Wednesday, April 30, 2008

I Did It Again!

Woohoo! I made it! I managed to write 30 poems in 30 days for the National Poetry Month's "Poem-a-Day Challenge". I wrapped it up with a sonnet about "endings" - the theme was from Robert Lee Brewer's blog on the Writer's Digest website. As I said before, his daily prompts have really kept me going each day. The toughest assignment was on the 28th when he asked everyone participating to write a sestina. There's been quite a poetry community that has sprung up over there as a result of this month of exercises. It's also great to have over 30 new poems to work with and revise - maybe a few are good enough to publish. It's been work, but it's been fun too. And today Mr. Brewer featured my poem "ROBOT INSULTS" as one of the best (and funniest, in his opinion) from April 15th.

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

Poem-a-Day: Right on Track!

I'm still doing great on the poem-a-day challenge, 23 for 23 plus a couple of "bonus" poems, largely thanks to Robert Lee Brewer's daily writing prompts on his blog. (See prior post for the link.) I haven't missed a day since I joined his blog on the 7th. He gets over 100 entries for each of his prompts, and he has started to post his ten or so favorites from each day's assignment. He's up to Day 11 now, and he's just featured two poems I wrote: "Record Store" (Day 10) and "Paper Clip" (Day 11). There have been some really good poems submitted (and of course, some not-so-good ones), and certain poets seem to stand out day after day. You should check out the site at least to read them, and it's not too late to join in on the writing assignments.

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 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 Asia Minor,
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

Three Cheers for NaPoMo!

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 Camden on Saturday the 12th. It’s a free, one-day conference featuring workshops on all types of writing, and an evening reading open to the public, This year’s featured guests were Joyce Carol Oates and Pulitzer-Prize winning poet Paul Muldoon, both of whom teach at Princeton. I have seen them both before, and actually have met Muldoon (I took a workshop he gave at College of New Jersey a few years ago, right after he won his Pulitzer), but I had to skip the evening program. Regardless, all three workshops I attended were quite good. The poetry workshops were led by Gregory Pardloe and Rachel Hadas. I submitted work to Hadas’ workshop, and it was well-received by both her and the other attendees – of course I got constructive criticism, too. I also attended an excellent and informative workshop on memoir led by David Matthews. The afternoon readings were by Rachel Hadas, Richard McCann and Jane Bernstein. All were very good – Hadas read her poetry, McCann read a thought-provoking except from a memoir about his liver transplant, and Bernstein read an affecting essay about her adult retarded daughter. Of course, I saw several of my poetry buddies there, too.

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

Arcade Fire, AC/DC,
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 Mission,
Jefferson Airplane, Joy Division.

Kings of Leon, Kinks, King Crimson
Lovin’ Spoonful, Luscious Jackson.

Magic Numbers, The Motels,
No Doubt, Neutral Milk Hotel.

Over the Rhine, Ozomatli,
Pink Floyd, Pet Shop Boys, The Pixies.

Quicksilver, Queens of the Stone Age, Queen,
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

Hello, Blog!

It's been way too long! I almost abandoned you because it seemed nobody cared. But a few comments kept me from giving up on you altogether. So for my own peace of mind, and the handful of folks that actually read you, it's time for an update.

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):


Unmoored, the last of the boats
drifts into the current,
prow pulled out toward the sea
by incessant undertow.
We stand at the banks on the dock
watching the vessel disappear
in a glint of ripples on the river
lit by evening sun.
We are the elders now
and our children are building our boats.