Thursday, December 13, 2012

Favorite Music: of the Year and of the Season

So here is a somewhat expanded version of my "Best of 2012" music list from the previous blog entry. 

1. Wrecking Ball - Bruce Springsteen
2. My Head is an Animal - Of Monsters and Men
3. Milk Famous - White Rabbits
4. A Thing Called Divine Fits - Divine Fits
5. Be the Void - Dr. Dog
6. Port of Morrow - The Shins
7. Slipstream - Bonnie Raitt
8. The Lumineers - The Lumineers
9. El Camino - The Black Keys
10. Babel - Mumford and Sons
11. Big Station - Alejandro Escovedo
12. Boys and Girls - Alabama Shakes
13. Bloom -  Beach House
14. Clear Heart, Full Eyes - Craig Finn
15. Fragrant World - Yeasayer
16. Chimes of Freedom: Songs of Bob Dylan - Various Artists
17. Little Broken Hearts -  Norah Jones
18. Anastasis - Dead Can Dance
19. Gossamer - Passion Pit
20. Algiers - Calexico

1. Little Talks - Of Monsters and Men
2. Little Black Submarines - The Black Keys
3. Land of Hope and Dreams - Bruce Springsteen
4. Default - Django Django
5. I Will Wait - Mumford and Sons
6. Would That Not Be Nice - Divine Fits
7. Stubborn Love - The Lumineers
8. No Way Down - The Shins
9. Take a Walk - Passion Pit
10. Danny Come Inside - White Rabbits
11. Lonesome - Dr. Dog
12. Doom and Gloom - The Rolling Stones
13. Dirty Money - Antibalas
14. Used to Rule the World - Bonnie Raitt
15. Hold On - Alabama Shakes
16. Bottom of the World - Alejandro Escovedo
17. Bottom of the River - Delta Rae
18. 45 - The Gaslight Anthem
19. Reagan's Skeleton - Yeasayer
20. Happy Pills - Norah Jones

I should also put in a good word for Days by Real Estate, a fine alt-jangle pop band out of North Jersey whom I discovered this year, but they weren't eligible for the list since their album was released last October.

Also, if you'd like to score some good holiday music, check out Tracey Thorn's Tinsel and Lights. Tracey is formerly of the British group Everything But the Girl, and her album of self-described "secular carols" is a warm, mellow affair, with great covers of Joni Mitchell's "River" and Ron Sexsmith's "Maybe This Christmas", and her own gorgeous song, "Joy", among other fine tunes.  I've also heard bits and pieces of Sufjan Stevens' new Christmas EP collection Silver and Gold.  As with his previous collection Songs for Christmas, it's a mixed bag of religious and secular songs, veering from the reverent to the whimsical and silly. If you like Sufie (and I do), you won't be disappointed. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Holidays Have Begun!

...for better or worse.  I admit I have a love/hate relationship with the holiday season.  If I can get past the hustle-bustle of traffic and shopping, the constant barrage of seasonal ads, the exhaustion of trying to cram all the shopping, decorating, cleaning, wrapping, cooking, etc. into just a few weeks... it's always worth it in the end.  It started auspiciously enough with Thanksgiving dinner at my house - we had fourteen at the table, and it was a truly international affair, with four Korean guests (our current international student and her mom who is visiting this week, plus our former student - now in college at Penn State - and his friend) plus my son's partner, originally from India.

And of course I'm already playing Christmas music.  I just downloaded an album called Holidays Rule, a collection of alt-music artists doing familiar and not-so-familiar seasonal songs.  The highlights for me are Rufus Wainwright and Sharon van Otten doing a heartfelt version of "Baby, It's Cold Outside"; Paul McCartney's mellow "The Christmas Song"; R&B legend Irma Thomas doing "May Ev'ry Day Be Christmas"; The Civil Wars' goosebump-inducing "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day"; and my absolute favorite, a gorgeous song by Calexico, "Green Grows the Holly".  Downside: an abrasive version by the band "fun." of "Sleigh Ride" and a clunky version by the Shins of McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime", which unfortunately are the first two songs on the album.

Poetry News:  I will have a poem published next year by the baseball-themed literary journal Spitball.  It's called "Nine Innings", and it's an autobiographical poem in the context of being a lifelong fan of the Phillies.  It borrows from a form used by poet Donald Hall: nine stanzas of nine lines, each with nine syllables.  These poems by Hall usually address a friend and have an allusion to baseball.  (Hall himself is a lifelong Red Sox fan.)  I'm excited to have something so personal in print, in addition to being the longest poem I've ever had published.

I also have signed up again for Peter Murphy's Winter Getaway Poetry and Prose conference, and I will attend Dorianne Laux's workshop.  It was a choice between that one and the Palm Beach Poetry Festival, which was very enticing with two of my favorites returning - Billy Collins and Jane Hirshfield.  (I took Jane's workshop there two years ago, and as those of you who know me can attest, I still can't stop talking about how great she is.)  But budget, time and distance were all considerations, so the Winter Getaway won out.  This will be my fourth time there, and I always enjoy it.

Music:  I'm rather disappointed that WXPN is not doing a countdown of the best albums of the year this year.  Back in the day, they used to play the top 50 albums (as voted by their listeners) in their entirety, but in recent years they have cut back on that programming, and this year they did away with it completely, going instead with a Top 200 Songs countdown. In a way, it's a sign of the times, as folks these days seem less interested in albums (much less CD's) and more interested in individual song downloads.  So in spite of all that, I've compiled a list of my favorite albums - and songs - of the year:

1. Wrecking Ball - Bruce Springsteen
2. Slipstream - Bonnie Raitt
3. My Head is an Animal - Of Monsters and Men
4. A Thing Called Divine Fits - Divine Fits
5. Milk Famous - White Rabbits
6. Be the Void - Dr. Dog
7. The Lumineers - The Lumineers
8. Port of Morrow - The Shins
9. El Camino - The Black Keys
10. Bloom - Beach House

Honorable Mention:
Big Station - Alejandro Escovedo
Babel - Mumford and Sons
Clear Heart, Full Eyes - Craig Finn
Algiers - Calexico
Sunken Condos - Donald Fagen
Little Broken Hearts - Norah Jones
Handwritten - The Gaslight Anthem
Gossamer - Passion Pit
Anastasis - Dead Can Dance

1. Little Talks - Of Monsters and Men
2. Little Black Submarines - Black Keys
3. Land of Hope and Dreams - Bruce Springsteen
4. I Will Wait - Mumford and Sons
5. Would That Not Be Nice - Divine Fits
6. Stubborn Love - The Lumineers
7. No Way Down - The Shins
8. Take a Walk - Passion Pit
9. Danny Come Inside - White Rabbits
10. Default - Django Django

Poem: I'm still doing a poem a day for November, and following Robert Brewer's Poetic Asides blog. This month he solicited writing prompt suggestions from participants, and he used mine on the 21st, which is:
Take a random list of song titles, from a shuffled iPod playlist, CD, the next five songs on your favorite radio station, etc., then use as many of those titles as you can in a poem.  Here's the one I wrote - note the last title in the random list was a real toughie:


If you want me to make sense

it will have to be after you’re gone.

You’re the one I want
to lay down in the tall grass.
That face like Grace Kelly knocks me over,
a tree in your avalanche.

I’d do anything for you – shop on Black Friday,
eat chocolate-covered crickets,
say the alphabet backwards:…D,C,B,A.

25 horses couldn't keep me away.

If You Want Me – Glen Hansard and Marketa Inglova
Lay Down in the Tall Grass – Timber Timbre
The Avalanche – Sufjan Stevens
Grace Kelly – The Whiffenpoofs
D.C.B.A. -25 – Jefferson Airplane]

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Veteran's Day

I just wanted to wish any veterans out there who may be reading this, a happy Veterans Day.  Like many of my peers, I protested the Vietnam War in my youth, and one of the unfortunate by-products of those times was a disrespect, even a vilification, of many of the veterans who returned home.  My philosophy since then has become, "Love the soldier, hate the war."  My late father-in-law was a WWII vet, and I had the utmost respect and appreciation for him.  So best wishes to all the vets out there, like my poet friend Charles H. Johnson.  (Read his work if you haven't already done so.)

Today's poem-a-day challenge was to write a poem from the point of view of a veteran.  Never having been one myself, I tried to put myself in the shoes of a vet returning home from Afghanistan, still carrying some emotional scars.


I have come back from a dry, rocky hell
feeling hollow, needing to be filled again.
I hold my family close. My dog licks my face,

and I take him with me to the woods,
down to the brook, where he chases squirrels,
while I sit on a stump and listen
to the birds, the gurgling water.

It all seems new again.

Moments like this, I am at peace,
and I feel safe within the walls of home,
although it's never far behind me,
that other fear, the bloody phantom
that comes leaping at me in my dreams.

[I should also mention that I combined this prompt with the "Wordle" word bank on the blog The Sunday Whirl.  I used all the words from the bank: dry, rocky, hollow, wood, brook, birds, new, walls, although, never, phantom, leaping.]

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Extra: Post-Election Poetry

I'm doing Robert Brewer's Poem-a-Day Challenge again for November, and though I won't be posting daily as I did in April, I may share some of my prompted poems from time to time. This one I wanted to try to post because I'm not the most savvy person with HTML, and I wasn't sure how to post these "justified" poems anywhere else.  The prompt (from Day 6) was to write a "left poem" and a "right poem" - to be interpreted anyway the poet desired.  So in light of yesterday's election (the results of which I am quite satisfied with, just so you know), I thought I'd write a "right", a "left", and a "center" poem:

Red's Lament

The Left
is out in left field.
They've left behind
all reason, those bleeding hearts.
I will pay them no compliments,
not even a left-handed one.
I don't even trust southpaws.
You know "sinister" is Latin for
"left-handed", don't you?
When they're done with our country,
what will be left?
Blue's Ballyhoo

The Right
just aren't thinking right.
What gives them the right
to leave the poor behind?
They think everything's all right
as long as they've got theirs.
In Latin, "right-handed" is "dexter",
like the serial killer on TV.
You think they'll kill our country
with greed and selfishness?
You got that right.

Purple's Plea

We're in the middle
of all this fuss.
Let's get over ourselves,
find our center, and breathe.
Compromise is not a dirty word.
Here in the middle of the road
there are no ruts.
Red and blue together
make such a beautiful color.
If we're even-handed, we'll be great again,
the center of our universe.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Surviving "Frankenstorm", New Book, and Happy Halloween

Seriously, how can you be scared of a hurricane named "Sandy"?  It's almost as un-scary as "Bob" from a few seasons ago. "Bob" isn't a hurricane; it's your next-door neighbor who lends you his weed whacker. And he could be married to "Sandy". So when this weather phenomenon began to acquire the names "Superstorm" and "Frankenstorm" (a clever tag for a Halloween-week storm that was a hybrid of three different storms), there was more cause for alarm.  It was truly frightening how big it became and how much it affected practically the whole Eastern half of the country.  Of course, the Jersey shore, northern NJ and New York City got the brunt of it, and the images of the flooding and destruction are chilling.  In my neck of the woods, closer to Philly, we had our share of damage and inconvenience, though nothing of the magnitude of those other areas.  We got hurricane-force gusts but not as much rain, and no storm surge to worry about.  Still, many of us were without power (some still are) and there's a number of downed trees all over.  One came down in my yard and pulled a "hat trick", taking out my electric line, cable and phone line all at once, early in the storm.  For a while I was the only one on my block without power.  We made the most of it, with plenty of candles and flashlights, and we could still cook on our gas stove. We even played a board game together by candlelight (a fine alternative when electronic games are not an option).  By Tuesday we were worrying about our perishable food, but we got everything back except the phone line by that afternoon - even had a local tree service cut up our fallen tree. None of us in in my house had work or school Monday or Tuesday, but today (Wednesday) my wife, who works for the state, was the only one who was off.  Things are almost back to normal here, but The Big Apple, where two of my sons live, is another story.  They're okay, but lower Manhattan is still flooded and mostly without power.  If global warming was a factor in the formation of this monster storm, then we'd better start getting used to more of the same.

In poetry: My new chapbook is out!  It's called Twenty-four by Fourteen, and is a collection of two dozen sonnets and sonnet-like poems, published by Maverick Duck Press.  We had a "launch party" a couple of weeks ago at the Daily Grind in Mount Holly, which was sparsely attended, but I appreciated my friends and family who did come (including my wife, who rarely attends these things).  The cover art, as usual, is by my talented graphic artist son.  Here's a link to the publisher's website, or you can contact me directly for an autographed copy.  Here's an image of the wrap-around cover - note the 24x14 array:


Happy Halloween:  Here are two pumpkins my kids decorated - my son did the carved pirate emblem, and my Korean international student did her version of a witch:

Poem:  Once again I finished in the top 10 in Robert Brewer's Poetic Asides blog Poetic Form contest.  This time it was for a "chant poem".  The title suggests a seasonal subject, but the theme is more serious, about the dark side of human nature.


My monster will rise from two teenage boys
who killed a young girl for her bike.

My monster will rise from a commentator
who called the President a “retard”
and from those who hang him in effigy.

My monster will rise from the men who shot
a girl in Pakistan who wanted an education.

My monster will rise from those who bullied
a girl to suicide.

My monster will rise from those who say
the Holocaust never happened.

My monster will rise from the two men
who crucified a young gay man against a fence,
the three white supremacists who dragged
a black man to pieces behind their pickup.

My monster will rise from the slime of hatred
and intolerance, from the stench of inhumanity.

Who will kill my monster?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

An Open Letter to Ann Coulter

Dear Ann,
I don’t usually get “political” on this blog, but I feel compelled to respond to your recent Twitter comment, even though by now, what with the 24-hour news cycle and all that, it’s old news. You said after the last debate, “I highly approve of Romney’s decision to be kind and gentle to the retard.” Let’s look at the two reasons this is such a despicable comment.

First, you’re insulting the President of the United States. Okay, we all love the First Amendment, which gives us the right to call the President just about anything we want. Heck, I called George W. Bush an “idiot” on more than one occasion. But there’s something particularly insidious about the “R-word”. Let’s face it: no matter what you think about Barack Obama and his first term in office, he is an intelligent man. Insulting his intelligence will get you nowhere. I have to digress a little and comment on the attitudes I’ve witnessed in the last four years. I have never seen such disrespect and utter vitriol for a president as I have seen for this man – a deep-seated hatred that for the most part he does not deserve. And it doesn’t take a sociologist to know where much of it is coming from. You may disagree with him, but for God’s sakes, he is not a Muslim, a communist, a subhuman (as depicted in some execrable cartoons), and he is, I repeat, is, a U.S.-born citizen. I have never seen a president hung in effigy by his own citizens like I have with this one. (And I don’t need to point out the other connotations of that display.) I have to say, Ann, you must relish feeding this hatred with the use of that word.

Second, the word itself is reprehensible. Inexplicably, it’s become fashionable as a general insult among young folks. Maybe you thought because you have a Twitter account and used it, it made you look “cool”. You’re not. These days, even “mentally retarded” is considered un-PC, so “retard” is even worse – it’s a slur, no matter how it’s used, almost as bad as the “N-word”.

Let me tell you a little story. When I was in fifth grade, there was a developmentally-disabled boy in our class that my friends and I made fun of on the playground. Our teacher heard about this and gave the three of us a long, stern lecture on treating others with respect and dignity, which I remember to this day, some fifty years later. I never used the R-word again. Maybe if you’d had a lecture like that in your youth, Ann, you wouldn’t be the mean-spirited human being you are today.

The backlash to your comment has been amazing, not so much in support of the president as of the millions of developmentally-challenged individuals who deserve more than the indirect slap in the face that you gave them. I’ve read some eloquent statements on the matter from them and their families, and I couldn’t possibly have said it better, so I won’t try.

In conclusion, Ann, I don’t expect you, a standard-bearer for the right wing, to like Barack Obama. So vote against him, and encourage your friends to do the same, just as I will encourage my friends to vote for him. But stop calling the man, or anyone else in this precious world, a “retard”. Because you know what? It’s not just a word – it’s also a boomerang.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Extra: Basking in the Post-Dodge Glow

I attended the biennial Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival this past week.  It's the four-day festival that features readings and performances by renowned poets from around the world, with music, panel discussions, book signings, open readings, and a lot of other activities.  It's the largest poetry gathering of its kind in North America, I'm told, and it's small wonder it's been called the "Woodstock of Poetry".  (Especially one year at a one-time-only venue when it was a sea of mud!)  For years it had been held in historic Waterloo Village, a rustic recreation of a 19th century town in north Jersey, but when it was resurrected from oblivion two years ago and moved to the Performing Arts Center in urban Newark, NJ, I was skeptical that it could be as successful as previous years, so I skipped it. I went this year, however, and though the ambiance of the new location is quite different, it was still a huge success.  I went for only one day, which happened to be "High School Student Day", so the venues were packed.  But I must say that the kids were quite well-behaved, attentive and enthusiastic, and I enjoyed the positive energy that they brought with them.

Of course I had to see my idol, Jane Hirshfield, and I got a chance to say hello to her before her evening performance.  I attended both of her readings and the afternoon panel conversation in which she participated, "Finding Your Poetry", which was moderated by another poetry friend, J.C. Todd.  In fact, I saw several fellow poets I know who were there as attendees or volunteers: Diane Lockward, Lois Harrod, Laura Boss, Madeline Tiger, Tony Gruenwald, Amanda Berry, and Rocky Wilson.  The "famous poets" lineup was impressive as usual: I got to see the current Poet Laureate, Natasha Tretheway, as well as Amiri Baraka, Eavan Boland, Juan Felipe Herrera, Dorianne Laux, Rachel McKibbens, Emari DiGiorgio, Taylor Mali, Arthur Sze, Ada Limon, Joseph Millar, Terence Hayes, Fanny Howe, and Thomas Lux.  I also participated in an open reading attended by about a hundred people, and I read two of my poems, "Dancing with the Muse" and "Postcard to the Ex", which got a great response.  It was a long but really fine day.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Collingswood Book Fest and Even More Limericks

Once again, I attended the 10th annual Collingswood Book Festival yesterday.  It's a great one-day street festival celebrating the printed word (and we need to do that more than ever these days), with local and regional authors giving talks and signings, as well as kid's events (Kathy O'Connell from XPN's Kid's Corner was there, along with local kid-band favorites Ernie and Neal), publishers, lots of new and used books for sale, and a day-long schedule of poetry events.  Lots of my poetry friends were there: Tammy Paolino and B.J. Swartz, along with Walt Howat, organized the "poetry tent";  Anna Evans judged the children's poetry contest; Kendall and Christinia Bell represented their own Maverick Duck Press (who will be publishing my new chapbook later this month); and Don Kloss represented our group, The Quick and Dirty Poets, at the "Occupy Poetry" event that showcased local poetry groups. My son came along, too, and we participated in a workshop run by Peter Murphy (founder of the Winter Poetry and Prose Getaway), and an afternoon open mic.  I also got to meet Pulitzer-Prize-winning political cartoonist Tony Auth, late of the Philadelphia Inquirer, and got him to autograph a copy of his new collection The Art of Tony Auth: To Stir, Inform and Inflame. The weather was nearly perfect - a little cloudy and windy in the afternoon, but nothing to complain about.

I'm looking forward to the new print issue of Verse Wisconsin, which will be featuring two of my poems, "Ghosts" and "Downsizing", both of which, you could say, are autumn-themed.  Also, I need to remind you all (if you're local) of my upcoming reading for Maverick Duck Press at the Daily Grind, High St. in Mt Holly, on Friday Oct. 19 at 7:00 p.m.  Hopefully it will be a "book launch" as well, with the impending publication by MDP of my new chapbook, Twenty-four by Fourteen.  Be there if you can.

I've been enjoying entering online humor contests lately. I finally submitted to the New Yorker's weekly Cartoon Caption Contest - I'll know in a week or so if I'm a finalist. (Website visitors can vote online for one of the three finalists in the contest.)  I also entered another political poem to's weekly limerick contest, though I can't tell if it's actually still running.  I did, however, score another HM in Mad Kane's Limerick-off for this one:

Young Hester displayed her dismay
that her rep in Sex Ed would hold sway:
"They think that I'm sultry,
imbued in adult'ry -
it's a class where I don't want an 'A'!"

Baseball: The Phillies season is over.  They succeeded in having their first non-winning season in 12 years (81-81) and missed the playoffs for the first time in six years.  If their first half had been as good as their second half (which would have been tough with all the regulars who were injured) they would have at least got a wild card spot.  Well, no use crying over spilt milk.  Retooling has already begun with the firing of three coaches, and the hiring of Hall-of-Famer Ryne Sandberg, who did a fine job coaching their minor league Iron Pigs franchise, as third-base coach.  I have little interest in the post-season at this point, though I seriously think the Nationals could go all the way.

Poem: Here's the timely limerick I submitted to the contest, after viewing the (so-called) debate:

Mr. Romney has stated that, yes,
he plans to de-fund PBS.
I can just see the headline:
Big Bird in the breadline,
and Elmo a homeless hot mess!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Pushcart, A New Book, Trivia, and a Loss

Late again!  Now that there’s little nip of autumn in the air and the school year is back in full swing, it’s time for an update.

The big poetry news is that I’ve been nominated for a Pushcart Prize for my poem, “Postcard to the Ex”, which appeared in this year’s issue of US 1 Worksheets.  (Click here to see it on their webpage.)  It’s my second Pushcart nomination, and even though I now realize that there are probably a couple of thousand nominees each year, it’s still quite an honor.  It would be even sweeter if my poem made it into the annual Pushcart Prize anthology, but I’m not holding my breath.

I’m planning to publish a new chapbook by next month - it will be a collection of sonnets and other 14-line poems titled "Twenty-four by Fourteen".  I plan to have it out just in time for a reading sponsored by my publisher, Maverick Duck Press, at 7:00 on Friday, October 19 at The Daily Grind in Mt. Holly.  If you’re a local friend or acquaintance, come on out for what I hope will be an entertaining evening.

It seems I’ve become a bit of a legend at my local Mexican restaurant and watering hole, Tortilla Press Cantina, where they have a weekly trivia (“Quizzo”) contest.  I’m a trivia fanatic, and I’ve won a few prizes there playing solo (usually against several teams of two to four people).  At one point, one of the MCs dubbed me “Bruce the Shark”, and the name stuck as my “team name”.  I haven’t won the last three times, but my “consolation prize” last week was that one of the other teams named themselves after me, something like “Was Bruce at Shark Camp All Summer? Welcome Back!”  (I took a bit of a hiatus during the summer.) That was nice of them, but they didn’t win that night either.

On a sadder note, I lost a longtime friend to cancer a couple of weeks ago.  I’d known Bill since just after college – his girlfriend and future wife Marlene was a classmate and good friend of my wife’s.  We shared many good times together over the years, the most significant being their only son, and our second son, who were born just days apart. Bill was a taciturn, laid-back, genuinely nice guy who shared my love of music and the Phillies – I watched them win their first-ever World Series championship in 1980 on his TV.  He is the one who took a spring training trip to Florida to see the Phillies play in March.  I will miss him.  I’ve been writing some poems about this lately, like this one:


You walk down the long hall for the last time.
Framed photographs hang on both walls -
your memories lined up as a gallery.
When you reach the other end,
your picture will hang there too.

Finally, to lighten things up a bit again, here's an educational and entertaining animated video about the metaphor, narrated by one of my favorite poets (and people) - of course I'm talking about Jane Hirshfield:


Saturday, September 1, 2012

Limericks, Another Music List, and Incongruous Trees II

I can't believe September is already upon us.  School starts next week, and we already have our new international student staying with us (our third in three years).  She's from South Korea, as the others were, and she will be a sophomore this year. My wife is over the moon that we have a girl living with us, after raising four boys for almost her whole adult life.  Now she has a shopping companion, for one thing.

I'm in another one of my writing funks, having written about two "serious" poems in the last three weeks, though I've still been cranking out those limericks for Mad Kane's Limerick-offs. (Host Madeleine Kane provides the first line, and participants write the rest of the limerick.) I did get a couple more honorable mentions last week and this week for these:

A father was very obsessed
with the way that his teenage girl dressed:
"You inveterate flirt,
that's a belt, not a skirt,
and your blouse reveals most of your chest!"

A woman was peeved at her mate,
a Saudi-rich oil ponentate:
"We had a big fight,
'cos he's drilling tonight,
but by that he means wife number eight!"

I also entered a new limerick contest at a couple of weeks ago and was picked as one of the winners.  The topic of the week for the limericks was the new vice-presidential candidate:

Paul Ryan, would you please explain
how your budget plan isn't insane?
I can tell you with surety
that Social Security
is not what I'd call "gravy train"!

By the way, you may recall the poem "Incongruous Trees" from my last blog post.  Well, here's a photo of one of those infamous trees outside of Mass MoCA:

And here's a actual art work in the window of their gift shop that may make you writers chuckle:

Music:  I love music lists, and as I reported before, WXPN is getting ready for their annual Top 885 Countdown - this year's theme is "Greatest Rock Songs".  I shared my top 10 a couple of blogs ago, but some of my fellow "boardies" (regulars on the bulletin board) have been complaining about how much "classic rock" will make the list, as opposed to other subgenres like punk and modern alt-rock.  So one of them suggested making a list of the best albums from 1980 or later, not released by a "classic rock" artist.  I came up with a pretty good list, I think, though it pained me greatly not to include three of my all-time favorite post-1980 albums (Paul Simon's Graceland, Peter Gabriel's So, and Richard and Linda Thompson's Shoot Out the Lights).  I also decided to stick with personal favorites over albums that I  acknowledge were "great", like Radiohead's OK Computer or The Clash's London Calling.  So here's my "Favorite Top Ten Non-Classic-Rock Albums from 1980 to Present":

1. Talking Heads - Remain in Light
2. World Party - Goodbye Jumbo
3. Los Lobos - Kiko
4. Matthew Sweet - Girlfriend
5. Spoon - Kill the Moonlight
6. Decemberists - The Crane Wife
7. New Pornographers - Twin Cinema
8. Dire Straits - Brothers in Arms
9. Sufjan Stevens - Illinois
10. Arcade Fire - The Suburbs

(Dire Straits are borderline "classic rock" but they debuted in 1978, so they're not quite of that era, nor are Talking Heads, who also debuted in the late 1970's but were more a product of the punk-rock era.)

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Culture and Incongruous Trees in the Berkshires

We had the really fine weekend last week, part 2 of my wife's 60th birthday celebration.  (Part one was her ladies-only tea party a couple of weekends ago.)  We took a long weekend trip to the Berkshires in Massachusetts - we'd been there about eleven years ago and really enjoyed it, but only had one of our sons come with us at the time.  This year we took all four and their significant others, and stayed in two 2-bedroom condos at Wyndham Bentley Brook resort.  Getting there was an adventure, with heavy rain for much of the journey, which is usually about four and a half hours from our house.  But once we got there we had a splendid time.  The Berkshires have a lot going on culturally in the summer, so we took advantage of that by attending a production of Shakespeare's The Tempest (starring Olympia Dukakis) on Friday evening, seeing Yo Yo Ma perform Elgar's Cello Concerto at Tanglewood on Saturday (what an amazing and passionate performer he is), plus some shopping and museum-hopping the rest of the time.  We only wished it was longer than four days.

My group, the Quick and Dirty Poets, had our monthly reading last evening, featuring our friend Adele Bourne, who unfortunately lost her husband (and fellow poet) John earlier this year, and who will be moving from the area soon, so it was probably a "farewell" reading for her.  It didn't start auspiciously though - the coffee shop where we always have our readings was inexplicably closed.  We ended up going over to Adele's house to have it there. (She'd already planned to have people over anyway after the reading.) She read poems by John and herself (rather moving, needless to say), followed by readings from the other poets in attendance.  It turned out to be a good evening after all.  Adele's chapbook, A Grocery List and Other Poems, is available from Finishing Line Press and

Now my big news: I was reading the Writer's Almanac interview with Marge Piercy last night (you'll recall I took her week-long workshop on Cape Cod in June).  The interviewer's last question was, what new writers excite her?  She included me in her answer!  Wow - I guess I'll have to live up to that praise now.  She also mentioned my fellow workshop member Shana Ritter, and Maria Gillan, whom many of us New Jersey poets know as the editor of Paterson Literary Review.  It's so cool to get props from a famous writer!

Poem of the Week:  One of the sites we visited last weekend was Mass MOCA, a modern art museum in a converted factory in North Adams.  We'd been there before on our previous trip, and one sight struck me enough to inspire this poem, which appeared earlier this year in the online journal Curio Poetry:

Incongruous Trees  (Mass MOCA Summer 2001)

After wandering the glory of forested Berkshire hills,
we stop one morning at a modern art museum,
a converted factory in an old industrial town.

On the promenade to the entrance
we pass an unassuming row of maples.
Our eyes catch the glint of green above our heads,
where they should be – and we stop in our tracks.

Thre trees are upside-down,
hanging from cables strung across poles.
They grow earthward from metal tubs,
trunks pulled gravity-straight 
leaves clinging in midair, so it seems.

This is a Magritte painting come to  life –
the familiar presented incongruously.
Water drips like IV fluid from hydroponic pots
to grateful foliage below.

We marvel a moment before we proceed,
but the message is delivered:
“Welcome. Come in. 
See how we have played with the world.
Take a look.
And take a look again.” 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Extra: Best Rock Songs of All Time?

Yes, I did submit my list to WXPN for their annual top 885 countdown, this year's theme: "Best Rock Songs of All Time".  I expect the top 100 to be classic-rock heavy, if not most of the list, but it should still be fun.  I decided not to include ballads or songs more on the pop or folk side of rock, focusing instead on personal favorites that really do ROCK, in my humble opinion.  Killer guitar is a general requirement, and passionate vocals are always a plus.  Great lyrics are good but not necessarily essential.  I leaned more toward classic rock of course (consider my demographic!), but tried to include a few less obvious choices from some iconic bands, plus I threw in a few picks from the 80's and the new millennium.  Narrowing it down to ten was excruciating, and I'm sure in the next few weeks I'll hear a song on the radio or a suggestion from a friend and slap myself in the forehead, V-8 style, saying, "Why, oh why, didn't I include THAT one!?"  But what the heck, here it is.  (Argue away!)

1. Kashmir – Led Zeppelin
2. Baba O’Riley – The Who
3. Shoot Out the Lights – Richard Thompson
4. Whiskey Train – Procol Harum
5. Voodoo Child (Slight Return) – Jimi Hendrix
6. I Got Loaded – Los Lobos
7. Careful with that Axe Eugene – Pink Floyd
8. Why Does Love Got to Be so Sad? – Derek and the Dominoes
9. 10 A.M. Automatic – Black Keys
10. The Rake’s Song – The Decemberists

Honorable Mentions:

In Memory of Elizabeth Reed (live at Fillmore East) – The Allman Brothers
Sympathy for the Devil – Rolling Stones
Mattie Groves – Fairport Convention
Somebody to Love – Jefferson Airplane
Johnny B. Goode – Chuck Berry
Murder or a Heart Attack - Old 97's
Once in a Lifetime – Talking Heads
Use It – The New Pornographers
Your Little Hoodrat Friend – The Hold Steady
I Heard It Through the Grapevine – Creedence Clearwater Revival
Here Comes My Girl - Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
My City Was Gone - The Pretenders
Divine Intervention - Matthew Sweet
Revolution (single version) - The Beatles
Wah-Wah - George Harrison
I Will Dare - The Replacements
She's the One - Bruce Springsteen

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Extra: The Week that Marilyn Died

I just read that today is the 50th anniversary of Marilyn Monroe's death.  For me at least, it's one of those iconic "Where-were-you-when" moments, so I wrote a poem about it several years ago.  I made some revisions and I'm posting it here:

The Week That Marilyn Died

August of  '62, my family camped in High Point State Park.
It rained nearly every day, except the day we went canoeing.
Despite the rain, and the tent that threatened to fall in on us
from its own wetness, we had a good week, except
for one morning when we were cooking breakfast
and listening to the transistor radio –
Marilyn Monroe was dead, it said.
We froze, disbelieving, while the bacon sizzled.

A star, so young and gorgeous - it couldn't be true.
I thought she was the most beautiful woman
I had ever seen. I, the gawky, gangly, eleven-year-old
with horn-rimmed glasses, not quite on the roller coaster
of puberty, who hadn’t yet had his first kiss,
his first prom date, or met the love of his life.

Maybe she was my first love. Back then I thought she was
the ideal against which all women were to be measured.
When I see old photos that preserve her,
twenty-five years younger than I am now,
I still feel a pang of sadness. Like an old girlfriend,
I left her behind, as I moved on to greater things.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Dog Days for Phillies, Good Days for Poetry

I can't believe we're into the last full month of summer already! Normally, right now I'd be eagerly following the Phillies in their pennant race, but it was not meant to be this year.  Instead, I sadly watch as their "fire sale" goes on - already Victorino, Pence and Blanton are gone, and there are rumblings that Cliff Lee won't be here next year either.  At least Hamels is sticking around.  Oh well, I guess I can root for them to get out of last place in their division.  Anyone want to make a bet on the date they'll break their string of consecutive sellouts?

I'm home alone tonight blogging away - wife is at a baby shower and son is attending his first rock concert ever with his big brother and friends (Mighty Mighty Bosstones).  Last weekend my wife celebrated her 60th  a little early with a high tea with her lady friends. I don't think I ever worked so hard on a party to which I wasn't invited, but at least I reaped the benefit of leftovers - lots of yummy finger sandwiches and desserts.

In poetry news, my poem "A Day in July" has just been accepted for next year's issue of US 1 Worksheets.  It's their 40th anniversary issue - amazing! Check their link and you will also find my poem from the most recent issue, "Postcard to the Ex". Also, my poem "Careful in the Fog" has just appeared in the new issue of Tilt-a-Whirl.

I've been participating in the Washington Post blog "Style Invitational", moderated by Pat Myers.  She runs a weekly humor contest that's a lot of fun, with nutty prizes for the cleverest entries.  I finally got an Honorable Mention for my entry in the "Ploy to Annoy" contest, where you had to enter a suggestion for a new way to tick people off.  My entry:

"Carry a box of apostrophes with you, so you can insert them around town in correctly punctuated signs. "

Music:  WXPN-FM is soliciting entries in their annual music countdown.  This year's theme is "885 Greatest Rock Songs of All Time".  Just try to come up with only ten favorites - I dare you.  It's a lot harder than it sounds.  I also have been grappling with how to define "rock" here: Should I include rock-n-roll like Chuck Berry?  Folk-rock like Fairport Convention?  Pop-rock like the Beatles?  And how much should I balance the "classics" with more contemporary songs that I love that may not yet be considered classics?  It's a tough list, and i have a tentative top 10, but it changes every time I look at it again.  I'll have something final by next blog.

Poem: Here's one that won 3rd place in the "Nonet Challenge" on Robert Brewer's Poetic Asides blog last week.  If you don't know, a nonet is a very simple poetic form: nine syllables in the first line, eight in the second, etc., till the last line of just one syllable.  I took the shape such a poem creates and made a concrete poem of sorts:


Pythagoras gave us  all the rules:
the formula works every time.
A squared + B squared =
C squared.  Hypotenuse,
the long sloping side,
connects it all.
One angle
makes it

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Summer Storms and an Anniversary

I’m getting lazy again – it's been 3 weeks since my last blog post.  Summer is in full swing, brutal temperatures and all.  My neighborhood flirted with 100 degrees for a couple of days, and before that we were just missed by a nasty storm that ripped through much of the Mid-Atlantic region – a “derecho”, they called it, a line of thunderstorms with straight line winds (some over 90 m.p.h.) that tore down trees and left something like a million people without power for days.  One of the most astonishing things was how quickly this storm moved across the country, forming in northern Indiana around 2 p.m., then gaining speed and power, hitting the East Coast by about 10 or 11 p.m.  Even though we were spared here, it still inspired a poem. Things have settled down somewhat since then. 

Yesterday I celebrated 39 years of marriage to my college sweetheart.  In some ways it was a normal day, and in other ways it was special. Actually, with our teenager away at camp this week we have the house to ourselves, so we can continue the celebration all week.  I mentioned in the last blog that I had to skip the closing festivities of the Marge Piercy workshop to attend a wedding back home. Well, it was a wonderful event.  Congratulations to my daugher-in-law's beautiful sister and her great husband - i hope they have at least as many happy years together as we have.

In poetry news, I finally heard from the editor of Lucid Rhythms, who said he was having tech problems on his journal webpage, but he accepted two of my poems, “Dancing with the Muse” and “Minnesota Sonnet: MIA” for his upcoming July issue.  I also entered the Naugatuck Review’s annual poetry contest (the editor was a member of my workshop with Marge Piercy), and I hope to enter Rattle’s annual contest too.  I’m starting to get more proactive with submissions – there are a few other journals I have my eye on too.

Baseball: Stick a fork in the Phillies, they're done - at least for this year.  They're on a pace to lose 95-100 games - no playoffs this year unless they pull off a miracle comeback.  With their awful bullpen (with the exception of Papelbon), and subpar performances from just about everyone but Hamels and Ruiz, that's not gonna happen.

Poem of the Week(?):  I'm reprising a poem I wrote and posted in April in honor of our anniversary.

A Day in July

I won’t apologize for the weather,
one of the hottest days of the summer.
I won’t apologize for the venue either,
a little chapel on campus, not some
cavernous cathedral. I won’t apologize
for our shoestring budget - the lack of a limo,
how we went to the reception in her dad’s
old Pontiac, with her friend from next door
as chauffeur. I have no regrets for the music
I stayed up all night to tape, despite a lack
of tunes you could dance to. I’m not sorry
for the snafus – forgetting the marriage license,
her reciting my vows in her nervousness.
I won’t even make excuses for the fact that
my fly was open through half of the reception.
All I know is the ends justify the means,
and looking back from a perspective
of thirty-nine years, the day couldn’t
have been more perfect.

July 16 - THIS JUST IN:
I just got word from Tilt-a-Whirl, the online journal for repeating forms, that my poem "Careful in the Fog" has been accepted for their next issue.  That's particuarly gratifying because it's in a form I created, the "pan-ku".

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Driving Ms. Piercy

I just returned from a most incredible week of poetry.  I was one of twelve poets selected by famous poet and author Marge Piercy for a week-long intensive workshop in her hometown of Wellfleet (Cape Cod), Massachusetts.  She selected twelve applicants from all over the U.S.and Canada to meet with her daily, critique our poetry, share the products of writing assignments, and learn from her wisdom.  I was the lone male of the group, but I didn't once feel uncomfortable with that - in fact, I felt lucky being in the company of such fascinating and talented women.  Marge is a feisty person who offers incisive and frank critique, and I enjoyed getting to know and learn from her.  I even got to be her "chauffeur", driving her home three times after our sessions during the week.  It was a great opportunity to chat one-on-one, in addition to the individual critique session we each had with her.  I cranked out seven poems during the very productive week, and we had a reading at the Wellfleet Library Thursday evening, which was well-attended (practically standing room only) and a big success.  I also met Marge's husband Ira Wood, who is also a writer as well as a public radio host - he hosted a beach bonfire on Wednesday evening - very nice guy. Unfortunately I couldn't stay for the Friday evening soiree at Marge and Ira's house (had to get back home in time for a wedding).

I loved Cape Cod, though I didn't explore the area as much as I thought I would.  (I spent most afternoons working hard on my poetry.)  My favorite visit was probably to the Edward Gorey House in Yarmouthport, a summer home he lived in till his death in 2000. It's now a museum with much Goreybilia, a gift shop, and a large black-and-white cat who looks like he just stepped out of the pages of one of Gorey's books, thus inspiring a poem. I journeyed to Provincetown one day, too, but didn't stay long because it was during a short but intense  East Coast heat wave - even though it was cooler on the Cape, it was still 90 degrees and oppressively humid (after not getting out of the 60's earlier in the week). I also enjoyed the seafood on the Cape (needless to say), and though I was frugal and "ate in" most of the week, I still went out a few times with my new workshop friends for lobster, pizza, drinks, and such.  All in all, it was a terrific week.  My only regret was that my wife couldn't join me. (I may share some of the poetry I wrote this week in a future post.)

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Happy Father's Day... Early!

I had a nice day today.  Since I'll be in Cape Cod next Sunday, Father's Day, getting ready for the week-long workshop with Marge Piercy, my family celebrated Father's Day a week early.  My two sons came down from New York, and joined my other two sons, my daughter-in-law, my sister-in-law, and our international student for brunch at the Blue Monkey Restaurant.  The food was great - I had a chicken and garden vegetable frittata
that took up an entire dinner plate - I took about a quarter of it home and had it later for dinner.  I got some nice cards and gifts, including the new 25th anniversary edition of Paul Simon's Graceland, which includes unreleased demos and outtakes, music videos and interviews, and the documentary about the making of the album Under African Skies.  I also got the new live double-CD Decemberists album, a cute book by cartoonist Jeffrey Browne called Darth Vader and Son, an iTunes card, clothes, and a book on the Beatles.  It was great to have all the boys together again to celebrate.

This week was the West Chester Poetry Conference, which I attended last year but had to pass on this year.  My friend Anna Evans is becoming a bit of a fixture there, in her roles as editor and seminar leader, and she reports in her blog, Dreaming in Iambic Pentameter, that she had a swell time.  Maybe next year I'll make it back there - it's an excellent four-day conference with an emphasis on formal poetry, and it's only about an hour from my home.

The only poetry news this week is that I won the Facebook Friends' Choice Award on Mad Kane's Humor Blog for the weekly Limerick-off contest.  Check the link for my winning limerick.

Poem of the Week:  In keeping with this week's theme, here's one I wrote several years ago:


What is this primordial urge
that lures us men outside,
we, who chafe in the kitchen,

only to sear meat al fresco,
taking pride in parallel lines
black-grilled on our product?

Some archetypal memory
grabs us
– the time we used
this new technology, fire,

for light and heat, and suddenly,
accidentally, they say, for cooking,
the fresh kill for the family
skewered on a stick in a flame.

No matter that this modern bounty
wrapped in plastic and styrofoam
came home in a paper bag.

's the offering up that satisfies,
the sacrifice of sustenance
over hot coals,

the charcoal smoke to the heavens,
the ancestors smiling down
on my grill, my gift from the family
for Father
’s Day.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Poetry News and Favorite Albums of 2012 (So Far)

The only real  "news" in the poetry department this week is that the July/August issue of Writer's Digest is now out, and on page 11, in Robert Lee Brewer's column "Poetic Asides" you'll find my poem "Purple Heart".  I'm surprised that i don't get a free copy for appearing in the issue, but it's not that big a deal to go buy it.  It's always a thrill to see your poems in print, and to be in a national magazine with a big circulation is something quite special.

I did submit five baseball-themed poems to Spitball, who published one of my baseball poems last year.  Still waiting to hear from Lucid Rhythms (the editor hasn't even replied to my status request e-mail, and I couldn't access the website tonight via Google - that can't be a good sign) and Tilt-a-Whirl.

My friend Tammy Paolino just got an Honorable Mention in Paterson Poetry Review's Allen Ginsberg Prize competition.  Way to go, Tammy!

Music:  Due in part to my cranky computer, I haven't done as much downloading and music acquisition so far this year as I normally do.  Still, I have some early favorites for my annual Favorite Albums of the Year list.  Perhaps I'm playing it safe here, but the top two are music legends who are, incidentally, now old enough to collect their Social Security.

1. Wrecking Ball - Bruce Springsteen
2. Slipstream - Bonnie Raitt
3. Milk Famous - White Rabbits
4. Be the Void - Dr. Dog
5. Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan  - various artists
6. Clear Heart, Full Eyes - Craig Finn
7. Port of Morrow - The Shins
8. Bloom - Beach House
9. Little Broken Hearts - Norah Jones
10. Days - Real Estate

Also worth mentioning: Early Takes Vol. 1 - George Harrison, a short collection of outtakes and demos from around his All Things Must Pass period.  It's touted as a companion soundtrack to Martin Scorsese's excellent documentary on Harrison, Living in the Material World.

Poem of the Week:  This one was written during one of the Poetic Asides Poem-a-day challenges, and it appears in the anthology, Prompted: An International Collection of Poetry.

To Whom It May Concern

Don't bother looking for me.
I'm sure this island isn't on the map.
I've made a spear to snag
all the fish I can eat, and I've
developed a taste for coconut.
Dried banana leaves make
great writing paper, and
some little squid-like creature
has provided plenty of ink.
The vehicle for this missive
is courtesy of a washed-up
crate of Chianti, so I'll continue
to post via oceanic mail
from time to time, and write
as quickly as I can drain
the contents of the bottles,
brave little postmen who bob
on the tides and wash on your shore
to tell you I'll be fine,
at least until the last drop.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Joy of Prompting

Tonight was my Barnes and Noble reading, once again with a small but appreciative audience.  Thanks to Barney, Tammy, BJ, Kendall and Christinia, and two other folks I didn't know who just came to listen.
I prepared an essay on writing prompts that I shared with the group before I read my poetry, most of which was inspired by the April daily writing prompts.  So I thought this blog might be as good a place as any to share my essay with the rest of the world:

As poets and  writers, we all have had times when the muse seems to be on vacation, and even though we feel a need or desire to write, ideas seem to be in short supply.  One of the best ways to get the creative juices flowing is with "writing prompts" - ideas from others to inspire you to write.

There are a number of books on writing, and poetry writing in particular, that not only offer good general advice on improving your product, but also several suggestions for writing exercises.  Here are some of my favorites:

Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg
The Practice of Poetry: Writing Exercises From Poets Who Teach, by Robin Behn and Chase Twitchell
The Poet's Companion: A Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry, by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux
The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within, by Stephen Fry
The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets, by Ted Kooser

All of the above books are available through   I should mention another book of note:
Challenges for the Delusional: Peter Murphy's Prompts and the Poems They Inspired (Jane Street Press, 2012):  This anthology features some of the best poems written during Peter Murphy's famous Winter Poetry And Prose Getaway, held at the Jersey shore every January for the last 18 years.  The book includes many of the "infamous and eccentric" prompts offered by organizer Murphy, so you can try your hand at some of them yourself.  Even better, if you ever get the chance to attend this conference (held every year on Martin Luther King Day weekend), it is well worth it.  The book isn't on, but it can be found at, or visit for information on the book and Murphy's sponsored conferences and seminars.

In addition, there are a number of websites out there that offer writing prompts on a regular basis.  One that I've been following for years is the "Poetic Asides" blog, run on the Writer's Digest website by poet and editor Robert Lee Brewer.  He offers a weekly  poetry prompt every Wednesday, and followers post their poems that resulted from the prompt.  In April and November he offers daily prompts, and he has contests and other challenges throughout the year.  A group of us blog members actually put together an anthology of our poems written from these challenges, called Prompted: An International Collection of Poems (Published by RLYB, 2011). It's available on

Every April for the last five years, I have been following the "Poem-a-Day Challenge" at Poetic Asides, and by the end of the month I have at least thirty poems, some of which are actually worthy of shopping for publication. This year I tried something different: I combined the prompts from that blog with those from Maureen Thorson's "NaPoWriMo" blog, which is active only during April, and I used both prompts each day to write at least one poem.  The results were intriguing and often surprising: for instance, one day I had to write a lullaby about food; another I had to write a sonnet with a "doomsday" theme.

As I said previously, writing workshops are one of the best ways to be spurred by ideas to create good poetry.  I was very fortunate to have worked with poet Jane Hirshfield at the Palm Beach Poetry Festival in January 2011.  Jane offered this detailed prompt, which she called our "poetry palette", on the first day of the workshop, and we used it as a basis for several writing exercises (or "experiments", as she called them) throughout the week.  I got some pretty good poems out of this workshop, and one of them, a sonnet called "Two Writers", was published last year in Writer's Digest.  Here is the prompt (as best as I could reconstruct it from my workshop notes):

Make a list of words or phrases, about three to five each, but no more than seven, in the following categories:

colors (some of which can be "made up")
descriptive sounds
sensation of touch
places, general or specific

In addition, include one each of the following:

something "worn" or "worn out"
a scientific fact
something lost
a word you like

Now, using your lists as a "word bank" (or "palette"), try to use at least one item from each list in a poem.  Write the following:

1.  A poem that incorporates loss in some way. Try to include the scientific fact.
2.  A poem using the "worn out" thing as the entrance point of the poem.
3.  A poem that begins with an imperative or command, or makes a request.
4.  A poem that contains an explicit speech act (such as a conversation) and mentions a body part.
5.  Two poems - one short and one longer - that use the "favorite word", or another favorite word if you prefer.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Upcoming Reading

Just a quick note: I'll be the featured poet (as I am about once a year, it seems) at Poetry in the Round, Barnes and Noble Bookstore, Rte. 70 in Marlton NJ, on Monday, May 21 at 7:30 p.m.  As always, anyone in attendance is welcome to read their poetry (or even someone else's) after the featured poet's reading.  Please come if you're in the area and have the time.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Happy Limerick Day!

Yes, as I just found out, there is actually a holiday to celebrate the limerick, and not coincidentally, it falls on May 12, birthday of Edward Lear, who popularized the form.  I've been writing quite a few of them lately, inspired by the weekly "Limerick-off" contest on Mad Kane's Humor Blog.  This week I wrote some limericks in response to the Poetic Asides weekly prompt, which was to take the title of a famous book and change it in some way, then write a poem with that altered title.  So here are four "Literary(?) Limericks":

1. Great Expectorations

A fellow who bragged he could spit
a mile or more, left in a snit
when a young guy named Clem
hocked some long-distance phlegm -
we’re still waiting for it to hit.

2. Gone with the Wings

At the annual Wing Bowl contest,
big hefty guys vied to be best
at gobbling chicken,
but they took a lickin’ -
a slim Asian girl beat the rest!

3. To Chill a Mockingbird

A crazy old guy up the street
caught some songbirds by snaring their feet.
They were kept in his freezer,
“So I’ll have,” said the geezer,
“on a hot day, a nice frozen tweet!”

4. Lord of the Pies

A baker had a notable knack
for making great pies from his shack.
For the king, he was willing
to make a strange filling:
four and twenty birds, all of them black.

I also forgot to mention something between my January and April posts:  I had three poems published in issue #3 of Curio Poetry, which describes itself as a journal for poetry of objects and the moments that they inspire (that's my interpretation, anyway).  It's an excellent little journal and you should check it out.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Back to Routine, More or Less

Well, I made myself a promise last month that I would start blogging at least weekly once the Poem-a-Day Challenge was over.  Thanks to everyone who followed my daily posts, even if you only read some of them.  It was a fun and productive month - I really enjoyed doing the double prompts and I think I got at least a few pretty good poems out of it.  And I submitted five of my best to Robert Brewer, the Poetic Asides blogmeister, for his annual contest.  He picks his top 50 from all the entries (one of mine was #2 last year) and the winner is declared Poet Laureate of Poetic Asides, a one-year honorary title with all the perks that come with it.  (Actually, just a feature and bragging rights, but I certainly wouldn't mind winning.) Now I have to get off my lazy duff and start submitting to journals again - the only submission I have out there is to Lucid Rhythms, and I'm getting a little pessimistic about that one because I submitted over three months ago.

No real big news this time around - it's hard to believe summer is already almost upon us, and we have to help our teenager make plans for the summer: a job? summer camp? volunteer work?  Staying home all day to surf the net, snack and watch TV is not an option.  My summer starts with that workshop conference in Cape Cod with Marge Piercy, followed the very next day with a wedding in suburban Philly, so we will have to boogie from Mass. to Jersey pretty quickly that Saturday morning. (At least it's an evening wedding.)

I'm very happy to see my friend Kelly Ramsdell Fineman having success with her wonderful new children's picture book, At the Boardwalk. I bought a copy for myself and one for my friends' grandson and got Kelly to autograph them.  It has Kelly's charming poem about a "day in the life" of a boardwalk (imagine your favorite one as you read the book) and beautiful pastel illustrations by Monica Armino. It's available at both and Barnes and Noble.

I have a feeling it's going to be a long season for Phillies fans.  As of now they are struggling just to get to .500, and their hitting seems even more woeful than last year, especially with Howard and Utley still out with injuries.  The starting pitching has generally been solid, though Roy Halladay last week had the worst outing of his Phillies career.  Hamels is looking even better than Halladay these days, and could be on his way to a Cy Young year, if he keeps his mouth shut about deliberately plunking batters.  We shall see, but I would not be surprised if they don't win their division for the sixth straight year.

Enough of this jibber-jabber, as Mr. T says - on to some poetry.  Here's the poem that appeared in this year's issue of US 1 Worksheets Vol. 57 (and came in second in Poetic Asides PAD challenge last year).

Postcard to the Ex

There’s a bear in the back yard
and piranhas in the kitchen sink.

The kids are dressing like clowns
and the bank took back the TV.

The car lost a wheel and a door.
Someone painted our windows black.

Your favorite chair caught fire,
and last night during the storm,

a huge tree limb crashed
through the bedroom ceiling

and onto your side of our bed.
Wish you were here.

Monday, April 30, 2012

PAD Challenge Day 30: Finish Line!

Whew! Once again, I made it through the Poem-a-Day Challenge for April, and I’m pretty happy in general with the results. Combining two prompts for daily inspiration made them a little less generic and more thought-provoking. Thanks again to Robert Brewer at Poetic Asides and Maureen Thorson at NaPoWriMo for spurring me on through the last thirty days. Thanks also to everyone who commented on my poetry here and elsewhere online – knowing that others are reading and enjoying it is encouraging too.

 I did a little analysis of my production this month: I wrote a total of 46 poems, all but six of which were inspired by the daily prompts. I wrote a total of 707 lines, an average of 23.5 a day. There was a lot of “formal” poetry in there, too: two sonnets, four limericks, two tanka, five hay(na)ku, a triolet, a villanelle, a ghazal, a clerihew, a double dactyl, a blues poem, and a “pan-ku” (my own invention), plus five other rhyming poems. Also among the 46 were a couple of parodies (of Gertrude Stein and W.H. Auden), a cento, an elegy, and a prose poem. No haiku, though, for some reason.

 Today’s final entry in the PAD challenge, from the Poetic Asides and NaPoWriMo prompts: (1) Write a poem about fading away, and (2) write a poem that uses the phrase “I remember…” at least three times.Here’s my result:


I remember the day I knew my grandmother’s
mind was going, when she poured hot coffee
over the tea bag in my cup.

I remember the day my uncle went out for milk, then
called his wife five hours later from two hundred miles away,
saying he didn’t know where he was.

I remember my father-in-law, dazed in his chair,
suddenly unable to tell me my name,
or his own, or what day it was.

I remember less these days too, little gaps
and tip-of-the-tongue moments more frequent:
where I put my glasses just a minute ago,

the name of a favorite actor,
whether I took my morning pills.
When we stop remembering, do we fade away?

Sunday, April 29, 2012

PAD Challenge Day 29

I can see the finish line from here!  Today's prompts from Poetic Asides and NaPoWriMo: (1) Take a favorite line from one of the poems you wrote this month and write another poem based on it, and (2) write a clerihew and/or double dactyl ("higgledy-piggledy" poem).  These are short biographical poems, usually about someone famous.  The NaPoWriMo blog has more details on the rules (although they made a boo-boo on the clerihew's rhyme scheme - they meant to say it's AABB).

I took a line from my Day 17 poem "Dear Desktop Computer") for the clerihew, and one from my Day 21 poem ("Microscopic Hay[na]ku") for the double dactyl:

Tech Cerlihew

Steve Jobs and Bill Gates
made computers deskmates.
Those devilish saints,
get our praise and complaints.

Little Parties

Anton van Leeuwenhoek,
focused his lenses and
shouted with glee:

"Look at this creatures, such
invisible parties too
tiny to see!"

Saturday, April 28, 2012

PAD Challenge Day 28

Today's prompts from Poetic Asides and NaPoWriMo: (1) Write a poem about a problem, and (2)write a poem about space or spaces, with a focus on a personal experience. I’ve only had one MRI so far in my life, and while it made me uncomfortable, I didn’t have a panic attack like some people have reported. Still, I put myself in the shoes (or hospital booties, if you will) of someone who had such an experience. This villanelle came out sounding somewhat Poe-like, I think.


We'll find your problem soon, the doctor said,
You'll get an MRI so we can trace
what's wrong with you - it could be in your head.

He told me to lie down upon this bed,
and soon it slid into a tunneled space,
We'll find your problem soon, the doctor said.

Supine, I was enclosed, I felt the dread
creep in on me.  My heart began to race -
What's wrong with me?  It could be in my head.

I was entombed, my lungs felt filled with lead,
my breath was short. You must lie still, in case
we find your problem soon, the doctor said.

A tumor in the brain? My fears were fed -
inside this loud cocoon, they'd find the place
that's wrong with me - it could be in my head.

At last I was exhumed, back from the dead;
Their pictures were the verdict I must face.
We found your problem, son, the doctor said;
There's nothing wrong with you - it's in your head.

Friday, April 27, 2012

PAD Challenger Day 27

Happy Birthday to me!  I had a pretty nice day - took half a day off from work, went out to lunch with my lovely wife, and just for fun we went to see the new animated film from Aardman Studios (creators of Wallace and Gromit), "The Pirates - Band of Misfits" - in 3D, no less. Very good and quite funny. (Imagine an evil Queen Victoria!)  Later we went to our favorite neighborhood Mexican restaurant with my sister-in-law, son and daughter-in-law, and our international student, and came back home for a pineapple upside-down birthday cake.

Today's prompts from Poetic Asides and NaPoWriMo: (1) Write a poem with the title "The Trouble is _____", and (2) write a nursery rhyme or clapping rhyme style of poem.  I wrote one that was a sort of jump-rope rhyme (or my impression of one, anyway - I was never any good at jumping rope).  And since it was my birthday today, of course the subject was aging:

The Trouble Is Aging (A Jump-Rope Rhyme)

The trouble is, aging's not great for the old,
the "golden years" aren't always, if truth be told.
But if you feel younger, then maybe there's hope,
if you say this rhyme with us while you skip rope:

A is for AARP - yes, I've got my card,
B is for Bingo, a game that's not hard.
C is for Cholesterol, mine's way too high,
D is for Depends. we wear to stay dry.
E is for Ensure, to help with nutrition,
F is for False teeth, an unwelcome addition.
G is for Grandkids, who make it worthwhile,
H is for High Blood Pressure – too high by a mile.
I is for IHOP discount, for breakfast some day,
J is for Joints – stiffness won't go away.
K is for "Kids move in", sign of lean times,
L is for Laxatives - constipation's a crime!
M  is for Medicare, to pay doctor bills,
N is for Nursing homes, when you're old as the hills.
O is for Orthotic shoes, they fit to a T,
P is for Prescriptions, too many for me.
Q is for Quilting bees - do old ladies do that?
R is for Retirement - hang up your work hat.
S is for Social Security - that once-a-month check,
T is for tired, all the time - what the heck!
U is Urinary - up all night to pee,
V is for Viagra, if you still make whoopee.
W is for Wrinkles - give you character? A crock!
X is for X-rays, good or bad news from doc.
Y is for Young at heart, which helps you live longer,
Z is for Zesty - skipping rope makes you stronger!