Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Familiar lines in a Thomas James poem

Tripping along from link to link, I ended up at this poem by the late Thomas James, whose manuscript has been resurrected by Graywolf. The last stanza contains two lines which should be recognizable: line three of the stanza contains the title of a book by Rigoberto Gonzalez; line one of the stanza recalls the title of an excellent book of stories by the late Allen Barnett, who died much too young in 1991.

I'm not all that well-read--the "gaps" in my reading are more like great glacial expanses--but I'm struck by the resonance of both these lines and by the fact that they reappear in two separate book titles 25 years apart. Were both writers familiar with James' poem?

I also find it heartening that a "lost" manuscript has found new life and a new readership. It's something I'm trying to do, in my small way, with chapbooks. But more than that, it strikes a chord in me as a gay man who survived the '80s and '90s in a city where dozens upon dozens of talented, witty, artistic friends and acquaintances vanished in their prime. The weight of their unspoken potential haunts me to this day, and I feel that I, personally, have not yet done enough to bring that experience, those voices, into print. I hope to do more about that.

And so I was both amazed and delighted to hear back from my query a while ago, asking if anyone had poems by the late Randy Brieger. A college friend of Randy's sent me a copy of his complete manuscript, Ink Pajamas. I read through it slowly, remembering some poems (he'd just started publishing widely before his sudden death), encountering others for the first time, recalling some of those Houston moments and mourning the loss of yet another talented queer writer I wish I'd had the chance to know better.
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For our own private reasons
We live in each other for an hour.
Stranger, I take your body and its seasons,
Aware the moon has gone a little sour

For us. The moon hangs up there like a stone
Shaken out of its proper setting.
We lie down in each other. We lie down alone
and watch the moon’s flawed marble getting

Out of hand. What are the dead doing tonight?
The padlocks of their tongues embrace the black,
Each syllable locked in place, tucked out of sight.
Even this moon could never pull them back,

Even if it held them in its arms
And weighed them down with stones,
Took them entirely on their own terms
And piled the orchard’s blossom on their bones.

I am aware of your body and its dangers.
I spread my cloak for you in leafy weather
Where other fugitives and other strangers
Will put their mouths together.

Let's all play Caption!

Anybody wanna play Caption? Click on the image to see a larger version, then give it your best shot.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Reading table

On my reading table--where I hope they don't simply gather dust:

Katie Ford, Deposition
Sandy Longhorn, Blood Almanac
David Hernandez, Always Danger
Jake Adam York, A Murmuration of Starlings
Mary Jo Bang, Elegy
Mark Ameen, The Buried Body
James Allen Hall, Now You're the Enemy
Peter Covino, Cut Off the Ears of Winter
A. Van Jordan, M-A-C-N-O-L-I-A
Ada Limon, Lucky Wreck
Diane Wald, The Yellow Hotel
Jon Pineda, Birthmark
Lisa Lewis, The Unbeliever
Lisa Goett, Waiting for the Paraclete
G. E. Patterson, Tug
Jean Valentine, Little Boat
Stephen McLeod, The Borgo of the Holy Ghost
Vandanna Khanna, Train to Agra
Michael Dumanis, My Soviet Union
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The other night, on the way to the hospital, I grabbed Paul Guest's Notes for My Body Double. It wasn't just the morphine: these are awesome poems.
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Click here to read about the McCain/Palin haiku contest at The Nation. What fun.

Thursday, September 25, 2008


Woke at three this morning in severe pain. Long story short: the E.R. doc diagnosed a gall bladder problem. We were released at about nine; I crashed around ten after e-mailing my students to reschedule some appointments and slept until four. I'm okay.
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We're sitting in the living room tonight and in walks a white cat--maybe five months old?--utterly silent and suddenly there. She was very friendly and walked from room to room. We followed her to the kitchen where she poked her face into Sadie's food bowl and water bowl, then went up to Randy--purring, friendly--and for a few moments, I thought of how much I missed having a cat around. She could catch the mice! She could remind the squirrels and chipmunks to leave us a few peppers. . . then, of course, Sadie came tottering into the kitchen. I don't even know if she saw the cat. But the cat saw her. And was gone into the night.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Mice and men

It was such a pleasure to hear Adam Zagajewski read this evening--it's been years. Adam was this year's Sojka Poet at Bucknell. He read several poems from his new book, Eternal Enemies, including two in both English and Polish, and a series of four "self-portraits" written over several years--I thought the third poem was just stunning, achieving the kind of incantatory liftoff that's characteristic of his best longer poems.
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Coffee with Eduardo was fun this afternoon. I'm not naming any names.
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We caught a 4th mouse this morning, larger than the other three. I'm really hoping this is the last of them. I'm starting to feel really weird walking down the alley with a mouse in a paper bag, scoping for a place to set it free. . .
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A man carries his door,
the door of his house,
because when the war is over
he is going home

where he will hang it
on its hinges
and lock it, tight,
while he tries to remember
the word for welcome.

If his house is gone
when he returns,
he will raise it from rubble
around his door.

If he cannot return,
the door will remember
the rest of the house
so he can build it
again, elsewhere.

And if he cannot go on,
his door can be a pallet
for his rest, a stretcher
to carry him, his shade
from sun, his shield.

:: Richard Hoffman, in The Literary Review (2005)

Sunday, September 21, 2008


Congrats to Greg Wrenn on his chapbook win: Greg's a wonderfully talented poet; I've been hoping and waiting to see a collection and can't wait to get this one.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Meeting the parents

This morning I headed up to campus to participate in our Faculty Open House, a one-hour event in which (presumably) all the faculty are corraled and nametagged into a central area into which visiting parents (with and without their enrolled offspring) are poured. It's a civilized kind of fracas: each department has a small table and identifying sign around which we cluster as parents wander around in search of Junior's professors. . . This year, nearly half the parents I spoke to had no real details of their kids' actual schedules--either the students had neglected to provide this basic information or had failed to show up at the appointed hour of ten AM--and as a result, we were forced to send the parents along the line, from one of us to the next to the next, until someone (hopefully) brightened with an "Oh yes! Your daughter/son is in my class!" It was sad.

The few parents I was *hoping* might turn up (and provide some clues, consciously or not, about why, for example, Junior just can't stop rocking back & forth and muttering softly in my class) (I made that one up but some of the behavior is just as disconcerting) did not, alas. But I quite enjoyed chatting with the nine or ten who sought me out (because I teach first-year composition, I tend to get the longer queue). The drive home reminded me that it's nice to be out of the house on a Saturday morning.

Randy, meanwhile, had offered to take the car to its 1:00 appointment for new tires, so I was able to get cracking on a fresh stack of essay drafts. It's nice to have the Saturn running again; I hope it lasts us another ten years.
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My folks finally had their power restored on Thursday, though it's still out at Dad's shop, and Mom says he's starting to get "sour" about it. They're in Cincinnati, where the remnants of Ike tore down quite a number of large trees.
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Number of very small mice captured and released since last week: three.

Number of blocks I walked the second mouse before releasing: two.

Number of times Randy reminded me that mice don't find their way back all that easily (they do, after all, need to be trained to navigate mazes: thankfully only one (he really could have rubbed that in for a while).
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I hear geese. Summer ends tomorrow. Our crabapple tree is loaded this year; we're planning to make jelly again. Last time, it turned out wonderfully.
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E-Z Borrow books on my reading table: Peter Covino, Cut Off the Ears of Winter; Sue Owen, My Doomsday Sampler; G.E. Patterson, Tug; Eric Gamalinda, Zero Gravity; Greg Orr, Concerning the Book...; Jon Pineda, Birthmark.

I'm trying not to go overboard; I can only keep each book for 4 weeks. Thank you, Penn State and Carnegie Mellon, for your poetry libraries.
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Back to work--

Thursday, September 18, 2008

New York stuff

I've mentioned before that Chris Torockio is a terrific fiction writer. I just heard that he has a reading in Brooklyn next Tuesday, September 23. If you're in the area, do check it out. Here are the details:

Readings by Louella Bryant & Christopher Torockio
Where: The Perch Cafe, 365 Fifth Avenue, in Park Slope, Brooklyn
When: 7:30 PM, Tuesday, 9/23

Louella Bryant will read from While In Darkness There Is Light, her nonfiction title about the life and disappearance of Charlie Dean during the Vietnam era. Christopher Torockio will read from Floating Holidays. Both titles are publications of Black Lawrence Press.
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Also, check out the new play by Leo Cabranes-Grant: Modified Affections starts this weekend.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Say hello to ma leetle friend

So cute. So tiny. Really, my thumb is larger than this miniscule mouse. Such cute whiskers. Such tiny perfect ears. Such pink little hands--err, paws. If not for the shiny black droppings. . . eww. I mean, double eww. Ickity eww.
How far from the house is far enough to release Miss Mousie?

A rat in the house may eat the ice cream. . .

but will the wee mouse we saw upstairs go for the cheese/ peanut butter/ kibble treat inside this plexiglass box?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Welcome to Whispering Pines--err, Shrieking Pines--uhh, Twisted--err, Windfelled--oh, screw it

Hard to believe, but the remnants of Ike ripped down two enormous white pines at my parents' house in Cincinnati. They--and many others--are without power, but okay.

During my visit in August, a large hickory tree fell from the woods behind their house. We were lucky that it had broken halfway up: only about fifteen feet of it landed in the yard.

One plants a tree, it's been said, for the next generation. . . We expect them to outlive us. I know--knew--these trees. They could be seen from a half-mile away. They marked the turn into my parents' driveway the way three church steeples here in Lewisburg, seen from across the river, mark the block where I live now. One of the first trees I ever climbed as a child was a white pine: the "short pine," we called it, because its top had been blasted away by a storm.

I'm going to miss those trees.
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This week's featured chapbook, Joshua Poteat's Meditations, was published in 2005 as part of the Poetry Society of America's chap series. Joshua doesn't need me to laud this collection--his work is hip-deep in accolades--but I have to say that I love reading and re-reading these poems.

Here's part six of "Meditations in the Margins of the 1941 Catalogue of Dover Books":

vi. The Fitzwilliam Virginal Book

Today, the sky is the color of a pigeon's throat,
not the roof of wild pear. And the light
a sluggish vellum that gauzes the mountain
and the fields below it . . . the cow pond
cowless, weighted with leaves that are turning
the water slowly black, so when winter comes
the ice knows where to go.
This is what I'm talking about.
All that decrescendo, from sky to ice,
isn't going to get us anywhere.
There's no passion in it, no star
to navigate the pyre of wasp nests
in the orchard. I remember my sister, years ago,
furious at the piano, her small hands cramping
the notes meant for a four-hundred-year-old
harpsichord. Morley, Byrd, Bull, Gibbons.
Names that would haunt her all summer
with notes only ghosts compose,
names that swarmed our house,
until the 17th century fell deep into
the dog's mouth, the goldfish bowl,
in the red-headed woodpecker
hammering on the shingles.
Our father, who feared nothing
but sleep, escaped to the pine bower
to soak his ears in sap.
There are songs that have saved lives,
and songs that have ended them.
These were neither.
I'm not complaining.
I want the air, for once, to clear
and the night to come down to me as it used to,
there under the pines, as I watched
my father close his eyes against the evening,
the piano a distamt wind over the marshes,
but close enough to hear the blossoms
of my sister's arms wilt and crumble.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Clark's Big Ball

Found these at the local antique shop a couple weeks back, and at a great price! Guess what I'm gonna do with them?

Solicitation & rejection

Thanks to Eduardo for linking to this post. I think the discussion has outgrown its original boundaries--in a good way--and had to throw my own two cents' worth in.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Two new chapbooks!

Over at Seven Kitchens, I've just posted the announcement of our first fiction title: Dan Jaffe's One-Foot Lover, with gorgeous cover art by the incredible Brian O'Connor. You can pre-order Dan's chapbook for only $5 postpaid until the release date of November 21. Why not double down and nab a copy of Judith Barrington's forthcoming chap as well? Lost Lands won the inaugural Robin Becker Chapbook Prize, and comes out on October 1.
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Stay tuned for an announcement about our new fall reading period. Any day now. I'm just dotting the i's and crossing the t's.

[9/15 update: The news is up. Please spread the word!]

Friday, September 12, 2008


I did take time yesterday evenng to harvest a nice bunch of Sweet 100 tomatoes (from Sasquatch, who's slowing down but still loaded with greenies) and Fish peppers. A nice tang in the air this morning as I drove to campus through rain and fog: autumn approaches.
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SEARCHING FOR TATS: I'm looking for images of tattoos--specifically, on males--to consider for the cover art of a poetry project. Please direct me to your ink!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

First cold

First cold of the season: I woke this morning with a sore throat; this evening I'm a phlegmy mess. Oh, well. Best to get it out of the way early.
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Very sorry to hear of Reginald Shepherd's death. It's hard to imagine such a light extinguished. I have vivid memories of his short stint on the faculty at Vermont College. . . I'll keep those to myself for now.
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It's a little freaky to see Ike bearing down on Houston. Hope everyone's okay in the old neighborhood.
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Sons gone,
my parents quiet
in their mountain kitchen.
A last tomato quartered.
A long time ago my mother
ran up the mountain
trailed by yellowjackets
like the train of a dress.
A groundhog
squeezes into the garden.
In the valley a building
goes up in smoke.
They call the smoke a scarf.
They know better.

:: Peter Waldor, Door to a Noisy Room

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Jobs and po-news: great source

I hope by now that everyone reading my wee blog subscribes to Allison Joseph's CRWROPPS-B list. If not, here's how:

Instructions for joining the list: Go to http://groups. yahoo.com/ group/crwropps- b and click on "Join This Group." Follow the on-screen prompts to join. Or: Send a blank e-mail to crwropps-b-subscribe(at)yahoogroups.com (replace (at) with @). You will be sent an e-mail message with further instructions on how to join the list.

And here's a job posting from today's digest:

creative writing job: Iowa State University: Assistant Professor of English in creative writing. Tenure-track. Beginning August 2009. Accomplished writer in one genre with the ability to teach undergraduate and graduate courses in a second genre for our newly-formed MFA program in Creative Writing and Environment. We seek a colleague whose work demonstrates an ecological perspective and who has an interest in place-based, environmental literature, and in writing about the natural world. Applicants who have a demonstrated commitment to environmental thought and action in tangible forms such as publication, research, and/or fieldwork experiences will be given preference. Successful candidate will be asked to bring fresh perspectives and take an active role in helping to shape our unique and growing MFA program. MFA or Ph.D. and record of substantial publication required; one book and teaching experience preferred. 2/2 teaching load to begin. Interviews with selected candidates may be conducted at the AWP Conference in Chicago. Applicants are invited to apply online at http://www.iastate.edu/jobs by November 1, 2008. AA/EO Employer. Women and members of historically underrepresented groups are strongly encouraged to apply.

CFS: Asian American writing: Kartika Review

Kartika Review is accepting submissions for upcoming issues of our online Asian American literary magazine at http://www.kartikar eview.com/. We accept: fiction, flash fiction, creative nonfiction, essays, poetry and visual art by Asian American artists.

We are a quarterly journal and read submissions all year. Simultaneous submission are okay, but please notify us immediately if your work has been accepted elsewhere. Full submission guidelines, including the email addresses for submitting work, are available at our website: http://www.kartikar eview.com/ submit.html

Kartika Review serves the Asian American community and those involved with Diasporic Asian-inspired literature. We scout for compelling Asian American creative writing and artwork to present to the public at large. Our editors actively solicit contributions from established virtuosos in our community in hopes their works here will inspire the next generation of virtuosos. We also want to promote emerging writers and artists we foresee to be the future powerhouses of their craft. Ultimately, Kartika strives to create a literary forum that caters to and celebrates the wordsmiths of the Asian Diaspora.

Call for applications: The Stadler Fellowship at Bucknell

Call for applicants: The 2009-10 Stadler Fellowship at Bucknell University's Stadler Center for Poetry offers professional training in arts administration & literary editing in a thriving, university-based poetry center, while also providing the Fellow time to pursue his or her own writing. The Stadler Fellow assists for 20 hours each week in the administration of the Stadler Center for Poetry and/or in the editing of West Branch, a nationally distinguished literary journal. The Fellow also serves as an instructor in the Bucknell Seminar for Younger Poets in June. The Fellowship stipend is $20,000. In addition, the Fellow is provided a furnished apartment in Bucknell’s Poet’s Cottage & health insurance, as well as access to all campus academic, cultural, & recreational facilities.

To be eligible, an applicant must be at least 21 years of age, must have received an advanced degree in creative writing with an emphasis in poetry (i.e. MFA, MA, PhD) no earlier than spring 2004, & must not be enrolled as a student during the period of the Fellowship. (Persons enrolled in a college or university at the time of application are eligible.) The Stadler Fellowship is potentially renewable for a second year.

Submit the following items by postal mail: letter of application, curriculum vita, three letters of recommendation, a poetry sample of no more than 10 pp., to: Stadler Fellowship, Stadler Center for Poetry, Bucknell Hall, Bucknell University, Lewisburg, PA 17837. No materials will be returned; please do not send originals. Postmark deadline: December 6. Notification: late spring 2009.

For more information on the Stadler Center for Poetry, see the website: www.bucknell.edu/stadlercenter.

Friday, September 05, 2008

A poem by Maria Flook


Inside his serious desk,
the black cardboard silhouette
of a fourth grader maintains
its crisp profile.
One blue valentine
from a teenager on probation
is turning violet.

If we take a colored slide
and hold it up,
the little girls inside
show us how far we have gone.
The lamp behind, cool white--
some call this cruelty.

Remember the grassy hill
where a father
made the movies.
Two daughters
somersaulted single file
until they rolled out of view.

And if he called them back
they did not listen,
it was better to keep tumbling.
Pink seersucker deepened
a blood-like green.
Into the dark
they fell.

:: Maria Flook, ReCKless Wedding

Tuesday, September 02, 2008


Stayed up late a few nights ago to work on a new poem: that tingly buzz when the language starts to click.

Up past my bedtime tinkering with another new one. Hope it looks as promising tomorrow as it feels tonight. Grateful nonetheless.

Monday, September 01, 2008

In a perfect world . . .

. . . more English departments would do nice things like this.


Happy Labor Day to all, & esp to those of us who labor away. . . Traffic was nonexistent this morning as I drove up to campus; heading down one long hill, I drove into a bank of fog: from the hilltop, it looked like a cloud resting its belly in the valley, the sun warming its back. Another reminder that the days are turning. Soon the maples will flare.
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A public Thank you to Kathy G, who not only answered my query about Randy Brieger, but mailed me a copy of his manuscript! I've been reading it in small increments, accompanied by memories and ghosts from those Houston days. . .
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I'm continuing my practice of reading a poem each day at the start of class. Not sure yet how my students feel about this, but they do sit quietly and appear to listen. Today's poem is by Lynne McMahon, from her 1993 book Devolution of the Nude:


Do you know, the fortune-teller asked him,
that one of your children is slow? And he, stricken, said
I don’t know that yet. And it was no longer a carnival
gaiety. I can help you, she said. But nothing more
about the baby. There was still the arcade before us
and the ferry with its lights. But he had answered
yet. The still-to-come.

I’m not a believer. I’m not afraid. But I write this
anyway, as an exorcism or countermagic, that if he’s slow,
he’s slow to anger or despair, slow to see
a mortal correspondence in those heavens
where he carries water from one god to the next.