Saturday, November 20, 2010
I've been doing Robert Brewer's "Poem-a-Day Chapbook Challenge" again this year - a poem a day throughout the month of November, with the intent to create a chapbook manuscript at the end. I don't know if I have a unified chapbook theme at this point, but at least I'll have a few good poems coming out of it. I'm almost two days behind at this point, though, as I haven't written a poem yesterday or today so far. I feel like a slacker for not writing a poem in two days - how about that?
I was featured poet at Poetry in the Round at Barnes and Noble last Monday. It was a small audience, and my friend Kelly Fineman stepped in for regular host Barney Oldfield, who was under the weather. The highlight of the evening for me, however, was my friend Bill, who attended and read a poem he had written about his experience with cancer treatment in the last year. He said he hadn't written poetry in decades until he was inspired by another cancer survivor who attended one of these readings last year. I think it may be the first time he ever read one of his poems in public, and he did fine.
We also had a very successful reading in our Quick and Dirty Poets series, featuring Teresa Leo, last night. The little coffee shop where we meet, The Daily Grind, was standing room only, and the place was full of great poetry by Teresa and others
Music: I submitted my final lists of best 10 albums and songs of 2010 to WXPN this week, and I'm looking forward to their countdown at the end of the year. I have to say though, that this was a rich year for music, and cutting my lists down to a top 10 was a real chore, but here are my choices:
Top Ten Albums:
1. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
2. The Hold Steady – Heaven is Whenever
3. The National – High Violet
4. Beach House – Teen Dream
5. Frightened Rabbit – The Winter of Mixed Drinks
6. Bettye LaVette – Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook
7. Drive-By Truckers – The Big To-Do
8. Black Keys – Brothers
9. Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz and All Delighted People EP
10. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers - Mojo
Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings: I Learned the Hard Way
Josh Ritter - So Runs the World Away
Alejandro Escovedo - Street Songs of Love
Yeasayer - Odd Blood
Spoon - Transference
The New Pornographers - Together
Bruce Springsteen - The Promise
Jimi Hendrix - Valleys of Neptune
Herbie Hancock - The Imagine Project
Ray La Montagne - God Willin' and the Creek Don't Rise
Natalie Merchant - Leave Your Sleep
Field Music - Field Music (Measure)
Vampire Weekend - Contra
Top Ten songs:
1. I Should Have Known It – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
2. Measure – Field Music
3. Working This Job – Drive-by Truckers
4. Anchor – Alejandro Escovedo
5. Bloodbuzz Ohio – The National
6. Sprawl II – Arcade Fire
7. I Walked – Sufjan Stevens
8. Too Afraid to Love You – The Black Keys
9. Haul Me Up – Richard Thompson
10. Burn It Down – Los Lobos
Laredo - Band of Horses
Zebra - Beach House
Cousins - Vampire Weekend
American Slang - The Gaslight Anthem
Repo Man - Ray LaMontagne
The Mystery Zone - Spoon
Swim Until You Can't See Land - Frightened Rabbit
Angel Dance - Robert Plant
Your Hands (Together) - New Pornographers
The Weekenders - The Hold Steady
Poem of the Month:
Here's one of the two poems published in the current issue of the online journal Tilt-a-Whirl:
Poe Boy Blues
Well, I woke up this mornin’,
there was a raven in my bed.
I woke up this mornin’,
there was a raven in my bed.
If I didn’t know better,
I’d swear that I was dead.
When I went downstairs,
I heard a thumpin’ under the floor.
Yeah, when I went downstairs,
I swear I heard thumpin’ in the floor.
It sounded like a beatin’ heart,
so I ran right out the door.
I’m pinin’ for my Annie,
I’m pinin’ for Annabelle Lee,
Yeah, I’m pinin’ for little Annie,
and pinin’ for sweet Annabelle Lee.
I’m a morbid Victorian lover,
wallowin’ in my misery.
Well, I got them Poe Boy Blues,
my face’s a perpetual frown,
Yes, I got the Poe Boy Blues,
my face’s a perpetual frown.
I ain’t felt so sad and lonely
since that Usher house fell down.
If the booze and drugs don’t get me,
It’ll be a broken heart for sure.
Yeah, if them booze and drugs don’t get me,
That ol’ broken heart will for sure.
I’m a Poe boy, baby,
and I’ll be happy Nevermore.
Monday, October 25, 2010
Poetry: The reading at Big Blue Marble in Philly last month went well - even though I got my dates mixed up and showed up a day early! A small but appreciate group attended, and I ended up selling two chapbooks, but I spent all my proceeds at the supermarket on the way home. (Who says poetry doesn’t bring home the bacon?)
Last week we had our Quick and Dirty Poets reading at Daily Grind in Mt. Holly, featuring Tony Gruenwald, a great New Jersey poet and co-editor of Edison Literary Review. I also read as a contributor to the new issue of Mad Poets Review – their annual book party, at the Delaware County Science Museum, is always a fun event, with lots of excellent local poets and goodies too. This new issue almost didn’t get off the ground due to loss of funding, but hats off to Eileen D’Angelo and company for persevering and getting another fine issue of MPR out to the world!
I’ll be reading later this week at Croft Farm in Cherry Hill, then on November 15 at Barnes and Noble in Marlton, and finally on December 12 in South Brunswick. (I’ll get paid for that one!)
Publication-wise, the only news since last time is that my poem, “Taking It All Back”, is featured on Nic Sebastian’s website Whale Sound. Nic has a lovely British-accented speaking voice, and she did a fine job on my poem.
Although returning to Peter Murphy’s Cape May festival again this winter was very tempting, I decided to apply instead for the Palm Beach Poetry Festival this coming January. It’s a week-long conference in Delray Beach, Florida, featuring some poetic heavy hitters like Robert Pinsky, Jane Hirshfield, Dean Young, Thomas Lux, Heather McHugh, and C.D.Wright. I’m applying for a workshop, with Hirshfield and Young as my first and second choices respectively. I won’t know till mid-November if I’m accepted, but if I go I’ll be able to stay with my wife’s relatives who live right in Delray Beach.
In other poetry news, I was very happy to hear that three of the five nominees for this year’s National Book Award in poetry are poets I’ve met: Terrance Hayes and James Richardson, whose workshops I have taken, and Kathleen Graber, who has been involved (along with Richardson) in the Cape May festival, and whom we Quick and Dirty Poets featured at one of our readings a few years ago. Congratulations, all!
Baseball: Woe is me – my Phillies didn’t make it to the World Series this year. The Giants beat them in six games to take the NL pennant and go on to play the Texas Rangers. I was super-bummed till the next day, then I started to wax philosophical. The Phillies had another great year, winning more games than any other team in baseball, despite being decimated by injuries most of the season. The starting pitching has never been better, with the lineup of Halladay, Oswalt and Hamels. Halladay pitched a perfect game (the 20th in MLB history and only the second Phillie pitcher to do it) and then pitched a no-hitter in Game 1 of the divisional playoffs (only the second postseason no-hitter in history and only about the fifth time a pitcher has thrown two no-hitters in one season). He should be a shoo-in for the Cy Young Award – the Giant’s Tim Lincecum is his only competition. The downside is that offensively, the Phillies were streaky at best. They rode an incredible hot streak from September into the playoffs, but then had trouble doing anything with the bat. Even when they swept the Reds in three games for the Eastern Division title, it was by virtue of two stellar pitching performances by Halladay and Hamels, and a game the Reds threw away on errors and sloppy playing. The Giants just outplayed the Phillies, getting all the key hits that seemed to elude our boys, and their pitching was at least as good as ours. Ryan Howard got a hit here and there, but not a single homer, or even an RBI, in the post-season. So no World Series for the Phils this year, but on the other hand, the Yankees won’t be making a repeat appearance either.
Miscellaneous: If you haven’t checked out the website Sporcle, do so now, especially if you are a trivia buff. There are thousands of quizzes, mostly created by registered members like myself, and if your quiz is popular and highly rated enough, it gets “published” on the site by the administrators, which gives it a much higher profile and lots more action. I just had my first one published this week: it’s called “Different Actors, Same Role”, and as of last night it had over 39,000 hits. My screen name is bruceN, if you want to check out my other quizzes, too.
Music: It’s been a great year for music, at least the music I listen to. I got the eagerly-awaited new album from Sufjan Stevens, The Age of Adz, and it’s pretty good stuff, though not the classic that his album Illinois was. It’s a bit more “noisy” with electronics and such, but still worth a listen. “I Walked” will be the breakout song from this album.
His EP from earlier this year, All Delighted People (really the length of a full album) is also worthwhile. Other new albums that have recently caught my ear:
Herbie Hancock: The Imagine Project
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Mojo
Trombone Shorty: Backatown
Richard Thompson: Dream Attic
Ray LaMontagne: God Willin’ and the Creek Don’t Rise
Poem of the Month: I wrote this one at last winter’s Poetry and Prose Getaway in Cape May for James Richardson’s workshop, as I anticipated my son’s upcoming nuptials. It appears in the new issue of Mad Poet’s Review:
Of the 58 things I need to do before I die,
Number 6 is to dance at your wedding.
Yes, me – the guy who once asked for a Virginia Reel
at my school dance, because we learned it in Gym,
and it was the only dance I knew. I’ll stumble and sway
with your mother and your bride through a slow dance,
but later I'll need at least three beers to lubricate
my creaky joints and my reserve, and a full dervish
on the dance floor, a Brownian movement of bodies,
where I’ll slip between Uncle Jack,
who lumbers like a grizzly bear; Aunt Lois
and her date, who’ve inexplicably slid into a tango;
and the flower girl, who randomly jumps up and down,
parachuting her petticoats. I’ll be a hoofer for you –
that is, I’ll dance like an animal without toes.
I won’t do that damned Chicken Dance,
but I will bounce and celebrate to Kool & the Gang,
or any of those obligatory songs, as this ecstatic mob
thrums along with abandon, in a rented hall,
under a clear, rosy evening sky, where somewhere,
your grandmother does the tarantella.
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Of course, gearing up for the big event was a bit hectic. One of the perks of being the father of the groom is that you don’t end up putting out a huge amount of money and effort, but still get much of the credit. But God bless my wife. She helped with much of the planning, especially making 72 small floral centerpieces – rose arrangements in martini glasses. The back apartment part of our house became the back of a florist shop, as well as the flower fridge – she turned the AC all the way down to keep the roses fresh, and it got below 55 degrees in there. But in the end it was all worth it, and son and new daughter-in-law are now enjoying their honeymoon in Dublin, Ireland.
The other big development is that we are hosting an international student for the year. He is from South Korea and beginning his senior year at a local Catholic high school. I was corrected early on: He’s an “international student”, not an “exchange student”, because his main objective is to complete his education here. After graduation, he hopes to attend an American college or university. So far things are going well – he’s a nice young man, curious and eager to learn with a sense of humor, and he speaks pretty good English, though we’re trying to help him improve it enough to do better on the SAT.
Poetry: My poetry has obviously had to take somewhat of a back seat to the other things going on, but there have been developments there as well: I recently read at the Manayunk Art Center in Philadelphia with two other local poets, and I have another coming up on the 24th in the Mt. Airy section of Philly. I’ve also had a few more poems accepted: The Barefoot Muse has accepted my blank-verse sonnet “Taking It All Back”, and Tilt-a-Whirl, a journal devoted to “repeating form” poetry, has accepted two poems: “Poe Boy Blues” and “All I Want”. I’m still hoping to attend at least one or two conferences or festivals in the upcoming “poetry year”, but other domestic and family matters may prevent some of that from happening.
Baseball: As big a Phillies fan as I am, I hadn’t attended a game all season till last night, when my wife’s cousin’s husband invited me to a game against the Braves, with whom the Phils are fighting for the NL East title. We had great seats – first row, second level right behind home plate. They won 3-1: Cole Hamels had another great outing (8 innings pitched, 6 strikeouts) and Brad Lidge was bringin’ it in the 9th. It was amazing to see 45,000 fans on their feet, cheering and waving their souvenir “rally towels” over their heads to spur Lidge on to get the save, putting down the Braves 1-2-3 including two strikeouts. You could feel the energy going out to him, and he even acknowledged that after the game. The Phillies are now 4 games up in first place over the Braves and their “magic number” is 8.
Music: My wife, my youngest son and I are all big fans of the men’s a cappella group Straight No Chaser. If you don’t know them by name, they’re the group of ten guys who met and performed years ago at Indiana University and reunited for a concert a few years ago. They performed an amusing version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” that went viral and made them virtually overnight sensations. Now they’re PBS pledge-drive favorites, with two Christmas albums out and a more recent collection of pop songs. They’re an entertaining, often funny , and extremely talented group. They were artists-in-residence at Harrah’s casino in Atlantic City, and we all went to see them last month. They put on an amazing show, a song revue of pop hits from the 50’s to the present, and afterward they had a “meet-and-greet” – every one of them were there, signing autographs and chatting with fans, and they stayed till everyone in the long line got to meet them. They are a swell bunch of guys.
Poem of the Month: I would like to post the poem I wrote several months ago in anticipation of my son’s wedding, but I’m shopping it around for publication so that may have to wait. Instead, I will offer a love poem I wrote to my wife (who was also beautiful as mother of the groom). This appeared previously in the online journal Word Catalyst:
Maybe it's in the memory of skin -
a certain touch, chemical connection,
a circuit of nerves completed.
Maybe it's all in the mind -
a déjà vu of senses,
a re-opened file of valentines.
But when we share a serious embrace
or trade passionate kisses,
there is no need to compare
those kids in the old wedding photo
with what we see in the mirror.
Reflections are irrelevant,
time machines superfluous.
When I am in the moment of your arms,
I am nineteen again.
Saturday, August 7, 2010
Poetry: As you may know, I wrote a poem a day in the month of April (actually, a little more than one a day) as part of the Poetry Month challenge on Robert Brewer's Poetic Asides blog. Well, he invited the participants to submit the five best poems that they wrote that month, and out of over 1000 entries, he selected the best 50 and announced the winners on his blog. Two of my poems, "According to Hoyle" and "Mementos", made the list. The only prize is bragging rights, and a possible feature interview on the blog later this year. It's a nice recognition. I also just learned today that my poem, "Rapids Again", is being accepted for next year's issue of U.S. 1 Worksheets, and I may have another poem appearing in a future issue of the formal-poetry e-zine Barefoot Muse.
I'm debating about which poetry conferences I should attend in the coming year. Of course, time and money are always critical factors - ideally I would attend them all, but I'll have to pick one or two of four I have my eye on: (1) Peter Murphy's annual Winter Getaway in Cape May in January (this upcoming year featuring poets Dorianne Laux and Patricia Smith, as well as "regular" Stephen Dunn); (2) The AWP Conference, which will be in Washington DC in February (my friend Anna Evans will be chairing a panel there); (3) The West Chester Poetry Conference, which Anna has been encouraging me for years to attend (and she's actively involved in that one too), and (4) the good ol' Philadelphia Writers Conference, which is the same week as West Chester. I'm leaning heavily toward #2 and/or #3 as they are the ones that I've never done. Oh yeah, and there's the Dodge Poetry Festival in October.
Baseball: It's been one interesting year for my Phillies - fifteen players have been on the Disabled List this season, and currently Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Shane Victorino, all key players, are sitting it out. Pitcher Jamie Moyer is out for the season (and possibly for the career, but after all, he's an "old man" of 47, LOL). Despite all that, as of this writing they are only one game behind Atlanta for the NL East lead. After a huge team-wide slump about a month or two ago, they've started putting things together, getting consistently good pitching (and the addition of Roy Oswalt now gives them one of the best starting rotations in baseball) and some key hitting from guys who until recently were not everyday players (Ross Gload, Brian Schneider, et al.) Anyway, I expect big things if everyone can get healthy again, though I'm doubtful whether they can get back to the World Series for the third year in a row.
Music: Lots of good stuff coming out this year. Just a few of the recent albums that have caught my ear - mostly perennial favorites but also two new "finds":
Mumford and Sons - Sigh No More
The Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
Los Lobos - Tin Can Trust
Sarah McLachlan - Laws of Illusion
The Black Keys - Brothers
Tame Impala - Innerspeaker
Alejandro Escovedo - Street Songs of Love
Poem of the Every-other-month:
I think I'll dust off an "oldie but goodie" - this appeared in the online journal Red River Review several years ago:
Where I live,
in this quiet pocket of
even on a still night,
or moon –
there is a constant hum,
subliminal roar, a rumble
like blood rushing in the ears,
coagulation of sounds
just over the threshold –
traffic, planes, air conditioners,
thunder, music, radio waves,
clouds sliding through thick air,
plates of the earth groaning –
and the murmur of souls
only one week removed,
into the noise.
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
Poetry: Not much going on lately on the poetry scene. I had to skip both of the two poetry events this weekend that I would have liked to attend - The West Chester Poetry Festival and the Philadelphia Writers Conference, partly due to parental obligations. My friend Anna Evans is going to West Chester again, and this time she will be a member of panel there. I wish I could be there to see her in action, meet some esteemed poets, and see Natalie Merchant, who is a featured performer, promoting her new album of songs based on children's poems.
Music: Run out and get (or sit down and download) Bettye LaVette's latest ablum, Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook. Ms. LaVette is in the midst of a major comeback after achieving some success in the 1960's and 1970's only to have her debut album inexplicably shelved by Stax Records in 1972. She fell on hard times for years afterward, but now she is back with a vengeance. This collection of classic British rock and pop songs, from the Beatles and The Animals to Traffic and Pink Floyd, is a tour-de-force as she puts her own interpretative touches on each one. She practically stopped the show at last year's Kennedy Center Honors when she wailed an amazing version of The Who's "Love Reign O'er Me", and she reprises it here. You may not recognize some of these songs the first time through, but once you do, you'll say, "Wow! I never heard it that way before." Her voice is an amazing instrument, and you probably will not hear a more soulful album this year.
Baseball: My Phillies seem to be mired in a major collective slump. They've already been shut out as many times this year as they were all of last season, and until a few nights ago they went through a two-week stretch where they couldn't muster up more than three runs a game. Thankfully, the pitching has been generally decent, and Roy Halladay recently tossed only the second perfect game in Phillies' history. Coincdentally, that same day I was wore a new Roy Halladay Phillies shirt, a gift from my wife, for the first time. I guess that makes it my lucky shirt, or maybe his.
Poem of the Post: Here's an "oldie" that was published in 2002 in the non-defunct print writer's magazine ByLine:
Appeal to the Captor
It has been six months since I sent you my poem.
I’ve received not a word, not a ransom note,
not even a stanza cut off and sent as a threat.
Is my poem alive and well?
When it’s returned to me, will it have lost its baby fat,
appearing instead as wiry, muscular, concise?
Or has it undergone some metamorphosis,
a bird, perhaps, feathering its nest with string
and self-addressed stamped envelopes?
Has it ensconced itself in your in-box?
Has it transformed to sconces itself,
like those eerie ones in La Belle et Le Bète,
the gilt-coated arms that move with you
as you cross the room, shadows shifting,
changing the lighting of walls and words?
Send me some word,
a photograph of it holding yesterday’s newspaper;
a tape of it, reading itself back to me.
Even a rejection slip – you pick the format:
wrapped around a rock through my window,
letters cut and pasted from magazines.
Until then, I await the day when it appears,
smiling wanly at my doorstep,
or singing choruses to the world on your page.
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
I went to my friend Kelly Fineman's reading at Barnes and Noble in Marlton last night. She was great, and read poems from her manuscript-in-progress: a collection of poetry on the life of Jane Austen. Kelly also has an excellent blog, which you can find here.
Music: Well, the music year is already about 3/8ths over (really - figure it out!) and already there are a bunch of candidates for best albums, so it looks like another good year for music. Here are some of my early favorites:
The Hold Steady – Heaven is Whenever
Beach House – Teen Dream
The National – High Violet
Frightened Rabbit – The Winter of Mixed Drinks
Drive-By Truckers – The Big To-Do
Yeasayer – Odd Blood
The New Pornographers – Together
Natalie Merchant – Leave Your Sleep
Spoon – Transference
Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings – I Learned the Hard Way
Jimi Hendrix – Valleys of Neptune
Vampire Weekend – Contra
Straight No Chaser – With a Twist
Dr. Dog - Shame, Shame
Broken Bells – Broken Bells
Natalie Merchant's new album, by the way, is a collection of children's poems set to music - poems by the likes of Edward Lear, e.e. cummings and Robert Louis Stevenson, along with some lesser-known poets. It's a really fine 2-disc collection with a beautiful hardcover booklet that includes the poems and bios of all the poets. Ms. Merchant will also be a featured artist at the West Chester Poetry Conference (with which my friend Anna Evans is also involved) next month.
Poem of the Fortnight: I thought I'd share my poem that got such a big response when I read it at the Celebration of Literary Journals on Sunday (see blog below). This was originally published in Up and Under: the QND Review:
The Conjoined Twin
Crown to crown, our skulls
a figure-eight, we were bound
by bone and red trees of blood.
I felt your cries, and strained to find you,
always over my head. Sometimes
we chattered in the secret language of twins.
But the doctors - so many doctors –
decided it best to cut you away from me.
In our long sleep, they carved at skin and bone,
reconnected tissue, sewed and threaded capillaries,
relieved our brains from their morbid embrace.
But while I slept, your heart surrendered.
Sometimes I look up for you, sister,
but you have not come back.
The blood we shared still runs in my veins,
and memories flicker in and out,
the loss I felt as they opened, then closed
my head to the heavens.
Monday, May 17, 2010
I just returned from the “Poetry Festival: A Celebration of Literary Journals” in West Caldwell, NJ. This annual event is organized by poet Diane Lockward, and features about a dozen poetry journals from the NY/NJ region. Editors of the journals have tables to sell their issues, give out submission guidelines and network with poets. They also invite two poets who have been published in their journal to read two poems each during an afternoon-long reading. There are also poets’ books for sale, refreshments and an assortment of freebies. It’s always a great way to spend an afternoon. I went with four of the five members of my poetry group, Quick and Dirty Poets. Two of our members, Kendall Bell and Anna Evans, represented The Raintown Review and Up and Under, respectively. Up and Under is our group’s own journal, and Don Kloss and I represented the journal at the reading. We were the last readers of the afternoon on the schedule, and Don got a good response for his two poems before I came up. I made some self-effacing remark about the pressure associated with being the closing poet of the festival, and then I read my two poems, “What to Play at My Funeral” and “The Conjoined Twin”. I was amazed at the response I got to the latter poem – about ten people came up to me afterward and told me how much they loved it, and two of them bought my chapbook on the spot, based on my reading of that poem. I sold three books in all that day, though I spent all the proceeds on other poet’s books and sample copies of journals. It was good to see a lot of poet friends and acquaintances there too. If you are within a few hours’ drive of this festival (usually held in May), I urge you to attend next time. Click here for Diane’s website if you would like to keep up with her news:
Also, here’s a list, with links if available, of this year’s participating journals:
Journal of New Jersey Poets
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
I'm making this a short one, but will still share another poem from April with y'all. This is just a light verse, but a timely one:
I blog, I tweet, I text,
I devour whatever is next
in the techno-social soup
that links me to any group.
I’m surfing the net all day
to see who wants to play.
My thumbs are working like mad
to message all the friends I’ve had.
The world is mine for connectionto
anyone of my selection.
My list of friends is extensive,
my tech knowledge comprehensive.
It’s truly a “global village”,
only why do I still feel so lonely?
Thursday, April 29, 2010
In Breathing Out, a collection of 24 poems, the reader gets a glimpse of the talent of Bruce W. Niedt, a poet who is obviously moved to write about everything under the sun and then some. Niedt has the ability of studying an object—anything from an earth-bound salad bowl to the far-off planet Mars—picking its “brain” and communicating for it. This goes for people as well, whether they’re the long-gone Chinese poet Li Po or the contemporary “Old Man at Bedtime.” […]
When it comes to creating the perfect last line that not only sums up the poem’s intent but adds a thoughtful twist, Niedt is second to none.[…]
Yes, the subjects of Niedt’s poems run the gamut. There’s even one commemorating “Mr. Peanut [in] Atlantic City” and his clocks, “All the Clocks in my House Are Set to Different Times,” which happen to be two of my favorites in this collection. But then, so are all the others mentioned here. Bruce Niedt has proven his versatility as a poet in this impressive collection.
As expected, it’s been a busy Poetry Month – as of today I’ve written 35 poems in 28 days for the annual “Poem-a-Day Challenge”. Two more to go! I also invaded the Big Blue Marble Bookstore in Mt. Airy PA last Friday with my Quick and Dirty posse – Anna, Kendall, Andrea, former (and still honorary) member Rachel, and myself. We rocked their socks! It was a respectable group of about 15, most of them members of Mad Poets Society, who sponsored the event, and it went very well – some of us even sold some of our books. (I’m on the calendar to return there for a solo reading in September.) Tonight is our monthly reading series at The Daily Grind in Mt. Holly featuring Bill Wunder. Unfortunately, I can’t get to all the events that I would like to attend – there are two this Sunday at the same time to which I’m invited, but I probably won’t make either one.
My aforementioned poet friend Rachel Bunting, by the way, has just won the Best of the Net award for her poem, “The Apiary”. Way to go, Rach! (I tried to post the link but it doesn't seem to work from where I'm writing.)
I had a decent birthday on Tuesday, despite hobbling around most of the day on a strained knee. It was nice to get a lot of best wishes from my Facebook and Poetic Asides friends, and I had a nice quiet celebration with my wife and youngest son. (The other three sons called and wished me happy birthday). It was pretty low-key, just the way I wanted it.
So how about a poem? I’ll offer the one that I wrote my birthday. The prompt from Poetic Asides was to write a poem about hope or hopelessness. This is a “parody”, if you will, of Emily Dickinson’s “Hope is the thing with feathers…”
The Thing with Fur
Hopelessness, the thing with fur,
would stalk me in the wood,
and threaten like a predator
that never comes to good,
and track me with its yellow eyes;
I’d stumble on the trail
and it would pounce – I’d be its prize,
my flight to no avail.
I’ve heard its howl – it fills the moor,
like some soul-stealing wraith,
but I need only close my door
and fuel my fire with faith.
Thursday, April 22, 2010
Anyway, enough of that. Once again I'm doing National Poetry Month's Poem-a-day Challenge, and doing quite well, thank you - 26 poems in 22 days (and that's counting a themed group of three haiku as one). None of them will help win me the Pulitzer Prize, but as the estimable Peter Murphy says, "Give yourself permission to write crap." I hope there will be at least 5-10 decent poems, or poems with potential, contained in this batch. I'm participating in the Poetic Asides blog again this year, but frankly I haven't been real excited about most of Robert Brewer's writing prompts. They do get me started, though, I'll give them credit for that.
April is every bit the busy month I expected it to be. Sunday the 18th my friends Anna and Kendall and I went to New York to represent Kendall's Maverick Duck Press at a reading at ABC No Rio in the Lower East Side. It was - how should I say - interesting. The venue was a building that was a former "squat" and on the verge of being condemned, and the audience - let's just say they barely outnumbered the three of us. But they loved our reading and they PAID us for our appearance. That's right - PAID for reading poetry! Tomorrow night I read with the Quick and Dirty Poets at the Big Blue Marble on Carpenter St. in Philly, and next Friday the 30th our group has their monthly reading series at the Daily Grind in Mt. Holly, featuring Bill Wunder.
Music: Listening and downloading stuff - the "new" Jimi Hendrix (previously unreleased studio performance of new and cover material), the new Dr Dog, and a couple of "discovery" bands (for me, at least), The Dodos and Field Music. Keep an eye out for new albums by Caribou and New Pornographers.
Poetry: How about one of the poems I've written this month? This is about the late great poet Lucille Clifton:
We will miss you, Miss Lucille,
who paid homage to your hips
and made ladies proud of themselves
no matter what their size,
who wrote of indignities and injustice
to your people and to all people,
who I will always remember
meeting, your dignity and grace.
May your own boat carry you
to the “water waving forever”.
We will miss you, Miss Lucille,
but we will find you in your poems.
Monday, March 29, 2010
April is around the corner, and it looks like it’s going to be a busy poetry month for me. Not only do I plan to do the Poem-a-day Challenge again, but I’ve got a handful of readings and other events lined up in April and into May: April 11 I host my poetry group, the Quick and Dirty Poets, for our monthly meeting. On April 18 Anna Evans and I will read at a place called ABC No Rio in NYC; on April 23 our group reads for the Mad Poets Society at the Big Blue Marble in Philly; and April 30 we have our regular reading series at the Daily Grind in Mt. Holly NJ, featuring poet and Schuylkill Valley Journal editor Bill Wunder. Then on May 2 is the launch party for the new issue of Schuylkill Valley Journal, and on May 16 Kendall Bell and I read at the annual NJ journal festival in Warren County organized by Diane Lockward. I have events coming up in July and December too – more on those later.
I attended the launch party yesterday for US 1 Worksheets at the Princeton Public Library. This is their 55th issue – they’ve been publishing their anthology since 1972. It’s a handsome perfect-bound edition of over 100 pages of excellent poetry – Nancy Scott and the other editors and staff do a fine job every year. (The new issue isn’t on their website as of this writing, but you can still visit them at http://us1poets.com/ .) I read my poem from the issue, “Trivia”, and got an enthusiastic response.
We also had our own launch party for our journal, Up and Under: The QND Review, at our regular haunt, the Daily Grind. It was rather sparsely attended, partly because there were other poetry events going on the in area, but we still had a good time. Again, we don’t have this latest issue (#5) on our website yet, but you can visit us by clicking the link on my sidebar.
Music: I got a package of indie music from Amazon which included three new releases: Teen Dream by Beach House, Vol. 2 by She & Him (Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward), and the self-titled album by Broken Bells (James Mercer of The Shins, and “Danger Mouse”). Of those three, my strongest first impression is of Beach House, a really fine collection of dream-pop songs. At times they remind me of The Swell Season without Glen Hansard’s sometimes histrionic singing. Other times they remind me of no one else. Broken Bells is an interesting project and has some occasionally catchy hooks, but I’m still having trouble really warming up to it. She & Him is pleasant if not exceptional – Zooey wrote most of the songs herself this time out, and she deserves credit for that, but some of them are frankly forgettable.
I also got my first ever Chuck Berry collection (the “Definitive Collection” from Chess Records – 30 songs including all of the hits). I was inspired by my son’s school project, in which he was supposed to suggest a modern pop song as a new National Anthem. I suggested Berry’s “Back in the USA” and he ran with it, but it also spurred his interest in the artist as well. He was surprised to learn that two songs by another of his favorite artists, the Beatles (“Rock and Roll Music” and “Roll Over Beethoven”) were not Beatles originals, but covers of Berry songs.
Poem of the Blog: Here’s the one that is in the new issue of US 1 Worksheets:
Who was the first
What is the word for
Can you name the
Who is the only
In what year did
Where would you find
Which of these is
How many times
Where in the world did you
When did you think
What is the matter with
Why in God’s name
What kind of question
How dare you
Do you expect me
Why should I
How am I supposed to
Who do you think you are?
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
- T Bone Burnett and Ryan Bingham winning for Best Song
- South Jersey’s own Michael Giacchino winning for Best Score (“Up”) and his great acceptance speech
- Sandra Bullock’s upset win for Best Actress
- Kathryn Bigelow being the first woman to win Best Director (and she looked fabulous)
- The horror movie montage
- The tribute to John Hughes
- Ben Stiller’s Avatar makeup
- James Taylor singing “In My Life” to the “let’s-see-who-died” montage
- The new format, started last year, where fellow actors come onstage to do a mini-tribute to each of the Best Actor/Best Actress nominees
- Jeff Bridges’ acceptance speech: It was sweet that he thanked his late parents, and I’m glad he won, but he just went on, and on, and on….
- What’s-her-name the costume designer who began her speech, “I already have two of these…”: she seemed really full of herself.
- The woman who "Kanye'd" the director of Oscar-winning doc Music by Prudence during his acceptance speech. Is this becoming some kind of trend?
- Omitting the "Lifetime Achievement" awards from the main ceremony. It was always a heartfelt and moving segment, and I would have loved to see tributes to honorees Lauren Bacall and Roger Corman.
- Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin co-hosting: They were often funny, but just as often they seemed strained and awkward together. The producers should have picked one or the other.
I'm no couture expert but I know what I like, and apparently any actress with a last name ending in "z" had the inside track: Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, and Jennifer Lopez all looked fabulous. But Sarah Jessica Parker's dress was hideous, IMHO, and Barbra Streisand looked like a matronly frump.
Helen Mirren and Meryl Streep tied for the "classy lady"award.
Some trivia: What do the following classic movies have in common?
2001: A Space Odyssey
Some Like It Hot
Singin' in the Rain
The African Queen
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
A Hard Day's Night
The Manchurian Candidate
Answer: None of them were nominated for Best Picture by the Academy.
What "profession" has been most likely to win an actress an Oscar?
Answer: Hooker - 10 actresses have won Oscars for their portrayal of "ladies of the night" - the last was Charlize Theron for Monster.
Now for the kudos: Congrats to my friend Kelly Fineman, whose poem "Inside the New Mall" won 3rd prize in the annual Writer's Digest Poetry Competition! Visit Kelly's blog at http://kellyrfineman.blogspot.com/
Friday, March 5, 2010
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
It’s been one heck of a winter – most snow on record in one season here in the Philly-South Jersey area. I think we had three major storms that dumped between one and two feet of snow each (and a predicted fourth one last week that fortunately turned out to be not that bad). That’s almost unheard of around here – over 65 inches since December, I believe. At least until recently, we had more snow this winter than they’d had in Maine, or in Vancouver for the Olympics. Thank goodness for March, though we’re not out of the woods just yet. One thing’s for sure: I am no longer wondering why I bought a snow blower about four winters ago. (Note: the title quote is from Christina Rossetti's poem "In the Bleak Midwinter" - some of you may know it from Gustav Holst's hymn arrangement, played at Christmas season.)
One of the bright spots this winter was the engagement party we threw for my son and his fiancée. We rented a very nice banquet hall, did all the food and beverages and entertainment ourselves (with help from some friends and family), and had about 70-75 guests. They were very happy with it.
Poetry News: I do have some publications coming up this year in Edison Literary Review, US 1 Worksheets, Schuylkill Valley Journal, and (if they get some funding) Mad Poets Review. I’m still waiting for my poems to appear in a future issue of The Lyric. I did enjoy a formal poetry gathering last month at the Mannyunk Art Center, hosted by Peter Krok of the SVJ, and which I attended with friend Anna Evans, an estimable formalist who gave a brief talk about Philip Larkin and Edna St. Vincent Millay. She has also been running a series of formal poetry workshops over there. Also, our group’s journal, Up and Under: The QND Review, has its launch party next month, and we have another excellent issue coming out, if I say so myself. My poem “What to Play at My Funeral” will be included, along with a poem by my son, who uses a pseudonym. I’ve been filling my pocket planner with upcoming poetry events, and it looks like a busy year in the making – I’ve been invited to a few readings, including a co-feature with Nancy Scott at the South Brunswick Library in December. This is also the year of the biannual Dodge Poetry Festival, so that’s on my radar too. The only downside is that I feel I’ve become rather lazy with my writing work ethic – not too productive lately – even the weekly prompt from Poetic Asides is a struggle sometimes. Oh yeah, that reminds me: Robert Brewer of Poetic Asides cited one of my recent prompt poems, “Taking It All Back” on a blog-radio show interview recently, and I got such good feedback, including from my critique group, that I retooled it as a blank-verse sonnet (suggested by Anna) and sent it off as a submission. We’ll see what happens.
Music: The music year has got off to a rather slow start. Other than the new Spoon and Vampire Weekend (both of which I enjoyed but don’t feel compelled to rave about), there’s not much new stuff yet to excite me. I did, however, enjoy doing a “love songs” mix on my iPod for my son’s engagement party – anything pop, rock, and even some jazz from the 1930’s right up to the present. I even burned some CD’s from the playlist to give away as gifts. A sample playlist:
Love Songs of the 80’s
Addicted to Love - Robert Palmer
Dancing in the Dark – Bruce Springsteen
Everyday I Write the Book – Elvis Costello
Genius of Love – Tom-Tom Club
She Drives Me Crazy – Fine Young Cannibals
Higher Love – Steve Winwood
In Your Eyes – Peter Gabriel
Head Over Heels – The Go Gos
Head Over Heels – Tears for Fears
Kiss on My List – Hall and Oates
I Just Called to Say I Love You – Stevie Wonder
Smooth Operator – Sade
Kokomo – The Beach Boys
Have I Told You Lately – Van Morrison
Woman – John Lennon
The Longest Time – Billy Joel
You’ll Accomp’ny Me – Bob Seger
Poem of the Month: Spring Training has begun! My Phillies should be contenders again this year, especially after signing Roy Halladay, arguably the best starting pitcher in baseball. What does this have to do with poetry? Well, to bide my time till the season begins, I just finished the book Baseball Haiku, an anthology edited by Cor Van den Heuvel and Nanae Tamura. It’s a collection of Japanese and English-language haiku and senryu on the subject. The Japanese have been writing haiku about baseball since the late 19th Century, starting with Shiki, one of the modern haiku masters who is also credited with helping popularize the sport in Japan. Jack Kerouac is credited with writing the first American baseball haiku. the editors argue that baseball and haiku are such a good fit because both take place in natural settings (grass fields, sandlots, etc.) and both emphasize the “moment”. This entertaining collection inspired me to write a few of my own:
time called –
a stray cat
steals second base
Star-spangled Banner –
while the shortstop sings along
the pitcher chews gum
extra innings –
manager swats at a bee
with a scorecard
nourishes outfield grass –
no game today
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Here's my entry:
As a teenager and young college student, I couldn’t have been much more alienated from my father. He was the personification of everything that was anathema to me at the time: a crew-cut gun enthusiast, hunter and NRA member with a strict hand and conservative views. Our relationship for many years was chilly at best. Of course, we both mellowed with age, and things thawed out somewhat. It wasn’t till the last years of his life, when heavy smoking took its toll and he lost a leg to circulatory disease, that I realized he wouldn’t be around forever, and it was time to mend fences. I came to recognize that the estrangement we had developed wasn’t entirely his fault. I don’t know if I completely succeeded in reconciling with him, and I wasn’t with him at the end, so I was left with an unsettling feeling of unfinished business. Maybe that’s why Robert Hayden’s gently magnificent poem, “Those Winter Sundays”, speaks to me. Here the narrator recalls his father who, after working all week, got up early on Sunday to make sure his family was comfortable:
Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.
That last sentence, stated so matter-of-factly, is the whole gist of the poem. It made me reflect on my relationship with my own father, and how little I thanked him for providing for my mother, my sisters and me, and the little things that were all but invisible to me at the time.
I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house…
Boy, did I know about chronic angers of a house! My father was a strict disciplinarian, and that was perhaps one aspect of him that drove me away as I matured. My parents’ marriage was strained, and they separated and divorced after I went away to college. I was elated to leave, and I reveled in my newfound independence.
Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?
"Speaking indifferently” so concisely encapsulates the average teenager’s emotional detachment from his or her parents at that time of life, and I was no exception. But then we’re back to the little things the father did for the narrator – warming the house and polishing his shoes. The last two lines are an emotional wallop – what, indeed, did I know about all that went into parenthood, and how much thankless work and drudgery is a part of that? And most importantly, how much of it was driven by love? My father was not a demonstrative man, so I never really factored “love” into the equation. But now, as the parent of four boys myself, it makes so much sense. “Those Winter Sundays” is one of the most moving poems ever written, yet it moves quietly, like a Sunday morning. All that I have left to say is: Thank you, Mr. Hayden. And thank you, Dad.
Monday, January 18, 2010
Most recently, though, I attended the 17th Annual Winter Poetry and Prose Getaway in Cape May, NJ, three days of intensive workshops, special events, and assorted fun at the Grand Hotel in Cape May, all organized by the estimable Peter Murphy. I only attended once before, in 2003, so I felt I was overdue to return. The drawing card for me this year was that poet Mark Doty was a featured guest and also was leading two workshops. I just missed getting in (2nd on the waiting list) but I did get into a workshop with Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Stephen Dunn. It was an excellent experience, as were the workshops with James Richardson and Catherine ("Cat") Doty (a very distant relation to Mark, I learned). I got to hang with poetic friends and acquaintances, and made some new friends too (shout-out especially to Christine), and got a few decent poems to bring home as well. Even the open mic readings were a higher caliber than your average bookstore/coffee bar event. It's just great to immerse yourself in an environment of like-minded creative people for a few days. Oh yes, and I did get to meet Mr. Doty - a real thrill for me. Tomorrow: back to the real world.
In other poetry news, I have a couple of online publications this month: two poems appear in the new issue of Fox Chase Review, and five of my "Holy Tango" poems (see previous posts) appear in the new issue of Sunken Lines.
Music: Not much to report this time - looking forward to getting and listening to new albums by Spoon and Vampire Weekend.
Poem of the Month: Let's call it what it is, all right? This one is just for fun and was inspired by a writing prompt from the Poetic Asides blog:
I Thinks Therefore I Yam What I Yam
I’m havin’ doubts about meself, Doc.
Foist, I seems to have a thing for skinny goils,
I mean Olive looks anor-ex-kic, don’t she?
An’ Bluto – why is he always pickin’ a fight?
Maybe he’s just got anger issues.
I worries ‘bout Swee’Pea –
I mean, who’s his real father?
An’ sometimes I feels real stingy –
I should lends Wimpy some money
fer that hamboiger.
I gotta do somethin’ about these
an’ maybe I needs glasses
to gets rid o’ this squint,
an’ some cos-mextic soigery
to reduce me chin.
I gotta gives up smokin’,
and y know, I’ve been outta
the Navy fer years;
it’s time to ditch the sailor suit.
This cravin’ for spinach –
maybe I just gots an iron defish-cancy.
An’ someday I gotta do somethin’
about me speech impeg-iment.
What’s that? You think I’m right?
I’m showin’ insight an’ great progress?
Well, blow me down!