Thursday, March 19, 2020

Poetry In A Time Of Pandemic

  Crites Intellectual Monkey 22" Table Lamp

I had been on a roll since the new year began. I’ve been revising a collection of poems written in 2015, one for each month, to see if they might work as a chapbook. I just ordered a biography of Fanny Brice, one of the few Ziegfeld-related books I don’t have. Diving back into that sequence of poems is always on the list of projects. Other poems always come out in between.

As of yesterday, my employer was able to set my department up to work at home. The plan now is for two weeks, but since technology now allows us to take calls as home as well, that plan is all the more flexible. The season, which normally begins in May, has been pushed back to June. Even that is just an estimate at this point. A seasonal facility requires time to prepare the grounds, as well as hire and train the much-expanded staff. For now, my job still exists. My Beloved is still employed as well, but since his is a much more isolated situation, as long as the building’s open, he’ll be on site as usual.

I’m feeling grief, sorrow, fear. They come and go, rational and otherwise. I have my teary moments, especially alone, but thank goodness for social media, the perfect medium for social distancing in the friendliest way. Amazon might be out of powdered milk, but here at Casa Diva, there’s a Mabel Normand Film Festival on the schedule tonight, courtesy of Cladrite Radio (check them out!). I am a tireless stocker of basement shelves, so even if an actual food shortage arises, we will be good for a while.

Poetry has been the last thing on my mind in the last two weeks. Guy Reed and I had an interview scheduled for St. Patrick’s Day with Sharon Israel on WIOX in Roxbury, NY that I asked to be postponed, and all live readings are off, for the time being. I had no words to speak about what at the time seemed so minor, at times like these a vanity of sorts. A poem popped out first thing yesterday morning, though. Not a great poem, but a safe observational piece:


            Lights, lights all around
            until the sun rises up to do its duty,
            including the lamp beside the bed
            I’ve had since college,
            one on the dresser, crystal base,
            kept after a lover went South,
            back East, and I remained
            on the left side of the river.
            A wall sconce illuminates the stairs,
            and the freight train a few blocks off
            is the only traffic moving.

            The birds begin their Spring song of sex and hope,
            eggs for the season glad for the extra space
            tho their brains cannot compute why.
            The air is quieter, dearer,
            busses garaged, cars silent.
            Did the leap day give us twenty-four more hours
            to pretend, until the bulb in our heads went off?

            The light on my desk is on now.
            The computer revs its modest engine,
            eager for the day ahead of
            uncertain emails, calls from frightened customers
            whose yearly nirvana’s been postponed.
            Coffee won’t change things.
            Change isn’t in my power now,
            just awe at Creation pushing me towards
            another life, another reluctant sun. 

Friday, February 14, 2020

**2020 So Far...**

 Image result for photo of grill

     I thought about writing up a massive overview of 2019, poetically speaking, but on examination, I think I have covered all the highlights already in blog posts, so I'll spare you the self-aggrandizing horn blowing. Suffice it to say that 2019 was one of my most satisfying years as a poet, and 2020 looks to be on a par.

     We started with a package on the doorstep on January 1, and Love's Compass has continued to not only sell well, but has enjoyed an awful lot of attention around the interwebs and beyond. It's a book I'm very proud of, and I'm happy that others are enjoying it too. One of my goals in writing at all is to speak to others about our commonalities. The details may vary, altho usually not as much as one might imagine, but the basic emotions, motivations, and outcomes are very consistent. One of the ways I stay on a relatively even keel (aside from my therapist) is poetry, and I'm glad that it often has the power to connect with others instead of just being a place for my brain to let off pressure.

     There is the art of it as well. Those readers who have known me since the Hills School know that I was a visual artist as well as a writer from my earliest days. I have a theory that I actually drew the most before I learned language, and that makes sense. I am not much motivated beyond needlework and the occasional self-published chapbook to do much visual stuff, but poetry and writing in general has proven to be tremendously gratifying. Nothing is ever perfect, nothing is ever finished, but learning to live with that reality has been a life lesson in itself.

     Today is Valentine's Day, and for years I wrote poems for my Beloved in honor of the occasion. Somehow that tradition has fallen by the wayside, as with so much else when the fires of new love burn down to steady coals. I have always prided myself to be able to write on demand, but I am more selective about my subjects now. Here's a poem from early on, wrong season but right sentiment. Enjoy all your loves, every day:

Romeo in July

It is hard to be Romeo after a day at the shop,
smelling of tires, black-uniformed, exhausted,
hard to keep awake in the dim trailer light,
Martha Stewart declaiming her pumpkin spoonbread
in her helpful, monotonous way.
It is difficult, Manny, Moe& Jack aside,
to work up a spark, but you did,
our long separations gasoline to light
a few short hours on a Friday, several Fridays in July.

It is hard, too, to be Juliet without poison,
long drives after cubicle days,
Great Gildersleeve riding shotgun,
Jack Benny soothing Carmichael in the rumble seat,
Juliet with no nurse to run interference,
while I slip into something easier
to take off again, Juliet who can tell by now
Barrymores from the understudies,

Juliet of the ample belly and speckled thighs,
Romeo of the hand-rolled smokes,
twelve-step clubs and weekend father’s taxi.
The Thruway our balcony,
our masked ball a couple of plates of chicken fingers,
popcorn and a video, our hopeless romance
aroma of a discount candle,
wooden fish dangling from curtain rods,
smoky blue eyes hovering in bedside lamplight,
rimmed with sleep, slipping to the edge of the stage,
no encores, the merciful knife of night
ending our drawn-out scene.

CAR  11/15/06

Saturday, January 11, 2020

"Love's Compass"- NEW from Kung Fu Treachery Press!

The New Year of 2020 has started off with a bang for me! On New Year's Eve, a bundle of author's copies of my latest book, Love's Compass, arrived on my doorstep! It's from Kung Fu Treachery Press, an imprint of Spartan Press. It's an act of love in itself, and many thanks are due to Jason Ryberg and his team for all their hard work.

Small presses are indeed multiple acts of love, and I definitely had the easier part in this. All I did was write the poems, and that happens whether or not they find homes beyond my file cabinet. Jason and his gang did an excellent job of editing, layout and design, and I couldn't be more pleased with the result.

I feel like the potential sappiness of the title is mitigated by the stark cover, which is based on a photo I provided, one of those old flip phone creations with the a Stone Age filter applied. The poems do deal with love, both romantic and pedantic. It's a mixed bag, but I think I'm safe in saying most of my work deals with love of one kind or another. The romance enclosed here isn't linear, nor is it entirely satisfactory. Just like in life.

I have a very few copies left onhand (they are selling amazingly fast!), but for once, I can refer interested parties to both Amazon (, at present without cover art, and Barnes & Noble (, divine justice there in that I was employed by the chain several lifetimes ago.

Feel free to review on either site, although a major goal of mine this year (I hesitate to use the work "resolution") is to backtrack and review online all the books of my friends and acquaintances that I've read and enjoyed but neglected to promote adequately. So, if your one of those folks, no pressure at least until I've made good on that.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Something Old, Something New: Artists’ Open House!

In real life, I am frugal beyond belief. I wash out plastic baggies, count the sheets when I unroll TP for use, and save the rubber bands from broccoli in a kitchen drawer for heaven knows what. So, when I saw an offer to rent studio space during an Artists’ Open House here in Kingston, NY for only $50 for the weekend, I knew immediately that I could figure out something to do with it. And there I was, peddling my own wares and pushing the boundaries of the poetic life once again.

As it turned out, I had an enormous space all to myself. My velvet-draped card table appeared to be adrift in a sea of rough factory flooring and whitewashed ductwork. An office desk nearby was co-opted for an activity center. I offered pads and pens, as well as a small basket of writing prompts glued on the back of paper “buttons,” since we were, after all , in the old Shirt Factory. I had planned to hang my Vistaprint banner on the wall from a clothesline I purchased from the Dollar Store, but weight and logistics forced me to clip it to the front of my velvet table covering. I laid out my stock of chapbooks for sale, booklets promoting my RANDOM WRITING workshops, and opened the door.

I was at the end of a quiet corridor on the main floor, so I played nondescript jazz on my cell phone to attract some attention. Despite being the only kid on the block, a few brave souls did poke their heads in. I calmed their fears, considering I was probably the only poet in captivity they’d encountered. Some took a booklet or a business card. One cartoonist left a writing sample, inspired by a prompt. One little girl took a few buttons. I also made a few new friends who were actually in the Word Game, too.

At last I had a chance to chat with Bruce McPherson of the fine local publishing endeavor McPherson & Company. I know he was one of the many I tossed a resume’ at years ago, unclear about what I could offer but hoping my degree, my writing experience would secure a place for me in his employ. He had thankfully forgotten the incident, and I was happy to make his acquaintance this weekend, on more solid ground.

I also learned about an April celebration of women artists at the Lace Mill, another repurposed factory building in Kingston. Coincidentally, my new friend said they were looking for more performers and writers. Although I long ago gave up any ambitions towards becoming a so-called “performance poet,” I still try to give listeners their money’s worth when they come to a reading. I will look into this opportunity shortly.

I also had many artist and poet friends stop by. At one point, the vast space was full, perhaps not of bodies, but spirit, support, and a mutual affection for this wonderful thing we shared, the Artist’s Life. That Life doesn’t always (or even frequently) include monetary security, or paparazzi stalking one from Starbucks to Starbucks, but it does mean a family of sorts. We share the same insatiable craving to be heard, even if only by each other. I hear, and I share. It is good.

For the eight hours I was there, I sold enough books to cover my fee, and had a chance to present myself as a serious artist in an environment of peers. Granted, being alone, I did not have a chance to venture to the fourth floor to see what the visual artists were into, but a few of them did come down. It gave me a chance to organize myself and my work in such a way that I might have a better sense of where I might want to go from here. And, for just a few hours, I could pretend that poetry was, in fact, my main occupation, both in and outside of my head. No small feat.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Sharon Olds and Me

“You were very enthusiastic about writing poetry,” she says, as I hand her my copy of her latest book to sign. “You are a good poet!” “So are you!” I reply, pretty boldly I admit, but on this Pulitzer and I agree. I’ve been listening to Sharon Olds for over twenty years now, and each time, her work has grown, spurred on by her commitment to recording her truth.

I had the great good fortune of participating in not one, but two workshops with Olds in the early 2000s at the Omega Institute. My schedule was limited, so I was only free to do the weekend editions, but my employment at the time did make paying the impressive tuition easy. Money well spent. There was no work there, just a group of us who’d passed the application process, who’d demonstrated a commitment to poetry. She wrote along with us too, shared her rough drafts, offered comments on ours. She established a protocol of respect in those workshops which I’ve tried to emulate in my own attempts to lead my own workshops.

She is a delight in person, playful and wise all at once. For many years she hid her truth behind a firm assertion that the Speaker in her poem could not necessarily be assumed to be the Poet herself. She still does so today, but with a wink, acknowledging what we have known all along. Age and circumstance have always informed her work, as well as a thorough habit of observation I envy. She likens worms dug from the ground, in shape and color, to penises. She is not shy either of sharing intimate moments, odes to her breasts and clitoris. She writes about these things not for the shock value, but because they are precious parts of her body’s family. She gives them their due.

After the workshops, I had the pleasure of hearing Olds read at the old Dodge Poetry Festival, usually under the big colored lights of the Main Tent, her words transcribed by a frantic typist to the big running sign for those seated in the back. Crossing paths with her on the grounds, she was always gracious, always gave the impression that she recalled our time in the workshop. It’s happened so often I may begin to believe it soon. In recent years, she has slowed down somewhat. For a time, she divided herself between Manhattan and New Hampshire, in what must have been a schizophrenic lifestyle. It seems she is securely settled back down in the City full-time for now. A trip to Albany was probably one she knew well, from her days as our state Poet Laureate. I’m glad she made the journey again last night.

Olds' newest collection, Arias, was published a week ago, and of course I got it. I have never been disappointed by her books, and Arias is perhaps the richest example of her art. There’s a depth, a self-reflection in it, as it dashes forward and back, that is deeply satisfying to me. Old friends are mentioned, other poets, the many poets she’d been close to who’ve passed, and she looks towards her own ending, too. I’m only halfway through, but I’m glad I have the day off to plow through the rest. Plowing is a good thing, especially in material this nutritious. 

There is something about seeing her older, a cane, hearing less sharp than before, that isn’t sad so much as a firm sign of how long I’ve been observing her. She is aging, I am aging, and the world around us seems to be on fire, again. It has survived before, even as empires thought to be immortal did not. Olds signed my book, and I told her how beautiful she was. Her long hair is almost white now, clipped haphazardly away from her face, and her face is smooth and free of paint. I asked her, hesitantly, if I could hug her, and she agreed. I thanked her for coming, pressing close for a moment. What I really meant was, thank you for being.