Sunday, December 15, 2013

Pretending to be Morpheus: An Short Interview with Dave Awl

I've known writer/performer Dave Awl since the late 1990s, when I used to see him as part of the famed Neo-Futurist ensemble and their long-running Two Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind evening of 30 plays in 60 minutes. I have always appreciated his work, both the plays, monologues, songs, and skits from TMLMTBGB, and printed work from journals and his collection of poetry and prose, What the Sea Means, and was reminded of that fact when I saw he'd been featured recently in the on-line journal Escape Into Life. Dave was kind enough to respond to some questions that occurred to me after reading this lovely batch of work.  (I originally typed "lovely bath" of work, which also seems apt--one bathes in his work and emerges warm, refreshed, and clean, ready for the day or the night to startle and begin.)

Lives of the Spiders: Can you talk a bit about your process with the Night Diary poems? Do you compose drafts late at night while you are already (still) up, or do these writings stem from those middle of the night "oh crap I woke up and can't get back to sleep" times?

Dave Awl:  I do often find myself writing poems at two or three a.m -- it's a natural writing time for me, when my inhibitions and my guard are down and things flow a little more freely. But it's not a requirement, and I write by day sometimes, too ... I'm pretty sure I scribbled some of my first Night Diaries poems down in my spiral notebook while riding the bus in broad daylight.

The main idea behind the Night Diaries poems was that I wanted to try writing poems that followed the strange logic and surreal thought processes of dreams -- kind of like dreaming out loud into my notebook or keyboard while fully awake. I had been studying Jung for years, taking classes at the Jung Institute in Evanston, and keeping a dream journal for a while before I wrote the first Night Diaries poems. But rather than turning my dreams themselves into poems, I wanted to try to consciously write like the part of my brain that makes up my dreams. Pretending to be Morpheus, for a few minutes at a time.

LOTS: Do you consider yourself to be a "night person?" What associations or tendencies do you have with writing at night that might not be true of writing in the brazen light of day?

DA: Yes, I'm very much a nocturnal person. I've always found nighttime peaceful and relaxing, and it's when a lot of the most fun things happen. Night is when all the fabulous monsters come out. I like that nighttime is less crowded ... my literary hero and eventual friend Russell Hoban used to say that as an artist you need empty spaces in which to create, and I think at night there are more empty spaces to write into. It's easier to be imaginative at night, too. To steal a line from a performance piece I once did on this subject, non sequiturs and useful twists of expression breed in the moonlight.

And I think of this lovely line from Russell Hoban's novel The Medusa Frequency: "At three o’clock in the morning the moments patter like rain on the roof of night; the silence is a road to anywhere."

LOTS:  The titles of these works in Escape Into Life indicate more material--of there's a "Night Diary 82" one would assume there's a "Night Diary 1" and a "Night Diary 81."  Other poems found on-line, such as "Film Loop #12" for example, would lead one to consider the existence of other Film Loop poems. Do you have an archive of Night Diary entries?  And if so, can you quote from another of those entries for the readers of Lives of the Spiders?  (Dave's answer, after the break.)

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Introduction to the Best Words from the Short Biographies of Poets in "The Best American Poetry 2013"

These best words, taken from the biographies of poets in this year's Best American Poetry volume, were selected by a panel of linguists and crossword puzzle dignitaries from across the nation, and in two cases, (Senegal and Norway) overseas. Meetings, taking place over a contentious three days in Iowa City, only nearly avoided violence--the verb advocates were adamant in their ongoing quest for better representation, while the noun contingent, as usual, argued for the primacy of persons, places, and things. Thankfully, the question of whether or not any one biographical note may contribute more than one word to our annual list seems to at last be laid to rest. A rare majority opinion of the delegates decided once and for all that one word and one word only may be selected from any contributor's biography, no matter how worthy and attention-getting accompanying words in the note might be.

Any such list, is, at its heart, a tad arbitrary. Nonetheless, the panelists feel we've been able to latch on to an acre of the  national poetic landscape, reflecting the varied and various responses of poets who have been asked to describe their own works. Interestingly enough, this is the first year that two words beginning with the prefix "un" have made the list, and they happen to appear side by side. This is also the fourth year in the past five that the word grandmother has been so honored.

The editors wish to thank the National Endowment for Noun Appreciation, the Smitherton and Aptly Adverb Coalition, and the Society of Thesauri Development for their on-going and much-needed support. Special thanks and recognition are due to Thaddeus (last name Jones?) the bartender at the Deadwood Tavern, for his fortitude and patience as we work out some form of payment plan that does not involve the authorities. The check is not yet in the mail, but we expect to hear back from the fine folks at the Guggenheim Foundation any day now, at which time a final settling of accounts can be made.

Without further ado, the list:

magpies.  soldier.  echo.  enlightenment.  collections.  nagging.  violence.  faceless.  risk.  

accumulation.  enemies.  leaven.  numbered.  grace.  compost.  confusion.  skipped.  prissy.  born.

loneliness.  dopplegangers.  tonic.  pagan.  numerous.  hiding.  residencies.  puberty.  dire.

flight.  laugh.  sisters.  elopement.  secret.  voyage.  bedrooms.  luck.  impossible.  glamour.

ladder.  hurt.  proximity.  horse.  code.  craving.  crime.  decipher.  birdbath.  baffles.  rapidly.

sheep.  doorframe.  sacrament.  speaker.  therefore.  absence.  suitor.  meander.  castaway.

taverns.  openness.  choose.  grandmother.  road.  everywhere.  seduction.  bedtime.  suffering.  

mortal.  concrete.  unfolding.  uncomfortable.  betrothal.   grateful.

Monday, December 9, 2013

The things one comes across in the dark wooded internet

Lynn Emmanuel's work, for example.  I have liked her prose poetry work, it has such an affinity and response to Gertrude Stein. Here she's in a more lyric mode, and she does it oh so well.

I also found our recently that my mentor and friend Diane Wakoski has a new book just out from Anhinga Press. I've ordered my copy, and hope it is en route.

Meanwhile, in Germany, poet Sarah Sloat discovers that she has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. For the second poem, if you follow the link.

Contemporary surrealist Eric Baus has a new book coming soon.  I think these might be in it.

Dorothea Lasky curates a poetry reading series in Brooklyn.  I'm not excited enough by this news to simply take off to Brooklyn, but you'd better believe the next time that work or friendship brings me to NYC I'll be eager to see if the trip coincides with a night when this takes place.

In a final and mostly self-serving entry, I'll say that I have some prose poems in New World Writing.  Did I say that already here?  That's OK, repetition is a form of music.  And I just re-read these and I'm still fond of them.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Woman Who Some­times Sits Invis­i­bly at the Foot of Your Bed

I've been so crazed and busy with work, and worried about parental health and such that I forgot to crow about this--but I have prose poems in the newest issue of New World Writing.  I submitted five prose bits, and editor Frederick Barthelme accepted all five, and lo, there was much rejoicing, much popping of corks and hooray the lad's still got it kind of exclamations among the voices in my head.  Expect more regular updates for a while, as it appears I'll be back to a normal 40 hour week throughout this holiday season, leaving me no excuses for not at least saying hello to the keyboard now and then, just to be friendly.

When the dish ran away with the spoon, while the knife and fork went about their daily routine and tried not to speak of such matters.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

This just in over the transom

I have a poem up in the latest issue of Transom, and I feel very lucky to have work there among such good company.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Street Ponies

I went with Darren to a street festival that focuses on reuse and recycling, as well as local resources.  So the beer sold was Chicago-brewed, and the food was all from small independent Chicago vendors. We saw artists who were selling jewelry made from Victorian era buttons, and lamps made from old appliance parts.  I assume the camel in the upper corner was either born in Chicago or perhaps was once a citizen, and transformed by a lover's curse.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Who Needs a Deck of Collage Poems Cards? Me.

And you probably do, too.  My friend Jen Besemer's project is now available to Joe and Jan Public, and the rest of us.  And I think it's very cool.  Check it out here. And find out more about Jen and her always provocative and startling work on her website.  Ok. Go forth and read, and write, and order most excellent card collections, some of them blank so you can add your own two cents and a blue jay feather's worth.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Dear Overcoat,

In you I become an old man,
a raven, someone’s
uncertain doom; in you I could carry
the Prince of November’s
one dozen pockets, home

to a pebble, a pen
and a knife,
you stretch me
you catch the wind,

you are a plowed field
for the first snow to fall,
you the fashion
I’d been

to hide myself within,
oh overcoat,
of moths and mantle
of fog, the means

to mask my unsculpted
body—I found you in
a secondhand store,
I lost you
in a pile of coats

at a stranger’s
party, or did you melt
into some midnight
closet, where unexplained

or unseen hands
swing you
on a stern
and clanging
metal hanger?

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Dear Family Chronicle of a Flock of Pigeons,

There are so few pigeon
heroes, or dastards,
and also, I think,
so few affairs, since
each and every character
for life—the history
of pigeons
is a chronicle
without wars—sure, a falcon
grabs a sacrifice now
and again,
but on the whole this
is the tale of how you rose,
a chorus on
a January morning,
wings nearly
white against a bank
of darker cloud, and I
read that chapter,
thankful to see
the fog of my breath
while I waited
on the train, nearly
able in that moment
to love my lifetime the way
a flock of pigeons loves
to be silver in a flash
of sky, dark
then silver.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

After the poetry reading

It was an hour before dusk, very hot, and the light of early evening was made especially beautiful but the intensity of the readers he'd heard just minutes before. Ravenswood Avenue, that bland alley of light manufacturing, took on the mantle of temporary beauty.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Dear Dented Box of Cupcakes,


Dear Dented Box of Cupcakes,

All the toddlers weep at your disarray, preschoolers  
point out 
the ruin of your frostings, powdered sugar

like blue sand in your corners, and your devil’s food 
bundles, your Mini-Cooper carloads of lard 
are smeared, smashed,
among the fallen. 

Let this be the worst thing to happen today, 
a slip and an oops, 
some momentary grieving. Let this be 
the worst thing 

some of these witnesses will ever know. But of course 
that’s impossible. There shall be loss 
upon truckload of loss. Someone will die.
Someone will fall 

in love with somebody else. Might as well, 
I tell the children, (as I push them
aside) might as well try
for a smidge of icing.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Spider Poetry/Prose Challenge

Why should this blog be all about me?  Why can't it be about you, and spiders, too? Please submit up to three poems or short (500 words or less) blocks of prose containing the spider as image, myth, or word by July 3. During the August I'll share the best submissions. The works submitted do not have to be "about" spiders, or in any particular form or format, but should contain at least one word or phrase that connotes arachnids: web, spider, weave, etc. This is your chance to be viewed by the veritable dozens of "Lives of the Spiders" readers. If the call for work takes on extra zing and fizz, we can think about an anthology, of the e-book or print format.  But let's just start with spiders, and writing. Ready, set, write.  (Or send, if you have that one spiderwork poised and ready in a file or drawer)

 From Spiders (c. 1941):

     Spiders keep on growing and molting until they are full-grown. One of the pictures on page 22 shows a trap-door spider that has just molted. In time the female spiders find mates and lay eggs. The story then begins all over again.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Tuesday Funk, with Rhinos, and Spiders Oh My

I read at the Tuesday Funk reading series in May.  And this was captured via modern technology and now its on the internets and such.

Monday, June 3, 2013

You May Run Into Gertrude Stein on the Bustled Streets of New York City

I was in NYC for BookExpo, the big annual bookselling conference.  Walking to a dinner that was going to be paid for by the publishers, and understand that if you are a bookseller at BEA pretty much all your food and drink will be paid by publishers, I ran across this lovely sculpture of Miss Gertrude Stein, looking both solid and also cloud-like, in a Buddha kind of way. It was such a pleasure to see her. Among all the flash, and promotions, and publicity machines grinding their tired gears, it's good to be reminded that part of of the industry is rooted in a love of words, and how they an be coaxed to play and be new.  The dinner, by the way, was lovely, and I like writer Lauren Myracle even more than I did before.


Elephant beaten with candy and little pops and chews all bolts and reckless reckless rats, this is this.


Dining is west.


Celery tastes taste where in curled lashes and little bits and mostly in remains.

(Three of my favorite sections of Tender Buttons, first published in 1914.)

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Spring Reading: A Partial List

1. In the Kingdom of the Sea Monkeys, poetry by Campbell McGrath.

I bought this after seeing him read at the Harold Washington Library a Couple of weeks back. I love his long Whitmanesque lines, and many of his prose poems.  I am not enamored, and I am never enamored, of his poems or anyone's poems about poems and the writing of poems.  I want every poet everywhere to be limited to one poem about the writing of poetry in her lifetime. Write more than that, obviously, but then alter, obscure, and otherwise hid the origin of the poem.  Too much preaching to a choir of one, the self.  Too much  self-inflation.  I believe we must believe we are doing some of the most important business anywhere when writing a poem, and I believe we ought to never say that aloud. So when I run into stanza like:

But the poem one is about to start,
the poem one is going to write
immediately, very soon, perhaps next March,
is like a foghorn calling mournfully in the night.

It makes me cranky.  I feel like the poet has just gone ahead and admitted that no one cares about poetry but other people writing poetry.  That may well be true, but do we have to have that fact pushed in our faces like a grapefruit? It does seem to me that this "poems about writing poetry" phase happens as some poets, often poets of certain renown, begin to age.  Call it the Billy Collins syndrome. I like some of Mr. Collins' work just fine, but he has a lot of these "watch me write a poem" poems.

Thankfully, Mr. McGrath, has plenty in this collection to admire and enjoy. One of the standouts is "Sugar or Blood." He read it masterfully at the reading.  And indeed, on one level it is about a poet's task and responsibility in the world:

I realize that I have never said plainly most of what I truly believe,
I have shied from difficulty and misstated my deepest fears,
I have not borne full witness to the suffering in the streets of the cities
     I love,
I have not waled a picket line against the tyranny of greed,
I have been wily and evasive even on behalf of art, 
I have not praised the movies in tones equal to the rapture
I have known there...

But if gives place and purchase to a reader who is not firmly placed in the realm of poetry.
McGrath could have said:

My poems never say plainly most of what I truly believe,
My poems shy from difficulty and misstate my deepest fears...  and so on.  I'm glad he didn't.

2. Metaphysical Dog: Poems, by Frank Bidart

An aging master, still at the top of his form.  I'm not sure who else in American poetry can construct a poem on the page with such grace, care and beauty in the making, and linebreaks that are at once both inevitable and surprising. In these poems he is not using the persona poems he made his name with--the persona here is a "Frank Bidart" who is lonely, broken-hearted, lion-hearted, determined to continue to wrestle with hard truths and the unsayable, which nevertheless he continues to say. "Poem Ending With a Sentence by Heath Ledger" is one of the best things I've ever read.  

3. City of Your Final Destination, a novel by Peter Cameron.

It's such a pleasure, sometimes, to read a novel you have read several times before. Like spending time with a well-known friend. I love this book, about a grad student who travels to Uruguay in an attempt to convince the executors of an obscure writer's estate to grant him permission to write the authorized biography. The grad student, Omar, is from Tehran originally, his family moved to Toronto, and now he lives in Kansas. The executors are the dead writer's wife, his mistress, who lived with the wife after her pregnancy, and the dead writer's gay brother. Omar's arrival is a stone thrown into a pond, and the depiction of the ripples is touching, tender, and funny. Cameron spares his characters not at all, but he loves them enough to make us love them too. His prose has the strength of early Hemingway: to use plank-plain sentences and construct something not showy, but utilitarian and beautiful.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

A Flock of Starlings

Transatlantic is the new novel from Colum McCann. It comes out soon, but lucky bookseller me, I got to read a free early reading copy. His novel Dancer, a novel about Rudolf Nureyev, told in many voices, is among my favorites. I wasn't trying to find a poem, but perhaps inspired by recent projects by Sarah Sloat and these Eliot erasure poems by Jeremy Halinen, this "poem" jumped out at me from a page of Transatlantic:

A flock of starlings--
                                hard-looking men in gray suits,


           on the steps of the church.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Today's Thrift Store Purchase

Just when I think I am all done with spiders, there's this, prominently displayed at my local thrift/card/framing shop:

It was not the cover photo that sold me, but the text:

"At first there were a great many little spiders in the egg sac. Almost all the eggs hatched. But before very long the little spiders began to eat one another. Young spiders are cannibals. The little spiders stayed in the egg sac all winter. They kept on eating one another. Of course, the stronger ones were the ones that lived. The weaker ones were eaten up."

I want to make that into a Grimm fairy tale.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Dear Village Toymaker,

I want to thank you for the miniature horses, I’ll never
know how you so precisely
their wings, and if that material is a kind
of cellophane, or specialized paper,
at any rate it allows them
to hover
in the living room.
like a herd of four-legged wasps.

I also appreciate the firefly reunion pack
you include
with every purchase, it’s certainly added
a splotch of glitz to our toddler’s bedroom,
and I love how you have them trained
to settle
on the headboard and wink
at the window until an hour
before dawn.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Making Helen Adams Proud

I took myself on a poetry date yesterday, celebrating the at-long-last seasonable spring weather and my new work schedule that gives me Saturdays off. I headed downtown to the Harold Washington Library to see Campbell McGrath read.  I like his work, especially the long-lined poems that wrestle with American culture.  In the Q and A portion of the reading he was asked a question I couldn't quite hear about rap music.  I could hear his reply, which was basically that there are two strains of poetry in American culture: the popular, populist, poetry of rap and slam-style work, and the more sedate and cloistered poetry of academia.  He said we must remember that poetry is at its root a performance art--poetry was meant to be heard out loud, and enjoyed by groups of people listening to the poet. He added that both strains of poetry could learn from each other, and that the strongest work being done currently was a hybrid mix of the two.

 After the reading I bought a copy of his latest book, In the Kingdom of the Sea Monkeys, got McGrath to sign a copy for me, (he was very pleasant but I think a bit tired and ready for to be out of there) and then I went upstairs, in a grand marble library room, to work on a piece for my upcoming gig with the Tuesday Funk reading series.  It takes inspiration from three things: my recent fascination of the freaky dark ballads of Helen Adams, my long-time obsession with spiders, and my recent discovery that there were servants in the middle ages called "spider brushers," people whose job it was to brush spiders and other vermin off of the nobility in the house. So I am writing "The Ballad of the Spider Brusher's Son."

It rhymes, it hopefully will work well aloud, and it contains some of the darkness, gore, and twisted sexuality that Helen Adams' work contained. I have another draft or two to get through, but its going to be ready for its debut. I want to make Helen proud.

Monday, April 22, 2013

"The Unobstructed Silence of the Advocado Dawn"

I'm going slightly crazy with planning events and promoting events and structuring and taking care of events at my job, where I coordinate the things going on in a children's department in an independent bookstore.  Yesterday I got to meet director, writer, and producer Chris Columbus--he directed Home Alone, and wrote Gremlins, as well as directing the first two Harry Potter movies.  He was at our bookstore promoting his new book House of Secrets.  We were lucky enough to have a big crowd, mostly due to the fact that he has a lot of family in the Chicago area.

So I've been crazy busy, and expect to stay that way until mid-May at least.  Tonight I reached into my book bag that I carry everywhere with me, and found Lisa Jarnot's new book of selected poems, Joie de Vivre.  I'd forgotten that some kind book rep had sent it to me, and that I'd put it in the bag.  It's from City Lights books, so it's one of those handsome little volumes like Frank O'Hara's Lunch Poems or Allen Ginsberg's Howl.  And man oh man I love Jarnot's work.  I love the sound of it, the beauty of the sound, the flow on the page, absurdity into beauty and back to absurd again. She makes me want to dare more, veer more, and sing better in my own work.  Here's a section of Sea Lyrics:

I am here inside the freezer where you left me, I am the unobstructed silence of the avocado dawn, I am the neighborhood of foreign things, I am the telemarketer of evening, I have only donuts and the doors are locked, I am as thick as the morning down on Broadway, I am walking near the freeway as it shakes, I am the overpass and shattered in the midst of day, I am the last of the partially submerged vehicles on the waterfront on Sunday buying jam.

See?  If you need a prompt, just write "I am..." and begin.  Make it new, make it wander, make it leap across a stage, make it sing.

In other news, I am reading at The Book Cellar this Thursday with friends and fellow poets Jen Besemer and Richard Fox. I think I am going to read almost all new works from my book-in-progress of letter poems.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Flurries, But Still

So, here's a few things I want you to be aware of during this, our National Poetry Month:

1. It's snowing here in Chicago today. Flurries, but still.  For a poetry prompt, write a haiku about snow in April. It might include such phrases as "I shake my fist at the sky," but really, just do your own thing.

2. If you buy a poetry book online this month from some select and wonderful publishers of poetry, those presses will send another copy of your purchased book to a friend.  For free.  As in zero dollars and zero cents.  The suggestion is to send poetry to someone who does not normally read poetry.  It's like the Jehovah's Witnesses knocking on their door, but slightly less invasive.

3. There's a project going on this month, where various poets take Pulitzer Prize-winning novels and use those texts and via erasure and other collage techniques, make poems.  This would be a great journal exercise or writing practice for, well, for me, but probably for a lot of other people, too. Here's one of my faves, from Germany-based poet Sarah Sloat.

4. I am still plugging away at my project to write 69 letter poems.  Here's a draft of one:

Dear Family Chronicle of a Flock of Pigeons,

There are so many of you!  And so few
pigeon heros, or dastards,
and also, I think,
so few affairs since
each and every character
for life—the history of pigeons is a story
with no wars, and no sons
elected bishop, just over and again
the tale of how you rose
on a January morning
on wings nearly
white against
a bank
of darker cloud, and I read this
and was thankful
to be cold, here, waiting
on the train, nearly
to love the world the way
a flock of pigeons loves
the sky.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013


I used to always be a bit sour on National Poetry Month.  "Here," we tell Poetry.  "Have a month.  We'll do a special issue, we'll interview a laureate, we'll publish a poem on our website, and then we can relax and and ignore You as soon as April is over."

But I've mellowed somewhat.  The national media, and indeed our nation and our culture, do not pay much attention to poetry and do not value it as an art form or as a commodity.  Why should I sneer at poetry getting it's few scraps of attention? I won't be attempting a poem a day for 30 days, like some people I know. (Worthy an endeavor as that is.)  But here is a place with prompts for those of you considering such a move:

And here is such a cool National Poetry Month project:  I wish I were involved in this:

What i will be doing is working hard on a manuscript of letter poems, trying to finish as much of it as I can.  I think I'll throw in the goal of submitting 12 batchs of work to 12 differenct journals or websites, while I'm at it.

It's also National Sexually Transmitted Disease Awareness Month. Just so you know.

Sunday, March 24, 2013


Dear Vacancy,

You’ve remained on the buzzing
neon sign at the Driftwood Inn
on Red Arrow Highway for so long now
that folks
might start to wonder
if you secretly
the place:
the sandlot out front where
stray cats like to scratch,
and yellowed bones
of beech trees near that ditch
by the road. The shutters
on the windows?
They’re fake, and look, one’s
fallen off. Blue
paint on the doors, it tears away
like strips of paper;
the only rented rooms
are the yellowjacket nests.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Live and on Stage!

I will be reading live and in person at three venues in the next three months.  It's like a mini-tour, but all within Chicago, so it has a slightly larger scope than the "tiny tour" that Dorothea Lasky did a couple years ago, where she did readings in different rooms in her apartment.  You can read more about that worthy project here. But enough about that, what about MY readings?  I am sure you are dying to know. So here they are in chronological order.

1. Thursday, March 21 at 6:30 PM.  Poetry night at City Lit Books! Local poets Jen Besemer, Robert McDonald, and Richard Fox read work. The three of us are long-time friends and sometime collaborators, and we'll all be reading poems that use collage or spring from other texts as part of our reading.

2. Thursday, April 25th at 7 PM. Poetry night at The Book Cellar. This will be the 6th or 7th year in a row that Richard Fox and I have read at The Book Cellar for National Poetry Month.  Jen Besemer will be joining in the fun here too, and I think a couple of other colleagues will be joining us. I love this place, and the owner Suzy rocks.  So does the cheese plate you can buy here to go with your glass of wine.

3. Tuesday, May 7th, 2013 at 7:30 PM. Reading at the Tuesday Funk series, right in my own neighborhood of Andersonville, at the Hopleaf. This will without a doubt be the reading with the best beer selection in the city that night. Readers include:
  • Suzanne Clores
  • Mary Beth Hoerner
  • Robert McDonald
  • Dion Walton
  • Sara Ross Witt

This dog on a picnic table really wants you to make it to one of these readings.  See the concerned expression on his big face.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Dear Night

Dear Night,

Thank you for the crows, Day borrowed them
for a very long time, and I want you to know
(as the crows certainly know)

that their flight, their calls to each other
from the tip-tops of sidestreet maples,
the way they rejoice

in opened flesh: a deer
at the edge of the road,
these things should be happening

at night, dear Night, your
time, your place.
And so dear night let’s broker a deal:

We will give you back the crows.
We will include the sawbox containing
their voices, and return them

to the realm of underbrush rustle,
a rabbit’s shriek,
a coyote’s bark.

All we ask for in exchange
are bonfires,
those midnight bursts

of morning, and later
we can discuss the true
home range of the moon.

(From a manuscript in progress, called, for now, "69 Letters I'd Been Meaning to Write.")

Monday, February 11, 2013

I Love the Part in Aaron's Smith's New Book of Poetry

I love the part in Aaron Smith's new book Appetites called "I Love the Part," a long list poem indebted to Joe Brainard and David Trinidad, and the spirit of Frank O'Hara. It's an homage to movies, popular culture, to the gods and goddesses of cinema and how much we desire them. I can imagine, years in the future,  creative writing instructors all over the country assigning their students to write "I love the part" poems about the movies they love, just as we now assign "I remember" poems based on Joe Brainard's book of that name.

For the record, I just rented "Looper," and I love the part where Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis sit across from each other in an otherwise empty diner.  They are each playing the same man--30 years apart. Willis has been sent back to the past to be killed by an assassin, who is in the case himself, the younger version played by Gordon-Levitt. I wanted them to hug or something, but each despises the other, as we often despise our younger or older selves.

Click on this link for another poem from Appetites.  And click here for a brief but stirring defense and cheer for the power of personal narrative in poetry from Mr. Smith.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Why I Subscribe to Poetry Daily

I get one email a week from the Poetry Daily website.  It give me news, some links to various contests and conferences, and a list of which poems will be appearing on what days.  The weekly e-newsletter ends with whatever poem had been featured on the site the year before.  I have to confess that I often don't read any of it.  I tend to look at my email at work, and if there are a lot of work-related notes lurking in the inbox, I feel the need to tidy up by deleting anything not vital.  Still I sometimes glance through it, quickly, to see if there's anything necessary or amazing. A while back I found this poem at the end of their missive. It stopped. me. in. my. tracks. At least enough to email it to myself with a note to share it. But then of course that note got buried under the deluge of daily emails. I just now resurrected it.

Problems with the Dictionary

Shouldn't the distance between impossible
and improbable be widened? Might miracle
deserve its own appendix: the ease with which night
becomes winter? There must be a word for it,
a term unique and apropos to star-pocked sky
and village roads blanketed by snow,
a good-natured—but stone drunk—schoolteacher
leaving a warm bar. It is improbable she will drive.
She does. North of town, wind uncovers ice-sheets.
A drift swarms ditch to ditch and the street
becomes impassible (see also impossible). She cannot
u-turn and begins walking home. She forgets
her headlights and roadside crops go miraculous:
snowed-in corn pastures awash in shadows
from her halogen bulbs. Another driver
would not see her. None come. The night is nothing more
than boot-prints in fresh powder, a wobbly path
tracking to back-patio where she frees the latch
and lets herself in. Her high-beams will burn
to sunrise. Her frozen steps will melt beyond definition.

The poet is Luke Johnson. This appeared in Southwest Review, and then at Poetry Daily. You can find out a lot more info on Luke's website, and by reading that I found out he has a blog, and a first book, which I am going to order for myself right now.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Someone in the Room of Writers Walks You Over to Another Guest

I only went outside once yesterday, just up the block to the small organic grocery store, where I paid 10 dollars for some additions to my planned turkey chili--a red pepper, a jalapeno pepper, a can of kidney beans, a can of garbanzo beans.  I couldn't walk any farther than that because of the ice, glittery in the trees, a half inch thick and crackling on the sidewalk. I slept a lot, fighting off a cold, and when I wasn't sleeping or cooking chili I was reading.  Natalie Goldberg's forthcoming book is called The True Secret of Writing. Her book Writing Down the Bones has been hugely influential in my writing and teaching life and habits, and in all of her books about writing since that one she delivers essentially the same message: write as a practice. Keep your hand moving. Write it down first, write more.  Judge/edit/cut later. Walk into the room of writers and make yourself at home there.

The new book doesn't break new ground, but Goldberg, as always, approaches writing from a Zen perspective.  New is not the point.  Sometimes the message, repeated in a slightly different way, will fall on the ears or in the mind in a new way, the way the ocean is always the ocean but at some point the sight of it is imbued with more meaning by the viewer. I have some new writing prompts to take from the new book, and some writers to explore further--another part of Goldberg's practice, and her writing advice books, is the study, admiration, and kudos to other writers.  It's one of the really cool things I get from blogs, from books, from conversations--someone in the room of writers walking you over to another guest and saying here, you two should know each other. Here is one poet she passed on to me:


suddenly nothing but grief
so I put on my father's old ripped raincoat

The other book I was reading is Sharon Old's Stag's Leap, a book of poems she wrote as her husband of 30 years was leaving their marriage.  I started it a few days before, and finished it this morning over breakfast at a cafe called Taste of Heaven. It's an astonishing, complex and powerful work. As I was finishing reading the poem "Years Later" I gasped at the end, one of those beautiful and deadly silver arrows that poetry can shoot into the heart, and as I looked up to the window, I met the eyes of a bearded young man walking up Clark Street. Because of the poem, my stunned reaction to it, I held his gaze, surge of electric blue, and I'll remember that moment, and how his winter cap matched his eyes, and we saw each other, and maybe I'll write a zen poem about it when I am very old.

a sideways gravity in him, toward some
vanishing point. And no, he does not
want to meet again, in a year--when we 
part it is with a dry bow
and Good-bye. And then there is the spring park,
damp as if freshly peeled, sweet
greenhouse, green cemetery with no
dead in it-except, in some shaded
woods, under some years of leaves and 
rotted cones, the body of a warbler
like a whole note fallen from the sky--my old
love for him, like a songbirds rib cage picked clean.

 --from "Years Later" by Sharon Olds

Late at night, I wanted to take a photo of the jeweled ice on the window, because it was all due to melt away by morning:

Monday, January 21, 2013

Two French Brothers

Yesterday I went to the Museum of Contemporary Art here in Chicago to see the exhibit "Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec: Bivouac" and I'm glad I caught it before it was gone--two French brothers, designers, and their simple elegant designs for everyday things: a chair, a vase, a shelf, a rug.  It made me feel like a trip into my living room, much less a journey to a museum, was a venture into new territory.  Or maybe better to say that a trip to the living room is more like entering a museum than I'd ever thought.  Museum of spoons, museum of lamps, museum with the uneven silver tea tray. I liked people watching there, all the Euro folk, and the different tongues and fashionable people.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

News from the First Few Days of the Year

I have three new poems up at Right Hand Pointing.  They all originate a small notebook I write in now and then on my morning commute on the train. When I filled one notebook up I looked through it to see where poems might be working to be born.

While poking around the RHP site I found this digital chapbook by Jeanie Tomasko and liked the poems a lot. Recommended for those of you who don't mind God walking into a poem and taking the whole contraption over.

Here's another Helen Adam video, because I am a bit obsessed.  (I love how she rolls her R's in Rat and Roach in this song.) I also found some sound files to listen to this weekend--Helen at Naropa both reading and lecturing.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Ambassador from Venus

I have been reading Lisa Jarnot's long-awaited biography, Robert Duncan: The Ambassador from Venus. I knew it was on the horizon because I have admired and followed Jarnot's work as a poet (and on her personal blog) for several years now. And while I can't say I am devoted to Duncan's work, one of my first memories of the excitement and possibility of poetry was in a classroom in 1985 or 86, in a workshop with Diane Wakoski.  She read Duncan's poem "My Mother Would be a Falconress" to the class. I still remember how thrilled I was at the poem itself, at Wakoski's evident admiration (and inspired performance) of the work, and how I wanted to write something that layered and potent with meaning.  And the sound of it!

So I have been reading about Robert Duncan, his childhood as the adopted son of parents who believed he was meant to be theirs, that the stars had ordained it. He was at the nexus of so many groupings and divisions in American poetry: friends, and then enemies, with Jack Spicer  (a poet whose work I came to know this past year through his amazing My Vocabulary Did This To Me: The Collected Poems of Jack Spicer.) Great friends with Charles Olson and Robert Creeley.  Great friend of Denise Levertov, another poet Wakoksi introduced to me in that first class I took with her, and then, I am reading, no longer friends with her, after they disagreed about the role of the poet as protester and political force.  In fact, Duncan feuded with a lot of people.  But he also made friends among all sorts of writers, academics, painters, and artists of all stripes, and had an enduring marriage to the painter and collage artist Jess.

So I start the new year thinking about connections. Buying Duncan's biography makes me check out author Lisa Jarnot's blog, where I see that she still teaches poetry workshops out of her apartment.  If I lived in NYC or Brooklyn I would sign up for one. It makes me think of Jack Spicer, and how I should read his work again, and Robin Blaser, friend to both Spicer and Duncan--I bought a book of his work but never read it. I also have a new book of Jess's artwork, Jess: O! Tricky Cad & Other Jessoteria. I think of all of these writer and artists, and the ties of friendship, art, and love that bound them together and drove them apart.

I think of re-reading poet H.D.--Duncan was obsessed with her.  I was too, in grad school, and ended up writing a term paper about supernatural portents and signs in her work. Also in Jarnot's book I am reintroduced to Helen Adam.  A generation older than Duncan, this Scottish poet wrote dark ballads she sang to captivated audiences in the Bay area and in New York.  Diane Wakoski read our class one of them, a tale of a man who is tangled and strangled by a woman's living web of hair. Duncan always said that "My Mother Would Be a Falconress" owed its creation to the example of Helen Adam's work. Just a smidge of internet sluething led me to videos of Adam performing.  Now I have to buy a book of her work, too.  It comes with a DVD, as well it should. Oh, and Duncan was an early mentor of filmmaker Stan Brakhage.  I know next to nothing about his work, so now I have another assignment: learn.

A new year. Here's to new connections. Here's to reading one book that drives one to another, reading one writer and being lead to another.  Here's to crazed mystics and damaged pyches and the slow healing of art. To falcons and wolves and dangerous women. To Robert Duncan, sweeping into a lecture hall in a purple cape. He's cross-eyed.  His notes are rumpled.  He might make a pass at you at the faculty party, after. He's going to cover the blackboard with enthusiastic chalk marks; you will not be able to keep up in your notebook, there's always too much, too many connections. But at least you are there too. Find yourself somewhere in the lineage and equation.

Here's Helen Adam.  She tops my list right now of people I wish I could have known: