Saturday, August 25, 2012

Theoretical Statement One

Poets do not write truth.  Poets do not reveal truth.  Poets manufacture truth.

Most poets probably hope this manufactured truth comes close to the actual truth, or perhaps even so closely mimics authentic truth it becomes indistinguishable from authentic truth to the casual observer, but it is not truth at all.  It is nothing more than dressed up fiction.  Poets may indeed want what they manufacture to become real truth, but that is a folly each and every poet buys into on day one.  All poets are busy creating a mythology hoping it will some day be classified as religion.

Friday, August 17, 2012

No More Contest Result Blues for me

Just to be clear.  I have not won a book contest.  This post is about why I won't be entering book contests for a very long time.

I won't be entering my manuscripts in contests this academic year, and quite possibly for a very long time after that.  Does that make me evil?  Does that make me a bad person?  Does that make me come off as somebody who thinks his shit doesn't stink or someone who thinks his poetry is just too *something* the presses won't get?  I don't know.  So for those who are able to write enough poems every year to always have a manuscript in play in the contest circuit, I am dropping out---not that any of you looked at me or my manuscripts as a threat.

I am not submitting my completed manuscript and I am not submitting my near completed manuscript to any book contests this year for some very obvious and some not so obvious reasons.  Here are a few I feel okay sharing with you.

1.  I have already sent my completed manuscript, Sailing This Nameless Ship, to every contest I care to send it to, and having been soundly rejected every time without so much as a comment or reaching a single "semi-finalist" (let alone finalist) benchmark, I have come to the conclusion that yes, I am writing poetry nobody wants to commit to at the book level.  Is it really bad poetry, or is it a matter of taste?  I would like to think it's a matter of taste, but I have to accept I am simply not that good of a poet.  So for now, and for a long time to come, Sailing This Nameless Ship is off the market.

2.  I do not have Life-supporter's Guilt.  I buy plenty of books, and have on at least three occasions, bought a press's entire catalog of chapbooks.  I do not feel a single stab of guilt or remorse when presses take time out of their day to tell me about how they are on the brink of disaster.  Want to read about disaster?  Go read about Foothills Publishing.  Michael Czarnecki's house burned down, with his entire inventory and a lifetime of private journals.  If I like your books, I will buy them.  I am just not really that enthusiastic to support your press via contests I have absolutely no chance of winning.

3.  I have absolutely no chance of winning 99% of the contests being conducted in the poetry world.  I don't write the kind of poetry which book contests want.  Presses who run book contests are looking for poets and poetry which will elevate them in status.  Contests want poetry and poets who are edgy, insinuate themselves into the conversation.  I am fine with the background.  My poetry is quiet for the most part, stays on the surface, doesn't play well with the established arc of contemporary poetry.  No, I am not claiming to be an innovator or some misunderstood genius. For the record, I am a competent poet at best.  I stand on the shoulders of giants, and if I get credit for anything, it might be in my choice of whose shoulders I stand upon to create my poetry.  I hear the word 'shallow' a lot, but I really don't care because it's really the only way I know how to write my poems, and I am fine with that.

4.  I don't feel like participating in the whole Reader Screen---Judge Round---Ranking euphoria contests support.  Did I make the cut?  Did my manuscript make it to the semi-finalist list?  How long will it take to hear about the Finalist list?  Is the rumor true---will they be publishing a second manuscript off the list?  Let's face it.  There is a weird vibe with poets.  We have a difficult time knowing our friends are our competition in some ways, and book contests have that in spades.  I can't count how many times I've had cryptic conversations where poets I know have been trying to find out whether I have sent a manuscript to this place or that, or have been trying to somehow keep me from learning about a certain contest.  I am already a little bit too manic when it comes to this I am just better off not asking all of the other questions which comes after those I just listed, the biggest being, Why didn't I get at least a mention on the semi-finalist list?

I'm finished for a while.  I want to give my new manuscript the opportunity to breath a while on its own and give it a chance to go through open submissions and rejections.  And here you thought I was going to talk about contest fees being too expensive.  Silly Rabbit.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Book Review: Amanda Auchter's The Wishing Tomb

The Wishing Tomb
Amanda Auchter
88 pp.,  Perugia Press
ISBN: 978-0-9794582-5-5

As a matter of course, I like to disclose my relationship with the author of the book I am reviewing.  I find it easier than trying to explain later how and why I came to write a positive review (you should all know by now I do not write negative reviews) for the book.  Too many people for my comfort try to make some sort of nepotistic connection, as if I expect the author in question to support my work in return of a favorable review.  That just isn't so.

I have known Amanda Auchter, or rather, I have had dealings with her since her early days editing Pebble Lake Review.  Amanda graciously accepted several of my poems for that publication, and those acceptances came at a point in my writing life when that acceptance made me feel as if a burden was being lifted off my shoulders.  Since then, I have followed her presence on line and of course now with the advent of Facebook, I have come to see pieces and fragments of her personal life, which always adds depth to my understanding of the work.

When setting out to write a book so focused on a theme, as The Wishing Tomb is, the reader comes to the book with certain expectations.  The reader expects to read about the topic at hand from the writer's perspective.  One expects certain sensibilities and perhaps the reader will rely upon past experiences with other similar projects.  When I heard the book of poems focused on the history of New Orleans I have to admit I was expecting something akin to B.H. Fairchild's work.  I was expecting more history than lyric, more sociology than image.  I am not saying Fairchild is lacking in these areas, but he does cut a wide swath with his poetry, and when I began to read The Wishing Tomb, I found something much more personal.

From the very beginning of the book, Auchter reveals her command of the single line of verse.  Her fragmented stanzas and lines is one of the best examples of confidence I have seen in any of my recent reading.  She is able to allow these utterances to stand by themselves, linger, and worm their way into the mind of the reader.  When I read the poem "Casket Girls," early on in the book, is when I realized I was in for something really exciting.  In a strangely anonymous persona poem, Auchter announces her intent on diving deep with the reader in tow.

We thought the water would never
end. Dark pools of stars
in our faces―

 Auchter spend the rest of the first section floating in and out of various persona poems and omniscient observation, slowly transitioning into poems constructed with beautifully written couplets and amazing single lines.  "American Plague" is another must-read-again poem in the first section of the book. 

Throughout the book, Auchter provides a roving pastoral of the city and its various places.  While these locations may be familiar to those who have knowledge of the city, the poet is able to bring a relevance to the reader (such as myself) who has no experience with the city.  For those unfamiliar with New Orleans, there is presented here simultaneously the city everyone knows and the city only the poet can describe.  The opening lines of the final poem, "Late Pastoral" read:

How beautiful this was in the beginning:
white mulberry, Indian corn, a source

without suffering, without crime.

The blue-white wall of sky above us
                                       and nothing for miles but water,
duckweed, Tupelo gum.  It is April . . .

By the end of the second section, Auchter has painted a mural of the city's history, both of familiar and obscure events.  I want to meet the characters and people behind these poems.  Here in the second section the reader finds the title poem.  It's straightforward address, as it takes the reader through a series of traditional/folkish rites, is a reminder of New Orleans' magic, that in this city, "Everything// becomes possible." 

If anything is predictable in this collection it is we know the third section will address the recent events and struggles within New Orleans.  However, by the time you have read the first two sections, you are prepared to enter the third section having a richer, more complete sense of what New Orleans is---certainly more informed than what many other writers provide when they write about Hurricane Katrina.  In fact, The Wishing Tomb can serve to inform most every other poem written about Hurricane Katrina. And being able to inform readers for an entire topic and specific subject matter is a wonderful side effect to contribute.  Here, "Fragments of an Aftermath" challenges conventional views of what happened in the weeks following Hurricane Katrina.

The Wishing Tomb is Amanda Auchter's second book of poems and as a poet I envy her confidence and command of the line; however, that isn't why you should read this book.  You need to read this book because it is wholly American in its focus and devotion.  You need to read this book because Auchter has created something whole, complete, and compelling.  You need to read this book so you look beneath the surface of New Orleans with rich and daring language taking you by the hand and leading the way.  The Wishing Tomb will not---cannot disappoint.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

I am for Civil Rights: Why I don't accept the argument of those who oppose gay marriage

This post is written with the specific intent of being posted on Facebook.

Let me be very clear from the start.  I am in favor of gay marriage, and if you do not like it, then you have a choice to make.  You can state your opposition, you can remain silent, or you can simply stop being my friend.  Here's why:

1)  Gay marriage is not about a feeling to everyone.  For some of us (most importantly gay men and women) it is about civil rights.  It is about the 9th Amendment and the 14th Amendment.  If you choose to ignore those parts of The Constitution then you must at the very least accept you are in favor of legalizing discrimination.  It is discrimination just like it was discrimination to limit the rights of African-Americans.  And before you go there about choice versus nature, you know you are not going to get anywhere with that.  If homosexuality were a matter of choice, it would still be discrimination.  How?  Criminals make choices we don't agree with, and they are still afforded marriage rights. There are approximately 1400 Federal and state laws regarding marriage, which ignore or are written to be prejudicial against so-called civil unions, partnerships, and common law relationships.  What other 'feelings' present such a wide range of discriminatory laws? Further along the spectrum you must also accept the contradictory nature of religion in the U.S.  More specifically, I will ask you a question to illustrate my point. 

Why is it okay to erode the separation of church and state (in order to promote your religious philosophy) which would limit the rights of people with views in conflict of your own, but at the same time be wrong to expect religious organizations to pay taxes and adhere to a single, specific interpretation of religious values?  Of course you know the answer.  The first Amendment states no laws be enacted to discriminate against religious beliefs.  It also states by way of legal reciprocity that religions cannot dictate laws in the civil realm. 

2)  Gay marriage does not interfere with your ability to practice your religion or your life in any way.  How many people have been displaced because of gay marriage?  How many people have divorced or found themselves unwilling to marry in states where gay marriage is allowed?  How many churches have been destroyed because of gay marriage?  There has not been one single piece of evidence to prove any heterosexual person or couple who has suffered because of a gay marriage.  And don't give me that old, "My cousin . . ." , or "My friend in Kansas . . ." bullshit, either.  That old standby is pure myth and is all too often linked to purely fictitious propaganda.

3)  Your values are YOUR values, and in matters of civil rights, have no place in the discussion.
I am not going to change your mind, and you are not going to change mine.  Too many people who are against gay marriage continually bring up their "feelings" and feelings tend to be immutable.  Opponents to gay marriage do not rely upon facts or legal issues.  They base their opinion on religious texts and incorrectly assume several things 
            a)They assume the Bible is meant to be taken literally, when the literal interpretation of the Bible is a 19th Century convention.
            b)They cherry pick the arguments they want to make and say those parts of the Bible are meant to be lasting while other laws of Leviticus are simply guidelines relevant only to the Ancient Israelites, which is obviously hypocritical.  
            c) They assume everyone should accept and follow the same interpretation of the Bible, which is virtually impossible and contradictory to the Constitution.
            d) They assume the Bible should continue to be the basis for law in this nation, which is not only secular in nature, but is the very model of secular humanism from the period of Enlightenment, where people all around the world dreamed of a nation unfettered by the reach of religion.  This point is important because the vast majority of Christians believe the U.S. was founded by the auspice of God.  It cannot be both a secular nation to protect religious freedom AND a godless nation in need of religious rule.

4)  I am sick and tired of people saying they don't "hate" anyone.  Well, my wife said it best when she said, "You may not hate anyone, but you certainly don't like gay people."  That's the truth.  I am just extremely tired of people trying to justify their bigotry with their version of theology and rhetoric.  I get it.  You are opposed to gay marriage and you want us all to believe there is no hate in your hearts or minds when you support discrimination on this level and remain silent when it comes to gay bashing and violence against gays.  I get it.  We all get it.  I'm just not buying it.  Go sell it somewhere else.  Go sing it on the mountain, for all I care.  Just don't pester me with that idiotic justification any more. The simple truth as I see it is you are not in favor of some people having the opportunity to share their lives in a marriage and be equal to you.  Privately you can believe that, but in a pluralistic nation such as ours, your personal views should not be allowed to interfere with the rights of others.

I am standing my ground, so you have a choice to make.  I will accept every choice you do make, but you need to stop insisting I accept your arguments because there is nothing left to argue in my mind.  Accept my position (and all of its implications); reject my opinion and my arguments; say something or remain silent; decide to end our friendship.  It's your move, and I don't care if you think I am being ignorant or passive aggressive.  This is my position and I am not moving from it.