crowd.
I think, good for them,
but the old fart in me finds it hard
to leap from “tolerate” to “celebrate”.
Still, I half-expect to see you marching by,
proud of your new identity.
And if I saw you, I would wave.
So I wave anyway, as if I have.
(First published in Up and Under: The QND Review, 2007.)
Wednesday, April 30, 2008
I survived birthday #57 intact on Sunday. My wife made a delicious brunch, and we had a few friends and family over. In the afternoon we met a couple of other friends to see stage play The Odd Couple. Last night my good friends from Quick and Dirty Poets celebrated my birthday too. I'm the "old man" of the group - our next oldest member is 50 next month, and three of our members (and one unofficial member) are 30 and under. I told them last night that hanging with them makes me feel 29 again. We're planning our annual summer reading series, which we call "Hot & Sticky" - we'll be featuring poets Kathy Graber, Tammy Paolino, and Gina Larkin. (If you're local to me, the readings are at the Daily Grind coffee house in Mt. Holly, NJ, and the first two are scheduled for Friday June 13, and Friday July 11, at 7:00.)We will also resurrect our lit mag, Up and Under: The QND Review this fall, when we will begin to accept submissions.
Music: Two of my sons treated me to a concert Saturday night for my birthday - Poi Dog Pondering was at the TLA. Great band, but I thought the sound system was jacked up too high, to the point that it distorted and muddied the music. Before the concert I stopped at Repo Records on South Street and got two used CD's: Wee Tam by Incredible String Band (a hard-to-find 1968 album from the British psychedelic-mystic-folk band. I also got The Clash's London Calling, which, believe it or not, I never owned on record or CD. It took me 28 years to realize what a great album it was.
Poem of the Week: The writing prompt for the 13th was to write a poem about a song or based on a song, and use a line from the song as an epigraph.
The First Time I Heard "Tomorrow Never Knows"
Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream…
- The Beatles
And I did that,
as I lay on my bedroom floor
between ersatz headphones,
the boxy speakers of my portable stereo.
I slipped downstream
as sped-up tape loops keened
like fantastic creatures,
and otherworldly flora sprang up on the banks.
John’s voice, the psychedelic gondolier,
poled me through this riverworld,
unprecedented to my 15-year-old ears,
and when the closing strains swirled away,
I got up, opened the door,
and walked in.
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
I got word that my poem, "Mosquito Truck", has been accepted for the next issue of Edison Literary Review. They also feature one of my poems, "52 Pickup", as a sample on their website.
I wish I could get to all the poetry events going on this month. Tonight I missed an event at one of the local libraries, hosted by my friend Therese Halscheid, an excellent poet from South Jersey. Next week is a poetry reading that is part of my home town's (Cherry Hill's) week-long "Arts Bloom" festival, but I will have to miss that too. Still, I'm lucky to be in an area where there's so much going on poetically, and not just during National Poetry Month.
Music: My local favorite music station, 88.5 WXPN, has a daily feature called "Top 5 @ 5", hosting by the afternoon DJ, Jim McGuinn. He plays five (sometimes more) songs on a related theme, so in honor of National Poetry Month, I thought I'd suggest a theme of "songs about poetry" : songs that mention famous poets by name, or set a famous poem to music, or even have a poet's participation, or just mention poetry or poets in general. There are a lot more than you might think. Here's the list I sent him:
1. Walt Whitman's Niece - Billy Bragg and Wilco
2. Sylvia Plath - Ryan Adams
3. Bukowski - Modest Mouse
4. Richard Cory - Simon and Garfunkel (the Edwin Arlington Robinson poem set to music)
5. The Dangling Conversation - Simon and Garfunkel (mentions Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost)
6. The Stolen Child - The Waterboys (the Yeats poem set to music)
7. My Ride's Here - Warren Zevon (co-written with his friend, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Paul Muldoon -also name-checks a bunch of poets)
8. Poetry Man - Phoebe Snow
9. Cemetery Gates - The Smiths (mentions Keats, Yeats and Wilde)
10. Poets - The Tragically Hip
11. Poet - Sly and the Family Stone
12. 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....")
Jim used my theme today and played #1, 9, 10 and 12 on my list, along with:
Afternoons and Coffeespoons - Crash Test Dummies (mentions T.S. Eliot)
Ghetto Defendant - The Clash (contains Allen Ginsburg reading his poetry)
He and traffic reporter Lauren Valle also composed a couple of haiku for each other on the air. Very cute. I'm glad they had fun with the theme.
Some other "poetry" songs:
Desolation Row - Bob Dylan ("Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot/Fighting in the captain's tower...")
The Highwayman - Loreena McKennitt (lyrics from the Alfred Noyes poem)
Other music news: Check out Heavenly Harmonies, a collection of early vocal music by Thomas Tallis and William Byrd, performed by Stile Antico, on Harmonia Mundi Records. It is sublime - some of the most breathtakingly beautiful music - and performances - ever.
I got two CD's from the Amazon Vine program. One is the new album by Paddy Casey, Addicted to Company. I wasn't impressed - you can read my full review on Amazon.com. The other is Oracular Spectacular by MGMT. I haven't heard it yet, but it's been getting some good buzz. More on that later....
Poem of the Week: Here's another one I've written for the poem-a-day challenge. The writing prompt was to title a poem, "How ______ Behaves" and to fill in the blank with anything you like, then write about the subject. Since it was Monday the 14th, I wrote the following:
How Monday Behaves
Like a sidewinder, a varmint behind the rocks,
ready to spook your horse.
Like a mad scientist, his piecemeal human
writhing as he screams, “It’s alive!”
Like a despotic king in ancient
demanding your first-born child.
Like Angelo Rossetti in fifth grade,
who used to like to trip you with his foot
every time you walked up the aisle.
Like you have the worst hangover of your life,
and it’s your mother, pulling up the shades.
Like the road that you hate with ten traffic lights
that are always synchronized against you.
Like it wants to dance to every song
ever written about it:
“Monday, Monday”; “Stormy Monday”,
“Blue Monday”, “I Don’t Like Mondays” –
and it wants you to be its partner,
and it has two left feet.
Like it wants to be Monday with a capital “M” –
no wait, it always has a capital “M” –
like it wants to be all in caps and scream in your ear:
Monday, April 14, 2008
Thank goodness for National Poetry Month! It’s always a good excuse for this poet to “goose the muse”. In my neck of the woods (the Philadelphia/South Jersey area) there’s something going on just about every day this month. I can’t possibly do all the events I’d like to attend, so I have to pick judiciously.
I did attend the Rutgers Spring Writer’s Conference in
I’m still going strong in the Poem-a-Day Challenge – 13 for 13 up to today (14 for 13 if you count the “bonus” haiku I wrote yesterday). I’ve latched onto a fun blog on the Writers Digest website by Robert Lee Brewer (find it here) which gives daily poetry prompts and invites participants to post the results. There’s quite a variety of poetry, needless to say.
Music: Not much new stuff to report, except I did get R.E.M.’s new CD Accelerate. I think it’s the best album they’ve done in quite a while, and definitely the rockingest album since Monster. I’d rate it four stars on a scale of five.
Poem of the Week: How about one of the poems I’ve cranked out in my Poem-a-day Challenge? It’s nothing substantial, but it was a lot of fun to write. (Poetic license: not all these bands are really on my iPod.)
What’s in My iPod
Beatles, Beastie Boys, Black Keys.
Crash Test Dummies, Cream, Cousteau,
Dead Can Dance, The Doors, Devo.
Elbow, ELO, Eve 6,
Fine Young Cannibals, The Fixx.
Gentle Giant, Go-Betweens,
Hüsker Dü, Heaven 17.
Indigo Girls, Innocence
Lovin’ Spoonful, Luscious
Magic Numbers, The Motels,
No Doubt, Neutral Milk Hotel.
Over the Rhine, Ozomatli,
Pink Floyd, Pet Shop Boys, The Pixies.
Roches, Rage Against the Machine.
Son Volt, Smithereens, Spoon, The Shins,
Tom Tom Club, Tool, Thompson Twins.
Uriah Heep, The Undertones,
The Verve, The Vines, The Velvetones.
Wilco, Wedding Present, Who
X and XTC (just two).
Youngbloods, Yo La Tengo, Yes,
Zero 7 – that’s it, I guess!
Monday, April 7, 2008
Poetry: It's National Poetry Month again, which means, at least in my general vicinity, there is something poetry-related going on just about every day of the month. It's enough to give me new energy to write again. My month really started in March, with the "Poetry Ink 100 Poets" event at Robin's Bookstore in Philadelphia on March 30. It was quite a "happening", as we used to say back in the day, with one hundred poets scheduled to read. There were some fairly well-known poets there, at least on a regional basis, like Lamont Steptoe, J.C. Todd, Leonard Gontarek, Tree Riesener, Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore, and a host of others including several poet friends of mine. There was a commemorative chapbook for sale featuring over half of the readers that afternoon. We were each allotted two minutes (of course some poets decided to extend that time limit to their own ends). And when I left after four and a half hours, it was still going on. But it was a very positive vibe, despite the varying quality of the poetry. I also was able to put a few copies of my chapbook up for sale on consignment.
This past Sunday my "Quick and Dirty" pals Anna and Rachel and I journeyed to Princeton to participate in the US1 Worksheets publication party - Issue #53, their 35th anniversary issue. We all had poems in this issue and read them along with a few dozen other poets who were included. I also read a poem from the journal by NJ poet B.J. Ward. We generally agreed that the overall quality of the poetry in this issue may not have been up to their usual standards. But again, it was a generally positive experience, and I get out so rarely any more for poetry events that I' m not complaining. Other events I have lined up are the Rutgers Writers Conference on April 12, and hopefully a reading in Haddonfield on April 23. Anna Evans is also a featured reader on the 17th for the Burlington County Poets - I will try to make that one too. Then in June once again, it's the Philadelphia Writers Conference! Anna is attending the West Chester Conference, which I'd like to do some year, but it overlaps this year with the PWC. Richard Wilbur will be there, and Anna herself has been asked to be a panelist for a poetry symposium.
Finally, I'm taking up the "Poem-a-Day Challenge" for National Poetry Month. I thought it would again be a good way to goose the ol' muse. And since I actually wrote a poem on April 1st, I considered that a sign that I should take up the challenge. So far I've cranked out six poems for six days - I still need to do one today. More on this later....
Personal Note: My father passed away in March, after a long bout with strokes and a broken hip. He chose not to continue treatment - he was 78. We weren't as close as some fathers and sons are, emotionally or geographically, but it was saddening, especially since he was the last surviving parent of my wife and me. She lost both her parents in the winter of 2007, and my mother died about four years ago. I've been trying to write a poem about him, or at least how I felt about his death. One of the results can be found below.
Music: It's been a slow year so far, although traditionally the music business, like the movie business, tends to pick up later in the year. So far, some of the standout CD's for me are:
Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend
R.E.M. - Accelerate
Bell X1 - Flock
Nick Lowe - Jesus of Cool (30th Anniversary Deluxe Edition)
Ryan Bingham - Mescalito (actually a late 2007 release)
Melody Gardot - Worrisome Heart
Poem of the Month (maybe next time I'll have a Poem of the Week):
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
The holidays and some minor health concerns, along with everyday obligations, have eaten away at free time to write, but even when I do have time, I don't seem to have much motivation. I think time on the internet and with the boob tube have eroded my creative spark as well. Time for some self-discipline! I need to keep a journal again, or set aside scheduled blocks of time with just reading and/or writing poetry ( a TV- and internet-free zone, preferably). My poetry group, a great bunch of folks, have started a monthly writing assignment, which should help me get off my duff. The results of this month's assignment appear below. The task was to write a title of nine words or more, which contained at least one adjective, a food, and a current cultural reference. Mine turned out to be a somewhat snarky, prosy affair, but it got a few laughs at the meeting, so I'll offer it here.
In other poetry news, my poem "More Than Halfway Home" appears in a new e-zine called Still Crazy, which is for poets over 50, or poems about over-50 subjects. The first issue is a rather spartan design, but it does contain some pretty good poetry and prose.
I'm looking forward to this year's poetry events, too:
(1) The Rutgers Writers Conference in April will feature Paul Muldoon and Joyce Carol Oates.
(2) The Philadelphia Writers Conference (where I've won first prize for poetry the last two years) will be in June - as a past winner, I get to go for free, and I've informally offered to judge one of the poetry contests - not sure if they'll take me up on it.
(3) The West Chester Poetry Conference in Pennsylvania is in June also. My friend Anna (the new MFA) wants to go, so maybe we'll carpool. If I read their site correctly, Richard Wilbur will be there this year.
(4) And, as an even-numbered year, that means it's Dodge Festival time again!
The year 2007 was an awesome year for music, considering the sheer volume of excellent album releases. Maybe it's partly because I bought/downloaded so many, but I can't remember a year when I had so much trouble just narrowing my favorites down to a top 20. So here instead is my top 40 - an expanded version of my previous list that I presented in November:
1. The Shepherd's Dog - Iron and Wine
2. Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga - Spoon
3. Wincing the Night Away - The Shins
4. The Remider - Feist
5. Two Shoes - The Cat Empire
6. Challengers - New Pornographers
7. Magic - Bruce Springsteen
8. Moo, You Bloody Choir - Augie March
9. Sweet Warrior - Richard Thompson
10. Once: Motion Picture Soundtrack - Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova
11. Armchair Apocrypha - Andrew Bird
12. Writer's Block - Peter, Bjorn and John
13. We All Belong - Dr. Dog
14. Sky Blue Sky - Wilco
15. Neon Bible - The Arcade Fire
16. Grand National - John Butler Trio
17. The Search - Son Volt
18. The Flying Cup Club - Beirut
19. In Rainbows - Radiohead
20. Boxer - The National
21. Back to Black - Amy Winehouse
22. Shine - Joni Mitchell
23. Versatile Heart - Linda Thompson
24. Sound of Silver - LCD Soundsystem
25. This Is Ryan Shaw - Ryan Shaw
26. The Stage Names - Okkervil River
27. One Man Band - James Taylor
28. An Ancient Muse - Loreena McKennitt
29. I'm Not There - Various Artists (Motion Picture Soundtrack) - Various Artists
30. Hoots and Hellmouth - Hoots and Hellmouth
31. Raising Sand - Robert Plant and Alison Krause
32. Person Pitch - Panda Bear
33. Andorra - Caribou
34. Release the Stars - Rufus Wainwright
35. Not Too Late - Norah Jones
36. Easy Tiger - Ryan Adams
37. Beauty and Crime - Suzanne Vega
38. Alright, Still - Lily Allen
39. Costello Music - The Fratellis
40. Meet the Smithereens - The Smithereens
That's a real mish-mosh of old favorites and upstart newcomers, and the ranking changes from week to week depending on how I feel about certain CD's at the time. But all of these have something to recommend them.
Poem of the... er, Month:
10 Reasons Why Britney Spears Reminds Me of Chunky Peanut Butter
by Bruce W Niedt
Because there’s more than a little nut in her.
Because she has spread herself way too thin.
Because there’s nothing smooth about her, or her very public life.
Because she’s been insanely popular but not necessarily good for you.
Because the press makes sure she sticks to the roof of our consciousness.
Because the flashy label sometimes doesn’t give you an idea how thick and sticky the stuff is inside.
Because she used to make “white bread” look pretty good, but like too much of anything else, you get tired of her day after day.
Because she’s had as many partners as peanut butter has had on sandwiches (jelly, bananas, Marshmallow Fluff, Kevin Federline, etc.)
Because kids like her – or at least they used to. Now they’re into Mega-Lunchables and Hannah Montana.
Because she always seems to land the way a piece of bread with peanut butter does: face down.