Sunday, July 31, 2011

Oh, Submishmash . . .

How do I love thee?  Let me count the ways!

If you saw my status update yesterday, I mentioned that I went submitted my poems to a lot of different places.  Most of them from the help of Submishmash.  What a wonderful service that is.  I have already become accustomed to it to the point that when I came across a journal which only accepted hard copy submissions to a (eeeew!) snail mail address, I shrieked in panic and ran away.

I think it's a good thing all around.  Those who will not accept e-mail or submishmash will soon receive fewer and fewer submissions, and will either make the transition or will simply be able to have more time to do their work.  I know I have honestly made the decision to submit only to those who accept via e-mail.

Yes, submishmash, I love thee for no postage, no going down to the post office, the keeping all my submissions straight by time and date, for the ability to find new journals, for my poetry world to be put on one plate.  Oh, yes.  I love thee.

Friday, July 29, 2011

What we call a thing

One of the strange things which enters my brain is how people label music.  Bear with me because this is going somewhere.  I have Direct TV and one of the perks is a myriad of music channels one can put on and listen to while doing other things.  Yesterday I was preparing for an evening of grilling so I selected two channels of music I could shift back and forth to depending on whether I liked what I was hearing.  I selected "60's Revolution" and "Blues."  I like the 60's channel because they put a lot of thought into including music you wouldn't normally hear on a classic rock station.  Most classic rock stations break themselves down into two categories:  50's Oldies and British Invasion through 1975.  Not this channel.  This channel takes the time to include a lot of Motown and R&B into the mix.  As for the Blues channel, I simply love the Blues, so that choice is obvious enough.  Unfortunately this is where I ran into trouble.

When I think of the blues, I think of John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy, Albert Collins, B.B. King, Robert Johnson, Blind Willie McTell, Son House, Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, Robert Cray, Charlie Musselwhite, some efforts from blues influenced artists, their contemporaries, etc. Now, what the Blues Station was playing may have been labeled as "Blues" but as far as I could tell, it was not.  I could hear a thin broth version of some blues riffs and chords being played, maybe a traditional blues beat in the background, but it wasn't the blues I know and love.  It wasn't Delta Blues, it wasn't Chicago Blues, and it wasn't Country Blues.  It was something I cannot put my finger on, sort of like mercury.

Now how is that?  Have we come to a place where if I call it a thing it suddenly becomes that thing?  I am quite serious.  I tried listening and I had to change the channel.  I mean I hated what I was hearing so much I had to change the channel.  The programmers called that music Blues.  I don't deny the skill and talent it took to write and perform that music, but to say it was Blues still sticks in my throat.

Another example:  We were all sitting around this morning and my boys were watching Nickelodeon.  One of the commercials that came on was advertising an in-studio movie.  You know the kind, where they expand a series into a made for TV movie and call it a premier event.  They referred to the star of the film as a "superstar."  She was one of those types who has a series, puts out mindless pop albums which have been produced to death and auto-tuned until even my voice would sound appealing.  Adults know this is to squeeze every penny they can out of their viewers.  My theory is they will keep calling this kid a superstar until the hype surrounding her drums up enough of some sort of phantom fan base which will convince kids to buy in.  You know, nothing succeeds like success.  All of it artificially inflated.

Now does calling her a superstar make her a superstar the same way calling music that is clearly not Blues make people think it is Blues?  Are my parameters too narrow?  I mean I think I actually am pretty inclusive in my definition of Blues music, as I am with what can constitute Classic Rock, but does us calling this music Blues and this girl a superstar actually make it so?

No transfer this to poetry.  How much leeway do we give to people who write poetry.  Is it a poem because we say it is?  Is it a good poem because we say it is?  I may think poetry is what I write and what a few hundred other poets  write who happen to write similarly to me, and that is it.  But what of the people who do not write like I write?  At what point on the scale can I say I don't think that is poetry?  Do I ever have that right, or do I have to accept everything somebody else says is a poem as poetry? Where exactly does the rubber meet the road and where is that all so important threshold?

* * *


I really love the sestina.
Can you tell?  This poem is a sestina
and I had the audacity to call it, "Sestina"
as if I had come up with the word sestina
all by myself.  But I didn't.  The first sestina
I ever read I probably didn't know it was a sestina.

In fact, I know I didn't know it was a sestina
because I remember thinking, what's a sestina?
when I read the author notes.  I liked sestinas
so much I started to come up with sestina
similes in my head, secretly laughing: A sestina
is like a hissing snake.  Say it slow.  Sessssstina.

Don't be afraid or shy about saying sestina.
I know what you are thinking.  I'm saying sestina
enough for both of us, and I am sure to say "sestina"
before too long, since the whole idea of a sestina
is repetition.  But you really should try. Saying sestina
is therapeutic. Not as much as say,  writing a sestina,

but the built in alliteration of the word sestina
can't be a bad thing.  So far, I have said "sestina"
twenty times, and I'm only warming up.  The sestina
requires patience and perspective.  Truly great sestinas
must live beyond the clever. No respectable sestina
can be seen as cliché.  Take this sestina.

Notice how I shed the artifice of the sestina
in order to write one?  See how I come back to sestina
time and time again?  My adoration of sestinas
cannot be questioned.  When you write a sestina
it's important to look beyond the sestina
for a reason to write the poem.  The sestina

should be a natural thing.  Too many sestinas
look as if they have been beaten into submission.  Sestina.
See what I did there?  I did that to show you sestinas
have feelings, too, that every  sestina
conscious poet will know when not to write a sestina
choosing to honor the dignity of all other sestinas.

I offer you these final sestina thoughts: Remember a sestina
is not really a sestina because you say "sestina"
but because a sestina cannot help being a sestina.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Out on a Limb

I am going to be going out on a limb because I have a feeling those of you who have been coming over to my new blog want me to.  I am not talking about the kind of limb where  I piss off a bunch of people by ranting and raving over some new trend or some news story.  There will be plenty of that in the future.  What I am talking about when I say 'out on a limb' is simply rambling on at length.  I have a feeling a few of you want me to simply go on about writing and poetry and, as the philosophers of ancient Greece would say, "let it all hang out."  Here then is me going out on a limb, hoping that in fact, some of you are interested in me talking about everything and nothing at the same time.

First off, I would like to show you a list of the books I have received recently.  Well, I bought them but I did receive them in the mail, so let's not get technical too fast.

Swallowing the Soap  by William Kloefkorn
Come on All You Ghosts  by Matthew Zapruder
She Returns from the Floating World   by Jeannine Hall Gailey
Made Flesh  by Craig Arnold
Ghost Lights  by Keith Montesano
Persons Unkown  by Jake Adam York
Broken Sonnets  by Kathleen Kirk
The End of the West  by Michael Dickman
Flies  by Michael Dickman
Rookery  by Traci Brimhall
In the Carnival of Breathing  by Lisa Fay Coutley

I have had other books around me, but these are the ones I have been newly busy with and ones I wanted to mention/talk about.  Some have been a pleasure and some have honestly been frustrating.  What is apparent is that I am going in a different direction than a lot of poets.  Take for example Michael Dickman.  After reading a lot of The End of the West and looking into Flies, I don't know exactly what I am looking at when I see the progression (lack of) between the books.  I don't know if  it's just me, but when I read these two books I am struck with the notion that the poems from both manuscripts were selected from the same pool of poems.  I love Copper Canyon, but I get the sense that with the sensation of Michael's first book (and that of his brother being a fine poet in his own right) there was a certain amount of pressure to put together a second manuscript.  I always believed the next book and the next book after that should move the discussion forward. The only new question which arises is whether or not I have to buy Matthew's book.

I am also seeing a lot of "notes" in books.  This is by no means a criticism, but I do not understand this trend at all.  I didn't understand it when I saw it in Eleanor Rand's The Girl With Bees in her Hair, and I don't understand it in the swarm of books which I see with a "notes" section nowadays.  whatever happened to letting the poems speak for themselves?  Again, I feel like I am out of the know on this one.  Either I can get into the poems all by myself, or maybe with the help of an open discussion in a classroom, or I cannot.  I will say this: While I sometimes find notes on the poems amusing, I have yet to learn anything essential from any of them.  Is that terrible of me to say?  I just don't know.  What I do know is there is a trend towards the "notes" section in poetry books and I am walking the other way.

I will say that I am delighted with several of these books.  Kathleen Kirk's chapbook, Broken Sonnets, is a delight to read.  I really have loved reading the many variations of the sonnet and wonderfully creative subject matter/perspective her poems provide.  Jeannine Hall Gailey's book, She Returns to the Floating World gives me new energy and inspiration for the haibun, which has been a favorite form of mine for quite some time.  I also love her genius for the persona poem, deeply rooted in mythology while able to be entirely fresh.  Jake Adam York, in Persons Unknown, makes me jealous because of his ability to write a long, multi sectioned poem.  I have already expressed to him my shortcomings in certain areas  when it comes to reading his poetry, but there is something there which is waiting for me and I want to get at it as soon as I can.

Some books I am still working on.  William Kloefkorn's Swallowing the Soap is one of them.  The book, edited byTed Genoways, is a 439 page volume which spans the entire career of Kloefkorn.  It is much more than a tribute to a wonderful poet.  It is a textbook in and of itself where the genius of William Kloefkorn is put on display.  Having only six of Bill's 30+  previous books, this collection is an amazing resource for me and every time I open it, something entirely new leaps out at me.

* * *

I am really enjoying what Charlie is doing over at his blog with guest writers talking about personally important albums in all sorts of ways.  It is interesting to see how everyday people contextualize their lives by way of certain pieces of music.  There is a delightfully wide variety of selections---some quite surprising and all of interest.  I wanted to try my hand at writing an essay to send Charlie---even going so far as to narrow my selection to the Elvis Costello & the Attractions 1986 album, Blood and Chocolate.  It is in my opinion one of the all-time under-rated pop albums.  Ever.  The problem is I can't seem to get the writing down the way I want.  I keep coming off as a reviewer and I want to stick to how the album had a personal impact.  Oh well. Go have a read and see if you don't find something a little bit comforting that quality music is universal.

* * *

If you were a follower of my last blog, you know I have been trying to work past a new kind of writer's block.  I have been trying to contextualize my latest project in telling the history of my home town, and having a bear of a time trying to figure out the narrative poem.  Everywhere i looked for the narrative I found that if I tried to do what they were doing, my poetry came off as a really superficial attempt to imitate---the integrity of the poem was compromised.  I have since decided that the history of the town should be seen through my narrator's eye rather than from some objective point of view, and any "stories" told need to be through that lens or even about the narrator.  Now this narrator is going to be very similar to the narrator in my book, Town for the Trees, which is to say he is going to be much like me.  What I have to do is create him with an essential break from the real me so I can have the freedom to lie in my poems.  Yes, lie.  I need to be able to tell the stories in the most interesting way possible, and sometimes the way things really happened isn't the most interesting story to tell.  Art in many ways is contrary (no big news flash there) and one way it contradicts itself is how art sometimes presents truth by way of lying.  So hopefully you all will bear with me as I create new poems which are in one sense, lies.

* * *

I was just over at Kristen's blog, where she gave me some really good ideas for writing assignments.  As you know, summer is ending pretty quick and I am soon to getting my teacher suit on and preparing for the nest school year.  I am going to be gathering ideas like that prehistoric squirrel in Ice Age, hoping I stumble across a few I can use later on.  Be warned---any ideas you talk about or mention are fair game.  I am not too proud to steal ideas and call them my own.  Pretty soon my day will be lesson plans and syllabi. Get thee hence, Satan, get thee hence.

* * *

I think I have done enough rambling for today, so here is another poem.  I am still serious (those of you who have read this far) about you letting me know which poems of mine you think would do well at a reading.  I've got one in two weeks and I am a bit freaked out.

Good day, sir.  I said, "Good day, sir."

Grounded:  Why I am not an Astronaut

It’s the uncertainty of it all
which keeps my feet planted―
all of that imagined floating
off, hurtling into space, my body
riding the infinite arc,
the solution to a parabola
created in the fevered mind
of some high school math teacher.

I could not stand being thrown
into space, hoax or not
only to lose my grip during a walk,
converting my life into the inert mass
of a paperweight nobody can use.

Out in space there is no deus ex machina,
no dramatic music or theme.
In space, it’s all silence, all darkness.

No.  I knew I was not cut out
for that sort of thing
the day I saw my first launch.  I had turned
away at the moment of lift-off,
looked down at the green grass.
There I knelt, passing my hand
over a patch of clover
wondering when next it would rain.


Tuesday, July 26, 2011


Sandy Longhorn has some interesting thoughts about the very thing I am beginning to conceptualize in my head.  The reading I spoke of in my previous post will be my first real reading in over five years, and I really am trying to figure out what kind of reading I want it to be.

As I said yesterday, I want to know what you think you would like to hear me read if you were going to be at an event where I would be reading my poetry.  The question still stands.

I am always happy to receive advice on other aspects of the dynamics of a reading, so don't hesitate to give me any advice, all of you more experienced readers.

Another poem:


                            for Billy Colins

I’ve looked through all my poems
and I can’t find a single instance
where I use the word cicada. I think
it’s a word women are more likely to use,
feel more comfortable writing about,
paper wings and all. I looked around
and I could not find a single male poet
who used cicada in a poem naturally,
made me feel like it had always been there
waiting to be discovered. Not even
John Ashbery used cicada, unless
he has a dead one hidden beneath his palm
forgetting its mention, but I don’t think so.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from reading
poems about cicadas, where there’s one,
there’s always a swarm. Whenever
I try putting a specific word in a poem
I fail miserably. I too, cloud the air
with a single word, make it the elephant
in the room, hoping everyone will learn
to accept it as it is. I can’t do that with cicada.
It’s too demanding. When you say the word “cicada”
everyone stops, expecting you to use words
which imitate their sound, talk about children
playing in the glow of dusk―
I can admit I am not a good enough writer
to redefine the southern landscape. What’s more
the word cicada inevitably forces us
to use words like crescendo or gothic
inciting public riots of sleep.


Monday, July 25, 2011

Gathering Moss

I've been asked to participate in a "night of music, art, dance, poetry, media and more" as part of Hollow Earth Conspiracy.

Some friends from college and my theater days at Utah Valley University (formerly Utah Valley State College) have put together a project/organization to help support artistic expression and creativity.  They want me to read/perform, and I am quite excited at the prospect of reading some poetry in front of a live audience.  I am beginning to put a set list together, but I would like to hear from you.

If you were going to be in the audience, what poems of mine would you like to hear me read?

I have been told I will have two 15 minute sets, and I think I am going to split them up by theme.  One being from my manuscript based upon the Telemachy, and the other on poems by Working in the Birdhouse or other poems like the book.  Why not any from my Town for the Trees?  Wrong crowd.  I have a real strong feeling I should read "Contemplating Diego Rivera's Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park" because I want to try and show how creativity and art begets creativity and art, that all artistic expression is essentially the same, no matter the medium or genre.

* * *

School is drawing nearer.  I am going to start working on all of my paperwork and lesson plans on the 1st of August.  I should be able to handle about two hours a day to get everything done in the couple of weeks before I have to be back at the school.  My biggest issue is trying to determine whether my honors English class should have its own content curriculum or the same curriculum as my other English classes but more in depth and a broader reach.  Any thoughts?

* * *

Contemplating Diego Rivera’s
Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park

It must have been something, to dream one’s self back into a boy,
to be in the wedding party for Death and her stern but oblivious groom,
each of you clutching a pale, boney hand, shaded by the wide brimmed feather hat
she wore—she smiling with two men in tow, of both present and past.

How else would an artist dream such a thing
except to bring along hot air balloons?  Laying in bed
you must have had more than the independence of the Mexican people
in mind.  You must have been thinking about freedom.
What it must be like to pause for a brief moment, only to be lost
within the anonymity of the crowd, each face a friend or demon from the past
who knew nothing of posing for a mural.

Not birds, but angels carry themselves down out of the trees.
Generalissimos all dress the part arguing the order of precedence
the grand parade through the city square to the high fountain,
while all the gringos and gringas turned away, not quite sure of themselves.

And because no dream is complete without a glimpse of mortality
you know you were thinking Death was as much your bride as Frida had been
so many years ago, and her appearance, standing behind you, giving you away
was maybe saying something about transition, about Death
having been your mistress far too long.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Pieces Coming Together

You've seen part of this poem, but I thought I would post it in its current form, which will be part of the prelude to the book I am working on right now.  After careful consideration I have decided to shift away from the historical narratives of Springville for the main focus of the book.  Instead, those poems will at most punctuate a different, more personal narrative of my town.  There is good news in that.  As some of you know, I have struggled to find an appropriate voice for those narratives.  Without that burden I can concentrate on writing poems I know will be stronger, poems I know will avoid being clones of others I have read and admire.

Now, I am inviting my Facebook friends from Springville to come and read.  Please feel free to offer ny feedback.  This is by no means a 'finished' work.

(Removed for submissions)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Welcome! One and all

Welcome to the new incarnation of my continuing blog.  As you can see, there is not much difference between my last blog and this one.  I think I am a little better at putting things together and getting the word out on things I want the world to know, and I think I will be better at organization and a consistent output, which I think has slowed down to a pace I can better handle.

I also want to concentrate on a few specific themes in this blog.  Of course I will still be talking about poetry (in a more positive light than my previous blog) and my career as a teacher, but I think I want to have more discussion in the realm of craft and poetics than I previously have.  My latest choice of projects (a narrative book on my home town) has put into contrast some of my limitations as a poet and I want to go ahead and make a conscious, observable effort to get better.

You will notice the blog roll to the right is not entirely complete as my last blog's was.  If you are a new reader and want your blog added to my roll, go ahead and leave me a link.  If your blog was left off and you want it back on, do the same.

I really do want this new blog to be a better place than my last blog.  I want more people to come and share in the discussions and I want to be a better host.