Monday, March 29, 2010

April Showers Bring... Poetry Readings!

Time to blog again! I just wish I had the time to do this more often. Sometimes I do, but then I rationalize by saying, “Nah, my life’s too boring for people to read about every week.” I shouldn’t worry though – I’m sure there are a lot more blogs out there more boring than mine.

April is around the corner, and it looks like it’s going to be a busy poetry month for me. Not only do I plan to do the Poem-a-day Challenge again, but I’ve got a handful of readings and other events lined up in April and into May: April 11 I host my poetry group, the Quick and Dirty Poets, for our monthly meeting. On April 18 Anna Evans and I will read at a place called ABC No Rio in NYC; on April 23 our group reads for the Mad Poets Society at the Big Blue Marble in Philly; and April 30 we have our regular reading series at the Daily Grind in Mt. Holly NJ, featuring poet and Schuylkill Valley Journal editor Bill Wunder. Then on May 2 is the launch party for the new issue of Schuylkill Valley Journal, and on May 16 Kendall Bell and I read at the annual NJ journal festival in Warren County organized by Diane Lockward. I have events coming up in July and December too – more on those later.

I attended the launch party yesterday for US 1 Worksheets at the Princeton Public Library. This is their 55th issue – they’ve been publishing their anthology since 1972. It’s a handsome perfect-bound edition of over 100 pages of excellent poetry – Nancy Scott and the other editors and staff do a fine job every year. (The new issue isn’t on their website as of this writing, but you can still visit them at .) I read my poem from the issue, “Trivia”, and got an enthusiastic response.

We also had our own launch party for our journal, Up and Under: The QND Review, at our regular haunt, the Daily Grind. It was rather sparsely attended, partly because there were other poetry events going on the in area, but we still had a good time. Again, we don’t have this latest issue (#5) on our website yet, but you can visit us by clicking the link on my sidebar.

I got a package of indie music from Amazon which included three new releases: Teen Dream by Beach House, Vol. 2 by She & Him (Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward), and the self-titled album by Broken Bells (James Mercer of The Shins, and “Danger Mouse”). Of those three, my strongest first impression is of Beach House, a really fine collection of dream-pop songs. At times they remind me of The Swell Season without Glen Hansard’s sometimes histrionic singing. Other times they remind me of no one else. Broken Bells is an interesting project and has some occasionally catchy hooks, but I’m still having trouble really warming up to it. She & Him is pleasant if not exceptional – Zooey wrote most of the songs herself this time out, and she deserves credit for that, but some of them are frankly forgettable.

I also got my first ever Chuck Berry collection (the “Definitive Collection” from Chess Records – 30 songs including all of the hits). I was inspired by my son’s school project, in which he was supposed to suggest a modern pop song as a new National Anthem. I suggested Berry’s “Back in the USA” and he ran with it, but it also spurred his interest in the artist as well. He was surprised to learn that two songs by another of his favorite artists, the Beatles (“Rock and Roll Music” and “Roll Over Beethoven”) were not Beatles originals, but covers of Berry songs.

Poem of the Blog: Here’s the one that is in the new issue of US 1 Worksheets:


Who was the first
How many
What is the word for
Who won
When did
Can you name the
Who is the only
In what year did
Where would you find
Which of these is
How many times
Where in the world did you
When did you think
What is the matter with
Why in God’s name
What kind of question
How dare you
Do you expect me
Why should I
How am I supposed to
Who do you think you are?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Oscar Extra and Kudos for a Friend

A little belated, perhaps, but I have to sound off about the Oscars, since I'm such an Oscar junkie. I watched the whole show the other night, as I usually do every year, and God help me, I even watched some of the "red carpet" pre-show. ("Who are you wearing?") I’ve only seen three of the nominated Best Pictures so far, and I was kind of rooting for Avatar, which I just saw this weekend.

- T Bone Burnett and Ryan Bingham winning for Best Song
- South Jersey’s own Michael Giacchino winning for Best Score (“Up”) and his great acceptance speech
- Sandra Bullock’s upset win for Best Actress
- Kathryn Bigelow being the first woman to win Best Director (and she looked fabulous)
- The horror movie montage
- The tribute to John Hughes
- Ben Stiller’s Avatar makeup
- James Taylor singing “In My Life” to the “let’s-see-who-died” montage
- The new format, started last year, where fellow actors come onstage to do a mini-tribute to each of the Best Actor/Best Actress nominees

- Jeff Bridges’ acceptance speech: It was sweet that he thanked his late parents, and I’m glad he won, but he just went on, and on, and on….
- What’s-her-name the costume designer who began her speech, “I already have two of these…”: she seemed really full of herself.
- The woman who "Kanye'd" the director of Oscar-winning doc Music by Prudence during his acceptance speech. Is this becoming some kind of trend?
- Omitting the "Lifetime Achievement" awards from the main ceremony. It was always a heartfelt and moving segment, and I would have loved to see tributes to honorees Lauren Bacall and Roger Corman.
- Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin co-hosting: They were often funny, but just as often they seemed strained and awkward together. The producers should have picked one or the other.

Fashion Watch:
I'm no couture expert but I know what I like, and apparently any actress with a last name ending in "z" had the inside track: Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, and Jennifer Lopez all looked fabulous. But Sarah Jessica Parker's dress was hideous, IMHO, and Barbra Streisand looked like a matronly frump.
Helen Mirren and Meryl Streep tied for the "classy lady"award.

Some trivia: What do the following classic movies have in common?

2001: A Space Odyssey
Some Like It Hot
Singin' in the Rain
The African Queen
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
A Hard Day's Night
The Manchurian Candidate
Modern Times

Answer: None of them were nominated for Best Picture by the Academy.

What "profession" has been most likely to win an actress an Oscar?
Answer: Hooker - 10 actresses have won Oscars for their portrayal of "ladies of the night" - the last was Charlize Theron for Monster.

Now for the kudos: Congrats to my friend Kelly Fineman, whose poem "Inside the New Mall" won 3rd prize in the annual Writer's Digest Poetry Competition! Visit Kelly's blog at

Friday, March 5, 2010

Extra: Overdue Poetry News

For some time now, I’ve been a “regular” on Robert Brewer’s Poetic Asides blog on the Writer’s Digest website. It’s one of the best poetry blogs out there, and he has kept me going with his weekly writing prompts. Twice a year, in April and November, he does a “Poem-a-Day Challenge”, and I have participated daily in each one for the last couple of years. Last April he had a special challenge where he announced that the best poems of that month would be picked by a team of guest judges and compiled into an “eBook” of the winners. He had no idea what kind of response he would get. More than 1000 poets submitted over 25,000 poems, so the task of winnowing through them was a daunting one indeed. (I was one of the participants who volunteered to slog through a “slush pile” of entries and pick the best 50 out of about 800 - just for one day!) This workload, combined with other personal and professional priorities, prevented him from accomplishing the ultimate goal of picking one daily winner and publishing the eBook. However, yesterday he finally announced the five finalists for each daily prompt. It’s an honor just to make this list, considering the volume of entries – as Robert said, the odds of making the list at all were about 0.6%. That said, I was more than happy that not one, but two of my poems made the final list: “The Demoiselle Cranes”, which I consider the best poem I wrote last April; and “Those Summer Fridays”, a parody of “Those Winter Sundays” by Robert Hayden. A few of my real-life poet friends also made the list, like Tammy Paolino, Joseph Harker, and Donna Vorreyer (who also made the list twice). I’m glad Robert finally gave this contest a sense of closure, since it was hanging over his head for so long. I’m grateful that his prompts have helped spur me to write some good stuff over the past two or three years. Oh yeah, and another poem I wrote during the April challenge, “Never Say”, was recently accepted for publication by Edison Literary Review.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

"Snow had fallen, Snow on snow, Snow on snow..."

It seems like such a vicious cycle: I don’t post often on my blog because it doesn’t get much activity, but it probably doesn’t get much activity because I don’t poet that often. So if I promise to post more often, will folks start visiting and commenting more? Maybe it’s worth a shot. One thing’s for sure: once a month on the average isn’t often enough.

It’s been one heck of a winter – most snow on record in one season here in the Philly-South Jersey area. I think we had three major storms that dumped between one and two feet of snow each (and a predicted fourth one last week that fortunately turned out to be not that bad). That’s almost unheard of around here – over 65 inches since December, I believe. At least until recently, we had more snow this winter than they’d had in Maine, or in Vancouver for the Olympics. Thank goodness for March, though we’re not out of the woods just yet. One thing’s for sure: I am no longer wondering why I bought a snow blower about four winters ago. (Note: the title quote is from Christina Rossetti's poem "In the Bleak Midwinter" - some of you may know it from Gustav Holst's hymn arrangement, played at Christmas season.)

One of the bright spots this winter was the engagement party we threw for my son and his fiancée. We rented a very nice banquet hall, did all the food and beverages and entertainment ourselves (with help from some friends and family), and had about 70-75 guests. They were very happy with it.

Poetry News: I do have some publications coming up this year in Edison Literary Review, US 1 Worksheets, Schuylkill Valley Journal, and (if they get some funding) Mad Poets Review. I’m still waiting for my poems to appear in a future issue of The Lyric. I did enjoy a formal poetry gathering last month at the Mannyunk Art Center, hosted by Peter Krok of the SVJ, and which I attended with friend Anna Evans, an estimable formalist who gave a brief talk about Philip Larkin and Edna St. Vincent Millay. She has also been running a series of formal poetry workshops over there. Also, our group’s journal, Up and Under: The QND Review, has its launch party next month, and we have another excellent issue coming out, if I say so myself. My poem “What to Play at My Funeral” will be included, along with a poem by my son, who uses a pseudonym. I’ve been filling my pocket planner with upcoming poetry events, and it looks like a busy year in the making – I’ve been invited to a few readings, including a co-feature with Nancy Scott at the South Brunswick Library in December. This is also the year of the biannual Dodge Poetry Festival, so that’s on my radar too. The only downside is that I feel I’ve become rather lazy with my writing work ethic – not too productive lately – even the weekly prompt from Poetic Asides is a struggle sometimes. Oh yeah, that reminds me: Robert Brewer of Poetic Asides cited one of my recent prompt poems, “Taking It All Back” on a blog-radio show interview recently, and I got such good feedback, including from my critique group, that I retooled it as a blank-verse sonnet (suggested by Anna) and sent it off as a submission. We’ll see what happens.

Music: The music year has got off to a rather slow start. Other than the new Spoon and Vampire Weekend (both of which I enjoyed but don’t feel compelled to rave about), there’s not much new stuff yet to excite me. I did, however, enjoy doing a “love songs” mix on my iPod for my son’s engagement party – anything pop, rock, and even some jazz from the 1930’s right up to the present. I even burned some CD’s from the playlist to give away as gifts. A sample playlist:

Love Songs of the 80’s
Addicted to Love - Robert Palmer
Dancing in the Dark – Bruce Springsteen
Everyday I Write the Book – Elvis Costello
Genius of Love – Tom-Tom Club
She Drives Me Crazy – Fine Young Cannibals
Higher Love – Steve Winwood
In Your Eyes – Peter Gabriel
Head Over Heels – The Go Gos
Head Over Heels – Tears for Fears
Kiss on My List – Hall and Oates
I Just Called to Say I Love You – Stevie Wonder
Smooth Operator – Sade
Kokomo – The Beach Boys
Have I Told You Lately – Van Morrison
Woman – John Lennon
The Longest Time – Billy Joel
You’ll Accomp’ny Me – Bob Seger

Poem of the Month: Spring Training has begun! My Phillies should be contenders again this year, especially after signing Roy Halladay, arguably the best starting pitcher in baseball. What does this have to do with poetry? Well, to bide my time till the season begins, I just finished the book Baseball Haiku, an anthology edited by Cor Van den Heuvel and Nanae Tamura. It’s a collection of Japanese and English-language haiku and senryu on the subject. The Japanese have been writing haiku about baseball since the late 19th Century, starting with Shiki, one of the modern haiku masters who is also credited with helping popularize the sport in Japan. Jack Kerouac is credited with writing the first American baseball haiku. the editors argue that baseball and haiku are such a good fit because both take place in natural settings (grass fields, sandlots, etc.) and both emphasize the “moment”. This entertaining collection inspired me to write a few of my own:

time called –
a stray cat
steals second base

Star-spangled Banner –
while the shortstop sings along
the pitcher chews gum

extra innings –
manager swats at a bee
with a scorecard

spring rain
nourishes outfield grass –
no game today