Thursday, July 05, 2007

Unfinished Business

To my mind, the previous post was the last of the project. At present, I'm planning to keep this blog up—even though no further updates will occur.

If you'd like to keep track of what I'm doing, please visit my personal website:, which should have occasional news and perhaps a link to a publication every once in a while. Or, if you're simply itching for some great poetry and fiction, check out Ward 6 Review.

If you've not read every post, I'd encourage you to poke around. Perhaps, with a bit of browsing, you'll find something moving or useful to you. There are precisely 100 entries now on a variety of poetry-related topics….from submissions to seemingly random thoughts, and analysis of a few poems I've enjoyed. Feel free to comment on anything, particularly if you find my notions wrong-headed. I'll still watch the comments and add my own thoughts as time and appropriateness allows.

My hope, of course, is that you've enjoyed this little jaunt into the mind of a struggling poet and that you might find a few words of value to you. With this, I'd like to leave you with a revision of the poem "Cryptozoology". I still don't think it's done, but it's closer:


Mornings before I woke, father would be up by five,
sitting at the kitchen table, brewing blended coffee,
boiling water, and spreading mustard (or was it mayonnaise?)
on thin slices of white bread for a baloney lunch.

He would open two paper packets of instant oatmeal,
pour their dried flakes into a bowl dolloped with margarine
and baptize the concoction with boiling water.
Every workday for fifteen years, this was his breakfast.

Hollandaise sauce was as likely as holding hands with a hobbit.
Elaborate omelets bursting with ham were rare as Sasquatch sightings.
Lattes were serpentine tales from Scottish lochs.

Now, I can’t remember a single conversation
we had before he drove twenty miles to cut cardboard all day.
Maybe he told me tall-tales about a bear his grandfather
killed with a ball of twine, a duck whistle, and a bottle of moonshine.
Knowing me, we probably talked about the Diablo
I thought I'd buy when I was old enough to work.

Most days, though, he'd let me float through the ocean
of sleep, spotting narwhals and megamouth sharks
from a bathysphere of bunched up blankets.
He wouldn't wake me until he had to.

Since then, I’ve seen a skeleton of Homo floresiensis.
I've pictured tiny hands reaching forth to grasp mine.
I've learned that, sometimes, nothing is better for breakfast

than oatmeal.

Labels: , , , ,

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

What Is a Poem?

My wife, my sister-in-law, and my sister-in-law's children sleep scattered throughout my house. Dixie, the Jack Russell, barks into the distance at an unseen threat and grabs a branch from a peony bush in her muzzle, shaking it in a show of strength. Archie trots around the edge of the yard, looking to join the fray.

A firework pops in a distant yard. The neighbor's dog barks in response.

My dogs, it seems, weary. They need water. A nap. A woman walking a dog I've never seen strolls down the right-of-way that edges my yard. My dogs explode in growls and barks with as much fury as the finale of a fireworks display.

The robins chirp above the commotion of Archie's instinctual anger.

We all, I do not doubt, have a different notion of what is happening. Even my dogs, in their submissiveness, will never understand the semi-pastoral way in which I've imagined this morning. But you—who may be thousands of miles away and separated from this time by hours, days, months, or more—can.

Such is the miracle of language.

Yesterday, I took my mother to the bus station so that she could return to her home in Dallas. I waited with her for the bus to load. Behind us, an Amish (or perhaps Mennonite) family waited to board.

I've road more bussess than I'd care to admit, but I'd never seen an entire family of Amish, only young men exploring the wider world. Yesterday, I saw three generations of the same family, waiting for the bus. I'd like, of course, to know their story. If this were a poem or a story, perhaps I'd invent one after spending a few hours research ensuring that my notions where feasible. However, such speculation is beyond my purposes here.

A grandmother, I think, held an infant girl. The infant's tuft of bright blonde hair was tucked beneath a tiny black bonnet. Nestled in the crook of her grandmother's arms, she looked about with delicate blue eyes. Her dress, no larger than the slipcover for a throw pillow, was a dark, vibrant blue, unlike anything I'd ever seen. Her sisters, standing beside their luggage, looked around as if trying to take in everything, which for me must have seemed utterly banal: the neon, the video games, the people and their vast variety of skin tones, pre-manufactured t-shirts and jeans, and inflections of language. They too wore dresses that seemed to me more vivid than the most complex graphics on the latest video game. One wore a green dress, well-pressed, that might let you think you could smell pine needles rustling in a light breeze. One wore a tan dress, and despite the way we typically think of tan, I suspect that there are artists who might cut off their ear for the chance to replicate that color on canvas.

They wore, in short, familiar colors that I'd never seen.

In college, I picked up a poster from the AWP conference in Pittsburgh. I think it was an advertisement for a press, perhaps Copper Canyon or Coffee House . Poetry: The Unsayable Said.

For a long time, that seemed a fitting description of poetry to me. I hung the poster at home and in an office where I worked. I stared at it, thinking.

At this point, I could posit any number of definitions about what a poem is. But, I've spent more than a year telling you, in one way or another, how I define a poem, the process of creating one, and how to support that process. You should see, I hope, that such definitions evolve (or perhaps devolve) constantly. More, I think such definitions are deeply personal. My notion of what a poem is and what a poem should do, may not agree with your definition. Now, tell me yours. Or better, show me.

I wish you the best of luck. I hope that someday you will write poems that, like those of Robert Creeley, a young student will encounter one day and only to muse about the nature of poetry, and much, much more. I hope that your desire to write makes you a better reader. I hope that, in poetry, you can find a few moments as meaningful and fulfilling to you as a bit of affection from a pair of tiny dogs is to me.

Labels: , , , ,

Monday, July 02, 2007

Many Volumes, Many Voices

Last night (or was it the night before?) I had a dream that an envelope arrived. Inside was a slip of yellow paper in blurred, blue courier type, like a telegram from another dimension. The message, at first read, was as cryptic as hieroglyphics before the Rosetta Stone was unearthed. Smudged typos. Distorted syntax. I read it several times before realizing what it was. An acceptance to Poetry (I thought). Of course, I shouted for my wife so that I could tell her the news. And that's when I woke.

At the moment, Poetry doesn't have a single one of my poems. They do have a batch of Michelle's poems. Now, she has a better chance of letting loose an excited yell that fills each and every room of our Tudor-style home.

Despite its relatively conservative editorial slant (from the perspective of poetics), Poetry remains among my favorite literary magazines. How could it be otherwise? Although the circulation doesn't compare to The New Yorker or People, no small literary magazine can compare.


A siren wails into the distance. Birdsong breaks against the rhythm of the wind in the sweet gum. Archie and Dixie sprawl in sun, squinting in my direction.

Inside nephews and a niece savor canned ravioli on a respite from a marathon of children's movies and cartoons. My sister-in-law, following a day of back-straining yard work, lounges with her children on the sofa. Laundry tumbles in the dryer downstairs. Michelle is off at work.

My mom, between intermittent interruptions, reads a book beside me. The wind, cooled by a cold front, blows through the leaves.

A burst of cicada song trills from a neighbor's back yard, and is gone.

This is sort of a pastoral.


If you tried to count the number of books you've read in your lifetime, would you even approach the truth? I have no idea how many books I own, let alone how many I've read. I've read hundreds of journals, and intend to read thousands more. I've read hundreds of submissions and will no doubt read hundreds more. Yet, I still feel as if I don't read enough. I'll never, no doubt, read enough. There simply isn't time.


There are a handful of journals (like Conjunctions) to which I do not ever plan to submit. And there are a handful of markets to which I plan to submit annually, at least until they decide to take a poem or two. Today, those journals include: Poetry, The Kenyon Review, Prairie Schooner, Bitter Oleander, Mid-American Review, Poet Lore, and The Paris Review.

I'm sure, from my reading, that I have poems that might fit each journal. The editors may continually disagree, but when I send a submission, I feel relatively comfortable with the notion.

When I lived in San Francisco, I submitted one story to Zyzzyva. Since they only take work from West-Coast writers, I was thrilled by the opportunity. I still read the journal when I can.


Many of my favorite poets are relatively minor. A few look to be major poets of their generation. Each time I crack open a volume of verse, I have the opportunity to learn something about craft (and occasionally about life). Few experiences are better than finding an unexpectedly lovely poem in a crevice you'd not yet explored. Over the years, my expectations have shifted. I once imagined myself a soon-to-be major poet. Now, I expect myself to be an interesting minor poet—perhaps like Roussell—with a peculiar following. In truth, after my wife, a few friends, and I have slipped this mortal coil, no one may ever read a single one of my poems. I have no qualms with this notion. My poems (and my wife) might disagree.

But, personally, I'm simply thankful that in the quest to write good poetry, I've discovered the intimate intellectual and emotional intensities that can come with the reading good poetry. Hopefully, you've discovered this as well. Certainly, there will always be someone whose verse makes every syllable you write seem like a beggar in tattered clothes. Certainly, you will find poets whose relative fame perplexes you to no end. It doesn't matter.

Just take a look at a literary journal or a recent book, and maybe, just maybe you'll find one poem that makes you catch your breath and say, Aha! Now this is poetry!


When I was in graduate school, I think I had unrealistic expectations of what a poet should do. A poet, I thought, should be part psychologist, part philosopher, part mystic. Most days, I'll scoff at such ideas. Today, I'd prefer to enjoy them and envision that oeuvre.

That is how I like to imagine myself, sometimes. It is a sort of pastoral.

I hope that someday, you write poems like that—or better, that you write poems as you imagine poetry could be.

Labels: , , , , , ,