Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Six Word Memoir

I've been tagged by Cati Porter to take the challenge of writing a six-word memoir. (This, by the way, is my first tag. I feel like I've made it now into the blogdom.)

The following instructions come from bookbabie,:

What would you say if you had to summarize your life in only six words? Bookbabie got the idea from a book written by Larry Smith and Rachel Fershleiser, Not Quite What I was Expecting: Six Word Memoirs by Famous and Obscure. It is a compilation based on the story that Hemingway once bet ten dollars that he could sum up his life in six words. His words were—For Sale: baby shoes, never worn.

Here are the rules:
1. Write your own six word memoir
2. Post it on your blog and include a visual illustration if you’d like
3. Link to the person that tagged you in your post and to this original post if possible so we can track it as it travels across the blogosphere
4. Tag five more blogs with links
5. And don’t forget to leave a comment on the tagged blogs with an invitation to play!

I struggled all night, but was determined to meet the challenge to be that terse. Here is the result of my effort:

Like(s) opals—fire-filled, fragile, embracing strangeness.

I'm tagging David, Kelli, Anne, Bernadette, and Greg.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Rimas Dissolutas

I'm always looking for new challenges, new forms, new topics for new poems. And while I don't consider myself a formalist, every once in a while I really enjoy tackling a form poem. Recently, I was introduced to rimas dissolutas. New to me, but not to the world, it's a French form. The poem may consist of any number of stanzas. Stanzas may consist of any number of lines, but the number of lines must be consistent in all stanzas. If you have three lines in the first stanza, then every stanza thereafter must have three lines. The rhyme pattern is not within stanzas, but between them. For example, in a four-line stanza, you might have the end sounds as a-b-c-d. Then in the next stanza, the first line must end with the a rhyme, the second the b rhyme, and so on. And that pattern must prevail throughout the poem. The result is a lovely subtlety to the rhymes. They dissolve, but they're there.

Although the form is defined as "syllabic verse," meaning that each line should have the same number of syllables, the examples I've seen disregard that rule. Also, the examples I've seen play freely with near rhymes. The following poem by Sylvia Plath is a good example of the form.

Black Rook in Rainy Weather

On the stiff twig up there
Hunches a wet black rook
Arranging and rearranging its feathers in the rain.
I do not expect a miracle
Or an accident

To see the sight on fire
In my eye, nor seek
Any more in the desultory weather some design,
But let spotted leaves fall as they fall,
Without ceremony, or portent.

Although, I admit, I desire,
Occasionally, some backtalk
From the mute sky, I can't honestly complain:
A certain minor light may still
Lean incandescent

Out of kitchen table or chair
As if a celestial burning took
Possession of the most obtuse objects now and then—
Thus hallowing an interval
Otherwise inconsequent

By bestowing largesse, honor,
One might say love. At any rate, I now walk
Wary (for it could happen
Even in this dull, ruinous landscape); skeptical,
Yet politic; ignorant

Of whatever angel may choose to flare
Suddenly at my elbow. I only know that a rook
Ordering its black feathers can so shine
As to seize my senses, haul
My eyelids up, and grant

A brief respite from fear
Of total neutrality. With luck,
Trekking stubborn through this season
Of fatigue, I shall
Patch together a content

Of sorts. Miracles occur,
If you care to call those spasmodic
Tricks of radiance miracles. The wait's begun again,
The long wait for the angel,
For that rare, random descent.

I used this form and poem as a prompt at a recent poetry retreat for women. The six women poets took to it enthusiastically. One, Barbara Crooker, has just had her rimas dissolutas, "Angels," published in Mezzo Cammin: An Online Journal of Formal Poetry by Women, edited by Kim Bridgford. I asked everyone to choose something else from nature as the subject for their poems and to follow Plath's example by using the subject as a springboard into something else. Like Plath's poem, Crooker's has a meditative quality to it. I'm still polishing mine about a centipede.

Friday, February 22, 2008

From the Bookshelf

As you can see, it's a good day here in New Jersey for curling up with a book. I'm clearing books away and then will return to Atonement. Here's what I've been reading lately:

1. The Innocent Man, by John Grisham. First a confession: I love true crime, not mysteries, but stories about real crimes. So I recently picked up Grisham's first foray into the genre. This is a well-written and intriguing story. And it gave me a deep respect for the work Barry Scheck does with his Innocence Project. Following the murder of a young girl, a man is arrested and charged with the crime. Although the evidence is weak, he is convicted and sentenced to death. He spends eleven years in prison before DNA absolves him of the crime. Already broken by drugs and drinking and a failed baseball career, he is shattered by prison and is never able to regain even the semblance of a life.

2. The Ice Man: Confessions of a Mafia Contract Killer, by Philip Carlo. The story of Richard Kuklinski, a paid killer, but also someone who from an early age enjoyed inflicting pain on people who did him wrong. Parts of the book are exceedingly brutal, yet the character is grotesquely fascinating. His story was the subject of an HBO series. Shows how damaged a human being can be by early abuse in the home. You need a strong stomach for this one.

3. Never Enough, by Joe McGinnis. True crime at its best, written by a superb writer. I already knew the story and the outcome as it was widely televised, but I was fascinated by the close-up view McGinnis provides into the world of investment banking and his insights into the way greed grows and distorts the human psyche.

4. When Madeline Was Young, by Jane Hamilton. I like Jane Hamilton, but this novel didn't work for me. I found it quite preposterous in its premise. Madeline, shortly after marriage, has a bicycle accident and ends up brain damaged. Her young husband brings her back home and later remarries. He and the new bride, soon the mother of his children, one of whom narrates the story, care for Madeline as if she were one of the children, even allowing her into bed with them. Nonsense. Wouldn't happen. Then Madeline gets a boyfriend who is intellectually limited and they plan a wedding. Need I say more?

5. No Country for Old Men, by Cormac McCarthy. I'm giving up on this author. I can't make sense out of his novels and they bore me silly. Worse, everybody else seems to think he's amazing and he wins all kinds of awards. So maybe it's just me. Here, the protagonist happens across some guys doing some kind of bad deed—I never could figure out just what, but I think it was a dope deal gone wrong. He then goes on the run with some really bad guy in pursuit. That guy seems to represent pure evil. Everyone who goes up against him gets shot in the face. So there's a lot of running around and a lot of shooting. There are also a number of annoying stylistic affectations, such as dialect, sections of italics, and a paucity of apostrophes. By the end of the novel, everyone's been shot in the face.

6. Rise and Shine, by Anna Quindlen. I hate to complain again, but I didn't buy the plot of this one either. A top-rated woman newscaster (a la Katie Couric) says the f word into the mike when she thinks it's off. Such chaos ensues! She disappears, leaving her teenage son, and just gives up the life she has known. Her sister steps in, bonds more than ever with the kid, and sort of rescues her sister. Well written but not a terribly credible plot or characterizations. I like Quindlen better when she's writing non-fiction, though I admire her for branching out.

7. Slash, by Slash and Anthony Bozza. Memoir by the former guitarist with Guns 'n' Roses. He clearly has an ax to grind with Axel Rose. Also a penchant for taking off his clothes in public. Goes for girls, alcohol, and drugs. Occasionally cleans up his act. I wish he'd worked harder on his prose. Needlessly long and repetitious. Not many insights into his creativity which is what I was interested in. What rhymes with Slash?

8. Clapton, by Eric Clapton. Much better than #7. Many of the same issues, but also some insights into the creative side of Clapton, his passion for the music, his demons. I felt his struggle with alcoholism and drug addiction. He made me care and I cheered him on when he finally got sober and learned to like himself.

9. Just Breathe Normally, by Peggy Shumaker. And the best shall be last. Shumaker is a poet and it shows in her lyrical style in this memoir. There are two strands braiding their way throughout the book. The first is about the awful accident that occurred when Shumaker and her husband went biking one day and were plowed down by a kid on a 4-wheel ATV. What he was doing was illegal. He shouldn't have been where he was. Shumaker almost didn't survive her injuries which took several surgeries, many months, and lots of therapy to come back from. So that's one story. The other takes us back into the past and recounts Shumaker's life with her broken family. Although it might seem that the two strands aren't related, metaphorically they are. This is a memoir about brokenness and repair. It's poetic and tender and I loved it.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Blog Biz

Fellow blogger David Pitchford has posted some very generous praise of my book, What Feeds Us, at Bitter Hermit. I love it when a Google Alert comes through with such a nice surprise. David's words have made me happy all day. Check it out!

Then this morning I reconnected via email with a friend from the Frost Place, Sue Payne, who I met the first year I went there which was shortly after I'd started writing poetry. We've seen each other there a number of times. But then I'm in NJ and she's in Chicago, so it was too easy to fall out of touch. I was delighted to learn that Sue has married, left a job that did not satisfy her and found one that does, and is well and happy.

Sue found me via David Graham's new list (I think it's new), Poetry Blogs. This is a list of blogs related to poetry. Check it out! That's two good Davids in one day.

Plus, while I have now finished my second box of Valentine chocolates, I still have one left. As long as they are here, I can't seem to stop stuffing my face.

And tonight American Idol gets serious as we're down to the top 24. The show is on tonight, tomorrow, and Thursday. Don't even think about inviting me somewhere.

One more thing about poetry blogs, be sure to check out Reginald Shepherd's comments on the subject at Critical Mass: the blog of the national book critics circle board of directors. Reginald details some of the benefits that have come to him as a result of blogging. It's an excellent read.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Submissions by Email

Back on December 29, 2007, I posted a list of print journals that accept email submissions. I said then that the rising cost of postage had made me increasingly appreciative of journals that have made this accommodation. And now with yet another postal increase, I say it again. Three cheers for print journals that accept email submissions! I've now added eight journals to that earlier list. Rather than make you return to December, I'm going to include the entire list here. Asterisks indicate the additions.

Unless noted otherwise, the journal accepts simultaneous submissions.

**The American Poetry Journal

Barn Owl Review—new journal

Bateau—new journal

**Bellevue Literary Review



Kenyon Review—no sim

**The Literary Review—closed until 9/08

Many Mountains Moving ($2 fee)

Meridian ($2 fee)

**New Madrid

The Normal School—new journal

Pebble Lake Review
no multiple subs (which in my book means don’t submit more than one packet at a time—if the editor means no simultaneous submissions, that needs to be changed)





Third Coast Review


**32 Poems—no sim—website does not yet reflect the change to submission procedure. Here is the site for the Manager

Looking for more? Try:
Poetry Publishers Who Accept Electronic Submissions
compiled by Louie Crew
Drawback to this list—It does not indicate if the journal is online or print. Huge variation in quality of journals listed.

Thanks to Erika Dreifus for pointing me to where you will find additional journals that accept email submissions. I did not include any online journals as they obviously accept email submissions. And I tended to zero in on journals that appealed to me. They might not appeal to you.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Poet du Jour: Greg Rappleye

Greg Rappleye’s Figured Dark is a stunning collection. These are poems of clarity, complexity, and wisdom. Readers will find much to admire on a first reading, then more and more with each subsequent reading. And they will very much want to go back for those subsequent readings.

This collection satisfies with its rich variety. Rappleye shows a wide range of knowledge, moving comfortably from books to history, current events, the Bible, and art. The minor motifs—birds, dogs, trees, water, angels (the heavenly kind, fallen, and Blue)—add additional variety and subtly unify the collection. Rappleye also covers a variety of locations, for example, a field at night, the Gotham Book Mart, a museum, Pittsburgh, a homeless shelter, and a hospital. He includes a variety of characters, mingling a reunion chairwoman, crack whores, a butterfly collector, St. Paul, a radio talk show host, and the poets John Donne, John Berryman, and Gerald Stern. In “Sail On, Sailor” Odysseus mixes it up with Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys.

Rappleye also varies stanza forms and lengths. The collection consists primarily of free verse poems, all written with a clear mastery of craft and a formal elegance. And yet there’s a hipness to the poems, often revealed as Rappleye combines formal and colloquial diction. There are several ambitious multi-section poems and one terrific ghazal, “Lost-Love Ghazals.” In this ancient Persian form, Rappleye handles the pattern of repeated words and rhymes in the required couplets, yet manages to put his own stamp on the form by violating the rule that the poet put his own name in the last couplet. Instead, he asks, “Why bury my name in some final couplet? / Bereft of name, I will not love you anymore.” The poet, in spite of the predictability inherent in the form, also manages to take the poem through a series of turns and surprises. In fact, one of the virtues of the collection as a whole is its ability to consistently surprise the reader.

Another of Rappleye’s strengths is his gift for tone. The collection blends sadness and humor. A number of the poems focus on failure—failure of the body in “Biopsy” and “Glaucoma”; a failed relationship in “After the Divorce,” with its beautiful closing lines: “Winter soon. / A winter that is more and more / my home.” Rappleye fearlessly encounters the dark, but he also has an obvious fondness for humor as seen in “My Mother Thinks She’s Peggy Lee” and “Discontinuous Narrative,” a poem about the speaker’s vasectomy. And while God sometimes abandons Rappleye’s speaker, He also shows up on a road trip “programming all night radio for Knoxville, Tennessee.”

As the collection’s title suggests, many of the poems deal with dark subjects. Appropriately dark images undergird these subjects. But the darkness is counterbalanced by happiness and images of light. Yes, Rappleye seems to say, there is darkness, but there is also light. His poems offer us different ways of seeing both.

Here are two poems that give a good sense of the collection. Two more poems and an interview are also available at the publisher’s website.

Lilacs for Instance
What is the purpose of green or of blue?
—Rainer Maria Rilke
How I believe a time comes
when they will not bloom again
and later find it isn’t true.
Thus, the house down the road—
overgrown with flowering lilacs.
At night I walk a path behind it
coming up along the creek.
Framed in a second-story window,
a woman stands in a green kimono,
toweling herself after a bath.
The silk of her robe falls back
to expose the areola of one breast
and the shadow of her sex, lush
as the flowers that encircle
the house, her bedroom window
lit like a painting from Bonnard.
I pause in the looming dark,
tongue thick with the fragrance
of lilacs, until she turns out
her light. After which there are
always lilacs, and the sweet music
of a distant song.

At 48, Walking My Baby Past the Voodoo Lounge
“A few children for me of my own, is that excessive? No, . . .
It is the
right moment, just right.”
–Edgar Degas, letter from New Orleans to Henri Rouart
I wheel his stroller across Bienville,
turn left on Chartres, pause at the house
where Napoleon planned to brood
his final years. Carlos doesn’t care—
napping under a blanket I’ve spread
to keep him from the sun. The sidewalks
are sticky, the air—roiling with booze
and boiled shrimp, and the music won’t stop—
at every door, the chank-a-chank of zydeco,
or drum machines rat-tatting
into the street. I light a cigar.
We are men about town, me pointing out
the gaslights and balconies, the walls
brushed aquamarine, chiffon, or a sweet
sun-ripened pink. On Toulouse,
he spots two beagles, who, scampering round
their tiny yard, make him laugh, as they tumble
against an iron fence. I prop Carlos at the gate
and snap a picture, in which he looks
straight at the camera, smiling slyly,
like the smallest child in Degas’s painting
Children on a Doorstep—the light,
that same goldenrod—with a beagle
posed at a distance. You say
it’s crazy to have this new child.
You think even worse.
I only know that under the sign
“Famous Live Love Acts of New Orleans,”
I look at Carlos and smile.
And passing the Voodoo Lounge, I know
that no bad luck can touch us now.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Paterson Poetry Prize Reading

Yesterday was the annual reading for the winners of the Paterson Poetry Prize. The first-place co-winners were both there. Christopher Bursk, prior to his reading, placed little gifts on all the chairs: a baseball card, a little block, and a small rubber ball. He then related each item to something in his reading. He's a wonderful poet and a terrific reader and a general all-around nice guy.

Christopher Bursk waiting to read from The First Inhabitants of Arcadia.
Doesn't he look like a nice guy?

Patricia Smith read next. Her collection is Teahouse of the Almighty. Patricia is a slam champion and highly regarded for both her reading style and her powerful words. She did not disappoint. Her reading energized the entire room. I want to mention that these two poets are not only terrific poets. They are also very generous people. Chris teaches and also works with prisoners and women's shelters. Patricia also works with young writers and has written a children's book.

Patricia after her reading. Another nice face.

Vivian Shipley was the third reader. She received a the Sustained Literary Excellence Award. She spoke about what she called her "hillbilly" roots in Kentucky, then read from Hardboot: New & Old Poems.

Poets hobnobbing during the break.

Doug Collura, one of the finalists. read from Things I Can Fit My Whole Head Into. As his title might indicate, Doug's poems tend to be funny.

Maria Gillan Mazziotti, director of the Paterson Poetry Center and the contest's sponsor, just introduced the next finalist, Peter Covino. Peter talked a bit about his Italian roots and then read movingly from Cut Off the Ears of Winter.

Therese Halscheid ended the reading beautifully with poems from Uncommon Geography. This poet makes her living house-sitting, a way of life that has made it possible for her to be a full-time writer.

Three finalists were unable to attend: Jack Bedell, Kwame Dawes, and John Hodgen. But it was a very full afternoon with six poets, many fine poems, and a wonderful variety of voices and reading styles. And as if that weren't enough, there was a table laden with fruit and cheese and several kinds of cookies. I went home well-nourished.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

AWP 2008: The Movie

I've been fiddling again with imovie so will now impose another of my efforts on you. Then I promise I'm done with AWP for this year.

Monday, February 4, 2008

After AWP

I have now attended my first AWP Conference. My spouse drove me in Wednesday afternoon and deposited me at the Hilton Hotel where I would spend an absurd amount of money for a rather small room, nice but smallish. That night I had a BLT for dinner—$17.50! Then I discovered that the hotel charges $15 per day for use of their wireless. That was another first. That's usually an amenity that comes with the room rate. But I had my new laptop with me and was determined to put it to use.

The next day I reported for duty at the book table my publisher, Wind Publications, was sharing with Steel Toe Books. Tom Hunley, the Steel Toe publisher as well as a Wind poet, had the table already set up. Our location was a nice corner spot, but on the second floor of the Bookfair. As that area required one to go up an escalator and there was no sign indicating the second level, there was much less traffic in that area. I sold a decent number of books, but I heard a lot of grousing about diminished sales this year in spite of the dramatic increase in the number of registrants. My guess is that with the exorbitant hotel costs people were less inclined to shell out for books.

Tom Hunley at the Steel Toe Books / Wind Publications Table

Wind Poets Ann Fisher-Wirth, Diane Lockward, and JC Todd

This act of subversion appeared on Friday, right across from our table.

Because I was covering the table for my publisher who couldn't come, I only went to three panels. I went to the Frost Place reading which was good, and I saw a number of familiar faces from the days when I used to go to the summer conference in New Hampshire.

David Graham and me. I know David from the Frost Place. He's also on the Wompo listserv. He's a Man-po.

I also went to the Sarah Lawrence reading. Each of the 5 or 6 panelists (can't remember which) read three poems by a dead poet, three by a former teacher, and three of his or her own. That sounds like a good plan, but it boggled my mind. Too many poets and poems to keep track of anything. I left not remembering anything I'd heard. One really unfortunate part of this reading was the incessant intrusion of the fire alarm. First we had about five warnings that an alarm had been sounded and was being investigated (alarm followed by announcement each time). Then we had about five notices that the alarm had been investigated and determined to be false. This nonsense pretty well sabotaged the reading.

My favorite event was the Wompo panel Friday morning. This was a celebration of the just-released Wompo anthology, Letters to the World, which contains over 200 poems by members of the Wompo listserv. It was an amazing and time-consuming and international endeavor. The result is a gorgeous anthology. The panelists were all involved in the creation of the anthology. Each detailed her role and some of the challenges, and each read one poem from the anthology. After the presentation we all stood in a circle and gave our names and said where we live. I've been on the listserv since 1999 and really enjoyed putting faces to names. I'll have more to say about this anthology after I get a chance to read through it.

Wompos Lois Roma-Deely, list owner Annie Finch, and Penny Harter. Annie is holding the anthology.

Kate Gale, the publisher of Red Hen Books which published the anthology. Photo taken at the Bowery Poetry Club Saturday night.

I saw lots of people I knew from various places and had lunch with old and new friends. Because the hotel was so huge and involved a lot of walking to get from one place to another, I stayed close for meals. A friend took a group of us to the deli right across the street, a fantastic place with dozens of hot dishes in large trays set into steam tables. You just help yourself and then your food is weighed. No difference between mac and cheese or salmon. This place has to be one of the best bargains in NY. I wanted to get to the Soup Nazi's but never made it.

Back to reality tomorrow—jury duty.

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