Thursday, January 19, 2012

Winter Poetry and Prose Getaway

I spent my holiday weekend (Jan. 16-19) attending the 19th Annual Winter Poetry and Prose Getaway, sponsored by founder Peter Murphy and Richard Stockton College. This is my third trip to the conference, and as in the past, I had a thoroughly good time. It’s three days of writing workshops, special programs, readings, book sales, food, lodging, partying, and so forth. For the first eighteen years, the conference was held at the Grand Hotel in Cape May, a landmark that has seen better days. But this year it moved to a new venue, the Seaview, a historic hotel and golf resort that was recently bought and renovated by Stockton College. The rooms and facilities were very fine and luxurious, and the food was generally very good. It was such a frigid weekend that I didn’t venture out at all, but there was no need, because all my food and creature comforts were provided right there in the hotel.

The thrust of the weekend, at least for poets, is the ingenious writing prompts that Peter comes up with each year. We get our assignments on Saturday and Sunday morning, and have time to write until the afternoon workshops convene. I took Stephen Dunn’s and James Richardson’s workshops (same as I did two years ago) and as usual both were excellent. Stephen Dunn is not for the “thin-skinned” poet, because he often gives very frank critique. Some have called his style severe, even “brutal”, but I’ve never seen that from him. He’s a very wise man and I appreciated his comments on my poetry as well other wisdom he shared, and he’s quite approachable. Jim Richardson is just a very nice and laid-back guy, but he also has a lot to offer with critique. Both of them have impressive credentials: Dunn has won the Pulitzer Prize and a raft of other awards, and Richardson last year won the prestigious Jackson Prize and earned a National Book Award nomination. Having the opportunity to work with both of them is, as they say in the credit card commercials, priceless. In addition, there was a gallery tribute to Dunn sponsored by the Noyes Museum, featuring memorabilia from his career and an insight into his writing and revision process. (Anyone who thinks his critique “severe” should study these displays , because I came away from them realizing that he doesn’t offer any critique that he wouldn’t give to himself.) He also released a chapbook of short poems, Falling Backwards into the World, in conjunction with this year’s conference.

The rest of the conference was terrific too: I got a tutorial session with poet friend B.J. Ward, and took a third workshop run by another poet friend, Barbara Daniels. It was fun to see so many poets whom I know, and I made a few new friends as well. There were two evening open mic sessions, both of which were very good, as well as a talk by Nelson Johnson, author of Boardwalk Empire, the book about Atlantic City that was the basis for the hit HBO series. The weekend was capped off with an inspiring gospel choir to celebrate Dr. King’s Birthday. I came home with three new poems that I wrote, plus a bag full of books from the book sale, including Peter’s anthology of published poems that had been written for his prompts over the years, Challenges for the Delusional . I submitted three of my poems for the anthology and didn’t make the cut, but the list of poets that were included is quite impressive. All in all, it was a great weekend, and I came home feeling, as one of my poet friends described it, "blissfully exhausted". Thanks once again to Peter, his right-hand woman (daughter Amanda), and all the staff and faculty who made it possible.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Happy New Year!

It's been the usual hectic holiday season for us, capped off by an end-of-year road trip to Florida, in part to celebrate my youngest son's 16th birthday. We left the day after Christmas (my wife, my son, our international student, and I), and got a relatively late morning start, so traffic was quite heavy, especially in the the Washington/suburban VA area. Our objective was St. Augustine, normally a 14-hour drive, and we limped in just before 2:00 a.m to check in at the local Best Western. I could have slept on a concrete slab at that point, but our beds were quite comfortable and our rooms were clean. The next day we did some sightseeing at the old Spanish fort and the lighthouse museum, had a tasty lunch at a "Spanish bakery", and later headed to our resort unit at Sheraton Vistana in Orlando. Wednesday we took a day trip to Kennedy Space Center, Thursday was Disney (Magic Kingdom and Epcot) and Friday was The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios. Needless to say, being Christmas week and all, the parks were packed, and long waiting lines were the norm, but we had a good time nonetheless, especially the boys, who managed to ride most of the popular roller coasters in both parks. We also enjoyed a dinner/show package at Epcot, which included a meat-lover's buffet at the German Biergarten (complete with "oompah band"), a bombastic Christmas concert, and choice seating for the light-and-fireworks show at Epcot. New Year's Eve we spent the night in Florence, SC, in a very nice Country Inn and Suites, and went out to see the film "War Horse". (A bit overly sentimental in my opinion but still worth seeing.) The weather was fine for virtually the whole trip, though it was a bit chillier than normal in Florida the first couple of days. Traffic back home was much more forgiving than on the way down, and breaking it up into two more-or-less even driving days was much more civilized. It also helped that we rented a Town and Country minivan, to make the trip more comfortable for the boys as well as us. That baby was loaded, too: satellite radio, CD and DVD player, rear back-up camera and blind-spot indicators, automated everything, and decent gas mileage. We hated to turn it back in. It was a tiring but good trip. Our only real regret was not having enough time to head further south and visit my wife's relatives.

I received my copies of both the anthologies released in December that feature my poetry: The Best of the Barefoot Muse and Prompted. Both are now available on, and Prompted is now available as a Kindle e-book. I also learned that a haiku of mine was read on NPR in December. I had commented on an article on their website about traffic signs erected across New York City that feature creative graphics and messages written in haiku, so I suggested one of my own creation:

Don't push the red light -
cross streets aren't the best places
for chance encounters

Well, Scott Simon read it during the listener's mail segment of his program. You can hear it here:

I was thinking of all the best-of-2011 lists that come out around this time of the year, and started thinking of what I would list as the ten best, or at least the most important, events of my past year. It was kind of interesting to compile, and I suggest you try it too. Here's mine:

1. The Palm Beach Poetry Festival, and working with Jane Hirshfield
2. Son #3's graduation (Masters in linguistics from Georgetown U.)
3. Our son's friends Pat and Jenny's wedding
4. The above-mentioned Florida trip
5. The West Chester Poetry Conference, and working with Molly Peacock
6. Trips to Minnesota to take and bring home son #4 who went to four weeks of "Japanese immersion" camp - and our side trip to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
7. A long weekend getaway with the wife to a B&B in Cooperstown, NY and my first visit to the Baseball Hall of Fame
8. Son #4 in the high school musical (The Music Man)
9. Several poetry publications, including two poems in Writers Digest, two anthologies, and the above-mentioned haiku on NPR
10. My 60th birthday

Music: While we're on the subject of best-of lists, here's my annual Amazon Listmania list of my 30 favorite albums of 2011:

If you're just curious about the top 10, they are:

1. build a rocket boys! - Elbow
2. So Beautiful or So What - Paul Simon
3. 21 - Adele
4. Slave Ambient - The War on Drugs
5. The Whole Love - Wilco
6. Metals - Feist
7. The Grand Theatre Vol. 2 - Old 97's
8. I Am Very Far - Okkervil River
9. Bloodless Coup - Bell X1
10. Within and Without - Washed Out

Poem of the Month:

Here's the one in The Best of the Barefoot Muse anthology, dedicated to my wonderful wife. (Thanks again to editor Anna Evans for including me in this fine collection.)

Your Missing Piece

Like a puzzle, you now feel incomplete,
afraid to let me see the angry scar
where it was sliced away like so much meat.
You wonder what is left, and what you are -

asymmetry that makes a restless night.
You worry I’ll no longer hold you close,
but you’re my source, my beacon of delight.
You’re, in my eyes, a pruned but perfect rose.

Reminding us of our mortality,
events like this can forge a stronger bond,
a love unfazed by stark reality,
that rides the rapids for a quiet pond.

The bottom line is, it was just a breast;
the best news is, we get to keep the rest.