31 December 2010

A New Year's Resolution for Retirement

Ah, my Frank Sinatra moment has come.

I am formally retiring from the poetry profession.  I am quitting the po-biz. 

My wording here is quite intentional, and I want to be clear in that I mean that I am stepping off the careerist poetry track, no longer taking that commute to work from the 'burbs, working my way through middle management, getting those keys to the executive bathroom, trading in my fedora for a respectable homburg. 

I don't mean to dishonor anyone who is still very much in the poetry business.  And I'll continue to buy books of poetry, support magazines, and teach poetry in the classroom.  I'll certainly do more than my share of sustaining the poetry economy.  But it's time for me to say goodbye to all that I've chased after in a 35-year professional career, something I pursued since I was 17.

And I don't mean to dishonor all the hard work and good fortune that came my way.  I am inexpressibly grateful for my teachers, editors, publishers, and grants administrators, for my colleagues and poetry co-workers, and I earnestly encourage them to go forth and continue their good work.  But for me, it's time to say goodbye to all of that.  I've pretty much done all that I wanted to do in the poetry marketplace, but this career path has run its course, and so other than a selected volume (perhaps) and other than occasional solicitations from friends, I'm through with the whole publishing and perishing to-do. 

My decision here probably can be taken as a critique of the whole po-biz, my Bartleby declaration of I would prefer not to.   I have written extensively of my own ambivalence about the professionalization of poetry, even while I valued my own happy M.F.A. experience, my good fortunes as an English professor, and my modest success in getting published.  So much of all of that has been beside the point of the art itself.  I realize that most poets I know also share those same misgivings, and we find our own ways to live with them. 

For me, if my decision is a rejection, it's a rejection of the vanity of professionalism itself.  It's a rejection of the triviality of the c.v.  It's a rejection of the pissing matches between the poet and editor, the M.F.A. and the street poet, the disassociativist and the formalist.  It's a rejection of the vapory permanence of the Norton Anthology.  It's a rejection of the tiresome egoism that first flares with a first publication and that burns cold with the embitterment of becoming "out-of-fashion."  

What I am retiring from is producing poetry as literature.  I still get a thrill reading poetry as literature, enjoying that intensely quiet and difficult exchange a really good poem demands, but I have had enough of producing poems toward that end.  Do I really need to produce more of those?  Don't I already have enough imperfect children?

Now, I know a real poet doesn't quit writing poetry, and I have not said that I have decided to quit writing poetry.  Simply, whatever poetry (and I'm not sure if I can call it poetry) I do write won't be produced for the literary marketplace, or as literature, but something that is wholly impermanent and fleeting, something that may be collaborative or performed or occasional but nothing more than that.  

05 December 2010

DeComposition and Other Goings-On

Below is a segment of "DeComposition," a performance/installation piece I performed with Brittney Brady, Phil Heubeck and Katelyn Gravel.  This gives you a sense of what we were building and unbuilding for about a two-hour performance.  

On my plate this week, other than the end-of-the-semester grading marathon, is a fund-raiser for the FGCU Theater Program, The Thistletoe Cabaret.  This event is to support a production of Wooden Mouth for the Edinburgh International Fringe Festival.  If any locals can make this event, do come.  It'll be a lot of fun, bringing a playful and slightly twisted spin for the holidays.  I'll be performing a monologue for this one.

07 November 2010

Busy, sweet November . . . .

November, no remember, nova bomber . . . .

Crazy busy month for me, always. Usually grading crunch time, when the due dates roll in for all the big paper and project assignments, as well as letter of recommendation writing time, too. Then there's the Sanibel Island Writers Conference, which I missed entirely this year. And in a couple of weeks is the Miami Book Fair International, where I will be reading, and the day before that event is Art Royale, where I am collaborating in an installation/performance with Phil Heubeck, Brittney Brady, and Katelyn Gravel. I'm actually ten times more geeked out about this small, humble event at Art Royale than I'm about MBFI, except that I get to be in Miami and I'll be finally meeting in person the wonderful PoetMom.

And the announcements of not getting an NEA fellowship this year (I haven't seen the winners' list, but I have some friends I'm rooting for in my stead) and not getting a Florida Arts grant (but congratulations to my friend Mia Leonin for getting one for her exquisite poetry). At least in this year's Florida Arts grant I didn't get a really nasty note from one of the panelists as I usually do--maybe my submission was too tepid this year? Alas, no money from the grant heavens, but the gods have been kind to me all the same, and that's probably better for me in the long run.

Also looking forward to my fun classes that I get to teach next semester, including a 21st-century poetry class for my graduate students, and I'll be using books by Kelli Russell Agodon and January Gill O'Neil among other poets I really admire. And I'm also teaching a crazy "performative poetics" class, a poetry workshop in which all the poetry must be written with and against the other arts. So all of that means a bunch of books, thin ones at least, on my nightstand to read. Could be worse than to nod off reading a little Terrance Hayes.

04 October 2010

Great, Another MFA Academic Behaving Badly

I generally come to the defense of MFA programs and such, yet readily acknowledging their limitations, as I've done here in this blog. But sometimes, I come across an appalling example of the worst kind of academic who happens to be associated with MFA programs and I want to retract everything positive I may have said about an MFA degree. Such is the case of Judith Turner Hospital.

Her infamous e-mail champions the very worst kind of dilettantism, and it's so deeply provencial that even the Idahoan in me recoils, seeing this Canadian poo-poo the backwaters of South Carolina and rubbing their collective noses in the fact that she's now teaching at a "real" MFA program in Manhattan. I also imagine New Yorkers just love these transient New Yorkers going on about the dumpy towns they've left behind just so that they can join the crowd and immediately be an insider. Professor Hospital might do well to read some Edith Wharton.

Fortunately, Seth Abramson has ably called her on her misrepresentations of her new program at Columbia, but the damage of this remarkable e-mail has been done. What is most unsavory from my perspective is just how uncritically she champions the most banal of laurels, whether it's a Pulitzer or a literary agent bidding to nab a Columbia MFA grad.

Don't get me wrong, I'm down with the Pulitzer and big-time book contracts. But what she's championing is so patently exclusive and careerist that it makes me wince. No, it's not about this at all, even when you are lucky enough to get a good job, a nice office, a shiny fellowship, and a positive review in the NY Times, all that is beside the point.

12 September 2010

Questions for the Altar Machine

Been busy with school starting, traveling to D.C., and early book promoting.

Fortunately this weekend, I was able to participate in the 24 Hour Festival sponsored by the Visual and Performing Arts Department at Florida Gulf Coast University. In short, the festival is a celebration of the creative process. After receiving highly specific and somewhat random prompts, the participants have 24 hours to create an artwork, film, or performance piece satisfying those prompts. Most of the participants work in teams, and the performances last night ranged from the comical to the absurd to the moving. Students outdid themselves in creating and performing dance, film, and comedic/multi-media performances, as well as static artworks.

The prompt required the following elements:

A flawed damsel.
A flawed dragon.
Black birds on an iron gate.
Something in the wrong place.
Something a little too hot and a little too close.
Something alive and uncontrollable.
Title must have in it or as a subtitle, "The Altar Machine."

And accompanying the prompt was the following narrative, which was there simply to inform the work:

A Snake Doctor lives in the wilderness. You can see him only when you look to the side of him. You look him in the eyes and he’s already gone. If you’re patient, he’ll treat you. Everyone’s got sickness one way or another. The bells are ringing. The church is ready. The old lady sticks a finger in her shoe.

For my piece, I imagined the actor being someone who's already been treated by the Snake Doctor. In the performance, he lies on a bed, the floor of the stage, after entreating the audience to sit on the stage as well. He struggles somewhat to become comfortable, staring at the audience, trying to gain focus as the video below plays.

Once the video is at the mid-point, the actor shifts toward the other end of his "bed," rests his head on a pillow, remains open-eyed, and speaks:

Was I sleeping, while the others suffered?
Was I sleeping, the sun?
Was I sleeping, the sun, did she?
Was I sleeping, and did she, the sun, too near, too approximate?
Was I sleeping, and the sun burning, did she want?
Was I sleeping, while she primped and propped, while she suffered unto another?
Was I sleeping, while she suffered, while she came?
Was I sleeping, while she shopped?
Was I sleeping, while she shopped, while the sun ran close, ran off, ran away, ran wild?
Was I sleeping, while the sun skirted away, an animal gone feral, checking out?
Was I sleeping, while he took her, becalmed her, became her, here?
Was I sleeping, here, her, here?
Was I sleeping, here, while she and he bought things, watches, beach chairs, good Scotch?
Was I sleeping, while they drank Scotch and soda, eating olives and cheese, he would break it off with her, leaving her to suffer,
Was I sleeping, while the others suffered?

* * * * * *

And that's it. The line "Was I sleeping, while the others suffered?" is from Didi's speech near the end of Waiting for Godot. And the lines about the sun echo lines from Barry Cavin's Wooden Mouth.

The highlight of the evening performances had to be Brittney Brady's remarkably dense performance, which included film, poetry, script, found sounds, pre-recorded voice, found objects, process painting, costume, banjo plucking, ceremony, snake skin, sand, crate boxes with cranks, and something like prayer. In all, the performances and artworks were treasures, all this done on the fly.

20 August 2010

P.S. to M.F.A.-ed Post

Just to further clarify on the wishing to disappear statement, I want to share Woody Allen's great line: "I don't want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it through not dying."

19 August 2010


Poets & Writers has just published their 50 Top M.F.A. Programs.

While the authors are indeed trying to be careful, objective, in culling the data, and while they also readily admit the partial nature of any such undertaking (and I applaud their focus on funding as a criterion), it's yet another capitulation to what strikes me as an American love for lists and rankings. I'm guilty of enjoying those lists: the AFI's 100 Greatest Thrills in American movies; Jeff Sagarin's NCAA Football Computer Rankings; the ten ugliest fish . . . . What I love about these lists is the inherent arbitrariness, especially as you go further and further down the list. What's the real difference between the #73 (Minneola, Florida) and #90 (Durham, New Hampshire) city with strongest Arts, Entertainment, Recreation, Accommodation and Food Services Industries (pop. 5000+)?

So looking at the P & W list of the top 50 M.F.A. programs, I am heartened to see my alma mater, Indiana University, holding its own at #15 overall, and a little prideful to see the poetry program ranked #8.

And then, my reaction is something of a nonspecific, low-grade dread. I do question the list's purpose, even with all the carefully worded warning labels, and I wonder how it reinforces some of the worst in the professionalism of the po-biz. I know some of my undergraduates will be looking at this list carefully, aiming for a few well chosen, high-end programs (invariably New York and Boston are compelling magnets, it seems), and then settling to shoot for some "mid-level," forty-something programs, and then setting out a safety net for one or two unranked programs that at least have good weather or decent restaurants.

I want to say it's all so beside the point. The M.F.A. as a degree unto itself is really nothing, a barely acknowledged degree even within the world of academia, and it doesn't make you a writer any more than a match-book advertising school of the arts will make you an artist. But those are obvious points. And yet, I still value and cherish my own M.F.A. experiences. I think for me, it was partly because I was so naive and happy, just to be somewhere where I could write and talk about poetry. And that's the ultimate value I see in any M.F.A. program, and it strikes me as the only real reason to want to be in one. And even then, I recognize you can get that experience on the outside of the academy by a simple willingness to look for those places.

The value of an M.F.A. program is also its liability: by and large they are relatively safe places. Oh, I realize almost every M.F.A. program has its coteries, its cliques, its gangs, its rivalries, and I realize in every M.F.A. program, there is plenty of inhumane treatment. By safe, I mean artificial, an agreed upon construct or contract, where you pay (either by direct tuition or signing onto the indentured servitude known as a teaching assistantship) to gain a commodified set of experiences. It's an exchange, and not a base one, really, but it shouldn't be something that is routinely idealized.

So you end up buying a little time, a little space, a little contrived workshop and accidental friendships (and those can be the best). You're not removed from the real world, whatever that is, but you are also existing in a hothouse of expectations and ambitions that has so very little to do with writing. It can lead to conformity and timidity (but so can being a street poet), but more dangerously, I think it often leads to a spirit of acquisition, of gaining the degree to gain a position to gain an agent to gain a book contract to gain tenure to gain national awards to gain a movie deal to gain a national endowment to gain . . . . Somehow, as you get your degree, and perhaps moreso, after you gain your degree, the pressure is to justify it, the resulting impulse of publication, award, and laurel.

As you can see with this blog, I'm running into this problem of publication, again and again, even while I use the blog to promote my own publications. I think my career ambition is about disappearing these days. Gosh no, not really, or at least in my real life I want to be very visible with those I love for as long as possible. But my artistic ambition seems more to be about the drop that falls into the pond and it disappears, for good, not to be that butterfly that creates the hurricane, but to be the immaterial and definite moment, here, and then gone, perfectly so, happily so. Why ask for more?

And that's precisely it for me. I read these lists, and worse, all those M.F.A. ads, clamoring, exaggerating their differences (so much toothpaste . . . ), imploring that you as a writer should be asking for more, to get your permanent place on the library book shelf, and even better, to be Nortonized. So for my students, if you consider the M.F.A., don't consider what more you will be with it or what more you will get out of it, but simply what you will do with that little bit, such a little bit, of time and with that company, however fleeting and heady. And remember that there are other ways of getting that time for yourself as well.

17 August 2010

Post-Production Video

Came across this on the FGCU Theater Lab web site, a post-production video of Wooden Mouth compiled by Barry Cavin.

The little bit o' me as Mr. Scratch at the 0:49 mark is him putting on the Southern Baptist hellfire schtick. This is the only time he goes there. He was really a puddy cat the rest of the show.

If the actors look a little worn, this is after our second Saturday evening show, and it's getting close to midnight, and we can't wait to get out of these stinky outfits.

14 August 2010

For Your Reading Pleasure

Gods & Money

25 July 2010

Publication Imminent

At least that is what my publisher has told me this past week.

And yes, I'm excited, and I'm totally humbled and happy with the good fortune and attention.  I realize how easily I could have struck out on the book publishing altogether, and a fourth book is not bad at all.  Yes, I know of other poets my age who are getting their eighth or so book out, or those who are being published by far more prestigious presses and occasionally appear in Poetry, The New Yorker, or American Poetry Review.  But I am just too fortunate to be gnashing my teeth over not getting "better" published. 

Besides, it's not like some Hollywood agent is now knocking on Rae Armantrout's door to do a movie deal.  What I love about poetry is the lack of money associated with it.  Yes, there is the example of the Ruth Lilly and her bequest to Poetry magazine and its foundation (at $200 million, that's even more than what T. Boone Pickens initially donated to the Oklahoma State University football program).   Oh yes, Billy Collins can still get $5-10K per appearance, and he did broker the first six-figure book deal by any poet.  But obviously, even the high end of the poetry market is chump change compared to any profession and to almost any trade. 

And I like it that way.  It allows the whole poetry enterprise to be largely untouched by commercial interests.  Yes, I know that there are other corrupting influences on the professional poetry world, but money, I mean serious money, isn't one of them.   I'm sure some poets are pressured in producing a certain body of work by their publisher, perhaps feeling some heat from one luke-warm, begrudging review.  But that pressure is probably felt by all of six poets in the United States.  The rest of us, well, we can pretty much operate on the margins doing whatever we bloody well want.

Probably the best parallel I can come up with is with peer visual artists, those who more or less have the same level of "success" in their artwork as I have in my poetry.  For them--and here I'm just talking about the 30 or so truly professional artists in Lee County--they feel the pressure of producing commercially viable work, whatever seems to be working for the galleries their work appears in.  It's not that they're handcuffed, but it becomes a fact of how they have to do business.  Poets, outside the Blue Flower Arts agency (which represents poets as "speakers," which is where the only money really is for poetry), are free agents.

I'm pretty happy with that lot in life, that one lack of complication.

10 July 2010

I, Academic Poet

Last week, January Gill O'Neil asked in her blog what makes a poet an academic poet, and so being an academic poet, I have the following long answer.

First, I need to say that an academic poet doesn't necessarily write academic poetry, whatever the heck that is, and I'm not going to bother in this post with a discussion of what academic poetry may or may not be.

Second, I have a fairly narrow definition of an academic poet:  a poet whose professional poetry life is tied to an academic institution and its approval.  That is, your poetry is partially being evaluated by other academics for either job hires, annual job reviews, tenure reviews, or promotion reviews.  

Thus, I consider anyone who is currently pursuing an M.F.A. or Ph.D. in creative writing automatically to be an academic poet; and most remain so for a few years after their degree, regardless whether or not they continue to remain in the academy, as they are likely refashioning their thesis/dissertation for the usual rounds of book contests.  Anyhoo, these students are seeking to satisfy academic requirements and they must submit and process their work through the workings and whatnots of their home institutions in order to receive their degree.

And obviously, then, I consider almost any poet teaching at a college or university to be an academic poet.  The "least" academic are adjuncts, as usually they are hired to be teaching drones, and their creative work is rarely included in their evaluations.  Then are the temporary instructors, those lucky enough to have full-time status, but usually temporary teaching contracts, one to three years typically.  Like adjuncts, their poetry is not usually "evaluated" in their annual reviews.  However, most adjuncts and instructors are submitting writing samples of their poetry in job application after job application, subject to academic review by hiring committees.

For those of us who have ranked positions, we're the most academic of academic poets (by the way, I teach at a university where tenure is not a part of the university's structure).  We prepare annual "professional development plans" in which we must specify what we want to accomplish with our creative work for that year.  We write annual reports assessing how well we accomplished those goals and plans.  We included copies of all our publications as well as any publicity materials we have for readings and conferences.  Every year our chair and dean have to sign off on these plans and reports.  Then, if we go up for promotion, we submit everything yet again to some Tenure Committee or Peer Review Committee, again always for the sake of academic approval.

Thus, every year, you are supposed to be viable, active, publishing, and writing, being able to document that for academic credentialing.  This has nothing to do with the poetry itself.  And it can be also beside the point, and sometimes, it can be very destructive for the poetry itself, not to mention the poet.

At my institution, with scholarship, there is supposed to be a progression of quality and prominence as you climb from assistant to associate to full professor.  I have always had a problem with the trajectory of this narrative (and I think math professors do as well), as it assumes a fairly lineal progression, that year by year you will get increasingly more "prestigious" publications and awards, that you'll grow into achieving some kind of national reputation in your field by the end of it all.  What if you're a genius and shoot your wad at 28?  Or what if your work goes out of fashion?  Or what if your new work is so radically brilliant that it won't ever get published?  Or what if . . . .

But it's too late then, as you have signed on to this career path.  So with your promotion materials, you kill a couple of trees with all the photocopies of everything you have to provide, as you yet again justify your poetry for academic review, yet again waiting for the same word of approval you received in your first graduate workshop.  You're still in the club, ol' chap.

Lately, though, I have been thinking of an art student who took a graduate creative writing workshop when I was an MFA student at Indiana University--this would've been in 1982.  Late in the semester, for her last poem to be workshopped, she brought in a dozen paper bags, each quite used, all twisted closed.  She said her project was a failure, because we were supposed to come by these bags by accident--her plan was to place the bags haphazardly, on a bus, in a field, in a closet room at a club--but the course required her to bring the work into class.  Inside each bag was the poem cut up into a hundred paper fragments, just confetti, really.  She also mixed in a little dirt, dandelion clippings, and who knows what else.  The professor "got it," but reminded the student this was a poetry workshop, and we really needed to see the poem intact on a single piece of paper in order to workshop it. 

Me, ever since, yes, I've been the dutiful one, getting my reports in on time and following the specifications to perfection.  At worst, this is what academic poets do in fact become.

For me, truly, my only recent poetry outlet beyond my ivory tower is with my own experiments with performance (even though they can also be easily included in my c.v.), those things that resist a paper trail.  Oh, to put my annual report in a shoe box, every poem faithfully copied, shredded, with maybe some egg shells, sand, a drop of oil.  You see, a poet would indeed do that.

01 July 2010

Lottery Time, Of Sorts

Just finished with copying and mailing of materials for a Florida Arts fellowship, which is a biennial affair as is the NEA fellowship, which I submitted a few months ago.  I can't complain about the bother, as I have won more than my share.

It's something of a crapshoot, a lottery, although that makes it sound only as if it were a matter of luck.  In one respect, there is indeed an element of fortune.  For the NEA (if the system of evaluation hasn't changed over the years), the submissions are divided up among groups of readers for first evaluation.  A good deal of your luck there is contingent upon which set of readers your poems are assigned to:  the wrong group early, and you have no shot.  But if your poems make it into the second round, your work is considered by all the readers.  That's actually a fair system, despite some of the arbitrariness.

In Florida, all the readers evaluate all the submissions.  On one hand, that is extraordinarily fair.  To get into the final round, your submission has to achieve an average score of "8" out of "10."  But on the other hand, this is where the system of averages can be skewed by a single judge, who might deliberately give all the submissions he or she doesn't value a low score of "0" or "1."  With the panels consisting of only five judges, that kind of skewing would prevent a submission that got "9" from each of the other judges from going into the next round--this is why in much of Olympic scoring the high and low marks are tossed out. 

In any event, submitting for fellowships reminds me most of submitting writing samples for graduate school applications--where you regard not the communication and dynamics between poems as you would for a book manuscript, but the quality of poems and what they reveal about your aesthetics and abilities.  Do you opt for depth of style, showcasing your strength in narrative?  Do you bring together a unified sequence to demonstrate cohesion?  Do you choose to show the eclecticism of your tastes in subject matter?  Do you decide to showcase your ability to work in closed forms?

Obviously, you send your "best" work, but for me, that's such a slippery idea, and honestly these days, about the only time I genuinely make that consideration, group poems by their "quality," is when I put together a fellowship submission.  That's where the grouping of the poems seems most haphazard.  And even then, I have opted not to follow that criterion of quality.

Anyway, of course, I hope to win, and it's a shock and surprise when it does come my way--even moreso than a book acceptance.  Is it the money, those pennies from the poetry gods?  Yup.  But it's also because the poems serve no other purpose but for that recognition (and the money is ultimately about time, but that's another issue).  How odd when I compare that to why I write otherwise.

And what of the usual of not getting the money?  I always eagerly read the list of fellowship grantees, and yes, I am most often Miss Congeniality, really happy for these poets because we so seldom get this kind of recognition, and sometimes I am Susan Lucci, wanting to kick the winner in the groin all the while I smile bravely. 

18 June 2010


Next week starts my graduate class on Walt Whitman.  Nothing genuinely imaginative in my approach:  using the David Reynolds' Whitman's America and the Norton Critical Edition of Leaves of Grass, which includes the 1855 and 1891-2 editions, as well as the usual contemporaneous reviews and whatnot, plus predictable selections of Whitman's prose and smatterings of Dickinson, Whittier, and Longfellow.  But it's only a six-week immersion, and so it'll be something of an intense, break-neck rush.

It's tempting to take Whitman out of his time and wonder what he might think of the present-day American and the situation of poetry (all of which has and hasn't changed all that much)--kind of the way constitutional originalists bring forth the corpses of the founding fathers and believe their views would somehow be unchanging, uniform, or decipherable.  To me, that kind of contemporizing (is that a word?) seems so much beside the point.  Oh, what I'm thinking of is how someone would say Whitman would spit at MFA programs, how no one can do what Whitman did back then, how Whitman would champion this poetry over that poetry, etc.

What I want to say, first, is read Whitman and take him on face value:  he is dead, mouldered, now a part of the grass, that has regenerated itself a 100 times over since his death, and he's something other than the grass, the dirt, the water, and the air, that the lives of the dead are always with us, impossible close and forever removed.  To take the dead, any of them, and prop them up and have them spout this or that political line for us . . . . it's just convenient, so very convenient.  And besides, isn't the poetry itself enough, certainly more than what uses we may put the dead to, what arguments we wish to bolster, to make ourselves even more firm and staunch and correct?

Always for me, this whole poetry and art thing, is about the possibilities of being changed, of that imaginative moment of being transformed--not into a permanent other, or any thing, but a simple accretion of light, wind, blood, and feather.  To be what we weren't, a moment ago.

12 June 2010

I Almost Never Do This--Yes, a Meme

Via January O'Neil, just because . . . 

1. What's the last thing you wrote?
Ages ago, it seems, but the lyrics I collaborated on creating for Alyce Bochette's dance, "Salvage," which was performed last month.

2. Is it any good?
The "Salvage" piece, good as a voice piece (it was a duet that Katie Pankow and I voiced--Katie's the best, and she's headed off to UF to pursue an MFA in acting), but as a poem, maybe okay.  It's deeply concrete and connected to the dancers.

3. What's the first thing you ever wrote that you still have?Journals and poetry writing from my sophomore year of high school. 

4. Favorite genre of writing?Poetry, but currently moving to performative writing, that is, which is still poetry, but not meant to be published. 

5. How often do you get writer's block?
Never.  I go through periods of not writing, upto two years, but it's not that I'm trying to write and I hit an obstacle.  Here, I'm talking about writing poetry.  With any other kind of writing I do, blogging, occasional essay writing, then I never run into difficulties.  I'm not much of a perfectionist, I guess. 

6. How do you fix it?
Reading helps me get out of the doldrums.  Believing in that nothing will last helps greatly.  Why not risk it then?  That we're all disappearing, and by we I mean everything governed by the decay of atoms, is a great, freeing comfort.

7. Do you save everything you write?
No.  I've lost a good deal, almost always on purpose.  Some pieces are performance (even individual poems) that I read for one occasion, in a regular reading, and then I let them go.  Others, well, they get in books, and that gives them a permanence for as long as I'm alive.  Notebooks and fragments, I try to keep, but with moving, being a little absent minded and careless, things just get lost, left behind.

8. How do you feel about revision?
Ah, the one thing that never ends.  Maybe that's why I am liking the idea of performance--have a date, an occasion, you give it a go, and then good bye.  But with traditional poems, always fun, involving to tinker.  Mechanical.  Intricate.  And sometimes a wonder, too, as much as the initial creation. 

9. What's your favorite thing that you've written?
Favorite.  That's a tough word, because it won't be what I think might be my best work, or even work that other people like.  Probably my favorite, at least this week, is "Upon Hearing that My Grant Application Was Passed Over and the Winner Was a Bio-Tech Professor Who Has Designed Genetically-Altered Protein for Buckwheat Seed."  The title comes from an email I sent to Denise Duhamel, who had written a support letter for me, for a grant that I did not win.  She wrote back, "Oh, that sucks, but can I use that line for a title of a poem?"  I wrote her back that she could, but only if I also wrote a poem with that title.  So the story's a nice thing, but the poem also makes me happy to read because it is a little mean, irreverent, and political.  Besides, I want to create a genetic strand called Omicron-Brockide 32.  How cool is that?

10. What's everyone else's favorite thing that you've written?
Hmmm.  Book?  The Sunshine Mine Disaster, probably.  Poem?  "To the coroner who did not have to draw my blood" is generally a good, crowd pleasing piece. 

11. What writing projects are you working on right now?
Currently working on a bunch of failed fragments on the Gulf, from which my house is a mile away.  Also revising a series on dance that I hope will be the "New" part of an intended "New
and Selected Poem" volume--I feel that's about where I am in my poet career.  And for performance, I'm hoping that I might collaborate with a couple of very talented folks for something for Art Royale 2010.  Oh, and if my schedule works this year, I may do something my school's 24-hour Festival. 

12. What's one genre you have never written, and probably never will?
A novel.  I could see doing something collaborative with my wife (we've written a few chapters on a Florida condo mystery), and I've toyed making a novel of The Sunshine Mine Disaster, but I get tired of the canine aspect of novel writing, the whole complicated architecture of it, where you sniff, sniff, sniff everywhere, developing character, riffing on some subplot, and all that whatnot. 

13. Do you write for a living?
Paper grading, syllabus writing, report writing, minute taking, assessment gathering, memo-happy professor of English.  Nah.

14. Quote something you've written, the first thing to pop into your mind.

My Rhode Island Red goes cock-a-doodle-doo
in Providence, and in Bali she sings
orio orio orio-io-io, and in the Faulklands
she cries elgin baylor!  And don’t think
it’s ever the same for my hen, my mad red hen.  

    from the "Dance of the Polyglot," something I've been revising.

09 June 2010

Happy Birthday!

To my son, Carson, who is enjoying his 21st (yikes!) birthday today.

Carson, chillin', heading east in Wyoming, 1996

05 June 2010

Ghost Writing Requests

In my life as an academic poet (and I don't mind that label, because I'm very much that critter--it's not as small as certain po-biz critics like it to be), and because I'm the "go-to" creative writer in my program, I routinely get the most interesting overtures for various ghost writing projects.

In my case, because of where I live in Southwest Florida, land of retired CIA directors and Gasparilla Island, where the CIA used as a training base for the Bay of Pigs, I have received a couple of requests from retired CIA agents, that they have something big to tell, and so forth. I usually ask them about their own interest in writing, essentially asking why they even need a ghost writer (and why risk some big story to some left-leaning Idahoan who'll give up the goods the second he gets caught?). They will talk about being numbers guys, or that they just didn't have enough time for that. I ask them who their favorite poet is. That request usually ends their interest in my services--that, and when I confess that Frank Church was my childhood hero. Besides, I don't want to be involved in a project about spy vs. spy, assassination plots, subterranean imperialism. I don't want to be working with someone who knows twelve ways to kill me with a fountain pen.

This last week, I have phone messages from a 80-something-year-old retiree, in "finance," and he wants me to help him write a tract on his scheme to create a "Tea Party CONSERVATIVE" political party. Evidently the "CONSERVATIVE" label is to scare away the libertarians associated with the movement.  He tells me that he has connections with media folks and talk show hosts who will put their names on as authors. This is all geared to launch his grandson, an eighteen-year-old freshman at Ohio State, into a political career shortly after he gets his law degree from Ave Maria.

I also receive more benign overtures, and everyone of them has a touching element, all about being afraid of disappearing, of having left not yet quite enough legacy. At worst, the requests are from men who've been executives most of their lives, pampered and groveled to, and yes, they want that final reassurance that they matter, still, but that the work of writing has been always beneath them. And it really pisses them off when I dare mention that some poor adjunct might be available to do the work for $25 per hour. Somehow, the ghost writer is always supposed to do this for free. Anyway, I always get off the hook when I say that I'm only a poet. Still, they are sweating against time--such a desperate thing it must be to pick up the phone and call some university in hopes of finding a professor who might listen to them for a few minutes.

Yes, I sometimes tell them about various writers groups, that it may be best for them just to jot down or record their thoughts, let a family member do the caring and typing and such.

What I want to tell them is what a happy and lucky thing it is to disappear, to have lived some while, and then to join the big whatever thereafter cosmic soup-drift. To me, the idea of poetry isn't really about hitting that big-time homerun poem that will stand the test of time, that will be universal, but rather, just to be one token of the temporal. What else are we? What vanities more do we need to have affirmed?

02 June 2010

Goodbye Mercury!

Kind of like that as a title . . . but alas, Ford closing its Mercury division. I remember my father taking us (all four kids) in a test drive in a used 1963 Mercury Monterey with the supercool "Breezeway" roof, zipping down Gowen Field Road at 70 mph. It seemed like such an impossible lark, and then the next day, we had it in our driveway. I loved that car.

01 June 2010

Ah, June

Month of Gerri's and Carson's births, of Gods & Money's publication, of the Purple Martins and their roosting spectacle in downtown Fort Myers, of my Walt Whitman seminar, of the start of hurricane season. of the solstice, of slowing down.

29 May 2010

Salvage Rehearsal Videos

I've just uploaded two videos from the "feel through" rehearsal of Salvage, the dance performance choreographed by Alyce Bochette.   The first is from the dance "Shiny Objects," and it features original music by Rodney Woolsey and dancers Mariquita Anderson, Kelley Natella, Gerri Reaves, Jennifer Reed, and Lynn Vosloo, with an appearance by Katie Pankow.  

The second is from the dance "Ray of Light," and it features dancers Mariquita Anderson, Kelley Natella, Gerri Reaves, Jennifer Reed, and Lynn Vosloo.

The floor had just been laid two days before, and as you can tell from the video, Stuart Brown is still setting up the lights.  We didn't have the tech set up until the next evening (some 80+ light cues), and so you are seeing something very much in progress.  Even so, what with a simple marking, the dancers going at 50%, and the limited sound and lighting, you can see how marvelous the choreography is.  Oh, and Kelley had a perfect ascension in the performance.

26 May 2010

Gods & Money #1 Word Is "Body"

Found this word counter web site through surfing Kelli Russell Agodon's blog.  So I decided to run the text of my forthcoming book, Gods & Money.

The results?

Word Frequency

There's a good reason why "camel" and "poem" are so high on the list, but you'll have to read the book to see why. 

24 May 2010

Project Vacuum

After having had about eight months running of creative projects, mostly collaborative, I have almost nothing on my plate, and so it's mostly free time right now as I wait for my summer teaching to kick in mid-June (a graduate seminar on Whitman--pretty sweet, huh?). 

So predictably, the first order of business is cleaning the floors, reading some random books of poetry, and catching up on my New Yorkers and several literary magazines (including Crab Creek Review). 

But what's so odd about all this is dealing with my own nonchalant attitude about my forthcoming book, Gods & Money, which will be out next month.  I've got gigs lined up, and I'll do my publicity blasts and adept peddling, but I probably won't have a formal book launch until fall sometime after the snowbirds return.  I'm genuinely proud of the book, counting my good fortune and all, but I am going through one of my poetry cooling stages (this kind of fits with my complicated and imperfect metaphor of poetry writing as a process of nuclear fission, trying to free those lighter, crazy careening neutrons). 

Or, what it might be, really might be, is that I'm tired of the linking of my art thing to academic review.  I think that's one reason why I've had such fun with the fringe work, which is very serious, that I have been involved in:  amateur acting, auto-performing, art collaborations, dance collaborations.  I'm not degreed in any of that stuff, and they are the kinds of activities that don't readily "count" in my annual review of "scholarship." 

The standard expectation regarding academic scholarship is that your career follows a steady, ever-climbing trajectory, and every year, as a part of my annual review, I am supposed to write a narrative of my scholarship that shows continual improvement--it's a script really, one that even the most hardened of post-structuralists happily adheres.  In short, one's academic work is supposed to  get better published, reviewed, and cited, a progression that culminates in some big final collected volume.  But I'm usually the one in faculty meetings to cite the exceptions of geniuses, or late bloomers, or mathematicians who shoot their wads at age 25, or poets who loaf and look at blades of grass. 

So, sometimes in reaction to that expectation, I just want to stop.  Or get off.  No, it's not that I feel that my work is so precious it can't deal with that kind of review.  Actually, I'm such a freakin' boy scout in submitting my annual reports on time, all according to expectations.  And I've gone through all the hoo-hah of associate and full professordom.  And it all seems so very beside the point.

I'm genuinely proud of the poetry I've written this past year which has had nothing to do with publication at all, but all with performance.  What's more, I know that the poems I've written for the performances wouldn't really hold up as poems unto themselves, and neither would I like them to stand alone.  And not surprisingly, I feel better about my exceptionally narrow range of acting skills, and more severely limited tap-dancing, feel better about the voice poems I shared in speaking with a co-actor and which were choreographed, than I do about the prospects of my forthcoming book and having to write about it in my annual review next year.

Anyway, I'm not so sure, these days, that I'll fill this vacuum with the same old stuff.  

22 May 2010

Performance Hangover

Last night's performance of Salvage was a tremendous success.

Even with my tiny role--performing as an actor, reciting a poem with Katie Pankow, joining an improvisation (all of which meant about eight minutes of stage time)--I'm experiencing the usual post-performance hangover.  And obviously what I'm experiencing is not nearly as intense as it must be for the dancers, including Gerri Reaves, Mariquita Anderson, Jennifer Reed, Kelley Natella, and Lynn Vosloo, and certainly not so as it surely must be for choreographer Alyce Bochette.  All so much work, since October for Alyce and January for the dancers, for just over an hour of performance, and then a half hour later, the striking down of the floor, the props, the lighting, and nothing but space and time and memory--which is precisely what the dance itself was about.

The event itself was wonderful.  The venue was sold out, and that was a worry given the price of the tickets--Alyce did insist on student pricing, which made it more affordable for many in the audience.  And the audience was exceptional.  I am accustomed to going to the Florida Repertory Theater or to other art venues, and having to deal with a restless and sometimes disinterested audience.  The performance arts have made me a snob about audiences--most aren't worth a damn.  But last night's audience, typified by the lovely Berne Davis (more on her later), was a gem, really worthy of the performance. 

The last piece of the performance, a demanding, hypnotic, 24-minute orchestration, "A Ray of Light," captivated the audience.  Here, the open, intimate staging was so appropriate.  We had floor mats about two feet from the dance floor, where children mostly sat, and the audience seating was just behind the mats.  During one part of the dance is a sequence of improvisations for the dancers, each dancing against a column that framed the stage (these are real support columns for the building, no prop columns), and one dancer improvising with a forty-foot length of fabric suspended from the ceiling.  Before the performance, I was a little worried about the proximity for the audience, that they might lean back in their chairs, evade the closeness of it all.  But they kept true to the performance itself, and so they were ready for the final segment in which the dancers gather, arm in arm, with sweeping runs and fallings, with an athletic set of jumps and arm swings, and culminating in final climb by Kelley up the fabric to nearly the ceiling.  The piece was dedicated to Alyce's dear uncle Ray, who had passed away this winter, and the ending image was of this impossible climb up a cloud of fabric, and a final seizing, held in light, and then shut in darkness.

The audience, spellbound, sat in a three-second span of silence--was it a collective gasp?  And then genuine, happy, happy, and wild applause.  Me?  I was watching in the back corner, behind a piano, and I was quickly walking toward my entry for the final bow, at the moment between silence and applause.  The dancers were exhilarated, exhausted (and after the show, they were each so typically self-critical about lapses in timing or missed steps--ah, that perfection thing), and it was thrilling to hear the audience get it.

And then the quick disassembling.

But between that, we had a half hour to visit audience members and dear friends (Kat, Barry, Phil, Brittney, Jerry, Suzanne, and more!), and in attendance was Fort Myers' grande dame of the arts, Berne Davis.  She graduated from high school the year the building was finished, a WPA project of the new Fort Myers Post Office, and she is the principle benefactor of the building that bears her and her late husband's name.  I talked with her briefly, telling her I would fetch Alyce for her, and leaving Alyce with her, I later got to hear some snippets of their conversation.  Berne expressed such impassioned joy in her appreciation for the performance--and it was genuine, with tears in her eyes.  Here was something of a marvel in Fort Myers.  No, not cutting edge, high-end post-modern art, but something very good along those lines, with a competent and brave set of dancers, with a choreographer finding her own place, and to see all the pieces, however momentarily come together, was enthralling and humbling. 

And so this morning, after the late night striking, after a couple of hours with friends and artists at a local outdoor bar, it's the performance hangover.  Now, with bucketfuls of time, of idleness, wanting what?  And thinking about why wanting anything more than that moment, which is gone, a happy. humanly crafted little thing, almost nothing. 

20 May 2010

Dress Rehearsing

Salvage is going through dress rehearsal tonight.

As is often with these ventures, lots of last-minute worries and concerns; Stuart Brown has had to deal with tons of issues with the lighting, or rather, the lack thereof, and there's still tech cues to be worked out, last touches to costumes. 

The venue is at the Berne and Sidney Davis Center for the Arts, still very much going under renovation, under the stewardship of Jim Griffith.  Over the last two years, he's been able to host events, theater productions, dance concerts, musical performance, and gallery showings, but I know it's been a difficult challenge for him to get all the expensive equipment in order all the while trying to raise funds for finishing off the renovations.  The building is the old Federal Courthouse, and was the Post Office in Fort Myers for many years.  It's one of the surprising many gems of buildings in Fort Myers, and it's partially located in the "fort"of Fort Myers (the last building from that antebellum structure was destroyed around 1940--and so there are only echoes). 

Anyway, part of the intent of Salvage is to retrieve things from our past, and so this venue, even with its quirks for performances, is so fitting. 

16 May 2010


Visited a high-school classmate who was staying at the Atlantic Center for the Arts this past week, located on the East Coast of Florida at Smyrna Beach.  Hadn't seen him in about 27 years, when we were both at Indiana University, which was a long way from Idaho for both of us.  We had lost touch of one another about a year after graduating from high school, and I went to I.U. for my MFA.  My second year there, I moved into a quad-plex, and my friend was living in another apartment in the same building.  So that was a pretty big coincidence.  But again, I lost touch with him after I moved out, and he graduated from I.U. and moved west to California.

So we shared stories about our lives, talked a little about our own ambivalences growing up in Boise, politics, and writers.  In his room in the closet were signatures of past residents, including Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Carolyn Forche, Anthony Hecht, Quincy Troupe, Mary Jo Salter (those were just some of the poets). 

Anyway, the ACA campus is wonderful, with smartly designed studios and workshops, all in a very familiar (at least to me) estuary/hammock setting, meaning sabal palms, saw palmetto, slash pine, live oak, mahagony trees, lots of Cardinals, Carolina Wrens, and Red-Bellied Woodpeckers.  And Smyrna Beach, about a five minute drive away, as little of it I did see, is one of those charming, slightly run-down Florida beach towns--yes, always, pockmarked with high-rise condos, but not overrun, at least from a visitor's perspective. 

11 May 2010

Gods, Money, Jump-roping, Second Story

For Wooden Mouth, I took tap lessons, learning the basics and a few time steps, and now, for Salvage, I'm part of an improvised dance that includes some jump roping.  This part of the dance is set to found sounds pieced together by Stuart Brown, a mixing of voices from a distortion of a Southern Baptist-y oration on God's mercy to shouts of South African children at a playground.  Ever stretching, yet again.

And this morning, I've been thinking about money.  Right now, beyond our lanai--and here's a painful admission that we leave in a golf-course, gated community--workers are busily running an impressive array of tractors grooming, aerating, and fertilizing.  Here, in South Florida in May, the golf season is pretty much over, and so now begins the manic and loud tending of the greens.  To be a member of the golf club (which we are not), the initial dues are $50,000, and the annual fees are $12,000 with a round of golf being in the $200-500 range; I'm told that that's in the just above average in these parts.  It's staggering, especially seeing how few people actual play golf on the course itself. 

I'm also currently thinking about money and reading Walt Whitman.  I'm teaching a graduate seminar in June, yes, to make a little more money.  I am also thinking about the ticket price to the performance of Salvage, which is a pricey $35:  this figure was set by the director of the arts center where we will be performing, and while I've paid twice that for dance performances in Pittsburgh and Miami, it's really not what Alyce Bochette wanted for this particular performance.  One, all the artists are collaborating for free.  Two, we want a sizeable audience to see our work.  Three, we are hardly using any of the resources of the center beyond the space itself.  Four, the price will keep students away (no discount yet for students).  And it's not that this venue habitually has high-ish ticket prices, as it features finely produced theater for $20 per pop, routinely participates in free events for the monthly art walk.  Anyway, I'm thinking about the money here because I don't believe I've participated in an event with a $35 admission price.

Yes, $35 is nothing by so many other entertainment standards.  But I'm reading Whitman, whose biggest selling book in his lifetime was his temperance novel, Franklin Evans, which sold some 20,000 copies at one bit a pop (12.5 cents), and who made his serious money working furiously in journalism and later, after becoming the good gray poet, delivering the odd lecture/performance, cashing in about $600, which would keep him afloat for the year. 

And now I recollect the first poetry reading I participated in in which we decided to charge a cover fee.  This was in Bloomington, Indiana in 1982, and the reading featured myself, Dan Bourne, Tyler Fleeson (wonderful poet and editor, big spirited one, where are you?), and Robyn Wiegman (this was when Robyn was a kick-ass poet, well before she became a kick-ass uber-academic).  The reading took place at the music venue Second Story, which was above the gay bar Bullwinkles, both of which are defunct.  I recall the reading for two reasons:  one, it was the first and only reading where I flipped off an audience member (it was Robyn who was heckling me, for the record--we were pretty drunk); two, the reading had a $1.00 cover charge.  That was Dan's idea, and we plastered all the telephone posts with our flyer, set off by the famous Kenneth Patchen quote, "People who say they love poetry and never buy any are a bunch of cheap sons of bitches."

I remember walking with Dan, seeing one of our flyers defaced, with someone having scribbled, "What about art for art's sake?"  Dan said something like, "Yeah, we're whores now."  We actually had a good turnout for the reading, probably around 80 people (again, good, for a poetry reading), principally because it was at a bar.  Thus, we ended up each with about $10 haul, which gave us some bragging rights, I suppose among the I.U. MFA poetry crowd then.  We would get all cheery for each other, whether it was someone talking about getting $5.00 for a poem in the Hawai'i Review or $10.00 from Wisconsin Review.  Good for a round of pitchers of beer, and that seemed rather miraculous and happy.

08 May 2010

Art Walking, Fort Myers

The above is a fragment of a street performance, called "My Umbrella," I did during the November, 2009 Art Walk in Fort Myers.  Art Walk is a first-Monday arts event, one of my favorite things to participate in this neck of the woods.  Anyway, Gerri did the video-graphing, and there are three separate segments to this film.  The final version doesn't have the slow-downed voice stuff, but overlaid with poetry and Edith Pilaf fragments--it's probably better to view with the sound mute.   My favorite part occurs about 5:20 into the video.  It's a part of my larger, intermedial performance, my whale, the birds, which took place in December 2009.

But about Art Walk itself, I get to see many of my favorite visual and performing artists in some very fun galleries and art spaces in downtown Fort Myers (which itself is a profoundly undervalued and underappreciated in Southwest Florida), including Arts for Act Gallery, Space 39, and Howl Gallery.  These and other galleries feature local, national, and international visual artists, and on the first Monday evening of every month, there's a hint of Miami to Downtown Fort Myers, which is no small feat.

I also spend time there at the Bar Association, a fun, civilized, playful beer/wine place right on Hendry.  I'll be writing more about these places and such over the next months--and looking forward to the incredible Purple Martin Festival that the Bar Association has been promoting for July.

Fort Myers, isolated cow and boom town (currently devastated by the housing bust), is a place perfectly lampooned in the Palm Beach Story, in which Claudette Colbert says with feigned enthusiasm, "Let's go to Fort Myers!  There's absolutely nothing to do there!"  Fort Myers, or rather Lee County, is golf-course, gated-community land, where on the whole there is no center, no identity but a big tourist play-yard, and it comes with all the terrible trappings of that.  Yet, Fort Myers is actually a real place, with a real history, and its vibrant arts community is a well kept secret.  Yes, there is much, much I can't stand about this place, but it does have its charms and beauty . . . .

06 May 2010


Honesty in reviewing note:  I am an on-line acquaintance of January Gill O'Neil, knowing of her work through her blog, and collaborating on a couple of projects here and there.  I am in her acknowledgements page of this book, and she blurbed my forthcoming Gods & Money.  I'm writing this review as an additional stop to the blog tour of her book.  Take it all for what all that may be worth.

When first handling January Gill O'Neil's amazing debut collection, Underlife, I was immediately taken with the physical beauty of the book itself.  The publisher, CavanKerry Press, Ltd., designed the book with a very old school eye, while being environmentally aware in using recycled paper.  In this age of cheap Print-on-Demand book publishing that even small presses have opted for cost saving, CavanKerry's book designers clearly love the book itself.  The soft-cover jacket wrap-around and the heavy-weight endpapers wink at cloth-bound editions; there's a heft to the book, along with the paper's warm tone, that suggests that this is a book that's going to stay around.  The choice of a sans-serif font gives the layout a clean post-war feel, thus not making the book production a little too precious.

I had ordered Underlife as a text in my "Poetry and the Other Arts" class at Florida Gulf Coast University--I was coupling this book with Denise Duhamel's Kinky to explore dynamics of popular culture in contemporary American poetry.  The students' reactions were mixed, mostly favorable, and January's poems gave us opportunities to talk about issues of accessibility and narrative poetics.  The strength and weakness of her work reside in those very qualities, although I would argue that the book demonstrates a considerable range with formal experimentations, with sophisticated moments of disassociative improvisations.  The book has a villanelle, abcederian, loose couplets and tercets, goof-ball lyrics, and broken rhythms (her poem, "Drone," is an especially dexterous mix of imagistic fragments and reflective meditation poured into a narrative frame).  But in the main, her poems are laid in clear, simple, precise language, working within memory-locked narratives.

One fairly smart student, who's a very hep, voracious reader of disassociative poets, complained of the neatness and linearity of Underlife.  I couldn't argue against his point, that readers who can't get enough of Dean Young and Rae Armantrout won't get much out of January Gill O'Neil (that's how I put it, not the student).   And then just after that comment, one student defended O'Neil by saying that he didn't like much poetry until he read O'Neil's work, because it was so accessible--as Natasha Tretheway says in her introduction, that O'Neil "gives voice to personal experience with compelling honesty."  At this point, I am hearing all the arguments over the last 40 years about the navel-gazing and smallness of contemporary American poetry.  I am also cringing slightly with the idea of someone who doesn't like poetry, because of its difficulty, championing an accessible poet a little too enthusiastically.

I would argue that Underlife isn't necessarily so neat and lineal, not necessarily so reassuring.  Many of her poems have a terrifying and thralling edging to them.  "Sugar" is a good example.  The poem starts with the most ordinary of personal observation, kick-starting a narrative meditation with this pedestrian, domestic act:  "I pour a tablespoon of sugar on my kitchen counter."  This rumination, at first goes inward, slightly confessional with the association of sugar to a husband's kiss.  Yes, at this point, the poem is heading into 1980s poetic disaster.

But then O'Neil unleashes a Whitmanesque phrase, "I myself a creature," and we are no longer standing on the terrain of the self-absorbed, self-important poet of small experience, smaller ideas.  O'Neil goes big.  The poet here turns to her audience:  those accusatory pots, pans, soup cans, cereal boxes, all domestic, humanly produced goods.  She says, "every human narrative / requires an act of nature."  The poet's final act is ritualistic, touching the flatness of her tongue to gather a grain of sugar, matching each self-evident truth she regards.  On one hand, this poem ends on what could be seen as a conventional note of affirmation.  But it's also a difficult, even self-accusatory, moment of defiance.  She's hep to the fallacies here, the easy logic, the comforting appearances (why else would the soup cans and cereal boxes turn "their labels in disbelief" to her own story?), and the poem ends on an act of consumption, of taking in.  She's hep to the pointlessness.  Even so, she presses her tongue.

There's more to say about O'Neil's humor, her very deep sense of play, but I would instead encourage you to follow this poet and her career as you can, while you can.

03 May 2010

Angels of the Arts Tonight

One of my favorite local arts events, supported by my absolutely favorite local arts organization, is happening tonight.  It's the annual Angel of the Arts Awards dinner, sponsored by the Alliance for the Arts, led by the amazing Lydia Black (she's my Angel of the Arts for Lee County). 

The format basically follows the Academy Awards, with a handsome statuette, winner's envelopes, and nominees, all dressed up splendidly, and even funkily, as much as that's possible in Fort Myers.  Categories include best artist, best performing artist, best new artist, best literary artist, lifetime achievement, and the like.  About a dozen folks I know are in the running:  Stuart Brown, Jesse Millner, Phil Heubeck, Tricia Fey, Marcus Jansen, Julia Gerow-Griffin, Barry Cavin, Anica Sturdivant, among others.   I'm looking forward to attending, enjoying this wonderful and happy celebration.

01 May 2010


I'm thrilled to be collaborating with Alyce Bochette on her piece Salvage, which will be performed May 21 at the Sidney & Berne Davis Art Centre in Fort Myers.  Alyce is a remarkable, versatile dancer and teacher--most recently she was my tap teacher, but more on that in some other post--having performed in Mark Morris's Dance Group for many years, among many other hugely impressive associations.

Anyway, I extended a poem I was already working on with another collaboration, again for another post, for which I had been thinking of ideas for Alyce's piece.  We spent an afternoon talking just about the dynamics of that word salvage.  Clearly about keeping and saving, but also as much about letting go, abandoning, dispossessing, all with spiritual, nostalgic, and familial elements at play.  About three weeks ago, I gave Alyce the poem, and she has choreographed a remarkable dance for a trio, and we then decided to make the poem a script.  The wonderful Katie Pankow and I will perform the poem while the dancers dance--we're blocked upstage to the right, sitting on a really big box, and so we're part chorus, part musicians, part Brechtian spectators.  The rehearsals have just been marvelous.  And this piece will be the first dance for the program (the closing dance, I must say, is riveting, emotional, and very smart). 

Alyce is working with Stuart Brown, and it will be dance with video, image, fabric, silence, boxes, music, and it has been a joy to be a part of.  One of the dancers, by the way, is Gerri, and it's been a good while for her since she has performed in a serious piece (even though she won a judge's award for a great rhumba she performed last fall for a charity event). 

In any event, it should be a special evening for all who attend.

30 April 2010

A New Blog

Essentially had retired my previous blog, Pictures That Got Small, as it had its hey-day about five years ago, and so it's time to start a different blogging enterprise in a new place.  Gods & Money takes its title from my forthcoming book, and here, other than selling my books and other projects, I hope to spend a little bandwidth contemplating beauty, whether sublime or crass, ethereal or commercial.  And of money, well, it has its own power and I'll be writing about that more often than I would like.

Over the next few weeks, I'll most likely post on my work in performance arts over the last couple of years, offer some reviews of recent books of poetry, worry over the disaster taking place in the Gulf of Mexico, and express bemusement over the politics of Florida, where I live and work.

In the meantime, as always, Happy Trails!