Happy New Year, Nick Demske

I'm in Hawaii. Specifically, I'm in a Bali Hai Villa on the island of Kauai. It's a long story. No, actually, the story is a short one: I have amazing and generous friends. In this surreally lackadaisical and sunny setting, where palm trees sway and roosters run wild (liberated from farms by the hurricanes of '82 and '92), I'm trying to keep a vague handle on life at home. In DC, there is ice on the ground and first-pass proofs of DKTBG are waiting to be returned by January 11.

Must... maintain... writerly... discipline. Must stay on top of emails. Must continue to arrange spring readings. Must try, and fail, to tan. So as a symbolic gesture I brought along my copy of the latest Poets & Writers, "The Inspiration Issue." Yesterday, while watching a light rain fall and sipping a pineapple cocktail, I turned to the 6th Annual Debut Poets Roundup.

As Kevin Larimer's intro mentions, the roundup has a familiar rhythm by now: always a poet whose book got picked up on a first send-out, a poet whose MS was chosen after decades of submitting, one poet who focuses on craft, one who treats verse as play, and so on. I always read the feature with a mix of nostalgia, envy, and nausea. I remember the bridesmaid years. Trying different styles, different niches, ordering and re-ordering, waiting for that first big break, watching as others got theirs: God, how awful it was. And yet, how liberating--but appreciated only in hindsight.

Anyway, one of this year's profiled poets is Nick Demske. I've never met him. To be honest, never heard of him before. Age: 27. Residence: Racine, Wisconsin. Graduate Degree: MA in library and information science from the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Job: "I mostly shelve books and do other menial circulation tasks at the Racine Public Library." Award: Winner of the 2010 Fence Modern Poetry Series, selected by Joyelle McSweeney. Publisher: Fence Books.

These roundup profiles are not long or substantial texts. Yet there is something about his Q&A on inspiration and advice that is so winning, so poignant, and so simple and honest, that it makes my whole heart smile; it makes me fall in love with poetry all over again. There is importance to this thing we do--and how it affects the lives we live--and I can see it in his answers.

So I'm going to re-type his P&W profile here (with the caveat: go buy a copy of the magazine!), and I'm sure as heck gonna track down his book to read.


Time Spent Writing the Book: Two Years.

Number of Contests Entered: "About ten. I feel lucky the number is so small."

Sample: "In every sumo, there's a little bulimic awaiting a glorious purge." ("Tragic Songstress")

Source of Inspiration: "My mother died of breast cancer before I was half done with the manuscript. That was a big inspiration. The book is, in part, about bad form. The most blatant way that's enacted in the book is through the form of the poems: They're all loose sonnets--love poems, but their content actively resists the form. Words are cut in half to meet rhyme schemes. The line lengths themselves are so long that the book has to be printed sideways--in landscape, rather than portrait orientation. On many levels, the book is many repetitions of forms that are inappropriate for their contents. My mother dying, my lovely mother dying, was largely the inspiration for this. She had a spirit like wildfire, which could brighten anyone she came in contact with. She was smart, insightful; she loved the natural world and she lived the healthiest life of anyone I have ever met. And yet here she was, incoherent, unable to get off the toilet independently, her very own piss a biohazard. She eventually drowned in fluid in her own lungs. The form--her invalid body--was an inappropriate match for her content, that wildfire, her beautiful spirit. It was after this I realized that, in general, the human body is bad form for the human spirit. Bad form. Bad form."

Advice: "Any advice I give in terms of writing could only be the same advice I would give in the more general terms of life: Enjoy yourself, treat people well, don't take writing too seriously, don't take writing too lightly, make friends and loved ones and spend lots of time enjoying that community. Keep your priorities straight."

The photo shows Demske leaning against an anonymous brick wall, in a plain navy t-shirt and a knit green & turquoise cap with Heidi-yarned tassels on either side. Bright smile. He looks a little incredulous at this whole turn of events.

Here's to new authors, new books, new hometowns, new hopes.

Here's to the staff at Poets & Writers for continuing to put out a great magazine, even in an age when magazines feel imperiled.

Here's to 2011, dreams and all.

And here's to you, Nick Demske!

New Year's Eve

Seeing the Year Out

Want to know what the passing year is like?
A snake slithering down a hole.
Half his scales already hidden,
How to stop him from getting away?
Grab his tail and pull, you say?
Pull all you like--it does no good.
The children try hard not to doze,
Chatter back and forth to stay awake,
But I say let dawn cocks keep still!
I fear the noise of watch drums pounding.
We've sat so long the lamp's burned out.
I get up and look at the slanting Dipper.
How could I hope next year won't come?
My mind shrinks from the failures it may bring.
I work to hold on to the night
While I can still brag I'm young.

White Crane Hill

Seacoast wears you out with damp and heat;
my new place is better–high and cool.
In return for the sweat of hiking up and down
I've a dry spot to sleep and sit.
But paths to the river are a rocky hell;
I wince at the water bearer's aching back.
I hired four men, put them to work
hacking through layers of obdurate rock.
Ten days and they'd gone only eight or ten feet;
below was a stratum of solid blue stone.
Drills all day struck futile sparks –
when would we ever see springs bubble up?
I'll keep you filled with rice and wine,
you keep your drills and hammers flying!
Mountain rock must end some time –
stubborn as I am, I won't give up.
This morning the houseboy told me with joy
they're into dirt soft enough to knead!
At dawn the pitcher brought up milky water;
by evening, it was clearer than an icy stream.
All my life has been like this –
what way to turn and not run into blocks?
But Heaven has sent me a dipper of water;
arm for a pillow, my happiness overflows.

Su Tung-p'o
from Selected Poems of Su Tung-p'o
Burton Watson, translator

Favorite 10 Books of 2010 in No Particular Order

Most years around this time I like to post my list of Top 10 Poetry books, but this year's list will be somewhat different for the following reason: I didn't read a lot of new poetry this year. Well, that's not exactly true. I didn't read as many as I normally do, or enough to feel like I've got the coverage which would allow me to even justify typing up a list.

Most of 2010 was spent reading for two of my three comprehensive exams, and so this is my list of Favorite 10 Books of 2010 in No Particular Order (notice it's not a "Top 10"). Its contents have been gleaned from my exam reading lists, my general studies, and the year's leisure reading.

Poetic Justice: The Literary Imagination and Public Life - Martha C. Nussbaum -- I read this last summer for my Specialized Exam reading list, and blogged about it here and here.

Aesthetic Theory - Theodor Adorno -- This book consumed me for two weeks in Kansas this summer. Mornings were spent working on my poetry manuscript and afternoons were spent tracing Adorno's concentric circles.

The Widening Spell of the Leaves - Larry Levis -- Last spring, I sat down with this book again and read it straight through. It's not often that I read Levis that way. Usually I'll read sections from a particular book, or read one longer piece, but reading this way this time was instrumental in helping me figure out how to organize the longer poems in my manuscript.

Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned - Wells Tower -- The best collection of short stories I've read in a long time. My students can expect to see at least one of these stories next semester in fiction writing.

Language Without Soil - Gerhard Richter, editor -- Beautifully written, thoughtful essays on the contemporary implications of Adorno's writings on human suffering, aesthetic theory, and ethics.

The Norton Book of Composition Studies -- This was basically my Bible from winter to spring last year while studying for my exam in rhet/comp. Many of the essential composition theory and pedagogy essays in one place.

Elephants Teach: Creative Writing Since 1880 - D.G. Myers -- Well-written exploration of creative writing in this country. Provocative discussion of creative writing pedagogies, their evolution in American universities, and an argument for the future.

Freedom - Jonathan Franzen -- Not as good as the popular reviewers say, but it was entertaining all the way through. It's somewhat more affable than his other novels, especially The Corrections (which I prefer), and the plot kept me turning the pages. It's rare I have the patience to read a novel of this length, but Freedom kept my attention throughout. Franzen's interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air also helped to keep me reading.

Gospels In Our Image: An Anthology of Twentieth-Century Poetry Based on Biblical Texts - David Curzon, editor -- This is one I started during Advent. Although I didn't get to finish it before I had to return it to the library, but it's probably one I'm going to purchase. It's a very unique anthology, and unique in the genre of Christian poetry anthologies, because of the poets included: Milosz, Dickey, Gluck, Plath, Yeats, Celan, Rilke, and Akhmatova, among others. Here's a quote from the synopsis: "The poems, which range in tone from playful to confrontational and from ironic to sublime, are set alongside the biblical passages that inspired them. The Annunciation, the Nativity, the Temptations in the Wilderness, the Sermon on the Mount, the Parables, the Last Supper, the Crucifixion and Resurrection, are just a few of the narratives that have captured these writers' imaginations." I really had no idea how deep the Gospels' run into Twentieth-Century poetry actually is. No religious faith required for reading.

Shout Outs: I also want to give an end-of-the-year nod to a few friends who had first books come out this year:

Nick Demske - Nick Demske -- I met Nick in Tusculoosa in the fall where we were both reading for a Slash Pine Press event. I blogged about our meeting here. I haven't yet purchased Nick's debut because I'm waiting to do so at AWP when I can have him sign it. His is one first book I'm really excited to get my mits on. Here's a link to Nick's blog where he is Poet Laureate of Your Face and where you can watch him read/perform work from the new book.

American Amen - Gary McDowell -- Gary's been on a roll lately: a chapbook, an anthology of prose poems, and now his debut full-length collection. An impressive start to what will no doubt be a fine career.

Invisible Mink - Jessie Janeshek -- I wrote a little ditty about Jessie's book a couple weeks ago. Here's a link to it.

Ghost Lights - Keith Montesano -- Keith's debut is also an impressive start. I'm not going to say much more than that because I plan on reviewing the book in the next few weeks. I'll just say that I've gotten to know Keith a good bit over the last year, and I can say he's a good guy, he's a good reader, and he's a generous poet. Here's a link to Keith's blog and one to First Book Interviews which Keith now runs.

After the Ark - Luke Johnson -- Luke's someone I've become acquainted with through the poetry blogosphere and Facebook circles, and from what I can tell, he's a really good guy and a fine poet. Here's a link to Luke's blog. I've seen a smattering of poems from his forthcoming book, and this promises to be a fantastic debut, one that I'm looking forward to reviewing once I get my copy at AWP. The book will be out and available from New York Quarterly Books in just a few days, so as an appetizer, here are three poems from the forthcoming collection. Congratulations, Luke.


Pageant, Christmas Eve

Full pews lined with burning beeswax.
I was a shepherd boy tending a toddler flock.
My mother, vigilant in her pulpit, told the story
of angels. She opened her eyes wide
for Hosanna the highest, shut them
to smile out peace. She was the voice
of Gabriel, the same voice I overheard
telling my father she was going to leave.
It sounded distant then, like the plunk
and hiss of lit votives falling in a tub,
like underwater smoke. After the last hymn,
my father and I stayed up past midnight
to light new candle ornaments on our tree.
Houselights snuffed, the dark became an empty
ribcage, the tree our flickering heart.

Hospice Tape #3

Miracles of technology throttle me
less than they do my father, who wept
to see my mother, two weeks dead,

on the camcorder flip-screen,
the flickering stamp of her gaunt face.
She spoke about God and absence,

looking for one in the other,
learning to love my father
only after she had left.

Someone told me an adult life
does not begin until you see a parent die
and know it’s possible.

Needle-draws and hospital gowns,
liquid pixels and high-definition,
always light, this aperture for grief.

I rewound to where I was a child,
paused. My father left for his study,
those quiet offices fathers keep.

Retiring the Night, the Season

It’s not the light sparking
as the sun drips down, not
leaves and needles spiraling

to red clay through late afternoon
a too-cold day in October;
it’s not these things I’m guilty

of making more than they are.
Extremes trick us into breathing
meaning into empty or at least

half-full gestures, into skin
feeling like skin feels, or trees
behaving how trees ought:

birches bending to break during
an ice snap, roots finding water.
The last time I visited my father,

I sat on his patio in front
of a Dutch oven, told him
I’d split what wood he had,

would stay to make knots
of newspaper, kindling something
warm for us to gather around.

Later: fire and silence, the realization
there was nothing to say.
These flames must run their course.

We poked the smolder, let each
of our insufficient breaths
stoke whatever fire was left to burn.

Luke Johnson
from After the Ark

Worth reading

Spelling Test

Outside rained over the tetherballs,
but here I held the world. The joy
of getting it down, down right,
the sharp purple scent of page
under pen—I scratched away
in love with the word.

Number six: squirrel.
Squirrel. It rode the curves,
rolled round the vowel. Again: squirrel.
Twisted open in the repetition—
past a small thing quivering. Whiskers,
acorns in a picture book. Pulled into
a turning whorl of sound.

Squirrel. The heady scent of what we call
what we call—by then no more word
than sound, no more sound than itself.

Pure strangeness, and the sweep
of the clock. I handed back my page,
its blank blurred lines. Then the bell,
the door. Tall grass at the edge of the blacktop.

Nothing could be named, though we moved our lips.

Lisa Gluskin Stonestreet
from Tulip, Water, Ash

On Christmas

The Reason

To clarify and allow
For abundance, for revery.

To be permitted clemency,
A first, if not a second chance,

A taste, a glimpse, the sleight-of-hand
Of miracles and the obvious.

To see sky, gray and pearl, the jay
Blue in the copper beech, milkweed

Seed stalled in the haze, the wooden
Stairs cracked and sagging, and below

A zinc pail tipped over and spilling
A round pool that reflects the sky.

To take what is closest at hand
And set a story in motion.

Not to make something from nothing,
But, as at Cana, to be moved,

Even unwillingly, by need.

Eric Pankey
from Apocrypha

Wise Man

The Magus

It is time for the others to come.
This child is no more than a god.

No cars are moving this night.
The lights in the houses go out.

I put these out with the rest.
From his crib, the child begins

To shine, letting forth one ray
Through the twelve simple bars of his bed

Down into the trees, where two
Long-lost other men shall be drawn

Slowly up to the brink of the house,
Slowly in through the breath on the window.

But how did I get in this room?
Is this my son, or another's?

Where is the woman to tell me
How my face is lit up by his body?

It is time for the others to come.
An event more miraculous yet

Is the thing I am shining to tell you.
This child is no more than a child.

James Dickey
from The Whole Motion: Collected Poems

Advent poem

Nativity Poem

It is the evening
of the birth of god.
Singing &
with gold instruments
the angels bear down
upon the barn, their wings
neither white
wax nor marble. So
they have been recorded:
literal in the composed air,
they raise their harps above
the beasts likewise gathering,
the lambs & all the startled
silken chickens.... And Joseph,
off to one side, has touched
his cheek, meaning
he is weeping–

But how small he is, withdrawn
from the hollow of his mother’s life,
the raw flesh bound
in linen as the stars yield
light to delight his sense
for whom there is no ornament.

Louise Glück
from First Four Books

Advent poem

Jan Vermeer. Woman with a Water Jug. c.1664-1665. Oil on canvas. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA.


       Quia respexit humilitatem
       ancillae suae. Luke 1:48

She stands by the table, poised
at the center of your vision,
with her left hand
just barely on
the pitcher's handle, and her right
lightly touching the windowframe.
Serene as a clear sky, luminous
in her blue dress and many-toned
white cotton wimple, she is looking
nowhere. Upon her lips
is the subtlest and most lovely
of smiles, caught
for an instant
like a snowflake in a warm hand.
How weightless her body feels
as she stands, absorbed, within this
fulfillment that has brought more
than any harbinger could.
She looks down with an infinite
tenderness in her eyes,
as though the light at the window
were a newborn child
and her arms open enough
to hold it on her breast, forever.

Stephen Mitchell
from Parables and Portraits

"not the cute little ruin"

Congratulations to Jessie Janeshek on the publication of her first book of poems, Invisible Mink. It's just been released in the last few weeks by Iris Press and is available now in stores and through Amazon.com.

I haven't gotten to know Jessie well personally over the years--she's a post-doc at University of Tennessee where she teaches poetry writing, and she was two or three years ahead of me when I entered the English PhD program--but I have had the privilege of reading with her a number of times. When listening to her read, I'm always struck by how quietly aggressive her poems are, and you can certainly find this quality in the book.

The cover image to the book is from a painting by Cynthia Markert, and it demonstrates the "quietly aggressive" perfectly in the muted colors of the figures, how their bodies are turned casually and seductively, their wry expressions, their faces askance or looking near, not at, the viewer. And then there's that one face bathed in light, looking straight at you, as if it knew your darkest secret and was ready to tell.

My experience of reading this book is very much like like my experience with the image on its cover: I could not look away. Its gaze pulls me back again and again. And this is somewhat fitting since the subject matter for a lot of these poems, and the speakers in the poems, too, come from Hollywood films of the 1930s and 40s, films like A Stolen Life and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, and from actresses like Bette Davis.

In a blurb for the book, poet Marilyn Kallet describes Jessie's work and subject matter this way:
"It’s staying light later,” the narrator of the opening poem tells us, “I’m in the mood to meditate Bette Davis….” The poems deliver verses on seductive female stars from the films of the 1930s and beyond. Like the stars they’re watching, the poems become the empowered ones; language is theirs to play with, to betray (“How did the wedding ring slip off Pat’s finger?”)
Each poem is impeccably crafted, syllable by syllable. The line breaks are as crisp as a good Pinot Grigio. No, wait, for the Bette and Lucy poems, pour yourself a martini. The Perpignan poems might like a tumbler of rosé.
One of my problems with a lot of recent books, especially first books, is that the "project book" approach  has a high likelihood of leaving its reader in the lurch if there's not enough context or information for the reader, or if there's not enough other stuff going on in the collection that the reader can track or hold on to. While I've never seen any of the films alluded to in Invisible Mink, and while I know my experience of reading the poems would likely be enhanced by having that background, I found that my entrance into the poems and my enjoyment of them wasn't troubled by my ignorance of film.

The poems in the book are enough to sustain several readings. And these are not just poems about Hollywood starlets. We've also got The Brontes, Villette, Bob Dylan, Villon, and even Brueghel. There's also a playfulness with the subject matter and language in, for example, this poem which gets it's title from a Bob Dylan song:

Restless Palms

Why this slow crawl
through February?
I listen to the flick
of my cat's feather-light ears
can't bear to think

this might be my stride.
Imbalance and balance?
Synonymous. The scale lady's
arm muscles bulge
above one glowing blue eye.

I bought twenty headbands
at the underground Montreal drugstore
never wore one. Three Lucies canoodle
corner booth of my mind.
Histrionically shaky

after to cups of coffee
I live off sweetness and blight
rise every day
to skate on Veronica Lake.
She's frankly lit

by a border of torches
shaped like a small constellation.
Hotdogs roast on her rotating blades
smell astrological.
You get used to her moods.

But to get back to the "quietly aggressive," the poems in this book also have something to say about artistic production beyond film. At their core, these are poems about the act of writing.

One of my favorite poems in the book is "Jezebel Keeps the Appointment." (This morning I found myself muttering the line "You're not the cute little ruin" to myself, and the book is filled with moments like it.) In some ways, the poem reminds me of Elizabeth Bishop's "One Art" in which the speaker articulates the tension between making and losing, and how the two are really one thing: "The art of losing's not too hard to master/ though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster."

Jezebel, who appears as the speaker in ten other poems, expresses a parallel sentiment to Bishop's. Even as we write, even as we destroy the thing we're writing about, we cannot stop, and we cannot stop because there's no guarantee we'll be able to start again. And so we keep on keeping on.

Jessie Janeshek's poems make me want to keep writing, and I encourage you to look for her work.

Jezebel Keeps the Appointment

Write it out hard, you scream.
Watching Midnight Express
let me dream I busted in a kid's skull
left enough blood for an oath.

The rest of the boys do light math
remind me you hav a bad heart
someday you'll slip off, comatose
leave me to calculate grace and want.

Last night, the cat pissed the bed.
I washed so many times
couldn't get clean
dictated a letter to Lady Macbeth.

You're not the weak one
your braids sopapillas.
You're not the cute little ruin.

The train does not stop here.
What's worse? It's packed
with people from high school.

I don't think they know me
hepped up, not desperate.
I won't earnestly pray
or die for just anything.

You want to give, don't know
how to give up. I want to keep writing
There's no guarantee. There's
no guarantee. This comforts me.

Jessie Janeshek
from Invisible Mink

"Jessie Janeshek grew up in West Virginia and earned a B.A. from Bethany College, an M.F.A. from Emerson College, and a Ph.D. from the University of Tennessee–Knoxville. Her first book is Outscape: Writings on Fences and Frontiers, a literary anthology she co-edited in 2008. She teaches writing at the University of Tennessee, works as a freelance editor, and promotes her belief in the power of creative writing as community outreach by co-directing a variety of volunteer poetry workshops. She lives in Knoxville with her man and three cats."

"AWP Poem"

Thanks to “Anonymous” who suggested this poem by Nin Andrews as another example of an “AWP poem.” I'd previously posted another "AWP poem," "At the Convention" by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz, here.

And speaking of AWP, what exactly are you already looking forward to? Any particular readings or panels? Off-sites?

I’ve got the Pedagogy Forum on one of the days, and I’ll be working the Grist table at the Bookfair. Otherwise, I’ve already got the Blackbird/Somebody (Diode? New South?) reading in my sights. There are a number of readers for this one, but two looking forward to T.R. Hummer and Rae Armantrout especially. I can’t remember where I heard about this reading (Twitter? Facebook? blog?), but I’ll post more info when I find it, unless anyone out there knows and can post in the comments.

Really I’m looking forward to catching up with good friends and new friends. Talking shop and arguing. Generally sharpening the iron. Some laughs.

Somebody recently described AWP as feeling more like a family reunion, and this year, yeah, feels like that. Thank god.

UPDATE: via Diode's Facebook page:
diode has its 7 readers for its joint AWP off-site reading with Blackbird:

Bob Hicok
TR Hummer
Rae Armantrout
Oliver de la Paz
Christine Klocek-Lim
GC Waldrep
Victoria Chang

Blackbird is working on their 7, and it promises to be a great line-up.

Thursday, Feb. 3, 8:00, The Avalon Theater.


Poets on Poetry

—I'm pretending not to see him so I can eat my lunch.
—But who reads that shit? About as true to life as a velvet grape.
—I think he judges poetry with his dick. And poets, too.
—What's the scoop on her? Is that her husband, or is he just hanging out in her hotel room for the duration?
—Personally I prefer not to think about his dick.
—His latest work, especially the poems about his dead father, begin to sound human.
—Think of it as a conductor's baton.
—Granted, she wins all the prizes, but talk about grandiose.
—The latest inductee into the goddess cult. Like back in the sixties when sex and war were the metaphors for consciousness-raising.
—I bet they're really confessional, and she's a total pervert too.
—He knows how to network, who to climb, and when. Timing is everything.
—Insomnia, maybe chronic fatigue syndrome. I think it's just frayed nerves.
—I always admired your work but can't figure why it's been so marginalized.
—You want my phone number?
—The illusion of the narrative appears in your work, but there's really a thread of the unspoken narrative, right?
—Are you married? Do you have children?
—Never even answered my inquiries, the pompous bastard.
—That's really sweet. Thank you.
—I think I have a blindspot when it comes to his work.
—Must be great to get away.
—I don't know why they don't just fire the asshole.
—Reminds me of a gilt frame with no picture inside.
—She's eloquent enough, a nice cocktail poet.
—Did you see what he was wearing?
—She says it's none of my business what she writes.
—Poetry is a private affair. A kind of masturbation. An endless self-portrait.
—So what if he is another excellent specimen of the dead father poets.
—Where are the dead mother poets?
—I like the way you think.
—Yet another vapid, beautiful wind-blown babe-poet for the cover of APR.
—Let's go out for a beer somewhere.
—I sure wouldn't want to live in his skin.
—A local dive would be nice.
—The way I see it, you're better off not getting famous too soon.
—I never even send out my work.

Nin Andrews
from The Paris Review, Spring 2000

Fire Is Speaking

Dean Young, American poet and teacher, needs a heart transplant.

Here's an open letter from Tony Hoagland reprinted from The National Foundation for Transplants:
Dear Friends,
If you are reading this, you are probably a friend of Dean Young and/or a friend of poetry. And you may have heard that our friend is in a precarious position. Dean needs a heart transplant now. He also needs your assistance now.
Over the past 10 or 15 years, Dean has lived with a degenerative heart condition--congestive heart failure due to idiopathic hypotropic cardiomyopathy. After periods of more-or-less remission, in which his heart was stabilized and improved with the help of medications, the function of his heart has worsened. Now, radically.
For the last two years he has had periods in which he cannot walk a block without resting. Medications which once worked have lost their efficacy. He is in and out of the hospital, unable to breathe without discomfort, etc. Currently, Dean's heart is pumping at an estimated 8% of normal volume.
In the past, doctors have been impressed with his ability to function in this condition. But now things are getting quickly worse. Dean has been placed on the transplant list at Seton Medical Center Austin, and has just been upgraded to a very critical category. He's got to get a heart soon, or go to intermediate drastic measures like a mechanical external pump.
Whatever the scenario, the financial expenses, both direct and collateral, will be massive. Yes, he has sound health insurance, but even so, he will have enormous bills not covered by insurance--which is where you can help, with your financial support.
If you know Dean, you know that his non-anatomical heart, though hardly normal, is not malfunctioning, but great in scope, affectionate and loyal. And you know that his poetry is what the Elizabethans would have called "one of the ornaments of our era"--hilarious, heartbreaking, courageous, brilliant and already a part of the American canon.
His 10-plus books, his long career of passionate and brilliant teaching, most recently as William Livingston Chair of Poetry at the University of Texas at Austin; his instruction and mentorship of hundreds of younger poets; his many friendships; his high, reckless and uncompromised vision of what art is: all these are reasons for us to gather together now in his defense and support.
Joe Di Prisco, one of Dean's oldest friends, is chairing a fundraising campaign conducted through the National Foundation for Transplants (NFT). NFT is a nonprofit organization that has been assisting transplant patients with advocacy and fundraising support since 1983.
If you have any questions about NFT, feel free to contact the staff at 800-489-3863. You may also contact Joe personally at jdiprisco@earthlink.net.
On behalf of Dean, myself, and the principle of all our friendships in art, I ask you to give all you can. Thanks, my friends.
Tony Hoagland
You can help.
To make a donation to NFT in honor of Dean, click the link below his photo. If you'd prefer to send your gift by mail, please send it to the NFT Texas Heart Fund, 5350 Poplar Avenue, Suite 430, Memphis, TN 38119. Please be sure to write "in honor of Dean Young" on the memo line.
Thank you for your generosity!

I had no idea about Young's condition. He is adored by many and is, I hear, an excellent teacher. While I own only one of his books, and he's not a poet that I go to repeatedly, I do always read his work when I come across it in journals and magazines, and, over the years, I've posted a small handful of his poems on this blog. (See links below.) I have a great deal of admiration and respect for his work and for the tone he's brought to the poetics discourse. Never spiteful or angry or callous. Always humorous, selfless, and generous.

The poetry community is rallying together to help. If you can donate, please consider it.


Fire Is Speaking

Fire is speaking again,
Everything belongs to me.
A bird flies over--not even a challenge.
A handkerchief, a window, a war.
A little girl helped up the steps into a train.
Two crazy winos arguing about the formation of the universe,
one says, Time folding, the other, You’re not listening.
A valentine out of paper doilies with blunt scissors.
It’s almost eighty years ago,
the tree wants to tell how far it’s come,
the mountain how fast it can run,
the past in the form of a locomotive
knows it must switch from coal to electricity
to ever catch up.
A book of poems by Apollonaire left on a table.
No, a man comes back to get it
before the table is removed,
the floor torn up,
the whole building knocked down.
Zephyrs over a doorway--
you don't see work like that anymore,
in a a different form they lived in Sophocles.
And how to get at the fullness of life,
its quivering and rush
first with blunt scissors
then symbolic notation?
Sometimes fire seems to be elsewhere
but it is only resting.
I cannot live without you
says the soldier gripping the little girl's hand
only she is no longer a little girl,
it is 20 years later, could this be the one
who the valentine was for?
May, the air full of pollen, kerchoo.
A handkerchief changes hands.
The argument about the universe heats up.
They're not crazy winos,
they're retired emeritus professors of theoretical physics.
One was a soldier in another country long ago.
Sheep are blocking the road.
A train goes by
and a little girl holds a cut-out heart to the window
and he holds the reins of his horse,
happy he doesn't have to shoot anyone at the moment
and no one is shooting back
and to gallop over the hill to the sea.
What would his life have been
if he hadn't gone back for the book?
It is the scary face of chance looking at him
but when he sees the girl at the table,
it's the other face.
A cheek, a handkerchief, a wave.
A baby, a conservatory, a garden.
She sits at the piano with the lid closed.
A sigh falls from the sheet of music.
The train lets out a blast of steam.
An old man walks in a garden
checking his head for equations
until a girl runs towards him with a paper heart.
A horse the color of smoke.
Better why not yes now.
Must you go so soon.
She takes off his glove.
Handprint on the window,
handprint on the sky.

Dean Young
from Elegy on Toy Piano

More Dean Young poetry @ Against Oblivion:

"Scarecrow on Fire"
"Off the Hook Ode"
"Selected Recent and New Errors"
"The Infirmament"


Rejection Party

via The Age

Here are two poems by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz, a poet who is new to me.

The first poem was recently featured in American Life in Poetry, and emailed to me by a friend who dreads the English Department holiday party awkwardness as much as I do.

The second is another from her collection Everything is Everything, and it is the best AWP poem I've seen, though I think it's probably the only AWP poem I've seen. (Although, this wrap-up of the 2010 AWP in Denver is so good it may as well be a poem.) Anyway, I found the poem to be pretty funny and I think you will, too, especially if you've ever worked an AWP Bookfair table.

Both are worth reading and sharing.

At the Office Holiday Party

I can now confirm that I am not just fatter
than everyone I work with, but I’m also fatter
than all their spouses. Even the heavily bearded
bear in accounting has a little otter-like boyfriend.

When my co-workers brightly introduce me
as “the funny one in the office,” their spouses
give them a look which translates to, Well, duh,
then they both wait for me to say something funny.

A gaggle of models comes shrieking into the bar
to further punctuate why I sometimes hate living
in this city. They glitter, a shiny gang of scissors.
I don’t know how to look like I’m not struggling.

Sometimes on the subway back to Queens,
I can tell who’s staying on past the Lexington stop
because I have bought their shoes before at Payless.
They are shoes that fool absolutely no one.

Everyone wore their special holiday party outfits.
It wasn’t until I arrived at the bar that I realized
my special holiday party outfit was exactly the same
as the outfits worn by the restaurant’s busboys.

While I’m standing in line for the bathroom,
another patron asks if I’m there to clean it.

via The Rumpus
At the Convention

Robbie keeps telling me
that when he goes up

to the booths of literary journals
that have rejected him,

he wants to happily tell them
Hey, you rejected me!

as if it might give him
cred, as if it says,

I’m your loser.

Don’t do that, I say
but later, I feel his itch,

the firing range of booths,
disposable monuments

of failure. My tongue’s
shiny trigger, the shiver

it sends through my ego’s
hard-earned buckshots.

The bored interns working
the booths, notice me staring.

They nervously meet my gaze
and then break it.

They couldn’t possibly know,
but I do:

my pilot light flickers,
but never goes out.

Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz
Everything is Everything


It was September, the beginning of the semester, when I started submitting Praise Nothing to contests and publishers' open-calls. And now that it's December, and I've finished grading final essays and poetry portfolios, and now that I've got some solid time to just concentrate on my poems, I'm starting to get antsy.

Like my peers/friends, I've learned from submitting poem batches to journals over the years how to wait, but this waiting game is different because there's so much riding on those three little emailed words, "We are delighted...," or on the "Unknown Caller" ID on the cellphone screen.

Or, at least, that's what I imagine and hope for.

Even still, I'm prepared for rejection, I think. Not that I expect rejection, just that rejection is a regular experience in this writing life, as you know.

I'm one of those people that never gets down at the sight of the thin envelope and paper slip in the mailbox. Maybe I'm a masochist, but when I send out batches of poems, I really do look forward to rejection. Part of this pleasure in what might seem to be a kind of psychological self-mutilation is that getting the mail is an everyday joy in my life, and, when there's something for me, my day is made! There's also a joy in being able to send out again the poems I believe in. Put 'em right back in the mail.

So, I'm anxious to find out how I'm going to react when I get my first manuscript rejection of this round. I'll keep you posted.

Speaking of rejection, Brian Simoneau tells a good story today on his blog about a recent day filled with rejection. Here's an excerpt, but be sure you click over because the ending of this entry is laugh-out-loud good.

Via Heartland Perhaps:
One thing I will say: last week, in one twenty-four hour stretch, I received five rejections. Now, like most writers out there, I've grown used to the rejection that comes along with sending out manuscripts. I recognize that it's part of publishing, that the process is more-or-less subjective, that it doesn't and shouldn't reflect my relative worth as a human being. I even make my lame little jokes—mostly self-deprecating—as I (over)analyze the scribbled-in-ink message (or lack thereof) on each lame little slip of paper. But five rejections in one day? That's rough.

For the Love

Via My Blahg

I said this to a friend the other night: "I love poetry, but I hate reading poems." He said he could relate. We discussed how so much poetry disappoints.

The rhetoric of the statement exaggerates its expressed sentiment, obviously, but as the year comes to a close, I'm struggling to make my list of Best of 2010. What were yours?


Depressed by a Book of Bad Poetry, I Walk Toward an Unused Pasture and Invite the Insects to Join Me

Relieved, I let the book fall behind a stone.
I climb a slight rise of grass.
I do not want to disturb the ants
Who are walking single file up the fence post,
Carrying small white petals,
Casting shadows so frail that I can see through them.
I close my eyes for a moment and listen.
The old grasshoppers
Are tired, they leap heavily now,
Their thighs are burdened.
I want to hear them, they have clear sounds to make.
Then lovely, far off, a dark cricket begins
In the maple trees.

James Wright
from Selected Poems

More James Wright @ Against Oblivion:

"Saint Judas," "Northern Pike," "A Blessing"
"Prayer to the Good Poet," "Hook"
"Having Lost My Sons, I Confront The Wreckage Of The Moon:
Christmas, 1960"

"To the Muse"


Some "Best of 2010" Lists:

Via Ron Slate's blog: "Nineteen Poets Recommend New and Recent Titles"
No Tell: "Best Poetry Books of 2010" -- lists by, among others: Joshua Marie Wilkinson, Gary L. McDowell, and Grace Cavalieri
The Prague Post: "Top 10 Poetry Collections of 2010"
Chamber Four"The Best Books of 2010: Poetry"
The New Yorker: "Eleven Best Poetry Books of 2010"
Publisher's Weekly: "Best Books of 2010" -- scroll down for poetry


Attention Spokane Peeps (via The Inlander)
Maybe “poetry reading” isn’t topping your list of Wednesday night to-dos. But then, maybe you’ve never heard Robert Wrigley read a poem.

Wrigley — a University of Idaho poetry professor whose resume includes eight books, six Pushcarts, and Best American Poetry — writes from Moscow Mountain, where he lives with his wife, writer Kim Barnes. And if we did as the ancient Greeks did and gave power to the best orators, he would probably own that mountain, and many others, though he would probably never leave the West.

On Wednesday, December 7, Wrigley reads from his latest collection, Beautiful Country, at 7pm, at Auntie’s Bookstore.

The Inlander also has a brief interview with Wrigley. Here's a link and an excerpt:
Some Inlander readers may be new to poetry. Anything they should know before your reading?

I’ve always believed my poems were written to be read aloud. Poets maintain a kind of relationship to the rhythms and sounds of language that other writers do not usually want or need to. It’s part of the job description. A poet’s primary task is to keep language capable of truth in the midst of mendacity — these days, that seems particularly important.

Do you see what I see?

I'm teaching fiction writing in the spring. These are two books I considered adopting as course texts. Notice a theme here?

Questions: Is this really the first impression we want to give new writers when introducing craft? To suggest that one must be mad or ill to write, that writing is a cure?

A lot's been written about the link between madness and creativity, and about poets of the loco persuasion. But do we, as teachers, really want to perpetuate this connection?

I've found that a good number of my students believe you can't be a writer without the Crazy.

Robert Giroux on Robert Lowell quoted in Kay Redfield Jamison's Touched with Fire:
Of all our conversations, I remember most vividly [Lowell's] words about the new drug, lithium carbonate, which had such good results [after almost twenty manic attacks and subsequent hospitalizations] and gave him reason to believe he was cured: "It's terrible, Bob, to think that all I've suffered, and all the suffering I've caused, might have arisen from the lack of a little salt in my brain."


Recently, I've had to remind my poetry students that writing a poem may begin as a kind of turning of a release valve, but the poem is as much a product of inspiration as it is a product of awareness and work. Very rarely does a poem arrive, and to anthropomorphize the work--to talk about "what the poem wants to do" or "what the poem is telling me to do"--is to, in a kind of counter-intuitive way, emphasize product over process, and the thing over the discovery. So dangerous for beginning writers.

There are also students that work really hard on their drafts but end up disliking their poems because they had to put so much work into getting just a few good lines. My response is always the same: "Keep at it."

I posted this on my Facebook last week, and it received many "likes":
"One must always be aware, to notice -- even though the cost of noticing is to become responsible." - Thylias Moss
This quotation is from a 1994 Wall Street Journal article. More or less a bio piece wrapped around a publishing kerfuffle in which work from her collection Small Congregations was reprinted without permission in an anthology by a major publisher.

Here's another bit of advice from Moss:
"If you're going to call a demon, you have to call it by the right name."
Hard to argue with that.

New Books

Are you aware of Cooper Dillon Books? If not, you should check them out.

Not only are they an upstart, not-in-it-for-the-money small press with serious attitude run by some great folks, they publish some damn fine poems. Last year the published Gary McDowell's They Speak of Fruit, and I just got word this week from Clay Matthews that Cooper Dillon has recently published his latest book, Pretty, Rooster.

Here's how Clay described the new book in his email: "If you like sonnets and love and small towns, roosters, flea-markets and beaters up on blocks, then this thing is built custom for you."

No doubt.

I have yet to purchase my copy and will probably wait to do so until the AWP Bookfair, but if you aren't able to make it to Washington D.C. in February you can get your copy now directly from Cooper Dillon. $14 isn't a lot of money for some new poems by Clay and "fresh comics by Shannon Wheeler (Too Much Coffee Man) and Micah Farritor (White Picket Fences)."

For more on Clay and his previous work, you might check out my review of his collection Superfecta. Also, here's a poem from the new collection:


South-side of town and I drive in for some
pizza, beers to go. They do the dirty
eats right on this end. I don’t know what home
means, exactly. I take it at thirty
to mean people, place, real things, some good food.
Good and home, being relative. Also
relative, being relative. The dude
in the booth with bad teeth wants me to know
he’s been moving, washers and dryers, big
stuff mostly. It’s good sometimes to see that
people are getting on with their lives, dig,
that they’re out there living, wading through what
must sometimes feel like home to them, or must
always, cheese and crust, windows, floors, and dust.

Clay Matthews
from Pretty, Rooster


Click to enlarge! Believe me. It's worth it.
In other book news, Nick Demske, The Poet Laureate of Your Face, has just had his first full-length collection, fittingly titled Nick Demske, published by Fence Books.

I had the joy of getting to know Nick this fall when we both read at University of Alabama ("Roll Tide.") for the Slash Pine Press poetry hikes. He's a great guy, his poems delight and surprise and offend, and so there's really no reason for you not to get this book or check out his poems. Here's a description of the book from Fence's website:
Love poems to the "bad," composed in the idiom of cliché, conceptualized as self-portraits, alive in the historically awesome, presently bankrupt form of the sonnet, these debut poems obsess, as do all dead white men, over big, common social constructs like race, gender, and sexuality. Demske employs himself with yet is repulsed by categorization: Fake and Real. He desensitizes your obscenity-mometer.
Nick's made a video to promote the book's release. It's a kind of book trailer, if you will. So, here's that and a poem. Congratulations, Nick!

Good Touch

            after Walt Disney

This is the most beautiful stool sample I have ever see
N. A stool sampler could search her whole life for a specimen half this perfect.
I can’t taste this food. I can’t feel my legs.
You must feel them for me. You suppository.

The emancipated marionette snips its own strings. This confirms its inab
Ility to move independent. Can you show me on the puppet where
The poetry touched you? Would you like to sample some of our
Finest stool, today? I need an adult. I need an ad

Olescent—a sweater puppeteer shiver me tim
bers. “That poetry touched me,” my virgin ears bleed.
“I was moved by your puppetry,” my bowels fess, ashamed.
The incontinent coprophile wallows in bliss. A pedophile wets the bed. Kiss me like I’m

Still a child, a Real Boy, proclaiming this, the finest stool sample of its kind,
The finest the world has seen since the great sampling of ought nine.

Nick Demske
from Action, Yes, Winter 2010

Poetry, Politics, and Edumacation

The basics of Edumacation:
  • Being able to spell words accurately enough for search engines to provide you with the proper spelling.
  • Being able to ignore long speeches, essays and lectures while appearing engaged.
  • Being able to bullshit through speeches, essays, lectures, and other such nonsense with out adequate preparation.
  • The ability to present your self as an authority on subjects in which you have little knowledge.

"Calculating the worth of poets and other professors":
First, let me tell you about the least cost-effective professor I know. He's a poet. He's not a wannabe, but the genuine article, an extremely prolific writer and the winner of many awards. In an endowed university position he makes what most people would consider a lot of money, although nothing approaching the salary of a doctor, lawyer or football player.
But he teaches relatively few students. A typical load might be two courses per semester with small classes, perhaps as few as 10 students or up to 25. Sometimes he teaches a "lighter" load, and occasionally he takes a sabbatical.
If he lived in Texas, he's just the sort of professor who might find himself in the crosshairs of a plan that aims to hold college and university professors to better account -- to calculate more accurately their bottom-line contribution to their institutions' financial health.

Knoxville News Sentinel Letters: "‘Prolific’ no measure to pay poets, professors":
via http://scottpaeth.typepad.com/
Crisp is right about one thing. Things like poetry (which he argues that the government should fund) are difficult to monetize and evaluate according to any measurement of contribution. That’s why their creators shouldn’t be publicly compensated. Many hard working individuals are struggling to provide for themselves and their families. Why should they suffer while poets produce “non-monetized” assets on the taxpayer’s dime?

Crisp forgets who pays his salary. It is the taxpayer, not an infinitely vast pot of gold. In Texas, the people have decided that their tax dollars are better spent on defense, roads, and police departments than on “prolific” award-winning writers. We must exercise caution whenever the government hands out a paycheck. Because this sort of salary isn’t a market commodity, its value is nearly indeterminable. Government funded professors should be compensated according to standards of productivity as concrete and measurable as possible. History’s greatest minds have created art, literature, political treatises, philosophical works and more, motivated by fame and love of knowledge, not a state or federal payroll.

"How we can pay the poets":
If this newspaper thing hadn't worked out, my backup plan was selling poetry door to door.


Ashland Daily Tidings: "Poetry and Politics":
Just turn on cable TV news for one minute. If you don't hear someone complaining about politics, you're either deaf or you have incredible peacemaking powers and should run for office yourself.

Other exhibits are all around. But, here and there, you can also see exhibitions of promise for the future of poetry and the future of politics.

Ashland High School students are writing poems.

Southern Oregon University students are registering voters.

And, no matter how much Washington forgets about America or how many Americans forget about Whitman, we can be happy here. We can continue to try to live sustainably, supporting the environment and the artists in it — even if it seems like the rest of the country is slipping toward madness.


"On In(form)ality: Creative Writing Pedagogy in the Youtube Generation":
It could be that there exists in my youtubed and validation-hungry generation an unprecedentedly weighted dependency, when it comes to our identification as readers and writers, on the affirmation that others have felt the way we have -- prohibitively anxious, like we're nuts, too wounded to go on, plagued by a fairly regular and colossal loss of perspective, etc -- which naturally leads to a question of how that might shape both the (im)maturity of our writing and that of our reading: our goals in both mightn't be loftier than to get reassurance either that we are not insane or that insanity is part of being a good artist. I wonder whether the solace we seek in literature has been somewhat defined and/or substantially changed from that of previous generations by the emergence of a specific culture, one wherein twelve-year-olds with social network profiles have public images that they manage and maintain, not to mention a culturally encouraged acute awareness the concept of "self" in general. I wonder whether the literature we create is influenced by that change, if there has indeed been a shift.

A Reminder

Ask Me

Some time when the river is ice ask me
mistakes I have made. Ask me whether
what I have done is my life. Others
have come in their slow way into
my thought, and some have tried to help
or to hurt: ask me what difference
their strongest love or hate has made.

I will listen to what you say.
You and I can turn and look
at the silent river and wait. We know
the current is there, hidden; and there
are comings and goings from miles away
that hold the stillness exactly before us.
What the river says, that is what I say.

William Stafford
from The Way It Is: New and Selected Poems


The William Stafford Memorial
Friends of William Stafford
William Stafford Archives

Three for Veterans Day



Shine, Republic

The quality of these trees, green height; of the sky, shining; of water, a clear flow;
      of the rock, hardness
And reticence: each is noble in its quality. The love of freedom has been the quality
      of western man.

There is a stubborn torch that flames from Marathon to Concord, its dangerous
      beauty binding three ages
Into one time; the waves of barbarism and civilization have eclipsed but have
      never quenched it.

For the Greeks the love of beauty, for Rome of ruling; for the present age
      the passionate love of discovery;
But in one noble passion we are one; and Washington, Luther, Tacitus, Eschylus,
      one kind of man.

And you, America, that passion made you. You were not born to prosperity, you
      were born to love freedom.
You did not say “en masse,” you said “independence.” But we cannot have all
      the luxuries and freedom also.

Freedom is poor and laborious; that torch is not safe but hungry, and often requires
      blood for its fuel.
You will tame it against it burn too clearly, you will hood it like a kept hawk, you
      will perch it on the wrist of Caesar.

But keep the tradition, conserve the forms, the observances, keep the spot sore. Be great,
      carve deep your heel-marks.
The states of the next age will no doubt remember you, and edge their love of freedom
      with contempt of luxury.

Robinson Jeffers
from The Selected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers

After the Wilderness

      May 3, 1863

When Clifford wasn’t back to camp by nine,
I went to look among the fields of dead
before we lost him to a common grave.
But I kept tripping over living men
and had to stop and carry them to help
or carry them until they died,
which happened more than once upon my back.
And I got angry with those men because
they kept me from my search and I was out
still stumbling through the churned-up earth at dawn,
stopping to stare into each corpse’s face,
and all the while I was writing in my head
the letter I would have to send our father,
saying Clifford was lost and I had lost him.

I found him bent above a dying squirrel
while trying to revive the little thing.
A battlefield is full of trash like that —
dead birds and squirrels, bits of uniform.
Its belly racked for air. It couldn’t live.
Cliff knew it couldn’t live without a jaw.
When in relief I called his name, he stared,
jumped back, and hissed at me like a startled cat.
I edged up slowly, murmuring “Clifford, Cliff,”
as you might talk to calm a skittery mare,
and then I helped him kill and bury all
the wounded squirrels he’d gathered from the field.
It seemed a game we might have played as boys.
We didn’t bury them all at once, with lime,
the way they do on burial detail,
but scooped a dozen, tiny, separate graves.
When we were done he fell across the graves
and sobbed as though they’d been his unborn sons.
His chest was large — it covered most of them.
I wiped his tears and stroked his matted hair,
and as I hugged him to my chest I saw
he’d wet his pants. We called it Yankee tea.

Andrew Hudgins
from What Comes Down to Us: 25 Contemporary Kentucky Poets

Sleeping in Dick Cheney's Bed

It's unnerving how comfortable this is:
NORAD watching over the bedroom, Colorado
mule deer chewing the dawn outside as I dream
I'm wading thigh-high into the North Platte River,
wearing rubber waders, casting a handmade fly
with a whip-like, graceful sling of the line
until I fall back, plunge into the cold rushing
white water, my eyes blurred hard
under the sun's interrogations--Cheney's hands
like a preacher's delivering me deeper into the truth,
with a gasp of air, a flash of light, to be plunged back down
the way he offers midges and blood worms and rusty scuds
to the cloudy river, running 1400 cubic feet per second,
until I cough up the fictional and beg for the heartland's
fluid clarity, salvation, the charity of forgiveness, anything
to unravel the dream and return me back my California bed,
my lover beside me and not this stale man's breath
clinging to the Egyptian cotton sheets, the hanging curtains,
the flaring light of Colorado Springs where Cheney slept
in this very bed, both of us held by the same coiling
box spring, goose down pillows cupping our heads
gently into sleep, the reddening glow of Mars
rising over the horizon, dead skin sloughed off
to coat my own skin at an invisible level, and still--
what does it say about me, that the Pinot Grigio
tasted so good on my tongue, and that
I struggled to be a sergeant tonight,
speaking to the officer corps in a theater
filled with 1600 listening faces--as I spoke
about rape, death, and murder--what does it say about me
that I can return to Cheney's room after midnight,
strip my clothes off to curl in the bed
where he too has slept, the sheets a sublime reprieve
for my tired frame, the night a perfection of sleep.

Brian Turner
from Phantom Noise

Friends like these

Dude: "Friends like these, huh Gary?"
Gary: "That's right, Dude."

A few shout-outs to some friends out there who're throwing rocks and rolling strikes.

First, check out this poem by my friend and University of Tennessee colleague, Charlotte Pence, "Essay on Collective Paranoia" published at Kenyon Review Online. On her blog, Charlotte describes the poem this way:
The poem talks about the American tendency toward hyper-fear—and the excessive attempts to counteract any harm be it on a political scale down to a small scale such as knowing exactly what to eat to prevent cancer, exactly how to prune one’s hedges to thwart thieves, etc. And the footnotes almost serve as a paranoid voice commenting on the poem.
Congrats to Charlotte on the publication and on her forthcoming anthology on songs and poetry.

Next, check out this new poem by Stephanie Kartalopoulos, "Widow," published in the new issue of Waccamaw. Steph's work is showing up all over the place, so make sure you watch for it.

Become their Facebook fan.
Next, if you don't already know the website Whale Sound, I urge your to check it out. The project is run by Nic Sebastian and seeks previously web-published poems submitted by the poets and/or journals in which the poems first appeared. Nic then interprets the poem through a reading which is posted with audio at Whale Sound and made available to the public through the website or through an iTunes podcast. A fantastic project.

Yesterday, I opened Whale Sound and--what a wonderful surprise!--found a poem by a colleague from the old days back in Oregon's MFA Program: Brian Simoneau. And a helluva poem it is. You can click here to listen to Nic Sebastian's reading, and you can also click here to read Brian's poem.

Click the cover to go inside the issue
And, finally, here's a poem I've been meaning to put up on the blog for some time. For several months, really. It's by Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum and appears in the Spring 2010 issue of Southern Indiana Review. I also have a poem in the issue and after I received my contributor's copy I encountered Andrew's poem and was immediately struck hard by poem's diction and sound, it's narrative and lyric energy. Solid, solid work. Andrew also runs the site Poem of the Week, so be sure you click that link. Lots of good poetry there. An excellent resource.


Drunk, we wound our way up the wind-bent
stilts that rose from the old Marathon Building,
abandoned in the days long after our father’s
fathers milled cotton and women bobbed
their hair— each step skyward reporting
in the hollow iron we ascended. From there
the world swayed with the wind and our tinny echo,
our legs hung out over the lip of the city, scissor-
kicking at the night. From there we could cradle
that city in our palms: the big rigs and V-6s
swinging by on the s-curves of I-40, a pair
of spotlights probing figure-eights in the clouds
over downtown, the projects playing their music
of rebuilt Chevy Novas and catcalls and bass.
When I return home, I pass that water tower.
During the day, it stands. Yielding. Nothing.
At night though, I’ve seen kids climb
that long cold corridor to the celestial, the red
glow of cherries passed back and forth
like a pair of taillights winding their way west
down a late mountain road— pulsing, breaking,
another sharp turn on that half-moon landing—
those above having risen with such ease
above the rooftops and steeples, the switchbacks
of the Cumberland no longer obscured
by hackberries and fog, the dim illuminations
of billboards no longer hovering overhead
like messages from the future. More than once
I’ve thought of returning to that high vantage
point, stood at its base and planned my climb—
daylight not yet flickered out like a bulb, the stars
waiting to tend their signal fires. But I always
turn away and return the way I’ve come.
I already know how darkness folds over us,
the fear that comes with hard wind unbroken
by rain. I already know that city, pressed
like an ember in the amber of its own light
and so certain of its being.

Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum
from Southern Indiana Review, Spring 2010

Andrew also conducted an interview with Robert Wrigley for the Spring 2010 issue of The Missouri Review. There's a snippet posted at the journal's website, and if you can track down a hard copy of the issue, do. The interview is worth the effort.

As an additional teaser, here's one of my favorite exchanges:

Beautiful Country continues your tradition of mining the natural world for its glory in poems like "County," "Hail Storm in the Mountains" and "Letting Go." But the book also ventures into new territory in pieces like "Exxon" and the title poem that look at the current political, social and economic status of the United States and its people. You've always been a conscientious, politically aware poet, but the poems we've seen before about Vietnam or social/economic imbalances in America typically allude to these issues rather than address them directly—I'm thinking of older poems like "CO," "Peace," "The Overcoat" and "Economics." What's changed?

I'm older, I guess. I've written a lot more. I've experimented and tried to push myself in new directions without abandoning what I've learned. There are poems I simply could not write at twenty-five or thirty-five or probably even fifty. I didn't have the right tools. I was too worried about making mistakes. Last week, in a graduate techniques class, I taught C. K. Williams, and one of the students pronounced, with a kind of awe in her voice, that Williams quite simply had to have "a lot of balls" to write about the things he wrote about, and that's absolutely true. Sometimes it seems to me the lack of nerve is the deadliest affliction a poet can suffer, whether it's dismissing narrative or fretting about the hegemony of power over language or simply finding something so central to the art as a love poem inherently sappy. That's only the case if you don't have the nerve to do it well, to give it all the skill and sweat it deserves, to find the best words and the best order, insofar as you are capable. In a way, nothing's changed except my perspective and, I hope, my abilities. But I have also come to believe that there isn't anything that can't be said, challenged, observed or corrected by a poem. (emphasis added - JJR)