Saturday, June 30, 2012

What Bothers me (At the Moment)

A little while ago on Facebook, I asked for anyone wanting to debate me over the issues relevant to what has been going on in the world over the past few days, they do the following:

1. Bring facts, not rhetoric.
2. Organize your thoughts.
3. Learn how to stay on subject, and stick to specifics as opposed to generalizations.
4. Learn the basics of the more common logical fallacies.

I even provided a link to the skeptics, to read about common logical fallacies.

So why and I harping on this again?  Because I ran into a Ron Paul Supporter who came up with 26 reasons why President Obama is causing the downfall of the United States of America.  That's right.  President Obama is single-handedly responsible for America's downfall.  

Now before I list some of these gems of so-called political facts (most were in truth rhetoric) please let me be clear about this:  I am very much in favor of the loyal opposition.  I believe it is only natural to have political diagreements with their leaders.  I had them with President G.W. Bush and his administration, and I personally know a lot of people who do not agree with President Obama.  I am okay with that.  However, I am not okay with what is going on with most of the discussion about President Obama conducted by the most vocal conservatives.

For one, when trying to explain why President Obama represents the downfall of the U.S., it's best to avoid listing things the President did not accomplish, which you were against in the first place.  I am supposed to see your point, that the President, is for all intents and purposes, the worst thing for the U.S. because the President failed to do things you were against in the first place?  How does that work?  

For another thing, why is it whenever I ask for facts and figures, most of what I get is rhetoric and political bias?  We all know statistics can be manipulated, but they are a baseline, which promotes debate.  All rhetoric accomplishes is to burrow one's self deeper in, like a tick.  If you make a claim, give a source.  And by the way, I use quotes because I like the ideas behind them, but I do not use them as factual evidence and support for my arguments beyond demonstrating how other people think.  How is it you can trust your sources?  Look them up.  Do a little digging.  I realized a few days ago why talking about all of this stuff makes me so tired.  I try and do research when I bring up a point.  When somebody provides a quote or a "fact,"  I look it up to see the quote in context.  I read about that "fact" and try to see where else it leads.  I get criticized some times because it takes me a while to compose my response.  I have been told on more than one occasion I must be "reaching" or grasping at straws because it takes me a long time to respond.  Well, 1:  I am doing the work, and 2:  I am a poor typist.  Some people need to learn that a well thought out, reasoned response is a good thing, not a show of poor critical skills.

So here is a sampling of a few reasons why President Obama is the "downfall of the U.S."  f anyone wants the complete list (because I don't want anyone claiming I am just cherry picking here, send me a private message and I will send it to you as soon as possible.

1) Poor reaction to the BP Gulf Spill

2) Extending the Bush tax cuts

3) Guantanamo is still open (which I do think is disappointing)

5) Failure of the DREAM Act

14) Attacking John Boehner for smoking, even though Obama himself is a smoker

16) Giving a half a billion dollars to Solyndra, only to see them buckle up within a year

18) His $800+ billion stimulus, which was supposed to keep unemployment at seven percent, has not stopped it from rising to 9.1%

19) His $450 billion jobs plan is supposed to create a million jobs. Do the math, and that means government will spend $450,000 PER new job created. The private sector can hire ten workers for $450,000 - government possibly, perhaps hires one - maybe, and then only temporarily. Once the road or bridge is built, the worker is laid off. Herbert Hoover tried the same thing, using public works projects to spur employment - guess what, it didn't work. The Great Depression got worse. 

21) Wasting his first two years, with Democratic control of the House and Senate, on a controversial health care reform bill that squandered his popularity. He might have been better served to focus on the economy!

25) Having a cabinet and advisers full of people who do not pay their taxes, and who talk about the inspirational speeches of Mao.

26) One of his first acts as President over-turned the Mexico City policy, allowing the federal government to fund abortions performed in other countries. He enters office with an economy going over the cliff, but priority number one is opening federal funding to abortions performed overseas. That is not exactly my idea of getting our financial house in order.

* * *

This is what I am up against.  Where do you start?  When one side is tacitly allowed to list rhetoric as arguments without fact checking or providing sources, it gets annoying.  With a list of 26 items, it feels like some poor attempt at presenting what is hoped will be a wall of insurmountable arguments.  

I responded to all 26 in kind, with what I hoped was logical rhetoric, but it's time to start rejecting the premise of these kinds of so-called arguments without real evidence to back them up.  It's time to make these kinds of conservatives do the prep-work themselves.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

How I Know I am a Poet

All of my writing life I have been constantly leaning to one extreme or the other regarding my status as a poet.  Am I a poet, or am I a person who happens to write poetry.  Is one of those things better that the other?  Well, I am not going to be trying to answer which is better, but I am going to try and explain why I am in the camp I am in:  That of being a poet.

First, I need to say I am not a poet because I read poetry, nor am I a poet because I read a lot of poetry.  No, there hasn't been some sudden explosion in the numbers of people who read poetry for the love of reading poetry, but I think it takes more.  So am I a poet because I write poetry?  Some might say yes, or at least say writing poetry is a definite step in the right direction to becoming a poet.  Still, writing poetry is not why I currently believe myself a poet.  Here then are a few reasons why I am a poet:

1.  Poetry gets more difficult for me to write every day and I am still in love with the idea I can some day write a perfect poem.

Why does writing poetry get more difficult?  Because every time I come to poetry something has changed, like my understanding of poetry and like my expectations of myself and what I want poetry to give me.  You see, the more I know about poetry, the more I have to hold myself accountable for what I write.  I am still going to write terrible and awful poems, but the more I know about poetry, the more time I spend making sure I am doing everything I know to make the poem right.  The more time I put into that activity means the more I expect from myself.  I don't want to keep making the same mistakes over and over, especially when I should know better.  The more work I do, and the more I expect from myself adds up to my wanting more from poetry.  I want poetry to continually surprise me, and I want my poetry to be the kind in which I can delight.  The it starts all over, because the more I expect from poetry means I am forced to learn more about it so I can be prepared to come to poetry with my very best efforts.

2.  I literally hear many of my poems.  They come to me (either in fragments or complete) at the most odd moments and I instinctively know there is only one thing to do with them---write them.

It's as simple as that.  You may not think anything of it, but I strongly believe there is some sort of mystical connection where creativity is concerned.  Do not make the mistake of equating intelligence with creativity.  I think creativity is both a component of intelligence and an independent agency, operating somewhere in the human mind.  For those of you who are scientifically inclined, think about the spooky nature of quantum connectivity.  There is something bigger at play with creativity (and my poetry, specifically) than simply the mechanical work involved.

When I fail to write one of the poems which come to me (and not all of them come to me in the way I described above) I feel as if . . .no, I know with a certainty I have wasted an opportunity.  How big an opportunity I cannot say because it is impossible to compare something which exists to something which does not.  All I know is I feel as if I have let something, a part of me go, which can never be retrieved.

3.  When I write a poem, I feel more than just good.

When I write a poem, even a mediocre poem, I feel as if I have slipped into some concrete, real groove.  I feel a sense of relief.  I feel in tune with the universe because for a brief moment, I am literally in the right place at the right time.  To add to that, so few things in my life make me feel that way.  It's poetry, family, teaching, and a few friends.  That's it.  Nothing else comes close on such a consistent level.

Other poets know what I am talking about---any artist does, too.  The universe slows down for a few moments and there is a real sense of belonging, as if one's place in the universe is assured and acknowledged.

There is also this:  Wen I feel like I do when I have written a poem which works, I am taken back to my first reason.  I want the challenge of having that feeling again, knowing the whole time it will be more difficult than the last time, and that I will more than likely be beaten.

Do you know what?  It doesn't matter.  What matters is I keep coming back, and that's why I am a poet and not somebody who happens to write poems.  

Thursday, June 21, 2012

More of the Same

Right now I am thinking about books.  My books.  Not the books I have written, but the books I am writing.  After all, in the writing world, it's not what you have written, but what you are writing.  Remembering that has on more than one occasion pushed me into creating some really fine writing.

I am talking specifically about my manuscript, Sailing This Nameless Ship, and my current manuscript in progress about my home town of Springville, Utah.  Now, I know on some level you are sick and tired of listening to me talk about these two projects, but this is part of my process.  So if you've had enough of me talking about them you should feel free to leave this blog.

* * *

Recently I received some really good notes for Nameless Ship.  A poet friend read it for me and gave me some really wonderful advice and specific edits.  I have already made a lot of those changes and I have to sit and think regarding the others related to structure.  One suggestion is regarding making a longer poem out of a series of themed poems.  If I do that, the entire structure of the poem needs to be changed.  Now I am not opposed to changing the structure.  In fact, I am more nervous about the prospect of a long poem than I am about the restructuring of an entire manuscript.  I realized my fear while reading Sandy's post on the subject. I am not a long poem kind of poet, and I am always afraid the wheels might fall off the poem and losing the reader as a consequence.  I have written very few long-ish poems (which are not long at all) and every one of them makes me nervous.

I also have to get used to the idea I need to start submitting it again.  I need to bite the bullet and start researching presses again and sending it out for consideration.  No matter how I try, I can't blindly submit this book to every contest under the sun.  I will also be honest when I say this book is a strong candidate for a self-publishing crossover for me.  More than a third of the poems have been published in journals, and one was actually nominated for Sundress Best of the Net.  There are a few small prosy bits I still need to fix, and I will give presses another go around.  However, if I find no joy (hereafter defined by any positive feedback, not necessarily acceptance for publication) I am going to learn a few things from people I know about the process of a good book experience at Lulu, and do it up right myself.  It isn't a lack of patience, either.  I need to get the manuscript out of my system.  I need to find out if I wasted more than a year of my life.  Well, that's not entirely accurate.  According to most of the known universe I did waste m time.  It's not about fame, either.  Here's what I have to say about that:

Being a famous poet is like being the most popular member of an AA meeting without all of the perks, like stale coffee and regimented sobriety.

My Springville book is coming along.  I haven't written new poems for it in the last week or so because I have been trying to write songs as lyricist for a group started by a couple friends.  Boy, and I a terrible song writer!  I finally penned a Scott Walker clone, though it's probably a clone of the guy who Scott Walker covered extensively in his first two solo albums.  I forget that guy's name.

I really am making progress, though.  I have 33 poems written and a solid picture of what the book is supposed to look like in its finished form.  My one hindrance still remains: The narrative poem.  Some days I lie to myself, claiming my short, lyric poems weave a narrative tapestry, which serves to tell a story, but the fact remains I cannot write a decent narrative poem to save my life.  Lord knows I have tried, but I cannot get blood out of this old turnip, and I really should stop trying because it is rather embarrassing to watch.

Still, I shouldn't have problems getting this book published eventually.  A lot of people tell me I am lucky to have the people at Foothills Publishing, and they are right of course, but I will be submitting it elsewhere, too.  With four books out from Foothills already, I do not want them to think I can just send them anything and they will jump to.  My biggest obstacle with this manuscript so far, has been a universal lack of interest in any of the individual poems I have been sending out.  So much so, I have actually stopped sending any of them out to anyone.  That is, until I can finish more of the poems which are supposed to be in the final section of the book.  The fact is the first two sections of the book are very much like a concept album (strictly for the analogy because as I stated earlier, I am a terrible song writer) and the appeal is not entirely there.  I don't want to give too much away too soon, but the closest structural element to a traditional book of poems this manuscript comes to is it's three primary sections.

* * *

Well, that's enough from me.  You've all got better things to do I'm sure.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Rundown


My wife pointed me to this article about the new revolution of e-book publishing.  Among other things, it points to how the traditional publishing world is going to have to take a bite of a huge shit sandwich if they don't revise their tactics.  And let's be honest, their tactics (or motives, sympathy, or interests) aren't very often in line with the author.

For example, this article relates to the inequality of the publisher when it comes to royalties and the process of taking advantage of the e-book revolution.

Collin Kelley has been talking about this for quite some time---how the self-publishing revolution has been revving up and getting ready to explode.  Well, it's happening now, and if you don't want to believe it, then you are being willfully ignorant.

I really don't know how I will fit into the self-publishing/ e-book publishing world.  I have a difficult time with doing everything myself when it comes to how I want my work perceived.  I published a collection of my letters to Karl Rove by myself, but I really don't look at that as being serious.  I did okay for a first effort.  I occasionally read a typo or a phrase I would like to revise, but that's okay because I am not looking to make my name on that collection.  However, I am hesitant to really jump in with both feet when it comes to my poetry.  I'm pretty much old-school when it comes to my poetry, stuck in the adage "if it isn't good enough for somebody else to commit time and money for, then it isn't worth publication."  But you know what?  That's my shortcoming, my disability.  It's also very un-American.  I should be willing to put in the time and effort (I am capable) and then be willing to allow the market to make the distinction. of whether my work was worthwhile.

Another one of my doubts from being old-school, is the notion that I want to hold in my hands the real thing. I want to have a real paper, perfect bound record, and I will always prioritize that real book higher than any electronic file contained in an electronic reader.  It isn't just that poetry formatting is in its infancy and takes considerably more work, it's the tactile sensation of a book. But again, that's my problem, and the distinction is shrinking every day in this age.  Soon enough there won't be any of us left, and I have to be okay with that because it's going to happen until publishing is 98% electronic, and 2% print.  I'm sure of it.

2.  I have been asked to join with a group of musicians.  I am supposed to be the lyricist, and my isolation is really a handicap.  I am listening to music on Spotify to help me get in the mood, and I am talking back and forth via Facebook, but I am having quite a challenge translating my writing style into the style required for song lyrics.  I like a challenge, but my biggest fear is to turn out to be a really shitty lyricist and being a lump of dead weight.  I think I need to look up some information on song writing.

3.  My own publication is in a real dry spell.  I have not published a single poem in over a year, if my records are correct.  My chapbook came out earlier this year, but I am having a real devil of a time getting any of my new poems published.  Not a single poem from my latest manuscript has been picked up for publication and I have suddenly become gun shy when it comes to them.  I am terrible at making assumptions.  My biggest one is that with all of the rejections I have had, it is an indication other journals simply won't understand what I am trying to do with my manuscript, and that in order to 'get it' a person needs to see everything together.  That, with the reality of running into so many roadblocks with my last manuscript (huge immediate success with individual poems but not even a second glance at the manuscript as a whole) makes me doubt almost everything I have written in the past four years.  Maybe these book projects are the perfect time to jump into the world of self-publishing.   Maybe . . .

Well, that's what is going on right now.  I hope things are going well with you.  I am still pining for a good old fashioned game of AD&D, and I am crawling ever closer to finishing that second book of Springville.  I will let you know more as the weeks and months pass by.

See you on the flip side.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Credit Where Credit is Due

Tonight I am taking a few minutes to praise one of the unsung heroes of my journey as a poet.  I have often talked about the books I have read, the other poets and writers I have admired, and the teachers in my life, bur I have neglected one area of my past long enough.  That's right.  I am talking about Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.  That's AD&D for those of you who want to pretend to be in the know.


(The only unrealistic aspect of this image is there is clearly a woman playing)


(The only unrealistic aspect of this image is there is clearly a woman playing)

Now, I am being completely serious.  AD&D gets a big portion of the credit for my desire and ability to write poetry.  All through my teen years, while I slogged through the repetition of school and the outsider aspects of living in a rural Utah community, I was able to loose my creativity by way of fantasy and role playing games.  As I look back, I firmly believe it was playing these games which stretched my imagination, giving me the capacity to explore poetry with both determination and curiosity.

I can hear some of you now:  

But you don't write poems about the fantasy world.  In fact, your poetry doesn't really play with language.  How can you say playing a kick-ass game like AD&D helped you become a poet?

Well, I will cite Roger Waters from Pink Floyd.  When he was asked about the band Radiohead as being the intellectual child of Pink Floyd (arguably one of the more experimental rock bands extant) he had the following to say: (I paraphrase)

"I listened to some of their music.  My son gave me some to listen to, and I liked some of it, but there is a point where I turned it off and started listening to my Neil Young."

That's right.  One of the greatest innovators in all of rock history listens to Neil Young.  He was making a point, but the point is well made.  Good music is still good music, regardless of its origin.  With that in mind, I put it to you that any creative endeavor, regardless of its bent, is a positive influence upon creative efforts.  I don't have to study Lang Po or the most adroit creators of intellectual poetry to get better as a poet, and just because I credit fantasy role playing games for my ability to write, it does not mean I must write within those confines.  Think about Ron Silliman.  Ron writes L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E Poetry, but how do you think he is able to critique other genres of poetry?  That's right.  He reads everything he can.  It's the same for me.

* * *

My biggest regret is there are no other AD&D players in my small town. It has been years since I have had a chance to play a decent session of AD&D, and I fear it will be many more years before I can again, if at all.  So Hail, Hail to the Dungeon Master, and all the friends from my youth who helped me then form the creativity and curiosity helpful to my poetry writing now.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Political Dirty Tricks: The Home Version

So, I just got off the phone with a fundraiser working for Mitt Romney. I acted like a senile old man (complete with voice and generational references), flubbed the credit card number, and pretended to have an argument with my elderly wife, Helen---all to waste the GOP's time. I took this fundraiser off the net for at least five full minutes of b.s., and I feel so incredibly happy. Yes. I do this kind of crap whenever I can and it is so much fun!

Becky handed me the phone and I had a few seconds to get myself ready.  Still unsure of how far I would take the whole thing, I decided I would simply try to take the caller for a ride. 

Now, you need to know I have had this call before, and what the Romney campaign does is say you can get a bumper sticker for $3, and then after you press "1" to continue, ask you for $100-$200.  That's where I started.

What follows is the best approximation I can recall as to how our conversation went.  What surprises me most is the desperation of the Romney Campaign to, above all else, hold on to this call in the face of its absurdity. They must really be desperate for the money.

My Conversation with Mitt

The Players:

Fundraiser:  Woman, college educated, mid-late 30's.  

Old Man:  Man, late 70's or early 80's.  Married.  Voice similar to my grandfather's, but without the confidence and swagger he had.  Think of a man on the verge of being diagnosed with the early symptoms of Alzheimer's.

Son:  Belligerent, out of work basement dweller.


Scene:  Late 1970's Ranch Home.  Evening.  The phone rings.  

* * *

Fundraiser:  Can we count on your support for a maximum donation for $1-200?

Me:  You just said the donation was $3.  Why is it $100 now?

FR:  The $3 is to get the bumper sticker.  We . . .

Me: (interrupting) I like bumper stickers.

FR:  That's nice.  We are committed to getting Barack Obama out of the White House. With . . .

Me: (interrupting again)  Good! My grandfather always hated bumper stickers, but I like them.  I have a lot on my car.  I want one.  What do I have to do?

FR: Well, you can give a donation by way of a credit card.  Master Card, Visa . . .

Me:  (interrupting again) I have some of those.  Let me go get my Wallet.  My wife has all of my things.  She takes care of all of the bills.  I have a Discover Card.  Can you use a Discover Card?

FR:  Any card is fine.

I set the phone down to go get my wallet.  I return.  Read off the wrong number (of course) and wait.

FR:  There seems to be a problem with the number.  Can we read back the numbers four at a time to see if there was some mistake?  The first four XXXX.  Is that right?

Me: Yes.

FR:  The second four are XXXX

Me:  I read the right numbers.  I have excellent vision.  I don't know why you'd think I can't read my own card.

FR:  No sir. You don't understand.  I might have made a mistake typing in the numbers and I want to make sure I did my job right.

Me: Oh, Okay.

FR:  The next four numbers are XXXX?

Me: Yes

FR: And the last four numbers are XXXX?

ME: Yes

FR:  And the expiration date is XX/XX?

Me: Yes.

FR: (after a short pause)  The computer is coming back saying that is a bad number.  Do you have one of those other credit cards?  We can use another one.

Me:  That doesn't make sense.  My wife always pays the bills on time.  Let me go get another credit card from my wife.  She keeps all my things.  She takes care of all the books.

(off-line, but with the phone close enough for her to hear)

Helen!  Where's my damned Discover Card?  I've got this lady on the line and she needs . . . Did you forget to pay the bills again?  The other card doesn't work . . .  I need that card . . .  I don't care!  Did you give our credit card to our son again?

At this time, I have to give a nod to my son Kaelan, who, like a brilliant Improv Actor, came out and joined into the fun

Son:  Dad!  Shut up!  Just stop yelling!  I don't have your . . .

Me:  (in the receiver) I am going to have to call you back.  I've got a situation here.


* * *

Becky says she is never going to give me the phone again.

By the Numbers

Recently (well, last night) I talked about low acceptance numbers.  I am sitting at an approximate 2.5% acceptance rate for the past 18 months.  However, that's not the number which really bothers me.  I have gone years without a publication, and in the past two years I have seen a full length book and  chapbook come out from Foothills Press.  I am, as far as books go, a very good run of it.

No.  What bothers me is the fact I have not had a single poem from the new manuscript published.  Not one.  Not  a single poems has appeared from the 32 poems I have written for the manuscript, and that is not good at all---under any conditions.  Why?  My usual pattern is to have great success with the individual poems I write but struggle with manuscript acceptances.  Take for example, Sailing This Nameless Ship, my latest complete manuscript to sit in dry dock, so to speak.  37% of the poems in that manuscript were snatched up in a relatively short time.  My acceptance numbers then were phenomenal.  Where has the manuscript gone?  To literally dozens of presses, and far more contests than I care to admit paying for.  What has been the result?  Nothing.  No hyperbole needed.  It has fallen on its face.  I started sending out the manuscript in it's mature form more than two ears ago, and as each day passes, my biggest fear for it becomes one day stronger.

Now take my latest effort, a book of poems written about the history of Springville.  Not an easy sell, but I pulled it off with Town for the Trees---twice.  The big problem is it was difficult as hell to get that book accepted for publication, and that's with nearly every poem in that book having been published prior to being submitted for consideration as a whole.  Here, I have been submitting these poems for more than a year as they get written and the one acceptance I received last year, turned into a rejection when the journal made the decision to focus solely on short fiction.  No "we will still publish your work" or even more than a "sorry for forgetting you for eight months."  My biggest fear is that I will get to the end of this manuscript, which is still 30 poems away from being finished, and have nowhere to shop it around because nobody will have seen any of the poems inside of it.  They won't want it, either, because this time, nobody has wanted any of the individual poems within.  It will represent another two years of my life, working on  very specific manuscript, coming to nothing.

What terrifies me is I think I am getting better as a poet.  If that is true, my getting better, then what is wrong with my writing?  Maybe I need to start drinking.