Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Bully Pulpit: Buy some damned books, already!

This is re-hash of my last "buy books" rant along with some added thoughts.  If you think I am being rude or you just don't want to hear it again, then go away.

I know I begin to sound like a broken record when it comes to this, but I really am getting tired of people who don't buy books and then complain that nobody buys books any more.  Since I buy books, I get to talk about this and if you don't like it, that's too bad.  Her are a few rules to consider.

1.  If you know a poet, you need to buy poetry books in some of these ways.  If you are a poet, you should be willing to buy poetry books in all these ways:

Buy books your friends write.

Buy books from the presses who publish you and your friends.

Buy the books you read about on Facebook.

Buy Books from Amazon's Hot 100 List. (Yes, they are evil, so look up the books on Amazon and then buy the book directly from the press.)

Find small presses and buy year long subscriptions for all of their chapbooks.

Gift books you don't like to other poets.

Buy Books for all of your gifts.  Your nieces and nephews don't like poetry?  To hell with them.  Buy them more poetry.

Buy books and sneak them into Doctors' offices.

Spend your damned money!

2.  If you don't follow rule number 1, then you don't get to whine about nobody buying books.

That's the ball game.  If you don't think other people's books are worth your money, you don't get to be my friend and you don't get to tell me how messed up everything is.  And this isn't just for NaPoMo, either.  It's for everything. 

3.  If you don't "sell" poetry, you don't get to complain how nobody "gets" your poetry.

You have to spread the gospel of poetry.

You have to teach people to love poetry.

You have to encourage other people to write poetry.

You have to make people believe poetry can change their lives.

* * *

Another way to promote poetry is to give poetry away.  Like the above rule 1 suggests, if you have books of poetry you don't like or will no longer really go back to (admit it, you all have a few) then give them away.  I am not taking part in the Big Poetry Giveaway this year, but I have already given away at least ten books of poetry this year, so I don't feel guilty about skipping out. 

Monday, March 31, 2014

No offense, but . . .

I will not be taking part in most of the hoopla associated with National Poetry Month.

Don't get me wrong, I like you people.  I really do, but I just can't bring myself to participate in all of the festivities.

NaPoWriMo?  Opting out.

The Big Poetry Giveaway?  I really don't think so.

Poem in My Pocket?  Nope.  I'm probably just happy to see you.

* * *

Now for the hard part---telling all of you why I won't be playing any of the reindeer games with all of you, even though I have for years and have been happy to do so in the past.

I will not be trying to write a poem a day for the month of April because I have a new manuscript to work on.  Oh, I love Robert Brewer and his month long running blog of writing prompts, which has evolved into a chapbook competition, but I just can't do it.  I just can't commit to the rigor of trying to write a new poems every day while I try to edit my manuscript ( a book of landscape meditation) and get it into shape for submitting.  I am submitting it to exactly two presses and two presses only.  If neither of them wants it, I am fully prepared to go through Amazon myself and self publish it.  For me to feel remotely good about that option, I need to know what I have is the absolute best manuscript possible.  That means no cute poetry bullshit, which NaPoWriMo is for me.  It's fun and games, and well, screw that.  I've got to work.

I will not be participating in the Big Poetry Giveaway because I have already been giving a lot of books away.  My books (both ones I have written and just ones I own) have been flying off my shelves for quite a while.  I have given away over 50 copies of my latest book, Sailing This Nameless Ship, and at least a dozen other books written by other people in just the last several months.  If I might be honest for a moment, my postage budget is stretched thin and I feel I have given enough for this year.  Too thin?  Too selfish? Well, that's okay if you think so.

I teach high school, and by this time of the school year, I have crammed so much poetry into my students, me carrying a poem in my pocket, or having my students do so, would just be more hassle than it's worth.  I mean that.  Trying to get my students to carry a pom in their pocket and read it at the drop of a hat is a task not worth wages.  I would much rather let it slide altogether.  My students know I am  poet and some know I have had relative success getting my poems out into the world, and not a fuck has ever been given.  I have been preaching the gospel of poetry for 15 years at my school, through bad times and good, and nobody there really cares.  Every now and then I have a conversation with a faculty member, but really, that's just small talk on the way to other things, and I am not so sure it should ever be anything more.

So, I'm out.  I am supportive of you participating, but it just isn't for me.  I will not miss it, and I don't think I will be missed, either.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Coming Clean. Well, sort of . . .

It's Friday in this part of the world and that doesn't mean all that much to most people, but it's as good a day as any to talk about a recent development which has been the center of my life for several weeks.  For those of you who know me in person, you may or may not be surprised about this revelation, but I bet you some people will will be saying to themselves it makes a lot of sense.  For those of you who do not know me in person but have had e-mail interactions with me will probably react in much the same way.  If you don't happen to know me, well, no big deal, right?

Recently, I was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome.  Yes, that Asperger's Syndrome, which rests on the autism spectrum.  The recent edition of the DSM (I forget whether its number 5 or 6) removed AS from its list of disorders and placed in simply within the boundaries of Autism.  It doesn't maker a big difference to me where it is placed because no matter where I am on that spectrum, I am still me, and I still have to deal with all of the same crap. 

A little while ago, my wife wrote a blog post about my diagnosis and some of the difficulties in dealing with being married to someone who is identified with AS.  I think she was incredibly generous considering all of the stupidity and frustrations she has put up with over the past 20+ years of being married to me.  If you have the time, you should go to her blog and read her take on the subject.  As for mine, I am still trying to figure a few things out, but I have a few things I want to say now.

I am not really comfortable talking about how this revelation has made me look back and re-examine my marital life, so my first thoughts are going to be about my life as a poet.  I have been serious about poetry for quite a while.  I started writing when I was 15 or so, and I got serious about it when I was about 20.  One of the things I thought was wrong with me and my poetry was not being able to write with what I perceived to be the 'linguistic depth' as other poets.  Now, I realize that one of the common disorders which accompanies Asperger's is something called Alexithymia.  It's the sub-clinical inability to 'identify and describe emotions in the self,' or, at least that's what Wikipedia tells me.  Well, I have it in spades.  When I took the profile questionnaire my numbers weren't off the chart, but they were quite high.  Imagine my astonishment that one of the special interests I had developed (poetry) as people with AS are prone to do, is hampered by an inability to do what said special interests requires.  Simply put, I am a poet who cannot identify or describe his emotions.

Suddenly everything became clear.  My poetry tends to focus on place (landscape meditation in particular) because I have an inability to express my own emotional status.  My descriptions remain clinical and disembodied from my psyche because I cannot express how those natural landscapes affect me on an emotional level.  My poetry, if not landscape/place oriented alternates between simple description and direct and blunt trauma because I cannot interweave emotional complexity into the language.  I think it's why my poetry publication has a history of being hot or cold, on or off. My poetry is either showing up in all sorts of places or it is playing the hermit.  Even more telling than my publication history is my patterns of writing themselves.  I think I hit a vein of subject matter, much like William Heyen in certain ways, and I write like mad, sometimes drafting an entire manuscript's worth of poems in a two month period from beginning to end.  Between those periods, poems are rare as hens' teeth, if they come at all.  It is not uncommon for me to not write a poem for a year or even longer, yet here I am once again with 50 pages of poetry towards another complete manuscript of poetry only months after my most recent book was published---and that the end part of a four year streak of book publications.

Please don't think I am bragging.  I look back and I am thrilled I have come so far with what I can only guess at being a severe deficiency when it comes to writing poetry (a guess because I really have no way of comparing with the alternative) and I can't help but think what might have been if I was not saddled with AS and/or Alexithymia.  I look at all the poems I have wanted to write but couldn't, knowing now part of the reason was I cannot express my own emotions in a way which makes sense.  I look back at those poems and mourn their loss, remembering how I agonized at my inability to write poems with the craft and depth with which they deserved to be written.

I would also like to take this opportunity to apologize to everyone (not just the poets I know) who has had to bear the brunt of my callous and rude behavior.  I look back and see all of the time I spent dominating conversations and being so self-centered when it came to sharing this life in poetry.  I also see how my behavior caused some people to walk away from our friendship in frustration, having tried everything reasonable before jumping ship.

Finally, to my wife, Becky I would like to state again and for the record how deeply humbled I am that you would put up with me for so long, especially since most of that time there was no diagnosis to explain so much of my bad behavior.  If ever there was a person on this earth deserving of all the good graces and good fortune emanating from the universe, you are that person.  I love you and thank you for everything you have done for me.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Manuscript Update: March 5, 2014

I have a title for my book, or at least I think I do.  I am not one for a lot of tinkering with titles, so when I get a title I like, I tend to stick with it---sometimes to my embarrassment.  When I named my book, Hobble Creek Almanac, this was some time after I had heard of and read the marvelous book, Blood Almanac, by Sandy Longhorn.  The strange part was that this was the title.  It felt right.  It was and is right.  Still, I feel a little sheepish because I am certain the idea of an almanac came to me from an unrelated  direction but I know people are going to say, "yeah, right."  It happened to me before.  Another friend and another book.  I thought I had a great title and when my friend reminded me of her book title and how close mine was to hers, I immediately changed mine.  I was embarrassed to say the least.

This new book is going to be called:

Lake of Fire:

Landscape Meditation Poems

from the Great Basin Deserts of Nevada

I have approximately 45-50 pages complete, and the poems I am writing for the book now, are coming slowly, more methodically.  This is what usually happens to me towards the end of a manuscript.  

I have to make one final declaration before this goes a lot further.  About half of the poems from this manuscript, so far, are reclaimed poems---one offs I have been writing for quite a while.  Some were already ready to go when I found them again, but many have had to be re-tooled, re-imagined for what I have in mind for this book.  

I am also considering what good an introduction to the book might be, whether it will come off as an earnest attempt to say something about the book or an exercise in ego.  I am writing an introduction right now, but I do not know whether it will stick around or be gutted from the final edit of this book.  Who knows?  It may find its way in and out throughout the remainder of the process depending on my mood. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

It's time . . .

I think it's time I start to make a comeback onto my blog---a comeback of sorts.  I am starting to write a new manuscript of landscape meditation.  I have long since given up on the question of whether it is bad luck to talk about a manuscript before it is finished.  What I have accepted about myself is that once I have decided what my next manuscript is going to be, there is very little I can do to change course.  Win, lose, or draw, my mind will zero in on what it thinks I should be working on and keep dragging me back to it until it is finished.  I may write other poems over the course of writing the manuscript, but I may as well just submit to the facts.

Like I said, this new book I am working on (I have about 20 pages) is primarily landscape meditation, and it is about the geography of where I have been living for the past 14 years---the Nevada/Utah border.  I live in a small town on the edge of the Bonneville Salt Flats, and I started writing a few poems here and there about the landscape almost as soon as I moved here.  However, it has only been in the past several years where I have seen marked improvement in the poems I have been writing about this place.  That has become my new focus.  I know the poems will be a difficult sell (I understand more about the why of that almost every day) but I have moved past my urge/need to rush myself.  With all of my wonderful good fortune in the realm of publishing over the past nine years I do not worry so much about what is going to come next.  This manuscript has no deadline, and I am beginning to learn how to let things come to me instead of frantically searching for them.

It's also time for me to move on in other ways.  Not too many people read this blog, so I am at ease with telling you all this next issue of Hobble Creek Review will be the last.  This next issue will be the journal's 20th issue and that feels like a good place to bring things to an end.  There are a lot of reasons I could give to you regarding my decision, but all you really need to know is I am not enjoying myself enough to keep it going.  It was a noble experiment and a teaching tool for me when I needed it, but that time has past and that's all there is to it.

The revival of this blog will hopefully mean a more frequent posting schedule.  I plan to write more about a whole host of topics and be a better guide in the writing an publishing process than I was for Hobble Creek Almanac.  While this new manuscript is not new territory in terms of subject matter and voice, I do feel it is different this time around because I am both composing new poems and I am resurrecting old fragments and discarded poems to see what new life can be breathed into them.  Some efforts have been successful and others not so much, and I want to be able to talk about all of this with you.

Enough for now.  I am going to try and start posting again at least three times a week.  I can handle that, and I hope you can, too.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Book Review: Kelli Russell Agodon's Hourglass Museum

Hourglass Museum
Kelli Russell Agodon
120 pp., White Pine Press
ISBN: 978-1-935210-51-1

In Kelli Russell Agodon’s latest book, Hourglass Museum (2014, White Pine Press), the reader is immediately immersed in the fragmentary mind and reality of the struggling artist.  The book’s narrator struggles to move beyond the appreciation of art and live a life in art.  Beginning with the observation and ekphrasis expressions of other, predominantly visual artists, Agodon uses her narrator to first try and contextualize herself (the narrator and quite possibly Agodon herself) with art itself, and then moves both narrator and reader to the expression of a life in art through poetry.

Broken into several sections, the early poems in the book are fragmentary, highly metaphoric, and simply stunning.  Here we see Agodon’s narrator asking questions (both literal and rhetorical) of artists, trying to learn how to create a life in art.  It’s a painful series of questions on some level.  Not the heartbreaking pain of survival and moving past tragedy, but painful in the sense that as one’s yearning to be an artist grows, so does our frustration.  I mean: How do you exactly start to be an artist? How do you defend your devotion to art when others expect something different from you? Take for example these images even from the poem, “The Broken Column” which opens the first section:

Tell me how you suffer―

in brushstrokes or synonyms,
cigarettes or sickbeds.


I think we all love something we don’t talk about.

 Soon enough, in poems like “A Moment Ago, Everything Was Beautiful” and “Portrait of a Couple on a Cliff After Twenty Years Together” the reader is swept into the feminine difficulties of domestic life, reminding us without beating us over the head what difficulties face those (mostly women) who have chosen to try and balance a life in art with a life in the home.  The poems are not anti-male, nor do they seek to punish the male perspective.  They simply and quite elegantly remind the reader that a woman’s life in art has the added complications of expectations and gender roles which are even today, still biased and stereotypical.

The fragmentation of the first section, poems which seem to defy structure and not allow the reader to settle into any consistency, are in my way of thinking, an extended metaphor for lacking the ability to exert control over the many realms upon which an artist must exist.  However that in itself is a misnomer.  Agodon’s poems in the first section are well crafted and organized, as to enhance the mounting frustration of confident self-expression in art.  Beginning with “Line Forms Here,” Agodon confesses secrets to the reader, and after providing us with this information, she demands even more from us.  The poems which follow, specifically “Frida Kahlo Tattoo,” “How to Make a Picasso Cocktail,” and, “Drowning Girl: A Waterloggled Ars Poetica” the anxiety of the artist is addressed head on, with a directness which is both delightful and stunning.

The second section is called Sketchbook of Nudes,  It consists, depending on how you want to read it, one long poem, or a series of untitled fragmentary poems.  Here, Agodon’s narrator takes the leap of faith very much described by Kierkegaard.  As artists, we have to trust there is an audience for our work.  As artists, we need to express ourselves regardless of what comes next.  As is often the case, I suspect Agodon has fictionalized part of her real-world dynamics to use as material for her poetry.  Early on the second section, Agodon states:

I asked if this would all work out

you said as if you were lying


and then later:

show me the escape route for artists


and later still:

we are the stories we tell ourselves

Without titles, this long poem, or series of shorter poem pulls the reader beneath the surface alongside of the poet.  She is beneath the water’s surface and we struggle to breath as we swim within this sketchbook.  Why?  Agodon, in this section, forces us to go along for the ride with no signposts to mark our way.  There is an urgency which reminds me of labor and birth.  Well, the birth of self as an artist if not the literal birth of a child.  Here we travel with the poet in-utero, where there is no stopping.

If  the second section is the birth, then the third is almost certainly an education, a step by step accounting of how the narrator is becoming the artist, from the development of craft and technique through aesthetic (expressed primarily through the color blue), and the projection of the artist life for one’s self and those who surround the artist.  The poems here reject sadness and shut out regret for the decisions made.  Here we see the poet building up reasons to be the artist, justifying the poet’s life and reject the urge to apologize for making room in her life for poetry.

Something’s shifted here (her), too.  Poetry is a talisman against the bad things which happen to us.  Poetry becomes the channel through which grief and confusion can flow, and a context by which the poet may frame a life.  It is no longer simply a means to an end, but also a place to inhabit.

By the time the third section has completed, the reader is anxious to see the artist in all her glory and powers.  Poetry is no longer the thing outside of the artist; it is the world she inhabits.  The final section is a recounting of the artist’s triumph---how to live a life rooted in art while living all of the other lives either thrust upon her or taken on my choice.  We read of marital bliss and the realization that living a life in art has made a better life possible, even with all of the complications which the artist must endure.  Where earlier poems were fragmented, the unity and cohesion of the poems in the final section reveal the secret the poet was trying so hard to discover in the first section.  Art is not a distraction or a radical element.  It is art which steadies the artist’s life.  We practice art so our lives will make sense.

The poetry in Hourglass Museum is worth ten times what you will pay for it.  There are so many wonderful metaphors in this book I hesitate to share them with you because each is so masterfully woven into the very fabric of this book I would be quoting pages at a time.  You deserve to read the book in its entirety.  Hourglass Museum is the first book of poems in quite a while that makes me want to tell all my friends about it, even if they already own a copy.  Kelli Russell Agodon has proven yet again how devoted she is to the art of poetry and how integral it is to her life. 

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 Poetry Life In Review

Putting my Spotify on "random" as I begin to type this, I have experienced a bit of synchronicity:  The Rolling Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want" began to play.  What a fitting opening for me as I reflect on this past year.

This past year has been one of great writing success but at the price of a healthy dose of reality.  This sums up several other people's posts reviewing their year, too.  Being in good company (as far as  I can tell) I will take that and my Spotify coincidence as a sign the universe is speaking directly to me and will hereafter channel my thoughts in an unfiltered manner.

1.  I have had two full length books released.  This was by both design and by serendipity.  My book Hobble Creek Almanac (Aldrich Press) came out first, and was accepted amazingly early in the submission process.  In fact, I found Aldrich Press by way of my friend and fellow poet, Jeff Newberry.  As it turns out, his wife, Heather, designed the cover art for the book.  The book has received a good reception and some remarkable reviews, for which I am eternally grateful.  Design and Serendipity.  My next book, Sailing This Nameless Ship (BlazeVOX), was picked up after a long and arduous process which had it's origins in late 2008.  For years I labored under the assumption the poems were not the kind anyone would ever want to see.  Then Geoffrey Gatza from BlazeVOX suggested we put the book out as an e-book.  I was thrilled because it seemed to be the best way to unburden myself of the manuscript.  However, shortly after the book was accepted, Gatza asked me if we could just make the book happen as a physical entity. As it turns out, I was able to pay Heather to create some wonderful ads for STNS. Serendipity and Design.

To think I would have two books, let alone two books released in the same year was an entirely foreig concept t me even three years ago.  In the past nine years, I have seen four poetry chapbooks and three full length poetry collections come to life.  I still have a hard time conceptualizing it as I look back over what has transpired.  This year with the two books in quick succession has me thinking 2013 is a professional highlight I will never see again.  Oh, I hope to write more books, better books, but I cannot see a time when I will be this fortunate again.

2.  I received a Jackpot Grant from the Nevada Arts Council to aid in the publication and distribution to the tune of $873.  I have been applying for the Nevada Artist Grant for the past 14 years, with only one recognition in the form of an honorable mention in 2008.  Receiving this grant was more than money.  In a state where only two major population centers exist (Las Vegas/Henderson and Reno/Sparks) it is a hard thing to remind the powers that be there are other places in Nevada where the arts exist.  Living off the grid certainly makes this sort of recognition all the more special, and I am sincerely grateful.

2.5  I attended a writing workshop in Boulder, Utah, where I was treated to some really fine workshops and close reading exercises.  It was a really great way to recharge my batteries in preparation to returning to the active pursuit of writing poems---an activity I have not undertaken for more than a year.  Oh the ideas came in drips and drabs, but for a long time I have been turning away from writing for the most part, wanting to get out from beneath the weight of the business side of writing/publishing.

3.  The down side to this year, professionally speaking, has been the invisible barrier I have run into while trying to promote these two new books of mine.  It can be summed up with my inability to return the favor.  I am not affiliated with any university or college.  Not having my MFA or my my PhD, I have nothing to offer in return for having instructors put me into the mix for readings and workshops.  Am  I qualified to teach writing workshops?  I think so.  In spite of not having advance writing degrees I have managed to ave more than 100 poems, four chapbooks, and now three full length poetry collections published.  I also edit an on-line literary journal.  I have been teaching for 16 years.  On those counts alone one might think I could very well teach workshops about the non-MFA route to creative writing.  But the reality?  Because I cannot point to presentations at AWP, cannot promise readings, and cannot buy books to teach in the classroom, I do not rate.  I have been flatly rejected and ignored by colleges and former professors alike.  Even with the offer of  doing the work for free, my presence is (to quote my son) "neither needed or wanted."  I know some of it has to do with my remote location, but I know distance is only a part of the situation.

* * *

As I look forward, into 2014, I am hopeful for my writing.  I am hopeful for my ability to get more people to read my poetry and possibly take a chance on me as a reader.  I have no idea if anyone will, but in the absence of spreading the gospel of poetry, I will still endeavor to write it.  In the words of Bill Kloefkorn, "The writer, for better or worse, always writes."

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Another Education Rant: Complexity is not a Disease

“Life's hard. It's even harder when you're stupid.”
                                                ― John Wayne

            Being a teacher, I have plenty to say about this idea.  Of course, there are different kinds of stupid I need to acknowledge so you know where I stand on such things.  Stupid ranges all the way from simple ignorance of the facts or life skills due to lack of exposure, all the way to the willful ignorance and idiotic behavior regardless of training and as a result of willful disobedience to natural law.  The latter of these has natural consequences often summed up by facial tattoos featuring cartoon characters or misspelled affirmations, the inability to string five words together without the crutch of profanity, or a perpetual blank stare in response to any question requiring the smallest amount of critical thinking or curiosity.  However, the first kind of stupid, that of simple ignorance, has a marvelous cure, and that is a basic education provided by the state free of charge if one so desires.  I am writing in defense of that free education.  After all, I am a teacher in a public school and I have an instinct for self preservation, right?  Unfortunately there is a war underway against a fair and adequate public option regarding the education of our citizenry which compels me to speak up above and beyond the threshold of self preservation.  Part of what I am going to say will be an attempt to dispel what I think to be a myth about education and part will be an attempt to point to what I feel is the real problem facing education.  At no time will I claim anything research related other than to point at problems of perceptions.  Everything you read will simply be my own ideas.

            I was educated in the 1970's and 1980's.  As such, some people might be tempted to think I am going to tout how stringent my education was compared to that of public schools today, that the students today do not care as much about their education as I did when I was in school.  Well, I am not going to go down that road.  It might surprise you to learn that contemporaries of the great Greek philosophers make the same complaints you hear today: That the youth of Athens no longer cared about their educations, that the standards of education have slipped.  It has been something every generation laments and a common complaint for more than 3,000 years, so I doubt that's the problem with education.  I mention my age to highlight the transitional place I hold within recent education trends.  I was in high school when computers were new, and before the advent of cell phones.  And while I teach now, with the inundation of personal technology, I have to tell you it is my firm belief the students have not changed, but rather it is the world which has changed around them and that those changes have created false impressions by those who are in a position to make changes regarding education. 

            You can't swing a dead cat without hitting a study, a parent, or a legislator claiming some fundamental flaw in education exists, which if left to its own devices, will destroy the United States of America.  "Test scores are down, internationally."  "Our children lack real-world skills!" "Teacher unions are choking our economy and schools."  "My child cannot pray in school."  "Children don't care anymore!" "We need to step in!"  "The federal government needs to butt out!"  "Charter schools are the answer!"  "Charter schools are not the answer!" Take your pick or add your favorite to the list.  They say admitting a problem exists is the first step in solving the problem.  Well, what if the problem is that too many people think the answer to fixing education boils down to fixing one issue?  What if the problem is too many people are only willing to look at the issue from their myopic perspective?  What if the problem is that our culture is the victim of it's own education system and is no longer interested in accepting some issues are too complex for a 10 minute solution?

            You see, that's what my point is.  I think we have forgotten as a culture that there is more than one perspective.  We have become polarized beyond the point of seeing the complexity of an issue.  We want the simple fix.  We want something or someone to come along and tell us everything can be fixed with a single program or shift in procedure.  Well, it can't.  Let me make this easy for you:

·         Many foreign nations only test and publish the results of their best students.

·         Many foreign nations do not even offer education to all of the population.

·         No profession with an average starting salary of 36K/year has the potential to strangle the economy.

·         When it comes to bad teachers remember this: You rarely hear stories about good teachers because they don't make for entertaining stories on your local news.

·         If you feel the one flaw in your child's school is that your child is being deprived of religious freedom in the school because of a lack of mandated prayer, please tell me which prayer is appropriate in a pluralistic nation.

·         Do you really think children in the U.S. are so different than those in other nations?  They do care, but they just care about different things than those who are observing them.  They have real world skills, but again, those skills are different than the ones we learned at their age.

·         The Federal government is problematic, but necessary to ensure there is an equity and fairness regarding education.  Without it, very few states or communities would enforce equal employment standards or pesky laws like Title IX.

·         If you object to the money being spent by the DOE, there is of course evidence which suggests money doesn't make a difference, but then again, not all investments can be measured in dollars.

·         Charter schools, when run well, can offer an excellent alternative for both parents and students, but in many cases do not perform any better than district run public schools. 

There is no simple and straightforward truth to be had in the realm of education.  Nothing you point to can fix everything in education with one, sweeping reform.  No Child Left Behind was based on cooked books from the Dallas, Texas School District.  Common Core runs on the incorrect assumption that all students have the ability to learn concepts at the same pace. 

            For a moment, let's look at the current trend.  Some people look at the Common Core standards as an encroachment upon local communities to decide what is best for their kids, and from what I just said, one might incorrectly assume I said the same thing just now.  Well, I didn't.  There is a huge difference between the political agenda of  centralized authority and decentralized government control of education and that of an assumption regarding the abilities of students.  Common Core is not flawed because it seeks to bring up what has been popularly coined as "rigor" into the schools, nor is it a sin to try and require that all U.S. schools maintain certain minimum standards for teaching critical thinking skills, core subjects and assessments.   The problem with Common Core is that it robs in part the true professional his or her ability to determine what should be taught to a particular student or group of students regarding a specific concept or skill.  It limits the very creativity it proclaims to instill through its methods. 

            Again, the problem as far as I can see, is perspective.  Too many people who are not educators have too much say and control regarding education.  Legislators who have not spent more than an hour in a classroom since their own primary/secondary educations look at the situation from their limited perspective, colored by their political agenda, and make decisions regarding how best to educate students they will neither know or even meet.  Another argument against the Department of Education?  No.  Without the DOE, urban and rural students would be shortchanged funds vital to providing a well rounded education, and in some places any kind of basic education. 

            But before you think I am simply going to turn myself into some Education vigilante and this short essay into a manifesto, teachers need to let go of their tunnel vision, too.  They need to get off the cross they have nailed themselves to and donate the wood to Habitat for Humanity.  Teachers need to realize that just because they are professionals caught in a widely derided profession, it isn't an excuse to ignore the concerns of those who are not educators.  Of course there will always be parents who unfairly threaten to bring lawsuits against the school district if their precious snowflake of a child fails a class, but that is not a product of the education system.  It' a product of that second kind of stupidity, and if one believes in science, then the problem is usually self correcting.  Teachers need to recognize new programs like Common Core and NCLB are born out of a misplaced frustrations.  If teachers are real educators, they need to be willing to teach people (not just the students on their roll sheets) that complexity is not something to be feared.  And while it begins in the classroom, it is not a single front issue.  Teachers need to be willing to discuss complex issues whenever and wherever it arises.  Teachers need to abandon the "it's not my job" attitude which allows people to continue perpetrating so many harmful myths about education.

            Summation:  Education is too complex an issue to be solved by any one issue.  Everyone involved in the education process needs to own up to their responsibilities and needs to recognize there are far too many perspectives for single issue solutions.  Parents, do you want your kids to learn more?  Demand more from them.  Hold them accountable for their poor decisions regarding education.  Demand more from teachers while understanding teachers have been given rules and regulations which increasingly limit the flexibility sometimes needed to meet the needs of any one student.  Understand that when you treat a teacher like a babysitter and expect the teacher to shoulder all of the responsibility in your child's education, it's like asking a stool to stand on one leg.  Teachers, do you want parents and students to take the education process more seriously?  Demand more from them but understand that parents do not understand education the way you understand it.  They view education like a patron/client relationship because so many other aspects of our culture fall into that structure and they do not see the value of education as something which may not manifest itself for decades.  Parents want measurable results, and students will seek the easiest path you give them.  Don't pretend to be shocked when they pull out the stereotypical 'bad teacher'  narrative to try and get their way.  Legislators, do you want to improve education in a genuine and meaningful way?  Stop pretending to be the "Education Candidate."  Everyone knows you are full of bullshit.  Remember this:  Almost every South American dictator  in the 20th Century had a two item platform---educating the children and getting the trains to run on time.  Stop pretending that legislation can fix education.  Stop pretending you can fix education by bullying teachers, parents and students.  Make legislation which protects rights and creates opportunities. 

            Everyone, want to fix education?  Stop pretending there is only one perspective or values system with merit.  Start looking and listening to each other.  Stop thinking there is virtue in willful ignorance of the realities which face us regarding education.  There are some genuine, honest-to-god problems in education which need to be solved, but none of them will get solved if we don't first accept complexity as a constant, and our own ignorance as the real variable.  Remember what Truman Capote said.  "It is no shame to have a dirty face. The shame comes when you keep it dirty."  It's time to wash our faces.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Spreading the Word: Veterans and Cancer Treatment

I received an e-mail asking that as a veteran, I help spread the word about Mesothelioma and how it relates to veteran's health and is affected by the ACA. 

If you are or know a veteran, please pass along the link to this article

Thank you for your time.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

What appears to be a cover design

I was just contacted by my editor with several cover design options, and this is the one I chose.  For those of you in the know, you will probably recognize a connection between the cover image and the content of the book.  I am really pleased with the design and I wanted to share it with you.  File it under: Things are getting serious.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

What being on a break from writing means, exactly

It means all of the new calls for submissions will go unanswered from me.

It means I become insanely jealous when I read about acceptances to journals I respect and admire.

It means I have to pretend I would rather be doing other things when I know that isn't true.

It means I write poems by accident and not design.

It means I am on the prowl for ideas which might lead me to my next book.

It means I get a bit testy with those who do not understand the need to take a break from poetry.

It means all the books of poetry I own begin to mock me.

It means forgetting all of my old, stupid writing habits.

It means beginning again the process of watching the world.

It means prose becomes more appealing by the hour, sweet, awful prose.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Book Review: Sandy Longhorn's The Girlhood Book of Prairie Myths

The Girlhood Book of Prairie Myths
Sandy Longhorn
70 pp., Jacar Press
ISBN: 978-0-9897952-0-3

Sandy Longhorn, in her second collection of poetry, The Girlhood Book of Prairie Myths, continues to focus her poetry on America’s Midwest.   As the title suggests, this time around Longhorn addresses how stories and myths enter our consciousness, specifically those relating to the feminine.  What is important to note here is the care Longhorn places in the structure of the book as well as the structure of each poem.  This book is not merely a collection of like-minded poems; it is a carefully made book, sewn from the cloth of Midwestern psyche which seems to color the collective American identity.
Caution is at the top of Longhorn’s priorities, mixing contemporary stories which inform with those which warn the reader of what has come before and what lies ahead.  Poems not only explain how myths are created, they take on the physical appearances of the things they discuss.  In the early poem, “Midwest Nursery Tales” we read how myth is created, how it is structured and institutionalized into our very awareness.  It does not matter if we accept the story as fact because we all have heard a version of the story.  The revelation comes in the shared, almost instant recognition of such stories and the incredibly stark and beautiful manner Longhorn is able to write it.  Only two pages later in “Naming the Storm,” then again with “The Once-Winged Saint,” Longhorn mimics on the page with ease the patterned destruction of a storm and then the patterned beating of wings.  This care brings a physical elegance to the poems contained within these pages.
The high points of this book are the wide range of cautionary tales set before the reader, and Longhorn is able to sustain these moments throughout the book.  There seems to be a cautionary story, tale, or myth for every occasion and rightly so.  The reader will marvel at the completeness of this book, how varied and far reaching the poems can be.  One need not be from the Midwest, not even a woman to feel a connection somewhere in these poems. For me, it began a long time ago when I first read the poem, “Fairy Tale for Girls in Love with Fire.”  The poem begins:

It began in a year of drought. The horizon
caught fire and the eldest girl fell
for the smell of smoke, craved the heat
of flame and ember. Every adult tried
to hold her back from running toward

the leaping fervor. Every adult prayed
she’d tire of fighting her way through
the parched corn stalks, the ears now dry
in their flaking husks, prayed her throat
would fill with smoke and she’d turn back
to douse herself with water.

As many of the poems in this book do, this poem allows the reader to believe in what is familiar, only to move in an entirely original direction, as is literally done here between the first and second stanzas. 
            While this book is primarily concerned with the mythology of the feminine, it would be a mistake to say the book succeeds on this point alone.  In the final section of the book, Longhorn takes the reader on a detour, relates a personal narrative occasionally alluded to in the previous sections.  She is, herself as it turns out,  both author of this book and one of the tales.  The experiences she brings forth in the final section are the culmination of everything that has come before, everything she has learned by hearing those tales.  Here we see how the stories end, the solemnity of observance, and the finality of becoming an integral portion of the prairie.
            My admiration for Sandy Longhorn’s poetry is no secret, and I am certain I am not alone in my praise.  Longhorn’s poetry is, as I stated earlier, elegant and clearly expressed.  It takes a lot of effort and talent to make poems such as these, poems which are vivid, precise expressions from within a brilliant mind regarding a world which will be entirely new after having read them.  You owe it to yourself to go out and purchase this book of poems.  I can hardly think of any other conclusion than you falling in love with this wonderful book and thereby planting the seeds of anticipation for more of this kind of myth.