Monday, June 30, 2014

Billy Collins and the Virtual Blog Tour

First things first:  I recently learned that I've been accepted into the Billy Collins workshop at the Key West Literary Seminar next January!   I'm really psyched because he's one of my favorite poets.  The wife and I will be making a vacation of it too - never been to Key West.  Jane Hirshfield will be there too so I'll have a chance to say hi to her.

Now to the business at hand: I was invited to join a "virtual blog tour" by fellow poet Janet Rice Carnahan. Here's how it works: a fellow poet or artist invites you to participate, then you acknowledge them on your blog, answer four questions about your creative process, and refer your readers to three other poets or creative artists and their blogs. Those artists, in turn, do the same and each one refers their readers to three others, etc. It's a great way to get traffic to your blog and also introduce others to creative folks you think are worthy of attention. Janet and I know each other from Robert Lee Brewer's Poetic Asides blog, which I've mentioned several times right here.

Janet Rice Carnahan was born into a fifth generation family on the California coast.  Inspired by the ocean and the ever changing tides of a big family; including a husband, two adult children, a son-in-law and one precious grandson, her love of water is her constant muse! Janet’s journeys have taken her to Lake Tahoe in Northern California, Lake Mead in Southern Nevada, Laguna Beach, California, Hawaii on the island of Kauai, and currently to La Jolla in Southern California. After a twenty year career in early childhood education, earning a Master’s Degree in Human Development and Family Studies, Janet continued developing interests in spirituality and metaphysics.  Photography and writing, in particular poetry, are her favorite mediums for expressing and exploring her various interests.  Her poetry has been published on several online poetry sites and in three anthologies with a cover photo and caption credit. Janet has self-published four poetry books that are highlighted on her web site, Hear Earth Heart, which includes her blog, “Captured Moments.”

So here are my questions, done in a self-interview style:

1. What am I currently working on?
Currently I'm in a bit of a creative lull (I don't like to use the term "writer's block"), but recently I enjoyed participating in an "ekphrastic poetry" project, in which area poets wrote poems inspired by a juried art show at a local gallery. (Read more about it in my previous blog entry.) I'm also thinking of shopping around a chapbook manuscript of baseball poems, many of which I wrote last November as part of a challenge on the Poetic Asides blog.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I don't know if there is anything really unique about my poetry, but I try to impress readers with a certain degree of craft - I write mostly free verse but also a fair amount of formal poetry. I enjoy writing "persona" poems - maybe it's my psychology background, but I like trying to get into the head of a character, whether real or fictional.  My latest published poem was from the point of view of a Japanese-American man who was interned as a boy with his family in World War II.  I try to move the reader emotionally with understatement rather than melodrama and overbearing sentiment, though I probably do border on the sentimental at times.  Occasionally I like to give them a good laugh, too. I usually try to give my poems a "twist" or "punchline" at the end, even the serious ones. And I love metaphors.

3. Why do I write/create what I do?
I've been writing off and on since grade school.  It's a conduit for amusement, catharsis, and self-challenge, but I don't think I ever seriously considered it as a career. It's my way to share and be heard in the big world. All of us who create like to have an audience, unless we still hide our poems in the sock drawer.  I get a thrill out of reading something I've created to others, whether it's a single person or a hundred or more. It's also gratifying to have a poem published, whether it's in a little journal or a national magazine. God knows I don't write poetry for the money.

4. How does my writing/creating process work?
When it wants to. Lately I've thought that I've become too dependent on prompts - ideas that others throw at me, though it's a good way to jump-start the creative process. Of course, prompts can also come from everyday life - a conversation I heard, something I saw on the news, a person or thing that intrigues me. The trick is in paying attention to them. I don't have a favorite "writing place" or time of day - usually whenever and wherever I can squeeze it in - often on my lunch and coffee breaks at work.  My self-discipline comes in spurts - I wrote a poem a day in April this year but little else since then. A famous poet friend assured me that's okay - she often goes through the same process. Another poet compared inspiration to a well - an obvious metaphor, perhaps, but a good one. Sometimes you just need to stop dipping into a dry one and let it fill up over time. On the other hand, you can't always wait for the muse to comes to you. I am always trying to improve my poetic skills and craft, and one my favorite ways of doing that is by attending writing conferences and workshops. I've met some pretty famous poets this way, and they have all been helpful and supportive.

And last but not least, here are three poets I know and respect, and who deserve your attention. I've known Anna Evans and Kendall Bell for several years - Kendall is a prolific poet, editor and publisher who has published two of my chapbooks including the latest one, Twenty-four by Fourteen. He is also a fellow member of a small critique and reading group called the "Quick and Dirty Poets". Anna is a former member of that group, and she's a rising star in the poetry world.  I've learned a lot from her about formal poetry, especially sonnets, and she has an excellent new book out. Vince Gotera is one of my newest poetry friends, with whom I started conversing during the Poem-a-Day Challenge in April.  He too is a gifted poet who likes to dabble in forms. 

Anna M. Evans’ poems have appeared in the Harvard Review, Atlanta Review, Rattle, American Arts Quarterly, and 32 Poems. She gained her MFA from Bennington College, and is the Editor of the Raintown Review. Recipient of Fellowships from the MacDowell Artists' Colony and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and winner of the 2012 Rattle Poetry Prize Readers' Choice Award, she currently teaches at West Windsor Art Center and Richard Stockton College of NJ. Her new sonnet collection, Sisters & Courtesans, is available from White Violet Press. Visit her online at

Kendall A. Bell's poetry has been widely published in print and online, most recently in First Literary Review-East and Drown In My Own Fears. He was nominated for Sundress Publications' Best of the Net collection in 2007, 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2013. He is the author of fifteen chapbooks. His most recent chapbook is "Be Mine". He is the founder and co-editor of the online journal Chantarelle's Notebook and the publisher/editor of Maverick Duck Press. His website is and his chapbooks are available through He lives in Riverside, New Jersey.

Vince Gotera is the Editor of the North American Review and a creative writing professor at the University of Northern Iowa. His collections of poetry include the forthcoming Pacific Crossing as well as Dragonfly, Ghost Wars, and Fighting Kite. His work has also appeared widely in magazines, anthologies, textbooks, and online venues. Vince is also a guitarist and bass player; he is the lead guitarist of the band The Random Five. His favorite color is blue in all its various flavors: aqua, cobalt, electric, indigo, periwinkle, robin's egg, royal, sky.  Visit his blog, "The Man with the Blue Guitar" at 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Breaking the Silence

When I said "farewell" after writing a poem a day in the month of April, I didn't really mean forever. Still, over a month is close to "forever" in blog-time. Yeah, I got a little lazy after the April spurt of creativity, but not totally idle. Personally, the last several weeks have been pretty busy, mostly revolving around our youngest son, who had his Senior Prom, graduation and the subsequent party, and now, already, a summer job as an adult counselor at Boy Scout camp. Next weekend is my nephew's wedding, and right after that we say goodbye to our international student for the summer, so May and June have been a whirlwind so far.

The other big event was a combined Mother's Day/birthday gift to my wife and me from my son and his significant other. We were treated to dinner at John's of 12th Street, an Italian restaurant in the East Village that was featured on the Food Network show Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. It's actually none of those, just a great little bistro with deliciously-prepared food. I had the Tuscan Ragu over Homemade Pappardelle (one of the dishes featured on the program) - the meat sauce melted in my mouth, and the pasta was done perfectly. Afterward we went to Carnegie Hall to see a concert of music by the Estonian-German composer Arvo Pärt. If you're not familiar with him, he is a former serialist composer who, after a hiatus of several years, embraced other types of music like minimalism and Gregorian chant, and has created a beautiful body of choral and orchestral work largely on religious themes. The concert was wonderful, and Mr. Pärt was in attendance - we even got his autograph at a "meet-and-greet" after the show. It was a splendid evening in New York.

Poetically, the highlight for me in the past month was participating in an art-and-poetry event at the Markheim Art Center in Haddonfield, NJ. There is a juried exhibit there called "Power of the Flower" - a variety of artists working with different media who created a stunning display of all things floral. A poet friend, Dave Worrell, invited a number of local poets to view the works and write poems about them (there's a word for this: "ekphrastic" poetry), and on May 31, we read our poems at the gallery as the works that inspired them were displayed. Several of my poet friends were there to share their works: Dave, Barbara Daniels, Tammy Paolino, Rocky Wilson, BJ Swartz, Walt Howat, and nine others including me. Several of the artists and photographers were in attendance, too, and I think they appreciated our response to their works. I got to read last, and though I actually wrote six short poems for the works on display, I didn't expect to have the opportunity to read them all, but Dave asked if I would, and they all got a nice response. It was a fine evening of visual and written works of art. I'd love to do it again some time.

I have had one recent publication: The baseball-themed journal Spitball has published my poem "Baseball in Manzanar" on their website as Poem of the Month. This is my third appearance for Spitball (the other two were poems for their print edition). Thanks to editor Mike Shannon for his support of my work. I also have two upcoming readings: Barnes and Noble in Marlton NJ on June 16th, and the Big Blue Marble Bookstore in the Mt. Airy section of Philadelphia on July 25th The other news is that I have been asked to write a blurb for a posthumous collection of the poetry of my friend John Bourne. It's an honor, and I'll share more details as they become available. (Still waiting to hear about whether I'm accepted into Billy Collins' workshop at the Key West Literary Seminar next January - I'm supposed to be notified by late June.)

Poems: Here are two of the six poems I wrote for the above-mentioned event at the Markheim Gallery, along with the art works that inspired them.

Bird of Paradise
(after stained glass art by Tom Sharp)

from itself
a riot of yellow and orange

at the end of the stalk
ready to launch

while afternoon light
filters through
from behind

speared sunshine
bright splinters
of the day

Ravens and Foxglove
(after art by Jonathan Greenberg)

Harbinger birds,
black as an omen,
carrying powers
on tips of their wings,

roost near a garden
of fingertip flowers,
small purple bells
that do many things –

poison our foes
or keep our hearts beating.
Life hangs, we suppose,
on what each symbol brings.

We’re all in the throes
of indefinite hours.