Saturday, December 28, 2013

Happy Holidays, and a Couple More Lists

I hope everyone has had a joyous and healthy holiday season. just a quick post today to tell you about two more lists that this list-ophile has composed.  The first was by invitation: Robert Brewer of Writer's Digest and the Poetic Asides blog invited me to list five favorite poetry collections - poetry books that have been significant or important to me in some way.  Here is the link to his blog and that list:

The other list is one I recently posted on Facebook, which tries to list your 20 biggest moments on the site in the past year (apparently based on "likes" and comments). They actually got some of them right, but I posted my own personal list of top 5 events.  Here, though, I'll expand it to 10:

1. The birth of our first grandchild, the beautiful Isabel
2. Celebrating our 40th wedding anniversary with our first trip ever to Las Vegas
3. My youngest son's achievements, including college acceptances, making Eagle Scout, and attending Boys State (where he was elected "State Senator")
4. My wife's retirement (although she still seems as busy as ever)
5. Attending the Winter Getaway Poetry and Prose Writers Conference with my talented poet son, and workshopping with Dorianne Laux
6. Seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time (during our Vegas trip)
7. Attending the Poets Forum in New York, which included hanging out with my New Yorker sons and getting to say hello to my famous poet friend Jane Hirshfield
8. Our family vacation to Massanutten, Virginia, which included a trip to the spectacular Luray Caverns
9. Poetry appearances, including co-hosting a haiku workshop and reading at The Collingswood Book Festival, and a featured reading in Atlantic City for the South Jersey Poets Collective.
10. Poetry publications, including my autobiographical poem "Nine Innings" in the journal Spitball, plus my article mentioned above.

Next year promises to be a big one too, as we prepare for my youngest son's high school graduation and advancement to college, and my own impending retirement. I hope everyone reading has a happy and prosperous new year!

Monday, December 9, 2013

ANOTHER Music List!?

Last time I gave you my list of the top songs of the year.  So this time it's a list is my favorite albums of the year.  Note that my “baby boomer” bias is showing by including three artists well into their 60’s or better, and one who’s been dead over forty years (but had a really fine album of unreleased material this year).  Don’t get me wrong though – some of the music these young kids are making these days is groovy too.

1. Random Access Memories – Daft Punk
2. Elements of Light - Pantha du Prince
3. The Next Day - David Bowie
4. The Worse Things Get… - Neko Case
5. The Civil Wars – The Civil Wars
6. Bankrupt - Phoenix
7. Trouble Will Find Me - The National
8. Electric – Richard Thompson
9. Kids Raising Kids - Kopecky Family Band
10. Walking in a Pretty Daze – Kurt Vile
11. Innocents - Moby
12. Paracosm – Washed Out
13. People, Hell and Angels – Jimi Hendrix
14. Hummingbird - Local Natives
15. Reflektor – Arcade Fire
16. The Silver Gymnasium – Okkervil River
17. Modern Vampires of the City - Vampire Weekend
18. The Electric Lady – Janell Monáe
19. New – Paul McCartney
20. Push the Sky Away - Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
21. Muchacho - Phosphorescent
22. The Lone Bellow – The Lone Bellow
23. Ghost on Ghost - Iron and Wine
24. Sound City: Real to Reel – Various Artists
25. Southeastern – Jason Isbell
26. Stories Don't End – Dawes

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Baseball Poems, Teenager Achievements, and Best Songs of the Year

Well, the holidays got off to a busy start in our household, with the usual Thanksgiving feast followed closely by my granddaughter's baptism and the after-party at my house with 40-plus people.  I am exhausted.  I also just finished another poem-a-day challenge for the month of November, the "chapbook challenge" on Robert Brewer's Poetic Asides blog. As usual, he gave participants a daily prompt, and recommended that we try to write poems on a certain theme to include in a possible chapbook manuscript, after which he will run a contest for the best manuscript.  I chose baseball as my theme, and I did manage to write at least thirty poems on the theme in November.  Most are hardly future classics, but I think they hang together well enough to make a decent chapbook.  We'll see.  Also, I will be featured on the blog sometime later this month with an article about my five favorite poetry books.

Not much in publication or conferencing news - I will probably skip Peter Murphy's upcoming Winter Getaway, just because the time and money involved make it impractical to do every single year.  Also my son's Eagle Scout Court of Honor will probably be the same weekend.  Speaking of my son, he got his first two college acceptances.  Woohoo!

Music: XPN is getting ready to compile their annual list of the best 200 songs of the year, as picked by their listeners, who are asked to submit their top 10.  Here's mine:

1. Down Down the Deep River - Okkervil River
2. Lose Yourself to Dance - Daft Punk
3. Trying to Be Cool - Phoenix
4. I Had Me a Girl - The Civil Wars
5. A Case for Shame - Moby
6. Good Things Happen to Bad People - Richard Thompson
7. I'd Rather Be High - David Bowie
8. Reflektor - Arcade Fire
9. Ragtime - Neko Case
10. Heavy Feet - Local Natives

And some Honorable Mentions:

The Perfect Life - Moby
Get Lucky - Daft Punk
Night Still Comes - Neko Case
Super 8 - Jason Isbell
Heartbeat - Kopecky Family Band
Entrance/It All Feels Right - Washed Out
Don't Swallow the Cap - The National
Goldtone - Kurt Vile
Photon - Pantha du Prince
Jubilee Street - Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
Song for Zula - Phosphorescent
Caught in the Briars - Iron and Wine

Poetry: I thought I'd share one that I wrote on November. This is a not-so-light verse:


Forget those things I said about
the home runs that you've hit,
how you never are an easy out,
that you're muscular and fit.

Forget about the time I said
you're wizard with the glove,
you chase balls like a thoroughbred
with hustle that we love.

Forget the times that I was pleased
you won all those awards,
World Series rings and MVP's
and tricked-out custom Fords.

Forget the glowing things I'd say
to praise you as a true
role model for the kids who'd play
to grow up more like you.

Forget all that, it's all erased;
those drugs, your hangman's rope.
So why, if you're the one disgraced,
do I feel like the dope?

Sunday, October 27, 2013

A Busy Week of Poetry

It's been a packed four days, beginning with my poetry reading on Wednesday. I was invited by the South Jersey Poets Collective, a group based around the Jersey shore, to be their featured reader, along with member Cole Eubanks. The Atlantic City venue, Dante Hall, is a beautifully renovated former church owned by Richard Stockton University, with a 214-seat theater. I rode down with poet friends Dave Worrell and Barb Daniels (and her husband Dave), both of whom read at the open mic. Needless to say, I didn't fill the place, but there was an appreciative audience of about 40 or so. I got to read for half an hour, a mix of old and newer stuff, including poems from my newest chapbook, of which I sold five copies. Thanks to Cole Eubanks, Aubrey Rahab Gerhart, and everyone else who organized and attended the event. Most of my performance is available on YouTube, too, if you care to watch it. (I felt I was "in the zone" that night, very at ease with my reading, although I think I should slow down my delivery a little.)

The other event was the annual Poets Forum in New York City, presented by the Academy of American Poets. This three-day event includes readings by the Academy chancellors (a who's-who of American Poetry), panel discussions, lectures, and award presentations. The Thursday night chancellors reading included Victor Hernandez Cruz, Toi Derricotte, Mark Doty, Marilyn Hacker, Juan Felipe Herrera, Edward Hirsch, Jane Hirshfield, Marilyn Nelson, Naomi Shihab Nye, Ron Padgett, Claudia Rankine, Arthur Sze, Anne Waldman, and C.D. Wright. Of course I made a point to say hello and chat with my favorite of that bunch, Jane Hirshfield, at the reception afterward.

Friday started with a walking tour of the West Village, former home of an astounding number of poets, including Marianne Moore, Elizabeth Bishop, W.S. Merwin, e.e. cummings, James Merrill, Stanley Kunitz, Emma Lazarus, and many more. The afternoon featured panel discussions and a keynote lecture by Carolyn Forché, on the topic of "Poetry of Witness". Ms. Forché, a poet and social activist for many years, compiled an anthology several years ago called Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness, which contains international poetry by poets who experienced war, persecution, political imprisonment and/or torture, and wrote about those experiences. (She has a "sequel" coming out in January about poetry of witness in English, going back as far as the 1500's and Sir Thomas More.) Her lecture about the poet's mandate to document the injustices of the world, and her anecdotes about how poetry has literally helped to change the tide of history and international relations, was moving and inspiring. Saturday evening was the presentation of the Academy's annual awards to poets such as Ms. Forché, Philip Levine, Patricia Smith, and Walt Whitman Award winner (for outstanding first book of poetry) Chris Hosea. I got to speak to him afterward, and also briefly again with Jane. The evening also honored the winners of the student poet awards, five very talented high-school-age poets from different areas of the country.

Saturday was a day of panel discussions and a complimentary luncheon. The most interesting and entertaining panel was led by Juan Felipe Herrera and Naomi Shihab Nye on the topic of teaching poetry to young students. They offered many ideas on how to keep students engaged and interested in poetry, including helpful tips for materials and exercises. Mr. Herrera's activity which could be called "The Stroll", involves lining up two rows of students, standing face to face, and instructing them to start a conversation with the student directly across from them. Then, one by one, each student "strolls" slowly between two lines with a pad and pen jotting down snippets of conversation they hear. At the end, everyone gets together to make a poem from these notes. Though I'm not a teacher, I may find some use for these tips some day, either leading a workshop or -who knows? - teaching in my retirement years. Another interesting panel featured Jane Hirshfield, Arhtur Sze and C.D.Wright on the topic of "ecopoetics" - the poetic practice of making the audience aware of nature and the environment and our relation to it - a particularly pertinent topic in this day and age. I didn't stay for the evening closing event, but I still had a great time at the conference, as well as having the opportunity to spend some quality time with my two sons who live in New York (lunch and dinner at some trendy but reasonable places, "game night" on Saturday, and lots of walking around the city).

Music: The results are in for WXPN's "885 Best Songs of the New Millennium" (2001 to present). Here are the top 20:

Rolling In The Deep
Edward Sharpe And The Magnetic Zeros
The Lumineers
Ho Hey
The White Stripes
Seven Nation Army
Bruce Springsteen
The Rising
Gnarls Barkley
Amy Winehouse
Impossible Germany
The Avett Brothers
I And Love And You
When My Time Comes
Johnny Cash
Ray Lamontagne
A Little Bit Of Everything
The Black Keys
Lonley Boy
Mumford & Sons
Little Lion Man
Someone Like You
Fix You
Chasing Pavements
The Black Keys
Gold On The Ceiling

If you are interested, you can find the whole list at Comparing my list to theirs, I only had 5 of my top 10 make the whole list of 885, and only 8 or my top 20. (I did have "Rolling in the Deep" for #1 though.) Still, about 57 of my top 100 made the list, which isn't too bad.

Poem: Continuing with my series of "greatest hits", here's the first of my two Pushcart Prize nominations. It appeared as the closing poem in an issue of Schuylkill Valley Journal (whose editor nominated me), as well as the closing poem of at least two of my chapbooks, and my reading last Wednesday night. It's got a lot of mileage.

Last Frame

When I go out
let it be as a bowling ball:
sixteen-pound, resin-polished,
black as a January night.

Lob me down
that smooth varnished lane,
hardwood rumble,
a graceful arc –

scattering ten pins with
cacophonous clatter,
valedictory strike,
X in the box, a perfect frame.

Don’t wait for me
at the ball return.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

You Can't Shut Down Poetry!

So on Day 14 of working for no pay, I could go on another tirade about the three-ring circus in Washington, but I won’t – I got most of it off my chest last time.  All I will say is that you know your government has gone off the rails when the liberal commentators on MSNBC wax nostalgic for the days of Ronald Reagan.

On to poetry: I have been largely unproductive lately, but I did participate in a fun annual event – The Collingswood Book Festival.  Held in early October, this well-attended, daylong street fair in Collingswood, NJ celebrates the printed and spoken word.  There are nationally and regionally well-known authors as well as local and self-published ones, small press publishers and journals, new and used booksellers, and a poetry tent with events throughout the day, as well as a variety of activities for kids including live music.  I was involved with the poetry events (of course), co-hosting a haiku workshop with my poet friend BJ Swartz, and co-hosting an open mic with another friend, Dave Worrell. My friends Anna Evans (who also judged a children’s poetry contest for the festival) and BJ Ward were also featured readers there – both were excellent, as usual. Also featured was Msgr. Michael Doyle, pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Camden.  He is a former anti-war activist and a well-respected and loved man in the area, with an Irish brogue you can cut with a knife.  You could hear a pin drop as he read his often moving and lyrical poetry.  There were other featured poets too, like spoken-word favorite Lamont Dixon.  Though the weather was a little too warm for early October, it was a near-perfect day under the poetry tent.  Thanks to Tammy Paolino, Walt Howat, and all the organizers for another fine festival.

The other event I will be attending is the Poets Forum in New York City later this month.  It’s an annual three-day symposium sponsored by the Academy of America Poets, with an A-list lineup of poets, including one of my favorites, Jane Hirshfield.  The all-events pass was a birthday present courtesy of my two sons who live in NYC. Also, the day before the Poets Forum (Wed. October 23) I have a featured reading with the South Jersey Poets at Dante Hall in Atlantic City, NJ.

As I said, however, my creative output has been minimal lately.  I guess it’s just a phase, and I’m trying to work through it by being more active with poetry events and trying to get back into submitting.  I did recently submit to an online haiku journal called Tiny Words, and I’m still waiting for the results of the narrative poetry contest from Naugutuck River Review.  Oh yeah, I almost forgot!  I was recently nominated for a Best of the Net award by Chantarelle’s Notebook for my poem, “Mercurochrome Summer”.  Thanks to the editors, Kendall and Christinia Bell, for your continuing support of my work.

Poem of the Blog: Since I’m not coming up with much new stuff lately, I thought I’d start posting some “greatest hits” – poems that have had some significance in my current writing career.  Some may have appeared on my prior blogs, so please pardon any repetition. The logical place to start would be the poem for which this whole blog is named.  It was also my first journal publication in this iteration of my poetic life, appearing in the online journal Stirring: A Literary Collection in April 2000. It also became a bit of a “signature piece” and an audience favorite at readings.

How to Peel an Orange

Hold it loosely, like a yellow baseball.
Rub the leathery hide.

Punch a fingernail through the nippled top.
Push through to the hollow below.

Rip, pull out and down gently.
Watch the spray of oil in the air.
Inhale the pungent citrus.

Disregard the orange-white meat beneath your nails.
Disrobe this fruit completely.

Pick off the gangly strings of useless pulp.
Regard the naked segments, and with both thumbs,
separate the hemispheres.

Tear through the meridian.
See the droplets weep through the membranes.

Strip the translucent skin.
Reveal the clustered buds of juice like teardrops.

Peel off one tender crescent.
Bring it to your lover’s lips, so as to
suck it, nibble it, bite it

bursting the tiny juice pockets,
licking your fingertips.


Thursday, October 10, 2013

Pardon My Rant: The Government Shutdown

Well, as of this writing I have now been working eight days without pay.  Since the Government shutdown on Oct. 1, no more pay can be authorized to Federal employees, and over 800,000 workers were furloughed – sent home without pay - until this mess is resolved. There are still about three million “excepted” personnel (or “essential”, as the press calls them), who are required to stay on the job without pay. I am considered “essential” because my job involves taking claims to make sure people get their benefit checks to which they are entitled. The “non-essential” employees, as the press is calling them, got sent home, which led some conservative and anti-government wags to say, “Well, if they’re 'non-essential’, why do we even need them?” 

First, “non-essential” doesn’t mean “worthless”.  The folks who got furloughed are, as a rule, not responsible for the immediate health, safety, and security of the American people, but their jobs are still important in the long term, like FDA meat inspectors, and quality assurance staff in my own agency who review cases to catch people trying to scam the government for benefits they do not deserve. 

Second, try explaining to some average-pay Federal worker who may live paycheck-to-paycheck and not know how he or she will pay their mortgage next month, why they are not “essential”.  I’m tired of this stereotype of the Federal employee as an overpaid, underworked drone whose job is of no importance.   I defy anyone to do my job for just one day and then tell me I am overpaid.  One thing’s for sure: I’m certainly not being overpaid right now.  Thank goodness we have enough saved up to pay our mortgage at least for the next few months.  What really rankles me is that some Republican legislators have been saying, “Look at all the money the government is saving by not paying its workers.”  That’s like a CEO laying off a significant portion of his workers, refusing to pay the rest, then bragging about how much profit his company is making. (Of course, he still gets paid, and so do these senators and congressmen.)  This is no way to treat a dedicated, hard-working workforce, and refusing to pay 4 million people is bound to have an impact on the economy.  (Don’t even get me started about the debt ceiling.)

Who knows how long this mess will continue? I heard a report today that it could go to Thanksgiving! I put most of the blame on the Republicans for this impasse, especially their radical lunatic-fringe “Tea Party” members, who seem to be taking great glee in threatening to crash the entire economy all for a health care bill that they irrationally believe is the worst piece of legislation since the Fugitive Slave Act – yes, someone actually said that.*  It’s time for everyone to stop playing the blame game and hammer out a deal – Congress has reverted to acting like toddlers who won’t share their toys.  And yes, Mr. Obama, while I appreciate your standing by your principles, you may not be able to escape this without a few concessions.  The longer all this drags on, the more decent Americans are going to be hurt (and I’m not just talking about the Federal employees now), and I hope they remember this in November 2014.  When the dust clears, the first order of business for the Republican Party should be to cut out the Tea Party like the cancer that it is.

One final comment: In the past I’ve disagreed or have been angry with my President or my government for some decisions that they have made, like getting involved in wars and such.  But for the first time in my life, I have to honestly say I am ashamed with the way my government has been behaving these last few weeks.

*[By the way, here are some of the countries that have that “evil” and “socialist” national health insurance (of which “Obamacare” is an extremely limited, watered-down version):
United Kingdom, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Japan, Canada, Australia, Italy, Portugal, Greece, Spain, South Korea, Taiwan, Israel, Austria, Belgium, Netherlands,  Switzerland, Ghana, Colombia, Philippines, and to a more limited extent, Ireland, France and Germany.]

Next time: More poetry news - I promise!

Saturday, August 31, 2013

R.I.P. Seamus Heaney

I was very sad to hear the news yesterday that Nobel Prize-winning Irish poet Seamus Heaney passed away at the age of 74. He was truly one of the greatest poets of our time, and his work was infused with the Irish lyrical tradition, rich in language and form. There was often a socio-political message, but he never let it get in the way of the beauty of his work. He was literary without being obscure, socially conscious without being polemical, and his poems sang like no one I have read since Yeats. I had the pleasure of seeing him read his work at the Princeton Poetry Festival a couple of years ago, and he was marvelous. If you haven't become familiar with his work by now, you should - check that: you must. One of my favorite poems by him is "Postscript", and I once based a writing prompt on that poem, which is to take a short poem by another poet and "answer" each line - that is, to write a "next line" as a sort of extension, as your impression and interpretation of the line, then when you're done, to delete the original poet's lines, leaving only your own. I think it speaks for the beauty of the source poem (which you can find here) that I was able to produce this one:

Slowing Down (I)
(after Seamus Heaney)

Keep the sun ahead of you, always the pursuer,
to where rocks and green collide recklessly,
and wind is substantial, an almost living thing,
the light and the ocean, in the dance of shortening days,

tearing, biting away at the season,
where stones are marble-polished from years at sea,
and further in, the lake moves with translucence,
where swans glide, uncovering the water in flashes.

They rear up and flap to protest the animal wind,
necks curling, uncurling, calligraphy S’s,
and thrusting underwater, where mud-bound frogs are not safe.
Even with your camera, that most imperfect eye, you will not capture this.

You are some place in-between, where time is on holiday,
and everything comes uninterrupted, not caring whether you understand,
and the wind rocks you, as though to tease the child in you,
and creaks your rusty hinges into service.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Vacation, Being "Pop-pop", Trivia and More

Summer is winding down in interesting ways - It's been a pretty busy one, with two vacations, new grandparenthood, a teenager gearing up for college applications, driving, Eagle Scout, and a summer job.

I already talked about our awesome 40th anniversary vacation to Vegas, but last week we took the "family vacation" - to Massanutten, a huge resort area near the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.  We and our teenager had a great time - we visited Luray Caverns (an otherworldly experience), as well as three presidents' homes (Jefferson's Monticello, James Monroe's more modest Ash-Lawn Highland, and Woodrow Wilson's birthplace and presidential library in Stanton, VA), and saw a very funny musical comedy at the American Shakespeare Theatre in Stanton ("Return to the Forbidden Planet", based loosely on the 1950's sci-fi classic film Forbidden Planet, which in turn is loosely based on Shakespeare's The Tempest - the play used classic rock-n-roll hits like "Good Vibrations", "Gloria" and "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" -very entertaining).  We also engaged in some resort activities, especially my outdoorsy and active teen, who mountain biked, zip-lined and hiked (we joined him on a short but steep hike on the Appalachian Trail in Shenandoah National Park).  We also did mini-golf and disc golf, crafts and yoga, etc.  It was a full and fun week.

We're seeing a lot more of our granddaughter now that her mom has a full-time job and we (especially my wife) are the daytime caretakers.  She's a little gem, and being a "pop-pop" is a great experience. At two months, she's already smiling and "talking"  (mostly "goo").

Tonight I just returned from another victorious "Quizzo" competition at a local watering hole.  I'm a trivia buff, and have had fair success as a mostly solo "team", but I hit a dry spell until I joined forces with my sister-in-law and her best friend (who are both teachers), as well as her friend's son and tonight, her friend's husband.  Tonight's quiz was tough, but for the second straight time, we emerged as first-place winners.  Our team name?  "Sharknado!"

Poetry:  I'm still in a major dry spell so I don't have much new to offer. I do have a review of Billy Collins' upcoming collection, Aimless Love, on  I did have one recent acceptance: US 1 Worksheets will be publishing my poem, "Interview with a Metaphor" in their next issue. I'm also looking forward to attending the Poets' Forum in New York in October.
Billy Collins wrote a rather amusing poem in his new collection about the phrase "after Li Po" (the ancient Chinese poet), which appears in so many poems.  That reminded me of this "golden oldie" from 2002, which won second prize in a contest sponsored by Writers' Journal:

Li Po

That night in the drunken boat,
so the story goes,
you leaned up and out

to embrace your lover the moon,
and with that reach
that exceeded your grasp

fell into dark waters,
shattering your lover’s sister
to a hundred flashing pieces.

And as she re-assembled
on the black-glass surface
to smile at her twin above

you were already gone,
your legacy bubbling
back up to the world.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Big Life Events!

I admit to not being very industrious or inspired poetry-wise lately.  I know I'll get back on track soon, because writing an average of two or three poems a month is just not like me. Perhaps it's the distraction of "real life", which has brought me two big events in the last two months:

1. The birth of our first grandchild!  My son and daughter-in-law welcomed a beautiful baby girl into the world on June 27th.  Since they only live about a mile away, it looks like we will be very much in her life for a while.  My wife has already stayed over for several nights to help out, and I think she's already bought the baby enough clothes to last at least six months.  This is going to be so much fun.

2. Our 40th anniversary, which we celebrated in the least likely place that anyone who knows us would think we'd want to go: Las Vegas.  But we had a ball!  We went to Graceland Chapel to renew our vows with "Elvis", which was both silly and moving - not only did we promise not to leave each other at "Heartbreak Hotel" and to be a "hunk-a hunk-a burnin' love", but we had "serious" vows, too, which made my bride start to cry.  Afterward, we went to the Venetian Casino Hotel for a delicious gourmet Italian dinner (even the salad was one of the best I've ever had) and took a romantic indoor gondola ride.  Our week was full of activities like a tour to the Grand Canyon, a short road trip to Hoover Dam, two great shows (Cirque de Soleil's "Beatles Love" and a Motown revue by an Australian vocal group called Human Nature), visits to the Mob Museum and two art exhibits in the casinos (National Geographic photos and Andy Warhol art), and a lot more.  We spent a total of 30 minutes actually gambling the whole week, but we came out ahead.  And we didn't try to cram something into every waking moment, so we had time to relax, sleep in, or do whatever we wanted.  We didn't even eat out all that much, taking advantage of the full kitchen in our timeshare unit at Hilton Grand Vacations, about a mile off the "strip".  Our only cause for concern was a large wildfire on the nearby mountain (we smelled the smoke one morning) - it didn't really threaten the city, except for maybe air quality, but it did keep us from visiting nearby Red Rock Canyon.  It was hot, of course (over 100 degrees most days) but the dry heat is no worse than 95 degrees and humid back in Jersey. All in all, we had a splendid time.

Baseball:  The less I say about the Phillies, the better. Suffice to say I don't expect to be watching them in the playoffs in the foreseeable future.  At least I have my fantasy team to distract me.

Music:  It's that time of year again - time for WXPN's Top 885 Countdown.  This year they're doing "Songs of the New Millennium" - the best songs from 2001 to the present.  It will be an interesting list, free of "classic rock" old chestnuts, though some classic-rock-era artists will surely sneak in (like Mssr. Springsteen).  I tried to compile a list of favorites, and narrowing it down to a top 10 was very tough. I know I've probably forgotten at least a couple of favorites here, but be that as it may, here's me "top 40" as it stands at the moment:

1. Adele: Rolling In The Deep
2. Coldplay: Clocks
3. Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova: Falling Slowly
4. Sufjan Stevens: Chicago
5. New Pornographers: Use It
6. Marah: Poor People
7.Richard Thompson: Dad's Gonna Kill Me
8.White Rabbits: Percussion Gun
9.The Decemberists: Here I Dreamt I Was an Architect
10. Fleet Foxes: White Winter Hymnal

11. The Black Keys: 10 a.m. Automatic
12. Spoon: Sister Jack
13. The Arcade Fire: Sprawl II
14. New Pornographers: The Bleeding Heart Show
15. The Hold Steady: Slapped Actress
16. Django Django: Default
17. The Shins: Phantom Limb
18. Phoenix: Lisztomania
19. Sam Roberts: With a Bullet
20. The Decemberists: The Rake's Song

21. Drive-by Truckers: This F***ing Job
22. Elbow: The Birds
23. Iron and Wine: Boy with a Coin
24. A.C. Newman: The Town Halo
25. Josh Ritter: Girl in the War
26. Feist: My Moon My Man
27. Gnarls Barkley: Crazy
28. Foster The People: Pumped Up Kicks
29. Animal Collective: Summertime Clothes
30. Of Monsters And Men: Little Talks

31. Elbow: Grounds For Divorce
32. Wilco: Art Of Almost
33. Bruce Springsteen: The Rising
34. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Dig, Lazarus, Dig!
35. Divine Fits: Would That Not Be Nice
36. Death Cab For Cutie: I Will Possess Your Heart
37. Spoon: Don't You Evah
38. Passion Pit: Sleepyhead
39. Wilco: Impossible Germany
40. The Decemberists: The Crane Wife 3

Poetry:  Okay, if you insist, here's a rather sentimental one I wrote for my new grandchild:

Baby girl,
just by dropping into our world
you’ve created a mom and dad,
three grandparents,
four uncles and an aunt.
The challenge will be
how to bring you up right
without spoiling you,
little apple of all our eyes.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Billboard or Dresser Drawer?

When I took the Poem-a-Day challenge once again last month, I posted all my poems on this blog, some thirty-nine of them, to share with my readers. I was talking about this via e-mail with my “famous poet” friend, who said it was rather brave of me to do this. She said almost anything she writes must wait months, even a year or more before it sees the light of day. She said she’s from an “earlier, perhaps shyer time” (even though she’s my peer age-wise), and this may be why she doesn’t really identify with the likes of a poetry slam, for instance. But, she concedes, others get their joy from putting their work right out there, and that’s fine for them. William Stafford, for example, liked to say he sent all his poetry out in the world as soon as he wrote it, and “let the editors sort out which ones are good”.

Her tactful comments got me thinking, though: Am I “brave” or just “foolhardy”? Am I too eager to get instant gratification by pushing my newest creations to blink in the blinding light of public display? Certainly some of them are not yet in their final, mature form. Now, I’m not an obsessive-compulsive revisionist; if I have to revise a poem more than a half dozen times and it’s still not behaving, I may relegate it to the trash bin. But I’m sure there are some that should have been held back a little longer, at least to allow time for the ink to dry. Despite this eagerness to share my newborns with the world, I feel the same as my friend about slam poetry, which is often too extemporaneous and frenetic for my taste. Yet I sometimes read a poem publicly that I’ve written that same day. I also find the internet is a perfect avenue for getting almost immediate feedback (and hopefully praise) for one’s work. Poetry workshops, too, are a great way to produce something creative and get the immediate reaction of your peers. (I’ve certainly taken my share of those over the years.) So I think my desire to put my poetry “right out there” comes from the influence of those two outlets. Still, there’s something to be said for restraint, letting a poem develop and mature beyond the first flush of creativity before sharing it with the world. It all comes down to the individual: whether you’re more comfortable putting your new work on a figurative billboard or letting it sit for a while in your figurative dresser (or desk) drawer. So what do you do with your new poems, and why? Share your thoughts.

[Warning: Shameless plug ahead.]

Here's a sonnet that appears in my latest chapbook, Twenty-four by Fourteen (Maverick Duck Press, 2012). It's especially appropriate for the season.

All in the Month of May

In those old English ballads, why is May
the most important month? Some folks are wed,
someone's boyfriend always goes away
to sea, or some girl's lost her maidenhead,
Lord Someone gores the lover of his wife
with a beaten sword. Could it be the pull
of spring, rosebuds and lilies come to life,
emotions running high, libidos full?

Perhaps it's just that "May" makes many rhymes,
not difficult to fit into a tune,
which could explain, too, all those other lines,
like why the best moons always shine in June,
and why we are more likely to remember
September, and November, and December.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

PAD Day 30

I made it!  Thirty-nine poems in thirty days. And while they're not all classics, it felt good to be productive again and have some fun writing.  On the other hand, I'm kind of glad it's over.  Some days it was a real struggle just to produce something as brief as a haiku. I also wish I'd been more successful some days at combining the two prompts I was using. (But then again, if I had, I may not have written more than 30 poems.) It's a good challenge and exercise in writing self-discipline.

The final April prompt from NaPoWriMo is to take a poem from earlier this month and write its "opposite" - in other words, substitute the original words with their opposites. My Day 21 poem, "Fortune Cookie Senryu", which contained inspirational messages, seemed like a good target for this exercise.  What I came up with here could probably be called "dispirational".

Misfortune Cookie Senryu

Measure failure by 
how low you have sunk, and what
you don’t do down there.

Despite how relaxed
and idle you are, take one
thing off your list: work.

Don’t go out today,
ignore your environment,
don’t reflect on it.

Optimism hates
air, pessimism dies worst
in total vacuum.

My divorce account:
squander laziness and joy,
and I’ll go bankrupt.

Poetic Asides' final prompt is to write a "finished" and/or "unfinished"poem.


A poem is never finished, only abandoned.
- Paul Valery

The poem sits in a meadow,
rusting in spring rain. Once
it carried me to delightful destinations,
but it wasn't perfect. I  tried tinkering
with it - new engine, transmission,
a different rhyme scheme,
tightening the meter,
a fresh coat of metaphoric paint.
Then just  when I  thought
I fixed it up the way it should be,  
someone would walk by and say,
Do you have the right tires? or
Those door handles look clumsy,
or, I don't understand your imagery.
Eventually, it ended up in a drawer,
and later moved to this field.
Today I found it again, a corroded shell
of what it once was.  I sat down
in the April drizzle and begin to write
a poem about an old abandoned car.

I hope you've all had a great National Poetry Month!

Monday, April 29, 2013

PAD Day 29

Today's prompt from NaPoWriMo is to write a poem that uses at least five words or phrases from a foreign language, I took some liberties with this one and came up with what I think is a rather amusing commentary:

This is America, Buddy

So if you want to order real American food
in my diner, like pizza, crepes,
or frankfurters and sauerkraut,
you’d better speak English, capice?
Don’t be a schmuck and give me your lip –
we can go mano-a-mano any time.
So what if I’m gung ho about speaking the language?
If you don’t like it, c’est la vie.
And don’t forget, Friday’s Karaoke Night –
we’ll all be singing “Gangnam Style”.

The second prompt, from Poetic Asides, was to take a line from one of your April poems and make it the title of a new poem. I took it a step further and wrote a poem comprised of one line each from twenty of the poems I wrote this month (including the title). In other words, I wrote a "cento".  All are the original verbatim lines, too, except for one which I broke into two lines.

How Complex You Are

I'll tell you unequivocally,
Nature: I love and hate you.
I'm dopey enough to tell you how I feel.
We've breezed through laughter,
slogged through tears,
promises, engagements, hearts,
casting aspersions, doubts, accusations
when you betrayed me. Still I held back rain.

Pessimism loves a vacuum.
The ants are in the peonies again.
Ghost-faced owl dives, curls talons.
Please keep your wrath at bay -
we can't let the dark possibles dictate us.

Sun plus warm equals melt -
then take a walk, admire daffodils.
Let's go on a holiday to the borderline.
Our bodies respond with madness,
like a town crier on Doomsday,
lips puffed beyond the natural,
with fireworks of purple.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

PAD Day 28

Today's dual prompts: (1) Write a "color" poem, and (2) write a shadorma.  A "shadorma" is allegedly a form that originated in Spain (though it's more likely an invented contemporary form) of six lines with syllable counts of 3,5,3,3,7 and 5.  As such, it's a similar discipline to haiku or tanka.  So here's a string of shadormas I wrote on the topic of color:

The Color of Azalea

In my yard
an azalea bush
my birthday
with fireworks of purple
flowers every year.

Yet "purple"
doesn't do justice
to its hue -
perhaps (that's my niece's name)
or heliotrope.

Maybe plum
(no, that's way too deep),
or lilac (those don't work, they're
other flowers' names).

Puce or mauve?
Both are ugly words.
No artist,
just a guy,
I'll be content with "purple" -
it suits me just fine.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

PAD Day 27: Happy Birthday to Me

Oh joy. Today I am now officially old enough to collect Social Security.  My prompts for today are (1) Write a "mechanical" poem, and (2) follow along with me now - take the first three words of a popular phrase or "old saying", plug it into a search engine, and use the first three pages or so of results, picking out interesting words or phrases you can use in a poem.  Maybe I'm using the wrong "old sayings", but this exercise just didn't quite work for me.  The first poem I produced came out dark and disturbing, and though it was an entirely fictitious narrative poem, it might have shown up on some homeland-security radar, especially in these sensitive post-Boston bombing times, so I chose not to share it.  I did plug in the beginning of an appropriate old saying for today, and I was reminded of a tired old analogy, which inspired this short and pithy piece:

You're Only as Old as You Feel

"A little age can be a wonderful thing.
Take a fine bottle of scotch for example...."


That's it.  And here's my "mechanical" poem:

Birthday Robot

 I need a robot to absorb all my birthdays,
so he will be the one who needs service
and repair, more often every year.
He'll be the one who everyone will tell,
"You look pretty good for your age,"
and "You're only as old as you feel."
He'll get all the snarky getting-older birthday cards. 
and he'll be the one who will worry
what will happen when his warranty runs out.
And while he's fretting about circuits
that don't connect so quickly any more,
blockages in circulation, dimming light sensors,
joints that creak with every movement,
I'll be lounging on an island somewhere,
no older than last year, sipping a piña colada
and sending him a snarky birthday card.

Friday, April 26, 2013

PAD Day 26 Part Deux

So here's my second poem of the day, in response to Poetic Asides' prompt to write a "casting" poem.  I'm posting it separately only because it's so totally different from my other poem today.

O'Reilly Goes Fishing

Took my favorite rod and flies,
waded out hip-deep, where the river
bends to the right, and started casting
aspersions, doubts, accusations,
reeling in my catch, one after another.
Tonight I have bigger fish to fry.
My fans won't even realize that I've
filleted my dish of reason, logic,
and fairness, nor will they notice
when I choke on the bones.

PAD Day 26

Once again, I had a hard time reconciling the two prompts for today.  Poetic Asides' prompt is to write a "casting" poem.  Maybe I'll come up with something by the end of the day, or tomorrow.  Meanwhile I worked on today's prompt from NaPoWriMo, which is to write a "deletion" poem: Take a longer poem and delete most of the words, then use the words you have left - in order - to form another poem.  It is suggested that you even leave the words more or less in their original positions on the page, which makes for a more concrete, post-modern appearance. I tried this with one of Billy Collins' longest poems, "Victoria's Secret", and here's what I came up with.  (The title, "To Rise" is also an excision of the original title.)

To Rise

                   a deeply scalloped

cannot hide the shadow of

Here, the            
with       ruffles

as if to say           I am         nothing
                a low sweetheart

                                                a music box
                    will wake         her
in the                                       library

with a   

                                her neighbor

 a beautifully shaped
                ice cream
       a new sofa
peach,                                  rose, and periwinkle
It is
                                                a   swollen

Rain is beating on the roof.