Monday, January 30, 2012


This post is inspired by a new discovery.  Eduardo Corral linked to this blog and I liked the discussion Ryan has there, so I am going to write a response of sorts.  Now I know I have told this story before, but I believe in retelling some stories, and every time I tell this story, it changes a little which is a good thing.

One small piece of business:

My poem, "Ode to Neruda (Esperanza)" has been accepted for inclusion on the 99 Poems for the 99 Percent Blog.  Go have a look here to see the other poems on the site.  I will be certain to let you all know when my poem is up on the site. 

* * *

I started writing when I was about 15 or 16.  I was trying to find something that was mine, and I really stumbled into poetry almost by accident.  I was acting in drama class and trying out for plays, and I was debating in class and at debate meets across the state, but those things weren't really mine in the way I wanted something to be mine alone.  I say I stumbled into poetry because there were exactly three books of poetry in my home, and those three books of poetry were more praised for the connection to family than for the poetry inside of them.  I honestly cannot tell you why I found myself reading through those books.  I was an unremarkable student, and to read on my own was part of my family culture, but poetry was not (and still is not) part of my family's reach when it comes to reading.

I grew up with my grandparents after the age of 7.  Both my parents were living, but I was with my grandparents while my father had my older sister and his other kids with his second wife some 15 miles away.  It may as well have been an entire continent because I had little to do with them, going months at a time or perhaps a half a year without seeing them.  I think I was looking for something which could be mine because I was not confident I could ever count on anyone else for my happiness, and everything I tried up to that point still relied on somebody else or other, external conditions.  Poetry could be just mine, and I could take it anywhere I was going to go.

That first book?  The Complete works of Henry Wordsworth Longfellow.  I have no idea where that book is now, but that was the one.  For a teenager of the 1980's it was an odd choice, but we go to what we have, and I had his book. The book most likely belonged to my great-grandmother's sister, she being a teacher, and as I said before was in my grandparent's home for the familial connection.  In the book was story after story, lyric poem after lyric poem, and of course the biggies: Tales of a Wayside Inn, Evangeline, and The Song of Hiawatha.  Years later I would eventually buy my first book of poems, Lawrence Ferlinghetti's Endless Life, but there is only ever on first book.  What I remember most is that I was almost afraid of Longfellow.  I would thumb through the pages and read pieces and snippets, too afraid to fully commit myself.  I now believe I was afraid of people finding me reading the book, and so I reacted by only sneaking glimpses and sneaking the book away.

The strange truth is that in a family of readers (and my genetic ties to this family are uncertain at best) I am the only person who actually writes much more than family history.  Oh, I am certain I have brothers and sisters and cousins (I have 12 brothers and sisters, and literally hundreds of cousins) who write stories and poems like a lot of kids do, but I am probably the only person who actively seeks out publication on a regular basis.  My family has a tradition of writing family history.  We share stories and we are constantly mining each other for memories and clues which will flesh out an accurate picture of who we are as a family (it is a very typical Mormon thing to do) but there are no others I can think of who write apart from these family histories and perhaps school and college assignments.

By the time I had decided I wanted poetry, I had also decided I was going to join the army.  My standing as a student was dismal, and there was no way I could ever convince any school to let me attend with the gpa I had.  Never mind the fact I had never taken the ACT.  If I wanted to go to school, I would need to start off by going into the army.  Being a poet in the army is not as difficult as it might sound.  Most people in the army love to talk and tell stories.  There is a real oral tradition in the military which is fully supportive of poetry, though I will admit many people in the army would not immediately make that connection.  It was while I was in the army that I started to buy a lot of books and start writing poetry.  Unfortunately, I was not reading as much poetry as I should.  I remember mid-way through my appointment in Texas, I had purchased The Early Works of Ezra Pound and the Selected Neruda.  I was reading them and I suppose if a poet was going to limit his or her self in reading, that poet could do a lot worse than those two.  I remember pissing off an officer by talking about Ezra Pound, and impressing the mother of a girl I liked when I mentioned Pablo Neruda.  Both good omens.

However, I was too busy writing the bad poetry of my youth to understand that if I was going to be serious in my life as a poet, the best thing I could have done was read for 120 years before attempting my first poem.  I have been trying to catch up ever since.   Yes, it was hubris.  I was convinced I had this poetry thing down and my career at the top of the literary heap was waiting for me upon my release from the military.  Oh, I would go to college and take off a semester every now and then in order to promote my latest book, but I just knew I was destined for greatness.  That all stopped when I started to get hate mail from editors.  My second mistake it seems, was to start submitting my poetry 10 years before I should have.  Every time I tell this story I mention the hate mail I received.  Every time I mention it, I get somebody asking me if I really did get hate mail, or if I am exaggerating for dramatic effect.  Yes, I did in fact receive hate mail from editors.  However, I will also say I received some encouragement from a couple editors who had the patience of angels, and thanks to them, I kept writing, kept getting better, and kept submitting knowing full well I would receive too many rejections to count before I ever had any success in being published.

That's how it went for some time.  When I found myself in college, I submitted to the school's literary yearly and had two poems accepted.  One was selected as the best submission received.  I was in heaven.  I was on my way now.  Nothing could stop me.  Well, nothing except the three years it took to receive my next acceptance, and the three years it took me to receive my next acceptance after that.  By that time I had learned my lesson.  This poetry thing was going to be an up hill struggle for the rest of my life, and I really think that's one of the best things about poetry for both the poet and the reader.

So why all of this reflection?  Well, when I read Ryan's account, I was taken back by his language.  I have no gift for his kind of language when I talk about my art.  There is very little art in my art, and even though I tend to say these sorts of things in a perfunctory manner, it rises up from the same feelings,  the same desire to share with the reader.

Next time I will talk about the process I went through to get my first chapbook and first full length book out into the world.  After that, is anyone's guess.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Lurning Curve

I have been typing out a few poems by poets I admire.  Gary Short, Linda Pastan, Sandra Beasley, Sandy Longhorn, Kenneth Brewer, Zachary Schomburg.  I have been trying to reinforce my understanding of the strophe's expression in line and how line breaks affect the presentation.  Well, I have if that really is a thing.  If I just made it up, then pretend I didn't say anything about why I was doing it.

I say that because I just received a letter from a friend which punctuated the fact that I lack the training I see in  most of the poets I know.  I have had exactly one poetry course (one course specifically about poetry) and one creative writing class in my entire life and I often feel as if I lack the vocabulary to discuss poetry with all of you.  Now, I have long been an advocate of not thinking of an MFA program as something more than a place to read, write, and read and write some more.  I believe poetry, more than any other writing genre, is a product of the whole.  In short, our lives in their entirety are part of the curriculum of poetry.  However, I can't help but think there is something constructive about being in an environment where everyone speaks and expands their vocabulary and understanding.  Whenever my friend writes me, it is very clear my understanding of poetry is extremely myopic and site specific.

For me, AWP would be a chance to see poets being people and gathering together, seeing their duality---that of poets in panel discussions and readings, and that of people simply congregating because of a similar interest and allowing the topic of conversation to travel organically, without the constraints of blogs or literary journals.

But we take what we can get, and what I get are letters from friends, teaching me a few ideas at a time.

* * * 

So, what did I learn from copying poems out for myself?  Quite a bit.

Take for example Sandra Beasley's poem, "Making the Crane."  First off, it's not "Unit of Measure" which was featured in the 2010 BAP.  I mention this because I like working with poems which might not get all the attention like others.

I love origami, and that's what the poem is about on the surface.  There is a certain amount of magic in the poem, a sensuality rarely expressed at such an intimate level.  Beasley feminizes the crane, provides multiple incarnations of the crane and discusses a process, and in that there is almost a guide by which one can learn about the feminine itself, not simply origami.  By typing it out I was able to hear the poem better, strip away the artifice of the poem and literally feel how precise Beasley's language really is.

In Sandy Longhorn's "Nights When it Rains" I learned about cadence.  I learned about pace in a poem.  I could see a poem about attachment, how details can carry the momentum of a poem.  And if that wasn't enough. I caught a glimpse of how to avoid crass sentimentality when writing a love poem---how quiet confidence can trump exaggeration even at the height of passion.

* * *

What remains is to see how these small lessons find their ways into my own writing.  After all, isn't that the hope?  Isn't it the the goal to be affected in the best way possible by the best poetry?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


I guess what I've got going on right now is a little bit of a measured rest.  I have very little actual work today, to accomplish during my preparatory time, so I am listening to music and letting my thoughts wander and stray.  I decided to go ahead and write.  If I am going to let my thoughts out into the universe, I may as well write them and practice what I need to practice.

1.  I spent the day in Salt Lake, yesterday, at various locations related to the Veteran's Hospital.  My headaches have taken a weird shift in their appearance, interrupting a daily routine I have known for more than a decade, so I needed to re-connect with the VA and start down the path of taking care of this. 

Now, having been away from the VA for more than 12 years, I needed to go through my entire narrative for the new nurse practitioner, who is going to be my primary care-giver at the VA.  She had to do a lot of typing and she asked a lot of really good questions.  However, that is probably the best of my experience in coming back to the VA for help.  At almost every other level it is a royal pain in the ass, and I have to tell you, I am already remembering why I thought my departure so many years ago was not all that bad of a thing.  Everything from take a number for almost every small procedure, to witnessing the golden standard for bureaucracy at every turn is par for the course when dealing with the VA.  It's a middle management world, and woe be the person who forgets that little morsel of truth while running the gamut of actually accomplishing anything there within.

2.  I spent a considerable amount of time with a childhood friend yesterday, too.  It was actually want made about a fourth of my dealings with the VA tolerable.  We told each other stories and had a good time talking about old friends and new developments in our lives.  One of the establishing themes of our time together was how we both had learned how to stop worrying so much about the things in life which make us angry.  Now you know I constantly worry about my writing and my varied ability to effectively communicate with my poetry, but that isn't what I am talking about here.  I am talking about the issues of being people, living and loving the people in our lives, and accepting the reality of what we have made of our worlds.  It was a wonderful time and I am so happy to have been able to re-connect on that level.

3.  I am back here at school, looking around and I am feeling renewed for the new semester.  With the 40 minutes I have left in my prep period, I am feeling pretty good about the world in general.  Becky and I are gearing up for some major changes and there will be more on that later, but I am starting to work out a lot of other issues and get some new energy from them.  My biggest concern is keeping the energy I need for my current book project.  I have pretty much written off Sailing this Nameless Ship as a failed diversion.  I will count it as therapy, but it will more than likely never be published.    Not that I wouldn't love to see it in print, but I have pretty much figured out that nobody likes it enough to see it published.  I am certain some out there will say I just need to re-imagine the manuscript in some manner, give it an overhaul, but I know better, and if I don't, then it will take a miracle to convince me otherwise.

4.  Somewhere lies the answer. 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Forced Break

I am on a mini hiatus in my classroom.  The students i have now have already taken their final, and I have a strict policy of grading exams in front of students of the same or like subject class.  As all I have for grading is the same kind of test these kids have already taken, I am not grading right now.  With that in mind, I am taking a little time to work on my Springville project.  Here are the stats so far:

I have 22 poems written for the book.  This may sound like a lot, but every time I write a poem or two, I keep expanding my scope, realizing that if I am going to write the book I want written, I am going to be in the high 90+ page count before I am finished.  And with my need to over-write in order to have the strongest manuscript possible, I am looking at a lot more writing ahead of me.  The more I write and the wider my scope becomes, the more research I have to do.  Whenever I research, I widen my scope and write more.  A vicious circle.  

Another issue is I have envisioned a three part manuscript, and I have started to put new poems in their appropriate place, but the more I look at it, the more I keep thinking I am writing primarily for the first section, and none of what I want to come for the other sections is getting written.  That might be normal, but I suspect I am fighting for a non-sectioned book again, and all of the section two and three poems are meant to be a part of a different manuscript.  My evidence? 15 of the poems go in the first section, and almost all of the other poems can be a strong part of the manuscript if I went the way of having no sections.

I am here to tell you something you already know: Any writing is good writing, and any writing is better than no writing.  What remains to be learned is what one does with that writing.  Michael Meyerhofer's little essays on the matter are among my favorite.  He always puts writing in a great perspective.  I am using one of his latest essays in my Honor's course, as part of their semester final exam.  I want them to concentrate on the subject of revision and crafting their writing as opposed to simply doing it once and walking away.  I will be sure to let you know how I think they did answering to that question.

* * *

I am waiting for my proofs for my latest chapbook, Friday in the Republic of Me.  I have a few edits to make, but I am really anxious to see what the cover looks like.  I have also decided to buy green pens to be shipped with the book as it sells.  I am going to sign the book with green ink and send a pen.  I think I will also be designing little cards to go with the book as ephemera.  It went over really well with my last book, and I want to make sure people buy books from Foothills.  They need the money. 

I am, for the publicity, considering doing a subversive giveaway, too.  I want to find people willing to sneakily give my book away to unsuspecting people.  Keep that in mind.  If you are willing to give away the book in a surreptitious way and write about it, let me know.

There are other things I want to do, but those ideas aren't as well formed, so you will have to wait to see any of those.

* * *

The saga of my trying to give my hometown library a copy of my book is ongoing.  So far I have twice spoken to librarians about donating my book.  All I asked was that they notify me if the book was placed in the permanent collection or if they decided to sell it as part of their continual silent auction.  Never mind the librarian at my first meeting with her told me she would have to read it to make certain it was an "appropriate" addition.  Never mind that the book is about the very town for which the library serves.  At my second meeting all of the key people were on vacation, but it has been a month since that meeting and I still have heard nothing.  I will tell you this:  I will gladly match up the politics and dirty pool activities of any small town with any national election campaign.

More from the other side of the culture warp when I have time.

Monday, January 16, 2012

So, This morning

I accidentally wrote a prose poem.  This is one of my favorite things about being a poet.

I was reading from some new chapbooks I received in the mail over the three day weekend and out of nowhere a poem started to come to the surface.  I started writing it, title first (which I hardly ever do) and all of a sudden I started to integrate it with some other fragments more than two years old from another notebook. Somewhere in the middle I realized I was actually writing a prose poem but I continued to write line by line, paying attention to breaks.  This too, was strange.  Normally I know ahead of time if I am going to be writing a prose poem, and normally, I will start over if I decide on a format change mid-point.

Of course only time will tell if I like it enough to send out into the world to withstand almost certain rejection, but that really isn't the point.  This poem caught me by surprise, and what a lovely thing that is to have happen at random.  It makes me think of very specific lessons about writing to always keep in mind:

1.  Be ready for the muse with pen and paper, if you in fact believe in the muse at all.

2.  Carry a book of poems with you.  You never know when you might have time to read a poem(Thank you, Ed Hirsch), and where one good poem ends is always a good place to start a new poem.

3.  There is no right way to write a poem.  Beginning to end; end to beginning; like a wellspring flooding the meadow.  It's all the same. 

4.  Be flexible in your writing.  Let the poem lead you for at least the first hour, before you ruin it by trying to tell yourself what it should really be.

5.  Remember poetry is not an end sum activity and defies a balance sheet.  There is always room in this world for another poem.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

10 More Books I Would Love to Own

As it turns out, the post I did on imaginary books everyone should own was immensely popular.  I had over 450 hits on my blog the day after I posted it.  I know it's not likely I will get a repeat of that success, but I do love doing these things.  So here's another round:

1.  Huntsman, John.  How Not to Run for President But Convince 5% of the GOP You Really Are: A Where's Waldo Supplement.  Little Brown & Co, (2012).

2.  Gingrich, Newt. The Dirty Truth About Minorities.  John Birch Society Press, (1996).

3.  Bachmann, Marcus.  The Straight Man's Guide to Everything Fabulous. Bravo Network Publishing, (2012).

4.  Evans, Justin.  Bringing Corporal Punishment Back to the Public Schools & Other Essential Elements of Education.  Imbecile Press, (2010).

5.  Kardashian, Kim.  How to Achieve Fame in Three (or fewer) Sex Scandals.  Attention-Whore Press, (2011)

6.  Jenner, Bruce.  A Season in Hell:  New & Selected Poems 2007-2001.  Copper Canyon Press, 2012.

7.  Santorum, Rick.  What's in a Name?  The Almost Completely True Confessions of a Homophobe.  Crazy Lazarus Publishers, (2005).

8. Winfrey, Oprah.  The Art of Manipulating the Answer:  How to Remain the Most Important Person in Any Conversation or Interview.  Harpo Productions, (2005).

9.  Cheyney, Dick.  101 Places to go Pheasant Hunting.  Harper Collins, (2008).

10.  Rove, Karl.  The Mane Idea:  A Collector's Guide to the My Little Pony Universe.  Harcourt, (2011).

Friday, January 13, 2012

Mmmmmmm, that's good.

Last night, we ate a variety of German sausages, thanks to the wonderful thoughtfulness of my wife, Becky.  For those of you who have ever lived in other countries, there is something wonderful about having the opportunity to once again eat the authentic food you learned to love.  For me, it is German food.  Now don't get me wrong, I like some of the American attempts, say Johnsonville Brats, but there is just something about the texture and flavor of various authentic German meats which Americans just cannot  get right.  It's a universal truth.  When I lived in Germany, Germans were nuts over Wonderbread, Levis, and Saltwater Taffy.  Don't ask me why, that's just the way it is.

Now for years I have been able to get Toblerone chocolate bars.  After all, I had first learned about them when I was still in high school, so they are a semi-regular thing in America.  But sausages are not.  Various cheeses are starting to make their way into our everyday culinary vocabulary, but not German meats.  That's why last night was so wonderful.  Becky bought the small assortment of various sausages, German mustard, and real kraut, and it was all just so amazing.

Thank you, Becky, wonderful wife of mine, for buying me delicious food which takes me back to my days living in Germany.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Hurdy Gurdy

For the past day or so I have been reading through a new collection of poems by William Kloefkorn and David Lee.  This is their fourth book of poems together and it will be their last, as Bill passed away early last year.  I will be writing an official review of the book some time in the near future, but right now I am stuck on the simple elegance of Bill's poetry.  Each poem I read is a celebration of the basic elements from which we build a life, which he built a life.  I look at the poems after I read them and I am startled at how fast they go, how quickly they creep into me and how subversive they are.  I cannot get past the overall conceit---that even a simple, quiet life can be recorded with such impact.

It's the hurdy gurdy.  When someone explains what a hurdy gurdy is, an instrument played by cranking, there is a deception.  Pull back the workings of the instrument and there are dozens of things going on at once, and none of them are what is expected.  Bill hardly needed an event to write a poem because he made the poem the event.  And still that isn't enough.  Bill did not go into the darkness of the void without a road map.  Every poem, every line, and indeed every word, as so many have said before me, is part of a precise image Bill brought into being.  Poetry is art, and art is imitation, but Bill's poems have an astounding clarity.  Bill is quite simply, the hurdy gurdy man.

Friday, January 6, 2012


Most of what I am thinking right now is just how naive I have been for the past 20+ years of being a poet.  I just got finished reading an interview of a poet who is just a little younger than I am, brilliant, and so much more in tune with what it takes to be a successful poet.  This right on top of being denied the opportunity to read at a community college because my name isn't on a certain list of "approved" writers by the Nevada Arts Council.  Color me embarrassed.

Here I thought I was beginning to make some headway with my choice to become a poet and enter into the world of poetry and the more noble aspects of professional activity found within the poetry community.  But that's just a pipe dream, and though I have always known about hard work, difficult times, and the uphill battle that is publication, I have just hit the walls of Jericho, and I came all this way not knowing I needed a trumpet.

The interview I read punctuated the fact that I am not part of the anointed.  Now I always knew I would never be a 'name' poet, never win any fellowships, and if I was to ever get any sizable grant, it would be a miracle right out of scripture, but that's not why I have stayed with poetry all of these years, so it never really bothered me.  What got me was this interview dropped some names (but not in any way I would give fault) and I realized I have no writers I can name in the same way.  This poet heaped praise upon these other poets, gave them credit for motivation and work which enabled an entire manuscript.  I have nobody with whom I can work and say such things.

Poetry is most often a solitary thing.  We poets live and struggle in our own hearts and minds, and maybe that's why we crave companionship with other poets---not to co-write, but to co-habit the same terrain that is poetry.  The interview made me look around.  Of course I began to think about my mentor, Dave Lee.  He has had tremendous relationships with poets.  Two such relationships have torn him apart in recent years with the deaths of his dear friends, Kenneth Brewer and William Kloefkorn.  And while I mourn with my friend Dave, it is with him I mourn, because I only knew these men in passing.

My realization is that I lack the kinds of relationships which create a bond and a support network among poets.  Some might say because I am a poet I should be happy in my loneliness, but that isn't so.  This is not the kind of emptiness which feeds artistic drive.  Others might say more correctly, that I have been my own worst enemy.  I have tried to support other poets, read and critique, play cheerleader, and create friendships.  I believe I have been successful up to a point, but have in the end, been unable to make that leap of faith which might draw me close to other poets and form the relationships which would help me to reach even further.  And it has been my fault, too.  I am not an easy person to interact with for very long.  I talk too much and wear out my welcome far too easily.

I perpetually feel as if I came to the dinner party ten minutes late and everyone else has already started their conversations.  They are too busy to backtrack and I am simply too simple-minded to catch on in the middle of a conversation.  It's not the secret handshake I am looking for (that's what I was talking about two days ago) but I look around and I all I can find is a seat at the kid's table.

I have been naive to think I might be allowed to create a working world of poetry in which to live.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

On a more serious note: Buy Books

Yesterday, I created a list of fictional books to poke fun at the end of year lists being created, all talking about the best books of poetry from 2011.  Well, it's the new year, and t he talk now is about resolutions.  Instead of coming up with a list of fake resolutions today (meaning I will probably make on in a few days) I am going to offer a resolution to you all.  Now it has to do with books, but I thought I would add a little twist, so hold on.

I submit that each of you should find a press from which you have never purchased a book and buy one or more of their titles directly from them. 

I also submit that you go back to a press who had published a book of yours and buy a title which you might not consider otherwise.   

Yes.  I said it.  I want you to go buy books you have no idea as to whether you will like them or not.  If all you ever buy are the book you know you will like, then you are killing the art of writing.  if you only buy from presses you know, then you are killing the printed word. 

So what if you end up not liking the books you buy. 

So what if you don't like reading essays or short stories.

If that's the case, give the books away.  I can tell you if more writers bought more books, we wouldn't have to worry half as much as we do about how many copies our own books will sell.  I have been pretty fortunate in that most of the books of poetry I buy are ones I enjoy.  However, for that small percentage of books I don't enjoy, I either find someone to send the book to (at my expense) or I keep it around until I find someone to send it to (at my expense). 

People need to get over themselves when it comes to buying books.  The only person that matters when it comes to your personal library is you.  If you were to come to my classroom and look at my book shelf of poetry books, you would notice I have no outwardly discernible method of organization.  If you looked closely, you would see I have a highly organic system of organizing my poetry books which changes at whim at least once or twice a month. Who cares if you have all of the so-called 'name' poets in your shelves?  Seriously.  Who are you going to offend if you happen to have a chapbook or book of poems on your shelf by someone nobody else has ever heard of?  Hey, if you own one of my books you have probably already lowered your standards, and you may as well make some stranger happy by buying their book, too.

I just bought three books from Foothills Publishing.  They arrived yesterday, and they are gorgeous.  Right now I have A Field Guide to Trees  by Bill Lavender on my desk, and the art (exterior and interior) is marvelous.  The poems are lovely, and the design aesthetic breaks new ground as to what I previously thought possible.

Go out and buy some books you would not have normally considered!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

10 Books You Should (not) Buy Right Now

So I thought I would give in and create a list of books.  That this list is made up entirely of non-real books is immaterial.  I love every single one of them.

1.  Evans, Justin.  Puritans Shmuritans: How Unitarian Liberalism Ruined America for the Evangelical Conservative. Harper Row, (2008).

2.Rove, Karl.  Karl Rove's Pick-up Guide for Pasty White Men With Glandular Problems and Mild Retardation:  An Autobiography.  Flashfiction Press, (2010).

3.  Hart, Gary. Getting Off on the Cain-Train: An Expose  to Sex Scandals in 20th Century American Politics.  HighTimes Books, (2011).

4.  Bachmann, Michele.  Carbon Dioxide and the World of Tomorrow:  A non-Science Type Discusses the Demonization of Carbon Dioxide's Alleged Ill-Effects. Simon & Shuster, (2009)

5.  Bachmann, Michele. Making Denial Work for You: Living With a Closeted Homosexual. Bantham Paperbacks, (2001).

6.  Evans, Justin.  Making Sense of Non-Linear Equations in Quantum Sub Systems of Neon Gas in Excited States Relative to String Theory and Multiple Dimensions, Kids Edition. Little Golden Books, (1995).

7.  Gandhi, Mohandas.  30 Ways to Kill a Man with a Pool Cue (Deathbed Edition).  Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, (1948).

8.  Aquinas, Saint Thomas.  Summa Theologica for Dummies.  For Dummies Press, (1274).

9.  Bush, Laura.  Curious George Visits the White House:  A Memoir.  Signature Books, (2010).

10.  Anonymous.  Ha!  An Investment Banker's Guide to Avoiding the 99% (Maps Included).  Fender & Fender, (2011)

Smart enough

It's a strange feeling I keep having, this knowing I am not smart enough to write some of the poems I want to write.  Now, before you get to thinking I am just writing another derogatory and down-on-myself post, I want to tell you I think it is essential for a poet to always try and reach beyond his/her abilities.  It is the stuff good poems are made of, and it is where I like to be most of the time.

Take for example, my latest project---another Springville book of poems.  there are several poems I know need to be written which I have no clue as to how I will actually achieve that thing.  Namely, I don't know how to write some poems for my current book.  I also know several of the poems I have already written will need to be re-written to match better with those poems which I write later.  It is a two way street I drive upon, for the poems I have yet to write need to sound very much like what has already been written because I am writing a collection which will include lyric, narrative, and persona poems, but every poem needs to sound like me, and all the poems need to be elastic in that sense so they may evolve together to create the eventual manuscript I want.

There is of course t he failure, too.  My previous full length book manuscript, Sailing This Nameless Ship, will probably fade away because I was not good enough to write the poems I wrote---both poems and book taking the punishment for my inabilities.  Some day I may have the patience and ability to return to those poems, but I do not have what it takes right now.

So I return to my point, that most often, I find myself lacking only once I have waded knee deep into the poem of the moment.  More times than not I get 75% through a draft before the sudden (and frustrating) realization that I am out of my depths hits me.  I think the water/drowning reference is most correct.  When I can't finish a poem I want to finish, I feel waterlogged.  I feel as if I have taken water into my ears and I cant get it out.  I feel as if I have raced 20 laps in an Olympic sized pool only to come in second or third place.  Even though that feeling is frustrating, it isn't what really makes me upset.

What takes me for a ride every time is knowing I am not quite smart enough, that the poem I want to write is only one or two IQ points away.  I can see it but I cannot reach it.

I am not a poet known for layered and rich use of language.  Most of my poems, make use of a straightforward, simple language.  My poems are rarely extended metaphors for greater, otherworldly strophes.  Nobody needs to remind me that I am not Mark Strand or Dorian Laux.  And I don't mean to imply they or their kind are deliberately opaque.  I know of few contemporary poets who say to themselves I don't want anybody to understand what I am writing.  I am merely saying my strength in writing is not in the rich and textured use of language of many poets.   My conceits are rarely of the kind which inspire amazement.  I like simple themes and simple execution.  When I try complexity I will more times than not, choose a self-aware humor as the vehicle for the subject matter of the poem.  It is not a thing I can easily sustain.

Therein lies the strange conclusion.  I am not unable to be complex, layered, or 'deep.'  It's because I never take seriously my forays into complexity that I often feel unequal to the task when I need to be serious in my writing.  The lack of practice precludes me from practicing the writing of those poems, which in turn slows my progress in becoming smart enough to write the poems I need to write.