Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Yes, Virginia

Something I like to revisit each Christmas is the following essay from the New York Sun. My grandmother read it to me many years ago. I've always remembered it. If you don't already know this piece, I hope you'll enjoy it:

Eight-year-old Virginia O'Hanlon wrote a letter to the editor of New York's Sun, and the quick response was printed as an unsigned editorial September 21, 1897. The work of veteran newsman Francis Pharcellus Church has since become history's most reprinted newspaper editorial, appearing in part or whole in dozens of languages in books, movies, and other editorials, and on posters and stamps.

"DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old.
"Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
"Papa says, 'If you see it in THE SUN it's so.'
"Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?


VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except [what] they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Poet on the Poem: Bruce Guernsey

Today I'm introducing what I hope will become an occasional feature at this blog: The Poet on the Poem. My plan is to select a poem that appeals to me, then contact the poet and ask him or her a handful of questions about the poem. My hope is that we will all, through the poet's commentary, learn a bit about the craft that has gone into the poem and gain some understanding of how the poem came to exist. I'm pleased to have snagged Bruce Guernsey and his poem, "October," for this first feature.

Bruce Guernsey is Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Eastern Illinois University where he taught creative writing and American Literature for twenty-five years. He has received fellowships in writing from the NEA, the Illinois Arts Council, and the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference. His work has appeared in such journals as Poetry, Southern Review, and Willow Springs. His poem Yam was recently featured on Ted Kooser's "American Life in Poetry." Among his books of poetry are January Thaw (1982), The Lost Brigade (2005), and New England Primer (2008). He is the editor of the highly regarded poetry journal, Spoon River Poetry Review.

Today's poem comes from The Lost Brigade.

(Click cover for Amazon)


Today, they're cutting the corn,
the stalks dry and blowing, brown
and rattling, rattling
when you walk by
as if something were inside,
a deer, a coon, something
alive, someone maybe.
But today
they're cutting it down
as they do every October,
the combines on the back roads,
on the fields,
working all night, next day and next,
until the land is flat again
and we can see
some ranch house we forgot
a mile or so away.
Out here
the corn is a special mystery,
a haunted place
where children warned not to
want to play.
No wonder each September
before the harvest
some farm kid disappears,
losing himself in the tall acres,
tunneling under the sabers
rattling over his head,
vanishes for hours, for days.
Usually, they come back
or are found; once in a while,
they're not. That's why
slowing to a walk
somewhere out from home
and out of breath,
I always stop, sure I've heard
something in there,
something I woke jogging by,
one of those kids maybe
in the forest of corn,
hear him, the closer I get,
running away.

DL: I admire the way you use repetition in this poem. It slows the poem to a pace appropriate for a walk in the country. At the same time, it increases the tension as it holds us back when we want to move forward. Tell us about your use of this technique and what you hoped to achieve with it.

BG: There are indeed a lot of repetitions in the poem, but the ones that mattered to me when I was writing were patterns of sound more than whole words—the long vowels of the first sentence, for example: the “a” in “today” (used twice), “they,” and “maybe,” and the high-pitched, long “i” sounds of “dry,” “by,” “inside,” “alive.”

Such sound patterns are what always lead me forward in writing a poem although I am never fully conscious of them at the time. Thus, following my ear is not really a “technique” as such. It’s far more intuitive than that. But those long vowels do add to the tension, especially the siren-sound of the “i.” These are the poet’s background music that the movie-thriller uses so blatantly.

The repeated words do function rhetorically to slow the pace, but the tension really comes from those words being set against the frequency of high-pitched vowels. It’s not the repetition of words alone that creates tension but how the easy pace of repetition works against the more alarming sound patterns, like hearing an ambulance in the distance on a calm summer night.

DL: The diction is this poem is the language of everyday speech. But certain word choices seem essential and strategic, e.g., cutting, rattling, sabers, mystery, haunted, warned. At what point in the writing of the poem did you consider word choice? Did these words appear in the first draft or subsequent drafts?

BL: Well, October is the month of goblins and ghosts, so there’s no doubt that I was trying to get some of that conventional language in there. But firstly and mostly, I was trying to describe what I heard. The dried corn does indeed rattle in the wind, and you’d swear there was something in it. I wanted to be visually accurate, too: the sharp-edged leaves do have a saber-like look to them which fit in nicely with the “rattling,” and with the “tunneling” as I began to imagine a sort of gauntlet scene with the child running under the drawn swords of corn. As so often happens, I simply got caught up in my own imaginings, and the world I was living in became the poem itself.

One thing I do remember in revising was the debate I had about the house we could see once the corn was cut. I originally wrote “farm house,” then later thought that “ranch house” more dramatically revealed the leveling of the harvest and, in a way, made it more likely that a child might seek the mystery of the vertical corn as compared to the flatness of such a home.

DL: I like the way the poem moves from peaceful to frightening. It takes several subtle turns. The child vanishing in the corn seems innocent enough. But then you say, “Usually, they come back / or are found . . .” That usually is ominous. It made me think that sometimes a child comes to harm. Then there’s another shift at the end. Tell us about that, how you arrived at that. Did you surprise yourself?

BG: Many of my students at Eastern Illinois University grew up on farms, and they told me about playing in the corn and sometimes getting lost in it. One even told me the story of a friend of friend of hers who did indeed never come back. The child simply disappeared. So, I certainly had that possible horror in the back of my mind when I started the poem.

But The Lost Brigade is full of figures who vanish, whether physically or mentally, and around the time I was working on this poem, my own father disappeared from the rural VA hospital he was in. He had Parkinson’s disease, and one day somehow got himself dressed and walked out the door of the ward he was in and vanished. We never found him despite the extraordinary searching that went on.

No doubt I brought my own ghosts to this seemingly innocent scene of the corn field and harvest. So, in a way, I am not surprised the poem ended the way it did, though Freud would wonder why I had a child “running away” at the end rather than his father.

DL: You’ve lived in three distinctly different environments—New Jersey, New England, and now the Mid-West. And I read in your bio that you’ve twice sailed around the world. You’ve referred to Nature as a “feast for the imagination.” What influence have place and change of place had on your work? On this poem?

BG: When I first moved to Illinois after finishing my PhD at the University of New Hampshire, I was able to finish a book about rural New England called January Thaw (U. of Pittsburgh Press, 1982). The flatness of the prairie gave me the perspective I needed to write about my native stone walls and pine forests. The same stones and those dark woods also made me look at the open fields of the Midwest in a far different way than did those who grew up here. Thus, in my long runs on the open roads that square off the corn fields of east central Illinois, I might hear “something/alive, someone maybe,” while others might hear only the wind.

New soil and fresh water can be as good for us as for any root-bound plant.

DL: What effect has being the editor of a poetry journal had on your own poetry? Is that another kind of feast? Or do you risk losing your appetite?

BG: One can overeat, of course, but my recent stint as editor at Spoon River has been quite a feast. I have been fortunate to read some great poetry that I would never have come across otherwise, and then to have the opportunity to make that work known to others is simply wonderful. Nothing has pleased me more during these last three years than to publish someone for the first time. I frequently call the poet to say I’m taking the poem, and that’s just a joy, a real privilege.

The downside of editing is the busy work of grant applications and funding. But what an honor to edit “one of the best reads in the poetry publishing world,” as Poet’s Market has said about this long-lived journal. And to have met someone like Diane Lockward!

Of course, I haven't really "met" Bruce, but we have spoken on the phone and that's when I learned that he attended high school not too far from where I live. I hope he'll come back to NJ soon so we can really meet. After viewing the video of Bruce reading "October," I almost felt as if we had met. Here's the link. This is a beautiful video, created by Arts Across Illinois in their "Inspired by Nature" series. Take a look at Poetic Nature.

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Poetry Calendar

This year's Alhambra Poetry Calendar 2010 has arrived just in time for holiday gifts. The calendar comes in five different languages and includes 365 poems by 320 poets. I am delighted to be one of those poets. My poem "How Is a Shell Like Regret?" is the daily poem for September 29.

The poets come from different eras, but the majority are contemporary poets, e.g., Kim Addonizio, Nin Andrews, Denise Duhamel, Stuart Dybek, and Major Jackson. You'll find formal poems and free verse poems and poems on a wide variety of subjects. This is a unique spiral-bound calendar with each poem getting its own day and its own page. The back of the calendar opens up so that the calendar stands upright. Placed on your desk or your bedside table, it offers a great way to begin or end your day every day all year.

Priced at $29.95, this lovely collection is not only a calendar but also an anthology. Visit the website to find the complete list of poets and ordering information. Also can be ordered through Amazon.

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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Let's All Write Triolets

Rosa Triolet

I've just discovered poet Allison Joseph's blog, The Rondeau Roundup, which is decribed as "A blog for the exploration, appreciation and publication of the rondeau, rondel, roundel, rondeau redouble, rondolet, triolet, and ballade." In other words, a blog for poets interested in specific forms. At the blog Allison runs contests in forms. Right now she's running a contest on the triolet. There's no fee to enter. First place wins a $25 gift certificate at Amazon. Not huge, but hey, the poem is only 8 lines long and some of those lines are repeats. You have until December 28 to enter your triolet. Because the form is short, you are allowed to submit two poems. If you're unfamiliar with the form, here are the guidelines Allison provides:

* 8 lines
* Two rhymes
* 5 of the 8 lines are repeated or refrain lines
* First line repeats at the 4th and 7th lines
* Second line repeats at the 8th line
* Rhyme scheme (where an upper-case letter indicates the appearance of an identical line, while a lower-case letter indicates a rhyme with each line designated by the same lower-case or upper-case letter):

a - Rhymes with 1st line
A - Identical to 1st line
a - Rhymes with 1st line
b - Rhymes with 2nd line
A - Identical to 1st line
B - Identical to 2nd line

It might be easier to understand the rules if you see them operating in a poem. Here's one of Allison's, also posted at her blog:

A . . .Today I need your Texas wail,
B . . .your ragged voice of pain and hurt;
a . . . I need to walk your lonely trail.
A . . .Today I need your Texas wail
a . . . to buoy me up when I grow frail,
b . . . to pick me up from ash and dirt.
A . . .Today I need your Texas wail,
B . . . that ragged voice of pain and hurt.

You might want to try for 8 syllables per line, even for iambic tetrameter. I can't seem to ascertain whether the meter is required or optional, but most of the triolets I've looked at employ 8 syllables per line.

I think that the key to this form is getting a snazzy first line. Do you have an idea journal where you write down cool lines? Dip in and see if you can find something. Then just get started.

If you're into forms that capitalize on repeating lines, you might be interested in checking out a new online journal, Tilt-a-Whirl: A Poetry Sporadical of Repeating Forms. The first issue was recently posted and looks very tempting. This journal is an off-shoot of the online journal Umbrella, both edited by Kate Bernadette Benedict. The site includes a handy "cheat sheet" of definitions.

I'm mostly a free verse poet, but I also enjoy working in forms. I find they push me in directions I might not otherwise have pursued. It's raining dogs and cats in NJ today. A perfect day for staying inside and pursuing triolets.

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Friday, December 4, 2009

Poetry Books Make Great Gifts

You're probably scrambling now to get your holiday gift lists made and the shopping done. (If you've already done your shopping, I don't want to hear about it.) How about a book of poetry for all the people who matter in your life? Even if you think someone doesn't care for poetry, I bet you can find just the right book for that person. And there's really no better buy than a book of poetry. Just think, if a book has 50 poems and the book costs $15, that's just 30 cents per poem! Considering that each of those poems took days, weeks, even months to complete, that's quite a bargain. Unlike most novels, a book of poems often wants to be read and reread. It lasts forever.

poem, home: An Anthology of Ars Poetica is a book I mentioned some weeks ago when it was about to be published. It has now been officially published and comes right in time for the holidays. It would make a great gift. It's also an incredible bargain at $23.00 which includes shipping. 230 pages.

(Click cover to purchase)

Consider too some of the other books I've mentioned recently. See the sidebar, "Suggested Titles for Holiday Gifts," for suggestions and links to Amazon.

Chapbooks are a great idea for the person you're perhaps not sure will appreciate a collection of poetry. They're also perfect for the person you know will appreciate some poetry. And they're great for bundling. Kristin Berkey-Abbott has posted a terrific list of recommended chapbooks.

Kristen has also posted an equally terrific list of recommended full-length poetry collections.

A gift of poetry makes the recipient happy and also makes the poet happy. I'm always happy and appreciative when someone buys my book, but I'm tickled silly when someone buys my book for a gift.

And don't forget to be good to yourself. Treat yourself to some new books of poetry.

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Friday, November 27, 2009

Journals That Accept Online Submissions

Here is an updated list of print journals that accept online submissions. Note that some guidelines specify that the journal does not accept email submissions, but does accept via their online submission manager.

Twelve journals have been added to this update. Each addition is indicated by a double asterisk. Gulf Stream has been deleted as it is now an online journal.

Note that the number of issues per year appears after the journal's name. The reading period for each journal appears at the end of each entry.

Unless noted otherwise, the journal accepts simultaneous submissions.

As always, please let me know if you find any errors here. And good luck.

Sept 1-May 31

The American Poetry Journal—2x
September 1-April 30

Baltimore Review —2x
all year

Barn Owl Review—1x
June 1-November 1

at this time accepting only for online publication
all year

Bat City Review—1x
June 1-November 15

all year

Bellevue Literary Review—2x
all year

Boston Review—6x
Sept 15-May 15

August 5-Oct. 5

all year

Cider Press Review—1x
April 1-Aug. 31

September 1-May 1

**Copper Nickel–2x
all year

all year

print and online journal
all year

**Fifth Wednesday—2x
no Jan, Feb, June, or July

next reading period will begin June 1, 2010

Greatcoat—1 or 2x
all year

Hawk & Handsaw—1x
August 1-October 1

The Hollins Critic—5x
Sept 1-Dec. 15

Kenyon Review—4x
prefers no sim
September 15-January 15

Keyhole Magazine—4x
all year
currently not taking submissions

The Literary Review—4x
Reading period begins September 15

**The Los Angeles Review—1x
Submit to Poetry Editor: lareview.poetry@gmail.com
Sept 1-Dec 1

The Lumberyard—2x
all year
(currently closed for submissions—will reopen in the fall)

Sept 1-Nov 15

The MacGuffin—3x
all year

The Massachusetts Review—4x
October 1-May 1

Meridian—2x ($2 fee)
all year

**Mid-American Review—2x
all year

The Missouri Review–4x
all year

Naugatuck River Review—2x
for the Summer issue January 1 through March 1
for the Winter issue July 1 through September 1 (contest only)

New Madrid—2x
August 15-November 1

New Orleans Review—2x
closed for submissions until Jan 1, 2010
Aug 15-May 1

The New Yorker
weekly magazine
all year

New York Quarterly—3x
All year

Ninth Letter—2x
September 1-April 30

August 1-March 31

year round
no sim

Post Road Magazine—2x
check website for submission dates

Puerto del Sol—2x
September 15-March 31

The Raintown Review—2x
all year
considers previously published

year round

year round

all year

San Pedro River Review—2x
Jan 1-Feb 28 / July 1-Aug 31


Slice Magazine—2x
Feb. 1-April 1

Smartish Pace—2x
All year

The Southeast Review—2x
All year

Southwest Review—4x
No June, July, August
$2 fee

August 15-May 15

Spinning Jenny—1x
Sept 15-May 15
No Sim

**Sugar House Review—2x
All year

**Tampa Review—2x
Sept 1-Dec. 31
no sim

Tar River Poetry—2x
via email
Sept 15-Nov. 1
no sim

Third Coast Review—2x
August 2-April 30

Sept 1-June 30

**Tinhouse Magazine—2x
September 1-May 31

Sept 1-March 1

Sept 15-Jan 15

Virginia Quarterly Review—4x
September 1-May 31
prefers no simultaneous

Weave Magazine—2x
currently open to all submissions

**West Branch—2x
Aug 15-April 15

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Bits and Pieces of Good Stuff

cover art by Pris Campbell

I was happy this week to receive notice that my poem, Prunis Persica, has received a Pushcart nomination from Redheaded Stepchild. This journal reads only poems that have been rejected elsewhere, which probably leaves most of us with plenty to choose from when putting together a submission. It's reaffirming to have my previously rejected poem receive this nice mark of approval.

I was also delighted to find this list of recommended poetry books from Garrison Keillor's newsletter. Unlike some other recent lists, this one includes a number of women authors, one of whom is me! I was thrilled to find my book, What Feeds Us, listed here. If you purchase through the site, a portion of the price goes to NPR.

And because good things must come in groups of three, I'm also pleased to direct you to a lovely new online journal, Melusine, where I have two poems, "Bathing in Forest Dusk," and "Implosion". I like the way this journal pairs art with the poems.

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Working Poet

The Working Poet: 75 Writing Exercises and a Poetry Anthology has just been released by Autumn House Press. Edited by Scott Minar, the book gathers together 75 poetry prompts contributed by 52 poets, one of whom is me! The exercises are divided into 9 sections: Form and Structure, Word Play and Thought Experiments, Metamorphoses, Art to Art, The Personal Poem, Prosody and Rhetorical Strategies, Nature and Observation, Metapoetry, and Refining Poetry.

This will be a very useful book to teachers and workshop leaders. It should also be a great source of inspiration for working poets whose muses refuse to visit on a daily basis. In fact, the title suggests the premise of the book, i.e., writing poetry is more work than inspiration. These exercises give us something to work with.

I have circled page numbers for several dozen exercises that I plan to try myself. I've already got one underway, a sonnet exercise contributed by Pen Pearson. I also expect that many of these exercises will be useful to me when I visit schools. I'm always looking for new ideas. This book gives me many.

Each exercise is accompanied by at least one sample poem to illustrate what might result from the exercise. Other possible sample poems are listed for the reader to find elsewhere. Some of the poets whose exercises are included: Terrance Hayes, Richard Jackson, Jan Beatty, Martha Silano, Sheryl St. Germain, Neil Carpathios, Christopher Buckley, Susan Rich, Robin Becker, and Susan Ludvigson. There are also two essays on poetry and teaching.

My only complaint is the inclusion of the anthology of poems by 27 Autumn House poets. These poems follow the exercises and add an additional 100 pages to an already substantial book. There is no perceivable connection between the exercises and the anthology. Others may feel grateful to have the bonus of more poems; I'd prefer a lighter book.

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Sunday, November 8, 2009

Poet du Jour: Patricia Fargnoli

(Click Cover for Amazon)

Here's good news: Patricia Fargnoli's third poetry book, Then, Something, is now available from Tupelo Press which published her last book, Duties of the Spirit. This new collection moves naturally and gracefully beyond the earlier one; it is both a continuation and an expansion.

We find some of the same motifs that Fargnoli has explored before—aging, nature, family. But this collection is intriguingly united by other motifs as well. It opens with the poem, "Wherever you are going," our introduction to the idea of departure. This anticipation of leaving is then revisited in other poems staggered throughout the collection. In poems such as "Approaching Seventy" and "After the Dream of My Death," the speaker stands at the very threshold of old age and is keenly aware of moving closer to death. Appropriately, these themes are underscored by a walking motif that weaves in and out of the collection. We sense the speaker heading towards a destination or trying to find one.

Nature is very much a part of this journey. Interlaced throughout the poems are numerous references to water—the ocean, lakes, snow, rain, fog. We also find numerous references to coldness and darkness, to alternating "flashes of light and shadow." We feel that the speaker is at odds with Nature, yet finds it a source of comfort. Such contrasts and conflicts provide a richly satisfying texture.

While the sense of impending death is ever-present, the poems also convey a great hunger for life, for more of it. They are reflective, meditative, questioning. Not surprising then that Fargnoli uses questions as a rhetorical strategy. How fitting this is since the speaker is indeed questioning both her past and her future. This poet skillfully balances idea and technique and makes them work to support each other.

In the handful of family poems, the speaker confronts her past; where knowledge and memory fail, the speaker imagines what she can't recall or never knew. We find poems about a sick mother, a drunken father, an imaginary sister, and a drunken husband. Notice how poignantly loss is handled in this family poem:

The Losing

The mother who left in my childhood
is leaving again in my dream.

She is leaving the ghost of a town
and has gone on to the next.

She has left the cottage door open,
the chair still rocking.

My mother is leaving again from the memory
of a white double bed,

her hands pale on the sheets, her face
pale as she leans against the headboard.

The child leans against the doorjamb,
crying because her mother is crying.

Something unbidden has entered the room,
something terribly wrong in the room's raw light.

There are two brown suitcases on the floor.
In the other room, two aunts wait on the sofa.

My mother left all my days and nights
and went into the illness for which

there was, in those days, no cure
and no slowing it down.

My mother escaped from my drunken father,
she escaped from the last days of the war,

she escaped from the snow that, in that last winter,
fell endlessly and everywhere.

In the field of my mother's absence,
two blackbirds are flying through the wind-driven snow.

Technically, in this collection Fargnoli reaches beyond what she has done before. For example, the entire second section is comprised of one long poem in 15 parts. Fargnoli also invents a new form in Lullaby for the Woman Who Walks into the Sea, a stunning poem recently featured on Poetry Daily. Here we find a good example of how effectively repetition can be used in the hands of a master poet. The repetitions capture the relentless, endless motion of the sea and create a chant-like, pounding music.

We also find a greater freedom and flexibility in line lengths, in the use of indentations, and in the shaping of poems. We find less reliance on the left margin, a greater willingness to spread out and use the full page. (In order to accommodate the poems with long lines, Tupelo used a wider format for the book.) These technical flourishes underscore the sense of motion. Form and meaning come together as they should. The poem, The Parents, illustrates how Fargnoli uses indentations to support the poem's meaning. (When you have the book in your hands, read the poem again and compare it to the online journal's format. You'll see that the book's indentations are more extreme. You'll also find just a few minor revisions. Interesting and instructive to speculate on why those changes were made for the book.)

Take a look at one more poem. Here Fargnoli undertakes the audacious task of defining what cannot be defined—and succeeds brilliantly via the use of negatives, images, and metaphors. She tells us what the soul is not, how our senses perceive it, and what it is like. Thus we come to know it.

On the Question of the Soul

It is not iron, nor does it have anything to do
with the fleshy heart. It does not shiver

like feathers, nor the arrow shot from the hunter’s bow,
is not the deer that runs or falls in the snow.

It hunkers down in the invisible recesses
of the body—its closets, scrolled bureaus,
the ivory hardness of the chest,

or disperses through every cell. And also it flies
out beyond the body.

Someday watch smoke travel through the air.
Someday watch a stain spread out to no stain
in the ocean. The soul does that.

It doesn’t care whether or not you believe in it.
It is unassailable and contradictory: the dog
that comes barking and wagging its tail.

It is not, I am certain, biology.
Not a cardinal or a heron, not even a thrush or wren,
but it might be a praying mantis.

It is the no color of rain
as it sweeps a field on an August morning
full of fences and wildflowers.

It is the shifting of light across the surface
of any lake, the shadows that move like muskrats
across a mountain whose shape mimics the clouds above it.

Weighed down by the vested interests
of the body, it nevertheless bears us forward.

The poems in this collection are tinged by sorrow. There's much to regret, much that's missing in the speaker's life. And yet, for the reader there is cause for celebration, even rejoicing, in finding a life so relentlessly confronted and so deeply felt. And there is joy in the sheer beauty of the poems.

**The poems reprinted here appear in Patricia Fargnoli's book, Then, Something (Tupelo Press, 2009). Reprinted with permission.

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Friday, November 6, 2009

Poetry Reading at Tulipwood

I'm reading this Saturday, November 7, at Tulipwood, 1165 Hamilton St., Somerset, NJ, at 2:00 PM. My co-reader will be Charles H. Johnson. I'm very much looking forward to the reading as it's in the restored Victorian house you see above. What a beautiful venue!

Above is the side view of the house which was built in 1892 and purchased by the Township of Franklin in 2003 for Historic Preservation. The Meadowlands Foundation, which is sponsoring the reading, then did the restoration. Admission is $10—and I'd like to think worth every penny!

Please join us if you're in NJ.

Information and Directions

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Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Poet's Cookbook

What goes great with poetry? Food! If you like both, this is the book for you. Co-edited by Grace Cavalieri and Sabine Pascarelli, The Poet's Cookbook: Recipes from Tuscany contains poems by 28 poets and a generous number of recipes from the editors' own kitchens. The recipes are for dishes that will satisfy the most discriminating palate but also fit into the busy schedule of today's cook. Even the cover of this collection is delicious. (Click cover to go to Amazon.)

Everything about this collection says Love. Says Care. A quick look at the table of contents reveals that the book is organized the same way a menu might be organized in a fine Italian restaurant. The editors move us through Appetizers, Soups, First Course, Second Course, Vegetables, and Salads, and then to Desserts. Each section begins with 10 recipes. Those recipes are then followed by 3-10 poems, each about food and each appearing side by side with the Italian translation of the poem. All translations were done by Pascarelli.

Here's a sampling of some of the recipes: Italian Mushroom Relish, Vegetable and Bread Soup, Sauteed Porcini Mushrooms with Polenta, Pork Roast in Chianti, Asparagus alla Farnesina, Sweet Corn and Radicchio Salad, and Chocolate Wine Cake.

My poem, Linguini, is happy to be joined by poems from Karren Alenier, Cecily Angelton, David Budbill, Andrea Hollander Budy, Anne Caston, Jenny D'Angelo, Tina Daub, Moira Egan, Jean Emerson, Emily Ferrara, Nan Fry, Maria Mazziotti Gillan, Michael S. Glaser, Barbara Goldberg, Patricia Gray, Carole Wagner Greenwood, Rod Jellema, Calder Lowe, Judy Neri, Linda Pastan, Alexis Rotella, Carly Sachs, Vivian Shipley, Rose Solari, Christine Sostarich, Katherine Williams, and Ernie Wormwood.

I've already sent out one copy as a thank-you gift. I think this book also makes a perfect holiday gift. Put it on your list.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Tribute to Lincoln

Chuck and Lisa

This past Sunday I participated in a tribute to Abraham Lincoln in honor of his bicentennial. The event was held at my local library with the support of a grant from the NJ Council for the Humanities. It was a surprisingly wonderful program. It began with a brief lecture about Lincoln's life and presidency. This was delivered by Dr. Larry Greene, history professor at Seton Hall University. Then various dignitaries—a congressman, assemblymen, local mayor, school superintendent—read Lincoln's speeches. Other people read poems about Lincoln. I was asked to read Edwin Markham's "Lincoln, The Man of the People" and an excerpt from Bayard Taylor's "The Gettysburg Ode."

Also included were two musicians, Chuck Winch and Lisa Godino, known as Plum Run. They were dressed in authentic clothing from the period and sang a number of Civil War songs. My favorite song was "The Vacant Chair," about a boy killed in the war. His family anticipates the first Thanksgiving dinner without him: "We will meet, / but we shall miss him. / There will be one vacant chair." I found a wonderful video of the song:

After a local councilman read the poem, "Three Hundred Thousand More," Lisa addressed him and told him how touched she'd been by the poem. Boys and young men going off to war is a topic she often writes about. As she spoke, she began to cry. I think she did not know that the man to whom she was speaking had lost his son this year, in the war against cancer. For those of us who did know, her tears were all the more poignant.

Lisa got herself together and was able to sing her song, "Chaplain," about a boy going to war and wondering what will happen to him and what he will have to do to others and where will he go if he dies. I could not stop thinking about how relevant the speeches, the poems, and the songs are to our lives today as young men continue to go off to battle. Here's Lisa singing the song which she wrote:

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Poetry at Cayuga Community College

This past week I had the pleasure of spending three days at Cayuga Community College in Auburn, NY. The invitation came about as a result of Garrison Keillor's reading of my poem, "Linguini," back in February. The professor who brings in the poets heard the poem, looked me up online, and contacted me. We then agreed on dates. The picture you see above is the banner that was displayed at the college's website.

I drove up last Sunday and checked into my hotel. My host then invited me to his house for dinner that night. We were joined by another couple and their son. All great company. Prior to dinner, my hostess said that she'd prepared linguini with clam sauce. Unfortunately and much to my chagrin, I had to tell her that I can't eat clams. She looked a bit crestfallen and said, "But the poem . . . ," meaning that in the poem I specifically mention clams as something delectable. Well, they are delectable—to other people, but not to me! (I plan to use that story from now on whenever someone asks to what extent my poems are autobiographical.) So I had peppers and mushrooms on my linguini and was very happy. An excellent salad and homemade apple pie for dessert.

The next morning my host picked me up and we drove five minutes to the campus where I gave a reading to approximately 30 people. Then another English professor took me to lunch. Later that afternoon my host took me to Seneca Falls where we visited the Women's Hall of Fame. I read the "Declaration of Sentiments" and walked through the museum. I was filled with admiration for our foremothers who so courageously cleared a path for the rest of us.

That night my host and his department took me out for dinner. These people really know how to treat a visiting poet! Every detail was attended to, every courtesy extended.

The next morning I visited a creative writing class. The professor had asked each student to write a poem based on one of mine. It was a really cool assignment and yielded wonderful results. Students read their poems to me and we talked a bit about the next level of revision. They asked lots of good questions. Later I met with the Poetry Club. Oddly, only one student showed up, but we had a good time. He read me several of his poems and I gave him some tips on getting them published which he said was his current goal. On the way back to the hotel, my host and I paid a brief visit to the grave of Harriet Tubman, located in one of the prettiest cemeteries I've ever visited.

Dinner again that night, this time with the professor who would be leading me up to the extension campus the next morning. That drive was along pretty country roads, about 45 minutes. At the Fulton campus I gave a second reading, this time to around 40 people. Then I headed home, happy to have had such a wonderful time and wishing for more college visits.

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Friday, October 23, 2009

Starring As Sonnet 71

Shakepeare is watching you. Be careful.

On Wednesday of this week I read Shakespeare's Sonnet 71 as part of the Our Daily Sonnet project. I saw this project highlighted a few months ago at Line Break. I checked it out and thought it would fit right in with my current project of becoming more audio/video savvy. I contacted Adam Tessier, the creator of the project, and offered to record Sonnet 29. Of all 154 sonnets, that was the only one that had been spoken for. Not to be discouraged, I then proposed sonnet 30. I got the green light on that one and proceeded to make my movie.

On the day of my debut, I discovered that someone named Bob had also sent in a video of the same sonnet. And he'd sent not one but two versions of the sonnet. When I pouted a bit—already a prima donna—Adam invited me to do another movie. I proposed yet another sonnet, but it turned out that someone else had already spoken for that one and planned to swallow a sword during his reading. I then proposed Sonnet 71.

Adam's project is to get a video of all 154 sonnets and to post them at the website. Three cheers for Adam for making Shakespeare cool and fun. Some of the videos have been recorded in coffee shops, some on street corners, some in beds, some in office chairs. One gets the feeling that some of the readers were simply accosted with a book of sonnets and told to read! These are casual efforts minus costumes, at least for the most part. People have been caught during cigarette breaks, while awakening, while walking down the street.

I love the idea of Shakespeare popping up in all these random places. And as a former high school English teacher, I thought immediately of the possibilities for incorporating a similar project into a course of study.

I made my video with my new computer. As you can see, I was assisted by the Bard himself. How about some of you offering to make a video of another sonnet? There are plenty left. The contact information is at the site on the About page.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Good News

I'm happy to report that Garrison Keillor is featuring my poem, The First Artichoke, today, Tuesday, October 20, at The Writer's Almanac. The poem is from my book, What Feeds Us.

The timing of this feature doubles the pleasure. Right now I'm at the campus of Cayuga Community College for a three-day visit. The invitation for this visit came about as a result of Mr. Keillor reading my poem, "Linguini," back in February. So this feels like one of those nice circles with everything in its proper, comfortable spot.

If you like stuffed artichokes, check out my poem. Or even if you don't like them. Here's a photo of the blooms mentioned in the poem. Did you know that artichokes flower if they're not picked?

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Saturday, October 17, 2009

New Valparaiso Poetry Review

Happy 10th Anniversary to Valparaiso Poetry Review! And kudos to its founder and editor, Ed Byrne. VPR has long been one of my favorite online journals; in fact, it was one of the first online ones I ever submitted to. And back then submissions were sent by snail mail. This special issue is absolutely fabulous. I'm so pleased to be part of it.

The issue begins with an essay by Byrne in which he thanks his readers and contributors and also explores the evolution of online journals. Speaking of his original intention, he says, "I felt a responsibility to produce an online literary journal that would attain a certain amount of respect and would contribute to the overall stature of electronic magazines . . ." That's exactly what he's done. Mission accomplished.

Byrne also says, "Moreover, when I glance at the 'acknowledgments' pages of new books of poetry or volumes of literary commentary, I find myself noting how many titles of online journals, including Valparaiso Poetry Review, are represented side by side with those titles of traditional print periodicals, all of which seem to have adopted at least some degree of online presence as well in recent years." I recall that until recently such Acknowledgments pages often distinguished between which journals were print and which were online. I no longer see that. And I'll add that my next book will contain 5 poems that first appeared in VPR.

Charles Wright is the featured poet in this issue. Here's the entire lineup of poets: Sherman Alexie, Mary Biddinger, Jared Carter, Katharine Coles, Alfred Corn, Kwame Dawes, Susan Donnelly, Cornelius Eady, Claudia Emerson, Patricia Fargnoli, Annie Finch, Daisy Fried, Reginald Gibbons, H. Palmer Hall, T.R. Hummer, Allison Joseph, David Kirby, Dorianne Laux, Frannie Lindsay, Diane Lockward, Sebastian Matthews, Eric Nelson, Joel Peckham, Greg Rappleye, Margot Schilpp, Jeffrey Skinner, Floyd Skloot, Martha Silano, Dave Smith, Alison Stine, Virgil Suarez, Elizabeth Swados, Daniel Tobin, Catherine Tufariello, Brian Turner. There are also five book reviews.

I have two poems in this issue, Hunger in the Garden and The Temptation of Mirage. The first one is a kind of form poem. (I challenge you to figure out the form). Check out the entire issue. You will find much to enjoy and admire there.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Good News

I'm happy to report that my publisher has accepted my third full-length poetry collection, Temptation by Water. The book is scheduled for release next summer, 2010. Needless to say, I'm delighted. These are the poems that I've been working on for the past three years.

The process for this collection was a bit different from that for the first two books. With those two, I just wrote poems. Then when I had 50-60 that I thought were book-worthy, I gathered them together and read and reread them, looking for common threads, looking for a single unifying concept. Once I had the backbone for the collection, I selected the poems that I thought fit and moved on to finding a structural plan.

With this new collection, I had my main idea fairly early on. I wonder if that signals some kind of development? It did, I think, result in fewer false starts and fewer poems that, while I might have liked them, just wouldn't fit into the collection thematically. The negative to this approach is that I'm now confronted with a pretty barren folder.

I'll be using the same cover artist. I love his work. I just sent him a handful of representative poems and a few thoughts about what I have in mind. But I trust his creativity. I've done my job; now I'll let him do his.

Details will follow as they develop.

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Sunday, October 11, 2009

New Poemeleon

No, I'm not switching to porn or a discussion of anatomy. The above image is the cover of the latest issue of Poemeleon, one of my favorite online journals. Edited by Cati Porter, the journal appears twice a year. Why do I like it? Let me count the ways: 1) it's easy to navigate, 2) it's visually attractive, 3) it contains only poetry and poetry-related features, 4) each issue runs a handful of reviews and interviews, 5) there's an ample number of poems but not an overwhelming number, 6) it considers previously published poems, and 7) it has found its own niche by devoting each issue to a theme or type of poem.

The latest issue is the "gender issue." As soon as I saw the call for submissions several months ago, I immediately thought of my poem entitled Gender Issue. Seemed like that might be a good fit. The editor agreed. One more feature I like about this journal: each poem is accompanied by a brief author statement in which the author says something about his or her connection to the theme.

This issue contains work by a number of poets whose work I already admire, e.g., Michelle Bitting (I'm in the middle of her collection, Good Friday Kiss), Deborah Bogen, Kathryn Stripling Byer, Robin Chapman, Patricia Fargnoli (just finished her new book, Then, Something), Ann Fisher-Wirth (recently read her Carta Marina), Alex Grant (see my last blog post for a review of his book, Fear of Moving Water), Paul Hostovsky, Wendy Vardaman, and Charles Harper Webb. There are others whose work I'm looking forward to getting acquainted with.

So check out this issue. You'll find much to make you happy there.

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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Poet du Jour: Alex Grant

I'm sure I would praise this collection even if it hadn't been published by my own publisher, Wind Publications. But I'm glad that it was published by my publisher as I'm enormously proud to share shelf space with this poet. This is a sophisticated collection, all the more impressively so when we consider that this is Grant's first full-length collection. Perhaps, though, the level of sophistication and the beauty of Fear of Moving Water should come as no surprise as Grant is well-published and has had two award-winning chapbooks as well as numerous other awards.

The collection consists of 39 poems divided into four sections, each preceded by a prose poem which serves as a prologue. There's not an ounce of fat in the collection, not one poem that I wish had been removed, not one space where something seems to be missing. This quality of tightness is also found in the poems.

There is much to admire here. First, there's an appealing range of subject matter. Clearly, Grant is attracted to the animal world. We find the poems populated with turtles, beavers, a mouse, an old dog, a cuckoo. Even the small ugly things of this earth merit his attention—the cockroach, the garden midge, the spider. Grant is also drawn to other forms of art. There are poems based on photos and paintings as well as poems about artists such as Van Gogh, actress Lillian Gish, haiku master Issa. The collection is subtly sprinkled with literary allusions to such people as Neruda, Sartre, and Simone de Beauvoir. Several poems reveal a fondness for the culinary arts, for example, "Hamish Samey's Turnip Soup."

Then there's the pure poetry of these poems. Here's a poet who luxuriates in language, who has a talent for the odd word, the just-right word, and an ear for the music of the words. Listen to the lovely ell-sounds in "Black Moon": ". . . the dry doggerel / of mackerel scales and filament // of a season ended, to the water. / The sand flays the last flakes / of paint from the boat's hull . . ." Note, too, the a-sounds. Here's another example of Grant's diction and musicality, this one from "Fuel": "We spend the morning burning / oleander brush. Shards of sunlight / slash the canopy, cleave pathways // through pungent smoke-shrouds, // fuel clumps of emerald sphagnum."

Grant's mastery of craft is also seen in his use of imagery and figurative language. Note the sensory appeal in this triple simile from "Neruda's Suicide Note": ". . . you cover / your face with your hand, / and it sticks to your skin / like confetti, like phosphorus / launched from a Greek warship, / like the skin of a plum / peeled by a broken nail." While most of the poems are, like this one, written in free verse, there is a formal elegance to them. And Grant makes a nod to formalism in the collection's five sonnets, a villanelle, and a solo renga.

Here are two poems from the collection which represent it nicely and which should whet your appetite for the entire collection.


'Behind every jewel stand three hundred sweating horses'
—Zen Buddhist aphorism

Believers in invisibility, we describe the sound
that nothing makes. At night, we hear the stars
move across the sky, listen to the moon-vine

grow, wait for the engines of the sun to crack
the morning. The clacking wheels of desire
lead us to this - this endless fascination, this

capturing of fog in a bottle. We need to inhale
it, to learn its given name, to feel it compress
under the skin and emerge through the pores,

an invisible diamond inside a painted nutshell,
held tight in the breath of our hands. We pry
the shell apart, clamp the empty geodes to our

ears, like seashore children straining to hear
the wedding of the oceans in a paper cup,
and listen to the sound that nothing makes.

And here's one that's as frightening as it is lovely.


In the beginning, they were insignificant—like black
spider mites, or immature fruit flies. We were blind
to their subtle swelling, their shifting shapes

and colors, suddenly lurid green, slick and shiny
as obscene bottles. The years turned like a mill wheel,
and we retreated deeper into the belly of the house,

and few could recall a time when the steady hum
of their wings didn't thicken the air. One of us will
sometimes foray into their part of the house—always,

the reports are worse than the time before—they have
become cannibals: they devise new methods of torture:
their young subsist on the bodies of spiders.

And they grow—always—stronger, more ruthless,
We have lived so long in this part of the house,
where no light penetrates, that our young have begun

to be born blind—sightless, parchment skin stretched
over useless orbs, like unfinished paintings. Some
who remember when we lived outside of the house,

in the trees, in the fields and hedgerows, say that
our time will come again. They say that one day,
we will look up at the moon again, from high

in the wet branches of Sycamore trees,
and see the earth, so far below, and swing,
once again, on lengths of radiant silk.

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Sunday, October 4, 2009

Dodge Poetry Festival Heading to Newark

The Star-Ledger, New Jersey's largest newspaper, announced this week that the Dodge Foundation has selected Newark as the location for the 2010 Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival. It had been previously announced that the 2010 festival would not take place due to serious funding issues with the Foundation. Also, Waterloo Village, the site of past festivals, was no longer available. Of course, the loss of the festival was met with great dismay. People wanted it back. People began to think of alternatives, other ways of funding, other locations.

Montclair suggested forming a partnership with Dodge. They offered funding and their town with its close proximity to NY and transportation and hotels, with its cultural history, its museum, its university campus. The idea appealed and Dodge began to consider the possibility. Then they invited other towns and cities to offer themselves as possible locations. Several did.

Recently the contenders were narrowed down to Montclair, Newark, and Trenton. Now Montclair has been thanked for providing the original idea, but the prize goes to Newark. Mayor Cory Booker is happy. The Star-Ledger quotes him as saying, "Newark is the state’s center of arts and culture and entertainment and having the festival in Newark is a testament to its spirit."

Newark once was a great city. I used to go there all the time when I was a kid. All the big department stores were there. I loved Newark and felt safe there. But in recent years Newark has been known as the car theft capital of NJ. And don't I know it. A few years ago, when I was poet-in-residence at a charter school, my car was stolen in broad daylight right off a main street. It was located later that day, abaondoned and left still running in Irvington. It had extensive damage, thanks to the thief having driven from Newark to Irvington in first gear. I was without that car for six weeks and out many dollars for the repair and car rental.

But I like Cory Booker and I hope he can restore Newark to what it once was. And why not? There's a fabulous library system, several museums, remarkable architecture. Just clean up the crime. I know the Mayor is trying to do that. Let's hope that poetry can help. I believe it has the power to work miracles.

This past week Newark has also received some attention from late-night talk show host, Conan O'Brien, who mocked the city! Booker immediately took to the airways and posted a video to YouTube. It only made me like him more. Take a look:

Just too bad he didn't add something about Newark also now having the Dodge Poetry Festival.

Here's Conan's subsequent response:

At the end of his video, Conan mentions that part of Newark Airport, from which Booker bans him, is actually in Elizabeth. Oh dear. I once had a car stolen in Elizabeth.

But I remain undaunted and will definitely be in Newark for the 2010 Dodge Poetry Festival. I will miss Waterloo with its bucolic setting, but it will be interesting to see how the festival works in a city setting.

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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

How Sweet It Is

Several months ago I wrote a post entitled Online Journals I Admire. One of the journals I included was Sweet: A Literary Confection. Recently, I decided to try the journal with a submission. I'm happy to say that they took one of my poems for the current issue.

My poem, Learning to Live Alone, is one of eleven poems in the issue. One of the things I like about this journal is that they limit the number of poems and poets in each issue. I find that I'm more likely to read when the journal is on the small side. I feel sort of overwhelmed when an online journal includes dozens and dozens of poets and poems. This issue also includes four pieces of creative non-fiction.

Sweet publishes only poetry and non-fiction. I like that limited focus. The journal comes out three times a year, and each issue can be devoured in one or two visits. Another thing I like about the journal is the humor of the editors. They make me laugh. Check out their Masthead to see what I mean. And how could you not love a journal whose home page ends with this piece of good advice: Please remember to eat chocolate every day.

My poem was initially entitled "Still-Life," a total loser of a title and I knew it. That was a perfectly appropriate title with a juicy dual meaning. But how many poems have had that title? I'll bet dozens. So I just sat on the poem for weeks until I came up with something better. The new title, "Learning to Live Alone," adds, I think, something new to the poem. I love titles.

Here's a picture of something else I love. The editors ask each contributor to reveal his or her favorite dessert and that information is included in the bio note. Thus mine ends: Her favorite dessert is Bocconi Dolci.

We're talking three layers of meringue, each lightly covered with melted chocolate, each slathered with homemade whipped cream and sliced strawberries. The name means "sweet little mouthful" and is it ever.

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