Saturday, May 20, 2017

**Poem: "Your Service"

Your Service

Tatters of dinette chairs flap in the Gulf breeze.
Like an island’s backside,
suburban bungalow, pink with sun,
private side of conches and radishes.
Owner and occupant, survivor,
outlives wife, sister, lives
to tell the story again and again
of barbaric Japs on a Pacific
island, two week mission
drawn out over months,
long beyond strategy,
mired in rote maneuver, headless
torsos, rotting wounded,
military brass losing interest.
The old man, then nineteen,
lost there whatever youth he had
coming to him.
He borrowed a watch from
one of the corpses
as a souvenir, inherits it back
when his mother dies, naturally,
of Camels and a broken heart.

Almost too late, an interviewer
asks all about it. The old man,
fingers on the kitchen faucet,
tells about the battle, details
he laughed around for decades.
At work, he managed a theater,
another water spectacular
where the stage revolved,
spun on the ocean like a
top of dreams.
Guy Lombardo, loyal Canadian,
led the band afterwards
under the tent, under the stars,
and the Schaefer flowed.

The old man writes a book
about going back to Brooklyn,
visiting his dead buddy’s family,
describing to them the quiet death
he didn’t have,
sparing them details
no civilian could bear.
The book stirs a little interest,
Hollywood consults, documentary
cameos, but it doesn’t last.
There are too many stories in this world
for our innocent audience to
linger long over one. The old man
sinks into the archives, where his war
is one of thousands.
He still keeps a neat house,
pool cemented over, dolphins
parading the canal two shows a day.
The sun pounds the sofa.
Pink carpet fades where
windows have their way.

We watch a DVD where he
and others tell their stories,
for once backed up by
newly found footage,
military cameras sent to
record victory, instead see
butchered bodies, men dancing
hysterics, lost in deranged performance.
The old man remarks,
“What do the kids say now?
‘Thanks for your service’?”
I nod, no better response
than that well-meaning,
knee jerk platitude suggested
by a lollipop media that still can’t
grasp the depth of the experience.

If service is productive, meaningful,
something built where there was less,
then his time in Pacific was a service.
Did he intend to serve his country?
Only propaganda films,
patriotic melodramas aim that high.
Leaving the stickball, the pretty girls
behind in the wild youth of Brooklyn,
he enlisted, hoping for a better time
than those that waited to be drafted.
What he got was gore no film could capture.
What he got was a watch whose time
had stopped in Peleliu,
gears ground to a solid halt
decades before.

CAR 3/7/16

Monday, February 6, 2017

Process to Text: Janet Hamill, Cheryl A. Rice and Anton Yakovlev


   On March 2, 2017, I'll be reading at Dutchess Community College in Poughkeepsie, NY with two amazing poets, in a series curated by Anne Gorrick and  Melanie Klein entitled, "Process to Text."  The reading begins at 7:00 pm, and will be held in the Washington Art Gallery on campus. Here are the details on my co-features:

JANET HAMILL is the author of seven books of poetry and short fiction: Troublante, The Temple, Nostalgia of the Infinite, Lost Ceilings, Body of Water, Tales from the Eternal Café and Knock. Her poetry has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and the William Carlos Williams Prize and Tales from the Eternal Café, was named one of the “Best Books of 2014” by Publishers Weekly. Her most recent book Knock, (Spuyten Duyvil Press, Brooklyn, NY, 2016) is a surreal trip book written in the form of 72 pantoums. In addition to writing, Janet performs with the band Lost Ceilings. Together they have released two CD’s of poetry and music– Flying Nowhere and Genie of the Alphabet. She’s taught at Naropa University and New England College, where she received her MFA. At present she is a senior artist advisor at the Seligmann Center in Sugar Loaf, NY where she co-directs Megaphone Megaphone– a monthly series of workshops, readings and presentations focusing on surrealism’s literary origins, its predecessor and legacy.

 ANTON YAKOVLEV was born in Moscow, Russia and moved to the United States when he was 15. He studied filmmaking and poetry at Harvard University. He is the author of poetry chapbooks Ordinary Impalers (Aldrich Press, 2017), The Ghost of Grant Wood (Finishing Line Press, 2015), and Neptune Court (The Operating System, 2015). His poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The Hopkins Review, Prelude, Measure, Amarillo Bay, The Stockholm Review of Literature, and elsewhere. A two-time Pushcart Prize nominee, he was a finalist for the 2016 Howard Nemerov Sonnet Award and the winner of the 2016 KGB Poetry Annual Open-Mic Contest. The Last Poet of the Village, a book of translations of poetry by Sergei Esenin, is forthcoming from Sensitive Skin Books in 2017. He is a co-host of the Carmine Street Metrics reading series and of the Rutherford Red Wheelbarrow reading series, and, starting in January 2017, Education Director at the Bowery Poetry Club. He has also written and directed several short films.

     I'm thrilled to be on the bill with these two. Admission is free. DCCC is located at 53 Pendell Road in Poughkeepsie. Hope to see some of you there!

(Self-) Publish or Perish?

     I've had an epiphany of sorts, not uncommon in middle age I understand. I've had reasonable success in having my prose and poetry published in all the usual literary magazines, some small, some medium-sized. I've gotten the most satisfaction from reading my work aloud. The feedback is immediate and personal. However, the time when I thought I'd become a big-time poet, making a living as the Bard of Kingston (or as I now prefer, "Poet Laureate of Kingston by Default," shortened by my friend Ed to "PL of K) has long since passed.
     It's never been easier to submit work for consideration. The Internet has seen to that. Outside of that annoying labyrinth called "Submittables" (actually not as bad as it sounds at first), many publications accept work via email, either as attachments or in the body of the email itself. Gone are the days of typing out fresh copies of your work, or carefully smoothing the wrinkles out of previously submitted work, enclosing a SASE ("Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope" for you youngsters), and dropping your work in the mailbox on the corner. You would then wait weeks, sometimes months for a reply.
     Now I often receive a yay or nay in a matter of days, even hours. In my preference to send newer work out, I feel like I've almost run out of work to send around. But, I have a backlog of almost forty years of poems, many of which have barely seen daylight, let alone publication. So I will continue to delight in the literary dartboard of sending work away, but without the life or death attachment to the results.
     It recently occurred to me that perhaps my art would be better served by self-publishing. I've done a bit of that over the years, small chapbooks stapled at home, covers painted by hand, even tiny books that were difficult to read. But I've always found tremendous satisfaction in the process. If I make back the cost of materials, fine. If I don't, I still haven't done anything I actually couldn't afford to give away, honestly. I like the control, and the freedom. Those of you who might have seen my chapbooks know I should make better use of editorial services. There's always one major glitch, or several, that has altered the meaning of words, sentences and often whole poems! Part of the "handcrafted" quality of self-publishing.
     I am in the mood to experiment some. There are all kinds of beautiful books that show the basics of bookmaking, and offer more challenging options that the standard stapled spine. I might do a limited (very limited) edition of a poem or two. And there are many choices for professional printing, some on demand so one isn't burdened with too many copies of a book of poems that, to be honest, outside of my immediate circle of friends and acquaintances, has limited demand.
     Or I might just starting giving things away. Or charge a dollar a book. There is a theory that even a minimal charge will add value to something. Free chapbooks may mean easily tossed chapbooks, easily lost or discarded. In any case, it might be a better way to expand the conversation I am trying to have with the Universe. And it may be an easier way for the Universe to get in touch with me. That or Twitter. Anybody is allowed on there.

Friday, January 20, 2017


Next Eight Years

I’ll be fifty-five next month.
In eight more years, I’ll be
of legal age to retire, if I hit the Lotto.
I will not allow the antics of Forty-Five
to ruin these next eight years
of work, of art, of major organs
poised for minor failure

Nor will I refer to him
by any of the clever names
the media has concocted:
“Orange Monster.”
He will not be named at all in my house,
no flag, no celebration at his ascent,
a name that would be as fire on the tongue,
unworthy of praise, or energy
to demonize at every turn.

In the Bible book, God asks Adam to
name the animals. Even with all His work,
they aren’t complete until Adam labels them.
Even the Earth is unfinished until God
make a light to show off all the working parts.

In my house, 45’ll never be complete.
In my lucky house, two sound white people,
intelligent, working for now, we have the luxury
of leaving Forty-Five in the dark,
his name missing from our personal headlines,
private conversations over regular dinners,
in well heated bedroom, too.

I’m past the thrill of reliving the Blitz,
charm of memorizing poems the government
doesn’t want anyone to hear.
I think of the peace that passes for understanding,
a balance of sun and sublimation
that has dominated my days.
I am equal now to the challenge of survival,
spirit beyond artificial borders,
contentment beyond the whim of the ballot box.

Presidents come and go, all colors.
It is the woman down the block
I’m concerned with today:
Can she read? Where does she sleep?
Will her body be as safe as mine for the next eight years?
How can I help?

CAR  1/16/17