Monday, December 5, 2011

Some Good Poetry News

1. Verse Wisconsin has accepted two of my poems, "Ghosts" and "Downsizing", for a future issue, probably next fall because of their seasonal subjects. I met the editor, Sarah Busse, at the West Chester Poetry Conference last summer and she's a fine person who runs a fine journal, which exists both in print and online. I'm happy to be part of it.

2. I just found out today that I have been accepted into a week-long intensive workshop run by poet and author Marge Piercy, next June on Cape Cod. I'm excited because she is one of my favorite contemporary poets. We may make a family vacation out of it, and she's one of my wife's favorite poets too, so maybe she'll get to meet her as well. I'm honored because only twelve people will be selected for the workshop.

3. My friend Anna Evans, who has worn several editor's hats, had to suspend her excellent online formal poetry journal The Barefoot Muse, but she just finished compiling a print anthology of the best of the journal, and my poem "Your Missing Piece" (a sonnet about my wife's breast cancer surgery) will appear in it. It promises to be a really good collection of poetry - here's the link if you are interested:

4. My poem "Six-word Spoilers" appears in the January 2012 issue of Writer's Digest, in Robert Brewer's column "Poetic Asides". The poem is a series of short three-line poems called "hay(na)ku": the first line has one word, the second line two words, the third line three words. That's it. For space reasons, they printed only the first four stanzas of the eight in my poem, which was okay, since it's really a series of ha(nay)ku, but for the record, here's the whole thing:

Six-word Spoilers

Kane’s sled -
who’d have thought?

tells Luke:
“I’m your father.”

slashes folks
dressed as Mom.

finds ruined
Statue of Liberty.

Dr. Malcolm,
is a ghost.

night shocker -
Dil’s a man!

suspect – Verbal
is Keyser Soze.

Soylent Green?
Yuck! It’s people!

And here's a bonus poem. I just discovered a blog called The Sunday Whirl, where they do a weekly writing prompt based on "Wordle", a writing exercise where you're given a word bank and instructed to use as many of those words as you can in a poem. I love doing these kinds of prompts, and several of my friends from the Poetic Asides blog participate, so I thought I'd give it a shot. Here's my first attempt (the underlined words are from the word bank). Pardon the double-spacing - my settings suddenly got a little goofy and I didn't know how to fix them:


December, you subtle beast,

you corner us on the precipice

of winter before we have an inkling

of what's happening, then surprise us

one morning with vanilla-crusted ground

and trees laden with frosting.

You may wish us to tremble in awe,

but we won't genuflect to your power.

We're made of thicker bark than that.

We'll hunker down when real winter comes.

it's our mission to make the most of it -

a hot pot of tea on a trivet,

an amorous evening before the fire.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The busy holiday season is about to spring upon us, so isn't a bit masochistic to take on another poem-a-day challenge in November? Well, maybe not as much as writing a novel for National Novel Writing Month, but still.... I'm following Robert Brewer's daily prompts again for the Poetic Asides November Chapbook Challenge. Three poems in three days so far. (Well, five actually, if you count the two limericks for Mad Kane's Humor Blog.) The other thing I'm doing is posting a video of a favorite poem each day on my Facebook page. So far I've used "Facing It" by Yusef Komunyakaa, "Forgetfulness" and "Lanyard" by Billy Collins, and "Those Winter Sundays" by Robert Hayden.

I had the pleasure of seeing Jane Hirshfield again a couple of weeks ago at the Kelly Writers House on the University of Pennsylvania campus. (You may recall I took a week-long workshop with her in Florida last January, and if you know me well, you're probably getting tired of hearing me talk about it.) She read from her wonderful new collection of poems, Come, Thief. I was happy that she recognized me when I came up to say hello afterward, especially since she has admitted to a bad case of "face blindness". I did tip her off that I was coming to the reading, though, through our e-mail correspondence. You must get her book - my review of it on can be found here.

In publication news, I've had a few rejections, including the anthology of poems from Peter Murphy's Winter Poetry and Prose Getaway - I didn't make the cut. I was sure they'd like my wedding poem, "Hoofing", enough to include it, but Peter's daughter Amanda said that they'd had an incredible response and could only take about 10% of the poems submitted.) On the up side, my friend Anna Evans, who edited the recently closed online formal zine The Barefoot Muse, asked if she could include my sonnet "You Missing Piece" in a "best-of" print anthology she's putting together. I'm honored to be included. Also a group of us members of the Poetic Asides blog are putting together an anthology of poems written in response to Robert Brewer's prompts. I will have three poems included in that publication. I also got my Summer issue of The Lyric poetry magazine which contains my poem "Doldrums".

I forgot to mention in the last blog that I attended the Collingswood Book Festival for the first time this year, on October 1. It's a huge street festival held every year in Collingswood NJ, featuring editors, publishers, book sellers, authors and poets selling their wares, and reading and signing their works. There's a poetry tent that features readings throughout the day, and my friend Tammy Paolino, who's a fine poet and an editor for the Courier-Post, helped organize the events. Two of my favorite regional poets, B.J. Ward and Charles H. Johnson, were featured readers, along with Tammy And her poetic colleague Laurie Guarnieri, and my friends Anna Evans and Rachel Bunting. The weather was perfect too - I had a really good time.

Baseball: Well, another season bites the dust, and once again, so do the Phillies in the post-season. After winning a team record 102 games in the regular season, they couldn't get past the Cardinals in the divisional series. The Cardinals played like a team possessed, and eventually won the World Series title over the Texas Rangers. The Phils just couldn't muster up enough offense. Ironically, after Game 3 of the divisional series, when the Phils were up 2 games to 1, a panel of astute analysts on MLB network declared unanimously, "The Cardinals are done." How very wrong they were. Oh well, there's always next year. I am excited, though, that I'll be seeing them in spring training in Clearwater, FL next March.

Poem of the Month: I don't know if I told the story here before of this poem, which appears in the new issue of The Lyric. The editor has already accepted two of my other poems for previous issues, but when I heard nothing more for almost a year, I assumed she didn't accept the others I had submitted. Then out of the blue I got an e-mail from her last spring: She had accepted my other poem "Doldrums" but the letter to me got lost on her desk, until she was cleaning it out one day. She asked if it was still available, and I said yes indeed.


Your day, a gray-flat stratus of a sky,

runs on humidity and sogs the mind

with melted ice cream, watermelon rind,

as uninspired summer hobbles by.

The afternoon will settle, like a fly

on honey, six legs stuck in disrepair.

Though thunderstorming evenings clear the air,

ennui is moderate, not hot and dry.

The day collects as dew upon a glass,

and tracks in rivulets to tabletop,

but life’s not uneventful as it seems.

Though clouds will rumble on as hours pass,

its manufacture never deigns to stop.

The day becomes the engine of our dreams.

Friday, October 7, 2011

No Joy in Mudville

When I began writing this blog entry tonight, the Phillies and Cardinals were beginning the fifth and deciding game on the NL Division Series. Two aces, and best buddies off the field, Roy Halladay and Cris Carpenter, were squaring off in what promised to be a real pitchers' duel. And it was just that - the Phils lost to the wild-card upstart Cards, 1-0, thus ending their club-record 102-win season. The difference, I think, is the Cards' bats got hot just as the Phillies went cold, and the Cards clawed and scraped their way up the standings in the last month of the season to steal the wild card from the Braves, while the Phils were on cruise control, riding a big lead and clinching in mid-September. Sometimes momentum is everything. We've seen superb pitching but streaky offense from this Phillies club all year, so in a way I'm not surprised that it ended, not with a bang but a whimper. Guys, you had a great regular season, but once again you broke my heart.

On a brighter note, autumn is in full swing, and school's back in session - my youngest is now a high school sophomore, and we have a new international student from Korea, who is also a sophomore, staying with us this year. We've weathered an earthquake and a hurricane in one week, and attended our biggest social event of the year, the wedding of my son and daughter-in-law's friends Pat and Jenny in Maine. What a great wedding it was, and she was a lovely bride. (It's not often you see a bride in a top hat!) It had a lot of the same vibe - and many of the same friends and family - as my son's wedding last year.

In poetry, there's not a lot of news. I did get one more acceptance: Shot Glass Journal published my short poem "Good Advice". I also attended the launch party of the 10th anniversary issue of Edison Literary Review. It's quite a milestone, and it includes a poem of mine and one by Pulitzer Prize-winning New Jersey poet Stephen Dunn. GIna and John Larkin and Tony Gruenwald deserve a lot of credit for putting together this quality journal for a decade.

I'm waiting patiently for a few submissions: to Daily Haiku, a Canadian online site with a daily featured haiku and a semiannual print journal; the 2013 edition of Poet's Market, in which editor Robert Brewer will be publishing, for the first time, new and original poetry; and an anthology edited by Peter Murphy, mastermind of the Winter Poetry and Prose Getaway, late of Cape May and coming this January to Galloway (near Atlantic City) NJ. I'm excited about the concept of this one: He invited former attendees of his past conferences (which have run for about 19 years now) to submit poems they have written in response to the conference's famous writing prompts and have subsequently been published. I have had three published from among the poems I wrote at the two conferences I've attended. With a little luck, at least one of them will be in the anthology. I also plan to return to the conference this January. It was in rather dire financial straits, according to Peter, until Richard Stockton College stepped in to help out. There's a change of venue this year (for the better, I'm told, though not right on the beach as it was in Cape May) and the list of big-name poets is shorter, but it still should be a fine weekend. Stephen Dunn is there, as always (I took his workshop at the 2010 conference and it was great). There are some nice success stories among the faculty poets who have participated: Dunn, of course, has won the Pulitzer Prize since he began his association with the conference. James Richardson, whose workshop I took also in 2010, was nominated for a National Book Award last year and won the prestigious Jackson Prize. And Kathleen Graber, who started out years ago as a conference attendee and wrote her first poem at the conference, was also nominated last year for a National Book Award. The conference in past years has also attracted big names like Mark Doty and his partner, fiction writer Paul Lisicky; and last year, poets Patricia Smith and Dorianne Laux.

It's very cool when you get to meet and work with a famous poet, as I did earlier this year. But it's just as cool when you continue a correspondence with them. A few months ago, I shared the good news of a poem publication in Writers Digest, and I got a brief but sincere congratulations from her. About a month later I e-mailed to tell her how much I enjoyed a new publication of hers, and brought her up to date on my poetic exploits. I ended it with something self-effacing like, "I hope I haven't taken up too much of your time." Well, shortly thereafter I got a reply from her that was twice as long as my e-mail. The other night I sent another e-mail praising her new book of poetry and telling her I was looking forward to seeing her again at an upcoming reading. She responded with a another nice, relatively long e-mail within the hour. I feel like we're actually becoming friends. She really is a wonderful person and an amazing poet.

Music: It's time to start thinking about my favorite albums of the year, and though for me the field is not as impressive as last year's, there's still been a lot of really fine music. One that will surely be in my top 10, if not top 5, is the new album from the Philly band The War on Drugs, Slave Ambient. It's a unique amalgam of roots rock and electronica, kind of like Springsteen, Dylan and Petty meet Moby and My Bloody Valentine. Sounds like an aural mess, but it works amazingly well, and "Baby Missiles" is one of the most enjoyable songs of the year.

Poetry: Here's the poem that appears in the new issue of Edison Literary Review:

Never Say

She declared she could never
but he insisted that he will always.

She announced that she frequently
but he stated that he rarely.

She offered that she might occasionally
and he admitted that he usually.

They agreed to sometimes.
Now they often.

Friday, August 19, 2011

How I've Spent My Summer

Time to update this old blog! It's been a pretty busy summer. One of the biggest events was my youngest son’s experience in Minnesota, living at a four-week language-immersion camps run by Concordia University. With one year of high school Japanese under his belt, he decided to attend their Japanese camp, and he had a great time. It was challenging, though: He was required to speak nothing but Japanese for the whole four weeks, from the moment he stepped out of the car. He wasn’t even allowed to bring any English-language books to camp (except a Japanese-English dictionary) and had to change his U.S. spending money to yen. It’s a beautiful camp on a lake (just about everything in that part of Minnesota is on a lake), and getting there, and back, from New Jersey, was half the fun. I flew out with him, and drove a rental car from Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport to camp (a three-and-a-half hour drive), but to pick him up, my wife and I drove out there and back – a two-day-plus journey each way, almost 2700 miles round-trip. (If we’d driven straight instead of heading back home we could have made it to California.) It wasn’t bad for the most part, except for some horrendous stormy weather the morning we hit Chicago. Despite the marathon driving, we tried to make something of a vacation out of it – the highlights included picnicking on the beach of Lake Michigan one evening in Indiana, and enjoying a spectacular sunset over the lake. After picking up our son, we spent a nice evening in St. Cloud, Minnesota – attending church, going out to dinner and seeing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. On the way home, we took a side trip to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland – what an awesome and fun place.

After returning home, we got ready for two big moves. First, son #3 moved to Manhattan where he recently got a job as a project coordinator for a translation company there. Then the following weekend, our former international student, who is heading to Penn State for college, needed our help getting moved into his off-campus apartment. Busy, busy, busy.

Poetry-wise, I’m in a bit of a blue period, so to speak – not producing a lot of new poetry, but I have been submitting more since May and June, and so far I had some pretty good results:

1. My poem “New Season” will appear in the next issue of Spitball, the “literary baseball” magazine.

2. “Postcard from the Ex”, which was #2 on Robert Brewer’s Top 50 for the Poetic Asides April Poem-a-Day Challenge, will appear in the next issue of US 1 Worksheets.

3. Two haiku appear in the new issue of the online journal Four and Twenty.

4. My “Fibonacci poem” entitled “Big Picture” will appear in the next issue of The Fib Review.

I also have a poem, “Never Say” in the upcoming tenth anniversary issue of Edison Literary Review. I’m still waiting to hear on my submission to Shot Glass Journal, as well as the annual Tiferet poetry contest. Also, I just submitted for the 2013 Poet’s Market, edited by the estimable Mr. Brewer, who will be publishing, for the first time, twenty new poems in that edition.

But the biggest news is the appearance of my sonnet, “Two Writers”, in the July/August issue of Writer’s Digest. It was my “prize” for winning Robert Brewer’s sonnet contest on his Poetic Asides blog, and it appears in his magazine column as an example of the sonnet form. That is easily my biggest publication in terms of circulation and exposure so far. Since I’ll probably never get into the New Yorker, I’ll relish this one for a while.

I have been having fun participating on “Mad Kane’s Poetry Blog”, run by Benchley-Award-winning writer Madeline Begun Kane. She sponsors a weekly limerick contest where she provides the first line, and participants build a limerick from it. I’ve received a couple of honorable mentions so far, but it’s more for fun than anything, plus a way to keep some rather stagnant creative juices flowing. Here’s an example:

A man who was proud of his clout

brought a bat to the plate, big and stout.

Quite a menacing guy

when the pitcher let fly –

but whattaya know – he struck out!

And speaking of baseball (how’s that for a segue), my Phillies are tearing it up lately, with the best record in baseball, and as expected, the best starting pitching rotation in baseball. Their offense got a much-needed shot in the arm with the acquisition of that spark plug, Hunter Pence, who finally filled the hole in right field that was left when Jayson Werth followed the money to Washington. World Series, anyone?

Music: One of most interesting releases of the year is Slave Ambient, by the Philly band The War on Drugs. Think "Dylan and Springsteen meet Moby". Seriously, it's surprisingly good stuff. Other noteworthy releases:

The Baseball Project - High and Inside

Bell X1 - Bloodless Coup

Death Cab for Cutie - Codes and Keys

Drive-by Truckers - Go Go Boots

Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues

Gillian Welch - The Harrow and the Harvest

Iron and Wine - Kiss Each Other Clean

Moby - Destroyed

Old 97's - The Grand Theatre Vol. 2

Raphael Saadiq - Stone Rollin'

TV on the Radio - Nine Types of Light

Washed Out - Wthin and Without

Poem of the... Blog Entry:

For those of you who missed my poem in Writer's Digest - or if you're just too cheap to buy the issue - here's my published sonnet:

Two Writers

We went for coffee that June afternoon,

beneath a deck of building clouds, and sat

outdoors, the bistro patio festooned

with marigolds. And there I told you that

I missed the way we used to share our craft,

how poetry would pull us through the miles.

I told some funny anecdotes; you laughed.

We made “shop talk” about our different styles.

The sunlit awning washed our faces red,

but faded just as we began to write.

The rain, staccato, drummed above our heads;

we finished and we shared, and yet despite

our feverish pens, they left a panoply

of words unsaid, beneath that canopy.

[P.S.: I really didn't mean to do so much double-spacing - had a bit of a formatting problem.]

Sunday, June 12, 2011

West Chester Poetry Conference

Here I am, dusting off the cobwebs of this old blog again! I tend to wait till I have significant news, so here it is. I attended the 17th annual West Chester Poetry Conference at West Chester University in PA, about an hour drive from my home. The conference, whose focus is on formal and metrical poetry, ran from Wednesday June 8 through Saturday, June 11, and included three-day workshops plus readings, seminars, panel discussions, social events, and more. Robert Pinsky gave a keynote speech and reading Wednesday night, and he stuck around Thursday for a "town hall" conversation and Q&A. Richard Wilbur was also in attendance, and the conference offered a tribute and 90th birthday party for him. The workshops were led by such poets as Dana Gioia (co-founder of the conference), Kim Addonizio, Molly Peacock, Timothy Steele, David Mason, Dick Davis, A.E. Stallings, Alison Joseph, and others. I also met some up-and-coming, talented young poets like Amit Majmudar, Andrew Sofer, and Annabelle Moseley. My friend Anna Evans was also involved as a faculty member, moderator and presenter, in her roles as editor of the Raintown Review and member of Mezzo Cammin Women Poets Timeline Project.

I took Molly Peacock's "master class" on the villanelle, and it was excellent - about ten of us were in the workshop discussing the form, reading examples, and writing and reading our own work. We also each got a half-hour one-on-one session with Molly, and I'm pleased to say she loved my work and offered good constructive critique. I wrote two pretty good villanelles, one of which got a very positive response both in class an at the participants' open reading later that day. Although this conference had more of an academic feel to it than the Palm Beach Festival I attended earlier this year, I think I held my own pretty well.

If you're a poet or other type of writer and haven't been to a conference, you need to get to one posthaste. They are a golden opportunity to work with renowned writers, meet and befriend other writers, network with publishers and editors (and sometimes agents), and immerse yourself in the writing world for a few days. Oh, and let's not forget all the "freebies", from pens and blank journals to books and periodicals. It's an experience not to be missed.

In other poetry news, I'm anxiously awaiting the release of the July/August issue of Writers Digest, which will contain my sonnet "Two Writers" in Robert Brewer's poetry column. I also got an ineresting e-mail from the editor of the print journal The Lyric about a week ago: She was cleaning up her desk and discovered a letter from two years ago that she had never sent to me, accepting my sonnet "Doldrums", but asking for a minor editorial change. She assumed my lack of response was due to not accepting the suggestion, and forgot about the poem until recently when she found the letter. She asked if the poem was still available. Why yes, I said, so it will appear in an upcoming issue.

Also, I will be the featured reader at Poetry in the Round, Barnes and Noble Bookstore, Rte. 70 in Marlton NJ, on Monday June 20 at 7:30 p.m.

Oh, yes, and an update from way back in April: I did finish the Poem-a-Day Challenge on Robert Brewer's Poetic Asides blog, cranking out 36 poems in 30 days. Here's one of them:

Maybe This is All Just a Dream

and I'll wake to find
Bobby Ewing in the shower
or Emily Hartley in my bed.

I'll return from my trip to Oz
with a bump on my head
from the twister, and Auntie Em,
family and friends at my bedside.

Maybe I'm a bit player in the daydream
of some autistic kid with a snow globe
of a hospital in his hand.

Or maybe I'm one of those folks
working on an inception,
and then I'll wake up,
and then I'll wake up,
and then I'll wake up,
and then I'll wake up.

Monday, April 18, 2011

News Flash: Contest Winner!

I just learned that my sonnet, "Two Writers", has won a sonnet contest held by Robert Brewer of Poetic Asides. The poem will appear in his column in the July/August issue of Writers Digest magazine. I'm stoked!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Happy NaPoMo!

All right, it’s about time to update this blog for the two or three of you who actually read it. It’s that time of year again: National Poetry Month! As usual, I am celebrating it by participating in the Poem-a-Day Challenge. I’m off to a flying start with thirteen poems in the first eleven days (fourteen if you count one that I finished on April 1). And as usual, I’m participating in Robert Brewer’s challenge on his Poetic Asides blog. It’s fun to work on the daily prompts and to share with a supportive online community there. I hope that at the end of the month, at least some of my 30-plus poems will be worthy of sharing with the rest of the world.

I kicked off NaPoMo in fine fashion, with two book-launch parties for two journals. April 1 was the launch event for Up and Under: The QND Review (produced by our little writing group, the Quick and Dirty Poets). It’s another excellent issue, IMHO, featuring Lyn Lifshin, the aforementioned Robert Brewer, and a fine lineup of others. (Unfortunately, it will be our last issue for a while, as our group decided to put it on indefinite hiatus so we could focus more on our other activities, like critiquing each others’ work and hosting our monthly poetry readings at the Daily Grind in Mt. Holly, NJ.) The other launch party was for US 1 Worksheets, a quality annual journal out of Princeton, NJ, produced by the US 1 Poets cooperative. It’s always a great event, well-attended, and the quality of work in this latest issue may just be the best ever.

Another great event this month, which I won’t be able to attend, is the Princeton Poetry Festival on April 29 and 30, a biannual event on the Princeton University campus featuring some of the best poets working today. It has the feel of a mini-Dodge Festival, and it’s well worth attending. This year features renowned poets such as Mark Doty, Sharon Olds, Carl Philips, Charles Simic, Natasha Trethewey, and Kathleen Graber.

I am hoping, however, to attend this year’s West Chester Poetry Conference in June. My friend Anna Evans has been involved with it for the last few years and has been encouraging me to attend. This year she’s leading a panel discussion on formal poetry journals, and as usual the conference lineup is impressive. Robert Pinsky is the keynote speaker, and there are several workshops from which to choose. I hope to get into one headed by Dana Gioia, Molly Peacock, or Kim Addonizio.

Last but not least, I was happy to hear the James Richardson, a fine poet out of Princeton whom I met and workshopped with at last year’s Winter Poetry and Prose Getaway in Cape May, just won the Jackson Poetry Prize from Poets and Writers Magazine. It’s a generous ($50,000!) award for a poet who has done excellent recent work and deserves more recognition. His latest poetry collection, By the Numbers, was also nominated for a National Book Award. Way to go, Jim!

Baseball: My Phillies are off to a good start this year. They’re picked to win their division, and possibly the NL pennant, thanks in part to what is, at least on paper, the best starting pitching rotation in baseball, or as they’ve come to be called, “The Four Aces”: Halladay, Lee, Oswalt and Hamels. And let’s not forget the usually dependable Joe Blanton. The early results have been mixed – not all the aces have been impressive every time on the mound, but the good thing is that the Phils’ offense has stepped up and exceeded expectations. Yes, they’ll miss Jason Werth, but if the aces stay healthy, they may still have a record-setting year.

Music: Very briefly, some recommended new albums for 2011:
Elbow – build a rocket boys!
Adele – 21
Middle Brother – Middle Brother
Paul Simon – So Beautiful or So What
R.E.M. – Collapse into Now
Decemberists – The King is Dead

Poem of the Month: Here’s the one that appears in the new issue of US 1 Worksheets.

Rapids Again
By rights, we should be done with this.
We’ve already brought up three,
rode the whitewaters of their adolescence,
then walked them carefully through the door.
Now, when most of our peers are enjoying
grandparenthood, we are raising another,
rescued from the trap of a lesser life.
He’s blessed to have you, everyone tells us.
But at thirteen, he doesn’t often feel that way.
Some days we feel too old to do this.
The rapids await once again, rougher
than they ever seemed before.
But we’re ready – our raft patched and inflated,
our life jackets strapped on tight,
our well-worn oars clutched in our hands.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A Quick Note...

If you haven't seen it yet, I have a "guest blogger" article on Robert Brewer's Poetic Asides blog - it's entitled "7 Reasons Why You Should Be in a Writing Group". Check it out here.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Parental Bragging and a Festival Photo

My son Chris, a sociology professor at Hofstra U. and Academic Director of the Center for Suburban Studies there, was interviewed today on "Soundcheck", a program on New York's public radio station WYNC. He and host John Schaefer discuss Arcade Fire's album The Suburbs, which just won a Grammy for Album of the Year. You can listen to the broadcast here:

And here is a photo of me with Jane Hirshfield and my awesome workshop group at the Palm Beach Poetry Festival. (I'm in the back row with the cap, and Jane is on my right.)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Palm Beach Poetry Fetival

I am the worst blogger - every time I promise to make this a regular habit and post weekly, or biweekly, or whatever, I backslide again. Well, at least now I have a good reason for a post. I had the pleasure of attending the 7th Annual Palm Beach Poetry Festival in Delray Beach, Florida from January 17 to 23, and it was without a doubt the best conference I've attended yet. The list of "all-stars" was mind-boggling: Jane Hirshfield, Thomas Lux, Heather McHugh, C.D. Wright, Stuart Dischell, Ellen Bryant Voigt, Vijay Seshadri, and Alan Shapiro, plus performance poets Taylor Mali and D. Blair, and a special poetry-with-jazz performance by former US Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky. The schedule included morning workshops, afternoon craft talks, evening readings by the above-mentioned "faculty". Wednesday evening featured a gala dinner and Robert Pinsky's reading, and Saturday was an evening performance-poetry event with Blair and Mali, plus DJ dancing and drinks.

I had the great fortune of getting into Jane Hirshfield's workshop, and it was a wonderful experience. She worked with about a dozen of us all week, which included five all-morning sessions and a brief one-on-one conference with each participant. I was a bit anxious beforehand, not so much about meeting and working with Jane, but with the level of skill of the other participants. Would I feel like a hack in their midst? But no, despite the fact that they were an extremely talented bunch, I felt like a peer and an equal. We started each day sharing a favorite poem by another poet, then had a writing "experiment", as Jane called it, after which we shared our results with the group. Then we critiqued each others' poems submitted for the workshop. It was a productive and rewarding week. Jane is a wise, warm and gracious lady - and one hell of a poet. She even went out to dinner with all of us on Saturday evening.

There were also readings on two afternoons by the workshop participants. I read a poem I wrote in workshop, "Suitcase", which got a good response. I also re-connected with my old poetry friend Lorraine Stanchich, who has been involved with the festival before and was asked to be Mr. Pinsky's assistant. I got to meet him afterward too - really nice guy. And of course, on top of all of this, the weather was in the 70's and 80's almost the whole week - a wonderful if brief departure from winter in New Jersey. Now I have to return to the "real world". Sigh....