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!