Friday, August 29, 2008

For the Working (Wo)man

It's finally here. That long weekend that comes too seldom, the chance to unwind and sleep in a little later, the glory of not setting the alarm clock for Monday's sunrise, and that final gasp of summer's last breath. Ah - Labor Day, a celebration of all us working stiffs.

The lucky girl that I am - I'm taking this as an opportunity to finally go on vacation, my first real vacation this year. Can you believe it? The year is more than half over, and I'm just now taking a little holiday for myself. Heading north of the border to our Québécois friends. Just a little treat for my husband and I after all the hard work we've done.

So, while you're enjoying a BBQ or two, while you're sunning yourself on the beach or just taking it easy - remember why we (most of us) have this day off, remember that it's to celebrate the working man, and that this year especially has knocked around the working man more than his fair share, and for that and more, the hard working folks of this nation are the heroes of the day.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Jesus Moth

Is it belief or desperation?
Do you search for the Messiah
in each moldy crumb you're given,
in every hour you're starving,
on the wings of a small prophet,
on cloudy horizons drifting,
on the brink of your salvation,
in a Truth only man defines?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Like a Surgeon...

No, not as in scalpels and incisions. We can save that for another day.

I'm talking about the Poetry Society (UK) who meets to perform poetry surgery during scheduled, and fully pre-planned meetings. The idea of the surgery is to go over a person's poetry and focus on what's good and what could be better. I suppose there are groups in the U.S. that do that, too; I'm just not sure it's so formal. Do you know of any of these groups?

In a way, it reminds me of writing classes in school. I wish I had that kind of feedback now. There are many good writers, but the elusive question remains: what makes just a few "great"? It's on the tip of my tongue, but I seem to bite down on it all the time. I could write and write and write (like I used to back in those pre-career, pre-marriage, pre-adulthood responsibilities kind of days), and my own instincts can tell me whether something is passable, or whether it should never see the light of day again. Which is why I take the chance to post my own poetry here now and then. I like to share, but like most people - I need feedback. I need to know how I'm doing. If I'm ok and you are moved in a small way by my words, I would like to know. If I've been doing it wrong all along, I need to know that, too. I get discouraged now and then, and feel like I should just give up on this whole silly thing that no one really cares about anyway, but then I remember - I care! It means something to me. So I keep on trying, cutting into that skin.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Postal Poetry!

I have to thank Dana Guthrie Martin and her blog, My Gorgeous Somewhere, for bringing this to my attention: Postal Poetry. It's a brand-spanking new site (well, ok - it's been around for about 2 weeks, I think) that marries the art of a postcard with the art of poetry. The even cooler part is this: if you are challenged like I am in the area of visual arts, they will hook you up with an artist that will create the visual while you create the words (or vice versa) through their very own Poet-Artist Matchup Center.

Right now, it looks like their porfolio is a little thin, but I'm confident it will grow because I think this is a great idea! I'm sad to see, though, that I missed the 2008 August Postcard Poetry Fest.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Punk Rock Grrl

Alot of songwriters happen to write lyrics like good poetry; then there are those who are true poets who happen to turn their work into incredible songs. Patti Smith falls into the second category.

Patti Smith moves through our collective imagination as an enigma, the epitome of "cool" and that is part of her appeal. Visionary "Godmother of Punk" of the 1970s, to the American Top-40 listening world, she's probably best known for "Because the Night" co-written with Bruce Springsteen in 1978, and brought into new light after 10,000 Maniacs remade the song in 1993. She's not now, nor has ever really been, mainstay on radio, and seemingly disappeared altogether through most of the 80s and 90s from the public eye. She's back this year with a vengeance, still private yet artistic as ever, and for that, I recommend checking out her work, past and present. I won't make this a review of her work because it's something that just needs to be experienced. You'll understand.

Her ninth book of poetry Auguries of Innocence was first published in 2005 but was re-released this summer in an "expanded" edition, although including only two new poems from the original text. She also has a new album out, also released this summer, entitled "The Coral Sea" with Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine. And her talent is not limited to poetry or song. A book of her photography will be released this November, entitled Patti Smith, Land 250. Also, to get a better glimpse into the life of this transient artist, the book Patti Smith: Dream of Life will be released on Tuesday, August 26, based on the acclaimed film of the same name.

And for your listening pleasure, some of her songs:

Thursday, August 21, 2008


"Some people just weren't as interesting as others,"
he said, apologizing for sounding like a jerk
he said, in a connotation of coolness
that fed into the otherwise heady stream
of thought, so intellingent, as if
this thought could be expressed with
it caught between the gripping teeth.

"And some just were not interesting at all,"
I said, to myself, I wish - a reply to give;
instead, I don't answer or acknowledge;
instead, I remain as boring as ever.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


This molted feather floats
from the limbs to the base,
and, as quickly, dissipates

Perhaps to be collected,
pressed in a dust jacket or
left to collect itself.

What little sheen has worn
away, before the cynical eyes
have seen to feel the color

That could have painted the skies.
Instead, the spectrum falls flat,
floats in any direction

Toward light. Turning, turned away.
The feather is not the bird.
The feather is not the bird.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Summer Swan Song

Sunday was probably one of the last days I will get to go down the shore for the season. It makes me sad. It feels like summer really never got started and now it's almost over; it goes like that every year - and I know in time, I will be in love again with autumn, and summer will be a warm memory. In the meantime, I thought I would share a few (of a very long list) of songs that forever remind me of summer in one way or another, songs that may not be lyrically challenging or poetic, but still place me in the season when the need arises:

The Breeders: Saints
Fantastic Plastic Machine: The Whistle Song
Afro Celt Sound System: North
Dave Matthews Band: #41
Bob Marley: Jamming
UB40: Kingston Town
Sugar Ray: Someday
The Sundays: Folk Song
Tommy James and the Shondells: Crystal Blue Persuasion
Seals and Croft: Summer Breeze

What would you add to this summer soundtrack?

Friday, August 15, 2008

A-traveling we will go

Since as far back as I can remember, I have loved all-things travel related. I used to study maps and, in my little Encyclopedia set, would read about different cultures, flags, languages, topography. Today, the question of travel is never far from my mind. Usually, the conversation is related to work - I travel quite a bit for my job and seem to always be hopping around from place to place all in the name of education. Then, there is unquenchable thirst to live vicariously through friends and family who have traveled to exotic places - or just places I've never been, sometimes never heard of, but suddenly sound fascinating because it's not here. My in-laws are crazy like that. Trips to Egypt, Russia, China, Cape Horn and many more...their next trip is to South Africa including a safari. Not that I'm a slouch when it comes to international travel...just, well...not that extensive. Yet. We're currently in the process of planning a trip now, albeit to Canada.

This probably explains my almost-obsessive relationship with the Travel Channel. By the way, Anthony Bourdain, when you're back in Jersey, give me a "ring." But seriously, it was interesting to see on the Travel Channel's blog site "World Hum" on Wednesday this week, outlining the "Six Ways U.S. Poet Laureate Kay Ryan Could Spend Her $5,000 Travel Allowance." Of course, they're all locations in the US, but I had to smile that the very first location was Amherst and visiting the birthplace/home of Emily Dickinson, to whom Ryan has often been compared. Been there, done that. Great place.

So, on this Friday, as the soft days of summer wind down into more mellow calmness, and official vacation season - mostly a bust this year with most taking "Staycations" - comes to a close, I again refer to The Bishop. Enjoy.

Questions Of Travel (Elizabeth Bishop)

There are too many waterfalls here; the crowded streams
hurry too rapidly down to the sea,
and the pressure of so many clouds on the mountaintops
makes them spill over the sides in soft slow-motion,
turning to waterfalls under our very eyes.
For if those streaks, those mile-long, shiny, tearstains,
aren't waterfalls yet,
in a quick age or so, as ages go here,
they probably will be.
But if the streams and clouds keep travelling, travelling,
the mountains look like the hulls of capsized ships,
slime-hung and barnacled.
Think of the long trip home.
Should we have stayed at home and thought of here?
Where should we be today?
Is it right to be watching strangers in a play
in this strangest of theatres?
What childishness is it that while there's a breath of life
in our bodies, we are determined to rush
to see the sun the other way around?
The tiniest green hummingbird in the world?
To stare at some inexplicable old stonework,
inexplicable and impenetrable,
at any view,
instantly seen and always, always delightful?
Oh, must we dream our dreams
and have them, too?
And have we room
for one more folded sunset, still quite warm?
But surely it would have been a pity
not to have seen the trees along this road,
really exaggerated in their beauty,
not to have seen them gesturing
like noble pantomimists, robed in pink.
--Not to have had to stop for gas and heard
the sad, two-noted, wooden tune
of disparate wooden clogs
carelessly clacking over
a grease-stained filling-station floor.
(In another country the clogs would all be tested.
Each pair there would have identical pitch.)
--A pity not to have heard
the other, less primitive music of the fat brown bird
who sings above the broken gasoline pump
in a bamboo church of Jesuit baroque:
three towers, five silver crosses.
--Yes, a pity not to have pondered,
blurr'dly and inconclusively,
on what connection can exist for centuries
between the crudest wooden footwear
and, careful and finicky,
the whittled fantasies of wooden footwear
and, careful and finicky,
the whittled fantasies of wooden cages.
--Never to have studied history in
the weak calligraphy of songbirds' cages.
--And never to have had to listen to rain
so much like politicians' speeches:
two hours of unrelenting oratory
and then a sudden golden silence
in which the traveller takes a notebook, writes:
"Is it lack of imagination that makes us come
to imagined places, not just stay at home?
Or could Pascal have been not entirely right
about just sitting quietly in one's room?
Continent, city, country, society:
the choice is never wide and never free.
And here, or there . . . No. Should we have stayed at home,
wherever that may be?"

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Enough about me...

For today, let's do something different. Instead of me telling you unnecessary things about myself, and giving you updates on the world of poetry and what not - let's have today be about you. What's on your mind? What do you want to hear about? What interests you? Is there something you read about that you thought was cool that you want to share? You get the idea.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Presidential Candidates Well Versed?

Politics and poetry have long been connected to one another. There are vast collections of poetry and songs about political, social, and racial struggle and persecution, the venomous voice against right-wingers/establishment/government and the stinging retort of those tossed into the fire by words that signify more than ink on paper. Political poetry has brought about keen awareness, violent outrage, shock, and - when done well - change.

I used to say that I'm not a political person. I suppose what I should say is that there is a time and place for politics. Hanging onto whatever thread is left of Emily Post in today's society, I've stuck by the adage to avoid talking about politics and religion with specific company. Some say it's the cowards way out. I just think it's a good way to avoid a fight. And I've been in those fights. And it's not always pretty. Some frown at my politics but truthfully what it comes down to is that we all believe in the basic core values. Mostly. Don't we?

This year is especially heated in the United States with a monumental and historical primary season now behind us and the promise of change in front of us, whichever candidate you choose. It's exciting. And I encourage all of you who are eligble to get out there and do your thing come November. But more about that in the coming weeks.

What does any of this have to do with poetry? Glad you asked. In today's Washington Times, there is an article, "Poet advised Young Obama." What does this mean? Did this said poet, who was a black writer, a communist and avid fighter for equal rights for African Americans during a dangerous time in our nations history have a true impact on the vision of Barak? Does he carry some of the same radical ideas that his mentor did? Maybe. Maybe he was just one of many important people that came along Barak's path but does not hold the monopoly on his insight. That being said, does Barak enjoy poetry? I couldn't say.

As for John McCain? Apparently, he comes from the age when schoolkids used to memorize and recite poetry (I used to have to do that, and I'm more than half his age, but whatever.) Based on this Op-Ed from William Krystal back in January, seemingly another attempt to spotlight John's age difference in comparison with "youthful" Barak. Still, it seems as an adult, he may not be as up to speed on all things poetry. He apparently was stumped by a question a few months back when asked who the poet laurreate of Arizona was (the state does not have one) or of the United States (at the time, Charles Simic).

So, in conclusion, should we choose our next president by how familiar or well-versed he is in poetry? Of course not. I guess the point is - what were their influences, what shaped their ideas, and what are those said ideas? What vision do these students of poetry have to move our country forward? The truth is still unfolding.

Monday, August 11, 2008

From TV to the Stage

So, back in July, I responded to Kirsten Ogden's blog post about Poetry Placement. I have to admit, I never thought that the response to Frank O'Hara would have sprouted as much enthusiasm as it did, following prominent placement in Mad Men. I thought, at best, it would have maybe sparked interest, maybe mildly increased sales of his books, and perhaps once again have his name circulate in print until the next celebrity train wreck took over headlines. Per the L.A. Times, the TV show is responsible for much more than that. I'm sorry I underestimated you, America. Way to go!

Now, taking poetry from the TV to the stage...I'm not sure how I feel about the Emily Dickinson opera. Interesting concept. I suppose there will be a surge in Emily's books now, too. I was always a fan of hers, and, having gone to college in Amherst, was impressed to have walked the streets where she and her family lived and surprised that her grave was in a cemetery tucked behind a gas station. There were always trinkets and things on the top of her headstone. I suppose an opera may be a more appropriate way to pay homage to her troubled soul and verses. Too bad only those in the Silicon Valley will get to see it. Maybe Lincoln Center will be so kind as to open its doors. If you live out in the Valley and get to see it, please let me know how it is. Very curious.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Nee How

I know, I owe you some original poetry (I'm sure there are throngs of you out there just itching to read more from yours truly, right? Thanks to the two of you who do!) It's been a while, and frankly, I'm just going through a dry spell right now. I have journals and journals of poems, but in retrospect, they're not that good....and I like you. You deserve better.

So, while I'm traveling in the next few days for work, and while I try to overcome this writer's block, I celebrate the opening of the Olympic ceremonies and congratulate all the athletes. There surely is plenty to say in response to China's treatment of Tibet, the air pollution, the mix of gregarious capitalism in a Communist state. All for another time, my friends.

So, instead, here's a poem from Chinese poet Su Tung-P'o:

I Travel Day and Night

Passed the place where the Ying River enters the Huai, and for the first time saw the mountains along the Huai. Today we reached Shou-chou.
I travel day and night toward the Yangtze and the sea.

Maple leaves, reed flowers - fall has endless sights.
On the broad Huai I can't tell if the sky is near or far;
green hills keep rising and falling with the boat.
Shou-chou - already I see the white stone pagoda,
though short oars haven't brought us around Yellow Grass Hill.
Waves calm, wind mild - I look for the landing.
My friends have stood a long time in twilight mist.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

New Jersey and You

I'm fiercely proud of my little home state - it's a humble place, if you will. Small in size, crammed to capacity (supposedly, the 9th most populous state), the little brother to New York City and the cousin to Philadelphia, taking the brunt of many juvenile jokes of those just jealous that they don't live here. Scandals? Sure. Corrupt government? No doubt. Mobsters and mysterious meetings at abandoned loading docks? Possibly. More likely, you've watched too many Sopranos episodes. What about our beautiful natural beauty of the shores, the mountains, the Pine Barrens, quaint Victorian towns? What about the strong-willed, down to earth people - always the underdog? There is so, so much more about our state that I love. Truly.

You know what else is great about Jersey? The amount of talent that comes pouring out in a continual flow. There are countless actors/actresses, musicians, authors, just to name a few categories, that are astonishing (and by the way, rarely do you ever see one of these "celebrities" deny their connection to the Garden State. Coincidence?) And then, there are the poets.

A few weeks ago, Alfred Corn blogged about a recent trip to NJ to visit the haunts of our most noted poets. He asked, "I wonder if anyone has written an article or book about poetry and the Garden State?" Yes, Mr. Corn - quite a bit.

Even though our most noted poets are long gone - and we don't even have a state poet laureate, the scene is still alive. Heck, even the South Mountain Poets meet at my local library (no - I haven't mustered up the nerve to attend their meetings. I think it's residual after I was told at my first poetry club meeting in college that my poem was "sing-songy" Maybe one day...)

So, here are some worthwhile sites for those from NJ...or those who want to see what our little state has to offer:

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

When Lit Crit Mattered

James Seaton gave a review of Garrett Davis's collection "Praising it New" in this weekend's WSJ with the article When Lit-Crit Mattered, and discussed the relevance of The New Critics. I am impressed by the opening sentences of Mr. Seaton's review, when he reminds us that literature, including poetry, was very much alive and a part of the culture just some 50 or 60 years ago. This was before I was born, but I find those times exciting and often imagine that I would have ended up a Beatnik for sure. ::snap, snap::

But seriously, there are many schools of thought when it comes to not only writing, but reading, interpretting and teaching poetry. I'm eager to read about The New Critics and how they viewed literature. Just to leave you with a taste:

"The New Critics...thought that the study of literature -- especially poetry -- was a valuable activity because, as Allen Tate put it, "the full language of the human situation can be the vehicle of truth."


Monday, August 4, 2008

That's What She Said

Words. Where would we be without words? I'm not talking poetry here today - just, plain and simple, we would not be the advanced species that we think we are without being able to communicate in print, speech, and sign. We're all clamoring for our 5 minutes to say what we want to say, to express ourselves, define ourselves, share ideas with one another, connect with each other. Of course, today - anything goes. The way we communicate with each other has changed, and I don't think for the better (and I'm not referring to the constant barrage of text messages, social networking sites, IMs, and so on.) What are we saying to each other, and subsequently, what are we saying about ourselves?

I don't want to get on my soap box today...but there is just one thing irking me at the moment about language and communication. I was in Steve and Barry's the other day (and for the record, it's a great store, trendy yet inexpensive clothes - my beef is not with the store). My beef is with a girl's T-shirt I saw there that read "Buy Me Things." Seriously? I know, it's just a flirty fun shirt. It doesn't mean anything. It's a shirt. With a stupid phrase. That would make the wearer appear to be, well...a stupid princess with disregard for the people around her. She's the center of attention and everyone needs to bow down and evaluate her worth by how much she has and how much people are willing to spend on her. That's a good message to be sending out, don't you agree?

Well, I don't. No doubt, the shirt manufacturer wasn't thinking about the social or psychological repercussions this simple T would have. They were thinking of the bottom line. The girl who buys the shirt...I'm not sure what she would be thinking. Probably that she's cute and funny. "Oh, no - I don't really believe that you should buy me things." Right. I just think it's sad that girls today think they still have to feed into the stereotype of needy, whiny girls interested only in material things. They should have been able to move beyond that by now. I know - I'm blowing this out of proportion.

Just goes back to my original point. Words are important. Choose yours carefully.
"The human being who lives only for himself finally reaps nothing but unhappiness. Selfishness corrodes. Unselfishness ennobles, satisfies. Don't put off the joy derivable from doing helpful, kindly things for others. " (B. C. Forbes)

Friday, August 1, 2008

New Poet Laureate

A belated congratulations to Kay Ryan for becoming the 16th US Poet Laureate!

I'm just starting now to backtrack and read her work, which I relate to immediately and find to be a breath of fresh air. She is the kind of writer that I can appreciate right away, not just for her wonderful work but for her lack of pretension, the way she can connect with people through her words, her preference for short poems instead of epics, her introspection and tendency to feel like an outsider, and her epiphany around the age of 30 to devote her professional life to poetry and writing. I am at that age, and even though I'm still waiting for that great epiphany to happen, I can certainly relate to her internal struggle with that question.

So, again - congratulations. I look forward to reading much more of your work.