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 Amazon.com.   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 Amazon.com, but it can be found at www.janestreet.org/press, or visit http://murphywriting.com/ 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 Amazon.com.

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 Amazon.com 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.