Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Behind the Music: The Making of Greatest Hits

Yes, it's a glimpse behind the curtain--hey, perv, not that curtain! Now come here. Look--it's the cover of my latest chapbook. Sadly, a printing glitch has delayed its long-awaited December release. Well, that's the "cover" story. Now the inside scoop. This "setback" is part of the elaborate pre-publication hype meant to garner media attention. It's just the kind of publicity stunt, like Paul McCartney's (Here's another clue . . . the walrus was Paul) rumored death due to a lethal saccharine overdose back in the '60s, sure to drive sales. Pretty smart, huh?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

What Place Is This? Where Are We Now?

Let this title--lines from Carl Sandburg's "Grass"--serve as an epigraph.

Last night, President Obama announced his plan to send 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan to "finish the job."

I can't help but recall the wisdom Vizzini imparts to the disguised Westley in The Princess Bride: "You fool! You fell victim to one of the classic blunders--the most famous of which is 'Never get involved in a land war in Asia.'"

Although Vizzini's subsequent insight ("Never go against a Sicilian with death on the line") fortunately proves false, history supports his former assertion.

The decision to escalate U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan is attributed obstensibly to fighting terrorism, replete with invocations of 9/11 & the continued search for Osama bin Laden.

If true, then why is our government reportedly working with the Taliban? Why help keep a corrupt government in power with our resources, our lives?

I'm not anti-Obama. I opposed Bush's invasion of Afghanistan & Iraq from the very start--& lest we forget, let's not gloss over the fact that our troops are still in Iraq, despite the president's campaign pledge to bring them home.

I reject the administration's hawking further involvement in Afghanistan as fighting the good war. No war is good. Some may prove necessary, but this one isn't being fought from necessity, but (it would seem) for political expediency.

Ah, but alas, this is a poetry blog, so here's a shortened version of Kenneth Koch's "The Pleasure of Peace" for your perusal & well, yes, pleasure.


Saturday, November 28, 2009

What's Profoundly Sad

is often beautiful. Sorrow,
spit from a fireplug uncorked
in a fatal pileup, drums
pity on black bumbershoots

opening like a Caillebotte
exhibit. Despondency
fills the cup of the young mother
slumped against a weathered

blue balustrade, checkered robe
undone, & the colicky baby
sucking a melancholy breast,
having tasted despair too

early, grows up suicidal
like Schumann, Van Gogh
or Marilyn Monroe maybe.
These days, seeing no one,

hearing nothing but moaning
& heavy breathing, climbing
the interminable flights
to my dark efficiency,

I sit beside the window, bare
elm branches straining
to hold a sky flushed
with artificial clouds. Dusk

palls mottled rooftops, & just
when I think no hope is left,
the last dancing ray disappears
like Giselle into the forest.

(as appeared in Main Street Rag)

Monday, October 26, 2009

Song of the Open Form Road

Some of my best ideas come while driving, many of which don't include sex. Ok, "many" may be an exaggeration, but the point is, Sigmund, not everything is about sex. In my younger days, as one of over 3 million Americans who commute more than 90 minutes to work--the average commute is around 25 minutes--I used to compose poetry mentally while in the car, but too often, by the time I'd reached my destination, I'd remember only the basic outline, not the specific lines I'd carefully crafted while stuck behind trucks that spit chunks of coal down the narrow, winding blacktop of Rt. 52.

I tried bringing along a tape player to record my ideas as I drove, but it proved unworkable, for I found myself struck with tape anxiety: I would "freeze" whenever I pushed the red "Record" button. Instead of crafting lines of poetry in the oral tradition of Homer, I would usually entertain myself by singing a diverse selection of favorite & not so favorite songs. Not to brag, but I hit nearly every note in an extremely sentimental rendition of "Something Stupid" & sounded just like Elvis in a rockabilly cover of "Leaving on a Jet Plane."

But thanks to a great new invention, I envision my productivity going through the roof. It's not the wheel, but it may be the next best thing: a laptop desk that mounts on the steering wheel. In fact, I'm writing this post while driving I-64 into Kanawha City. Yesterday, while driving to campus, I began a pantoum & jotted down a few lines I can use in my comic tour-de-force, "Portrait of Arabella Cope, Duchess of Dorset." Killer stuff, trust me, that if not for the laptop steering wheel desk may have been lost for all time! What's more, if uninspired, I can pass the time playing computer games in traffic. For instance, I can probably level my Night Elf druid before I reach my exit, if the redneck in the pickup behind me would lay off his "elfin" horn.

One may note that the makers of DeskDrive Plus caution that it isn't intended for use while driving. But that doesn't make it illegal. Like warnings on cigarette packs, it's your choice as an American to heed or disregard. If something's really important, laws are enacted--as with health reform. Q: How does the Senate propose to deal with the 46 million uninsured Americans? A: Require them by law to buy insurance! Easy peasy.

While we're at it, let's eradicate unemployment. Make it illegal not to have a job. Problem fixed. As for poverty, anyone living below the poverty level should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. I favor the death penalty for the poor, thereby ridding society once & for all of this blight. You can't rehabilitate the poor. Also, terrorism. If it's not illegal, it should be.

Anyway, I'm nearly at Radio Shack, so . . . holy crap! I almost ran over a deer!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Apocatastasis of Ekphrasis

If you missed the Poems at an Exhibition reading last Saturday at Taylor Books, you now face the outer darkness. Wailing, weeping & gnashing your teeth, you wish you'd not only attended the reading, but that you'd brushed & flossed as well.

"Have mercy on me," you plead. "Send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water & cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame." (An outlandish request, but to be fair, the furnace of eternal fire makes loads of noise, so I may have misheard.)

Listen, I bring you good news of great joy. For lo, Vic Burkhammer of The Charleston Gazette has put together a neat sampler of images from the event which you may view at Mountainword. It's way cooler than a glass of water.

Thanks, Vic!

Monday, September 14, 2009

My Favre-esque Things

On Sunday, I played Brett Favre--no, not in fantasy football, but the drinking game! You know the rules: every time announcers mention Brett Favre, you gotta swill your favorite legal beverage. This week, in light of Tila Tequila being strangled by Shawn Merriman--allegedly--I went totally Mezcal while tuned to the Vikings-Browns game (I'm a Cleveland fan, so kick me again). For a taste of how my Sunday went, here's a sample from that silver-tongued football analyst Brian Billick:

We talked with Brett Favre & his Viking teammates this week & heard a lot of Brett Favre stories, but the Brett Favre story I liked best was about Percy Harvin, who was 3 years old when Brett Favre began his NFL career. So, of course, he grew up watching Brett Favre, admiring Brett Favre, you know, idolizing Brett Favre as all the young players did, so when he sees Brett Favre in the locker room, he knows Brett Favre. Brett Favre! I mean, who doesn't know Brett Favre? Haha! Can you imagine that? And there he is, Brett Favre, just an arm-length--a future Hall of Fame arm--away! Brett Favre notices Percy staring at him, so he--Brett Favre--Brett Favre walks over & introduces himself: "Hi, I'm Brett Favre . . . "

I passed out minutes into the 1st quarter, which at least spared me the thumping the Browns took in the 2nd half. If you're not a sports fan, you may want to play the death panel drinking game instead. Sheesh, all this news about death panels in which, every five years once you reach 65, you have to meet with a government agent who'll decide whether you live or die--how can anyone believe crap like that? Have you ever tried to contact a government agent? Good luck! Let me know when you get through.

I'm all for universal health care, particularly the single-payer option, which the powers-that-be say isn't an option. We wouldn't want to stop making insurance companies rich--er, richer, would we? If not insurance companies, who'd make substantial donations to our representatives' political campaigns? Such contributions allow these corporations to extort control--I mean, exert control--over Congress. In fact, if the public option is eliminated & the individual mandate is invoked, the only ones who'll profit from the current health care reform are insurance companies--& politicians.

I wish there were a mandate that said anyone who didn't buy my Greatest Hits collection (forthcoming from Pudding House Publications) would be fined. Instead of 10 bucks, the current price, how about 100 bucks? Don't read, don't "get" poetry? Tough titty. I don't "get" what my insurance agent knows about heart attacks, but I don't want to have one when I "get" fined for not buying his product. Ultimately, that's what insurance policies are: a product, not unlike the empty boxes you see Progressive hawking in its auto insurance ads, sold for profit.

Speaking of policies, the same company that denied your claims before the mandate will undoubtedly deny your claims afterward as a matter of policy. How's that for a kicker?

You know what? Screw it. I not only want death panels, I want death squads. I want Josef F'n Stalin reincarnated to oversee them. Ah, Stalin! Vladimir Lenin dubbed him ruthless. Yes, the same Lenin who organized the Russian revolution, who shrugged off the execution of Nicholas & his family, called Stalin ruthless. That's like Dick Cheney saying someone is "cold." As for me, I know who's quarterbacking my death squad!

I may sound angry, but listen, once the statute of limitations has elapsed, I'll tell you an hilarious story about [RETRACTED] and a minivan of monks. Until then, how about a poem from my forthcoming Greatest Hits collection? Nah, better not. If Glenn Beck knows anything (he doesn't), that's creeping socialism. If you believe in America, you'll buy my book.

Or die.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Richard Lovelace, Vaudevillian

"See!" With what constant motion, even & glorious as the sun, Gratiana steers that noble frame, closing the door behind her.

"What beautiful flowers!" I say, lighting a cigar, "Soft as your breast, sweet as your voice that gives each winding law & poise--"

Swifter than the wings of fame, she beat the happy pavement by such a star made firmament, which now no more the roof envies & interjects, "It was your idea."

"My idea?" A puff of cigar smoke swells up high with Atlas even, bearing the brighter, nobler heaven & in her, all the deities.

"Sure," she explains, looking for a vase, as if each step trods out a lover's thought & the ambitious hopes he brought, chained to her brave feet with such art. "You know Amarantha just got out of the hospital & you told me when I visit her, I should take her flowers. Remember?"

"Yes, of course." Such sweet command & gentle awe as when she ceased, pausing to place the flowers in the vase, we sighing saw the floor lay paved with broken hearts.

"Well, I went to see her this afternoon &--" So did she move, so did she sing like the harmonious spheres that bring unto their rounds music's aid. "I thought about what you said & when she left the room, I took her flowers."

Which she performed such a way as all the enamored world will say the Graces danced & Apollo played.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Odds Bodkins in the Land of Nod

Did anyone see District 9? Now that's one awful movie. I say this because it wasn't a double feature or it would be two horrible movies. Who knew the shantytown aliens would turn out to be more human than human beings? Who knew de Jerk would turn into a "prawn"? I'd guess everyone. If Peter Jackson's not ashamed of himself, I am of myself for paying to see this predictable pile of extra terrestrial poop.

Speaking of extra terrestrials, I saw E.T. for the first time the other day. Is it one of the best movies of the 80s? In a word, no. Spielberg tends to lay on the shmaltz way too thick--& please don't tell me E.T. was made for kids. That doesn't change the fact I've been puking shmaltz since Saturday.

I'm trying to remember the last good movie I've seen. It sure wasn't Star Trek Babies nor the latest Harry Potter. What was the title, Harry Potter & the Milking of the Franchise? Sheesh, other than the opening scene in which Snape swears his loyalty to Voldemort, nothing else that happens has anything to do with the ending. It's all irrelevant filler. Oh, sure, it's artsy, but if the point is that teens wanna get it on, I can find more graphic depictions at no cost on the web.

I would do well to stay immersed in poetry if for no other reason than to avoid such excruciating experiences. I certainly have plenty to do. I have a full-length book manuscript--a semi-finalist in a recent competition--I'm continuing to circulate, as well as two new chapbooks I'm working on. Plus, I have several new poems I want to send out. Hey, how come no one's offered to make movies out of my poems? Sadly, I'm relegated to surveillance cameras at Dollar General.

Wait, I got one, a good movie I've seen recently: I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK. Let's just say I was skeptical because it stars Rain--cheap shot, sorry--but I enjoyed the surrealistic probing of the line between reality & fantasy, illustrated by the delusions of patients in a psychiatric hospital. I especially like the part in which Peter Jackson, his enormous head wrapped in aluminum foil, apologizes profusely for everything while J.K. Rowling sings rich mushy love songs. Spielberg, ass bared in his untied gown, fancies himself the world's greatest ping-pong player until Leonard Nimoy with rabbit ears bursts into the room & confesses--he's the thief!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Greetings from Boston

I recently returned from a trip to Boston. Not to tell stories out of school--more about that later--but I overheard a British couple complaining about the cold, rainy weather, if that tells you anything.

My travel guide called the Boston Museum one of world's largest. I love museums, but world's largest . . . not. Great gift shop, though. It also has a Great Hall which looks something like this:

As many of my readers know, I went to Harvard--not only on Friday, but Saturday too! Here's a picture of me at the Sackler Museum--the "Slacker" as it's called in my dyslexic subjective reality--mugging with the bust of fellow poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:

Speaking of, here's a poem from Nearing Narcoma that mentions Longfellow:
Whitman Sampler

The last great poet has died,
having joined the immortals
for a softball game in the sky.
He lofts a deep fly to center,
his soul a can of corn.

That rummy Edgar Allan Poe
tags at third & foots the line,
testing the unknown arm of
aloof academician
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

I can watch them play all day
if I gaze into the sun
& stand on one leg just so.
And when the sun goes down,
I close my eyes & listen.

What slow summer evenings
I've heard the muse calling
Emily Dickinson--sliding,
cleats high, across the plate
in a cloud of dust--safe at home.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Song 2

Woohoo! as Blur might say. Woohoo!

In an earlier post, I described a tongue-in-cheek formula for composing songs. Although I don't write them anymore--I don't play guitar anymore either or do math for that matter, so you do it--I'd written scores, if you'll pardon the pun, without benefit of the formula, which, in brief, states songs require 3 verses, a chorus & a bridge. The following example, one of the last pieces I wrote back in my days of guitars & psychosis, has 4 verses, no chorus & no bridge; a simple 3 chord progression in whatever key suits your fancy, with a few minor chords thrown in for variety, it's called "You Again."

I didn't have a friend & my dog was dead when I checked into the motel.
Before I saw you that night I thought I'd take my life on a handful of pills,
but you were acutely aware & astute & I started to wonder
right there & then if my ship had come in or had it already gone under.

In addition to setting the scene, the first verse (in poetry we'd probably call it a "stanza," another distinction, albeit one of semantics, between the genres) establishes a pattern of both internal & end rhymes (mostly slant) maintained throughout the song. For instance, in line 1, "friend" rhymes with "dead"; in line 2, "night" rhymes with "life" while "motel" rhymes with "pills." That pattern, if you're scoring at home or even if you're alone, is xx xx y / zz zz y.

Technical stuff aside, as for the narrative, the lonely, suicidal singer meets someone who somehow knows he's planning to kill himself & means to stop him. With no rational explanation how she would know his plans or why she'd show up now, much less care about him, the singer wonders if she isn't perhaps a product of his drug overdose--or perhaps he, like his figurative dog, is already dead.

Yeah, you were a ship & we took a trip from New York to Port-au-Prince.
We tossed & turned like the ocean & burned incense for ambiance.
I remember the night we saw the lights on the shore with the tourists.
You took my hand, we strolled down the strand & disappeared in the mist.

Here, the verse is an extended metaphor comparing sex to a sea cruise. I find it amusing naming the specific route "from New York to Port-au-Prince" as if it were some obscure double-entendre. Also, I like that it rhymes with "ambiance." When the singer & his anonymous lover "disappeared in the mist," it symbolizes both sex--the afterglow, so to speak--& death, reminding us of the attempted suicide.

When I woke up & looked down in my cup, the non-dairy creamer
afloat on the top was symbolic I thought that I'd just been dreaming,
so I took a walk to try to cool off before I went off the deep end.
As I talked to myself, I couldn't help if I felt that I'd just lost my best friend.

It's at this juncture, using a harmonica holder like Dylan did back in the day, I'd squawk on my mouth harp while strumming along to the melody because I can't play lead guitar. I mean, go figure--I practice guitar almost everyday for 10 years & other than a few boogie rifts & "Sunshine of Your Love," I'm strictly rhythm.

Anyway, the next day, the singer sees it all as a dream, but still feels the pangs of lost love. I should point out the enjambment of the first line, breaking the typical pattern of end-stops--which I discuss in my earlier entry as one of the major distinctions between songs & poems--but frankly, I'm tired of doing what I should, so you'll have to notice of your own accord while I continue with the song:

Years have gone by & I didn't die that I can remember
& I've been with a few others too who were dreaming I'm sure.
For this universe is often perverse, but it's all that we're given
& maybe one night--who knows--I just might dream about you again.

Had I written this narrative as a poem, among other numerous changes, most notably disencumbering it of rhymes, I would have omitted this last--complete with moral--passage, but as far as the song goes, it works well enough. If nothing else, it provides the title, so why question it?

Perhaps it goes without saying, but to be clear let me say again that songs are not poems. Why, then, you may ask, did I decide to include this song on my poetry blog? Probably the main reason is that while many of my poems have been published, none of my songs have ever been seen--or rather heard--outside of live performances. Let's call it ego.

Also, this is my blog, so stop hassling me, man.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

I Call Copyright

I've gotten used to popular comedians "recycling" my comedy bits in their routines. I bet you didn't know, for instance, that George Carlin based his famous "7 Words You Can Never Say on Television" on an improvisation I performed at recess during the 3rd grade. It's true my initial performance lacked many of the sophisticated nuances that Carlin employed, but then again, he didn't shout his from an out-of-control merry-go-round spinning a zillion miles an hour while trying not to hurl.

Of course, Carlin would never have heard about my performance had Judy Palmer, her eyes blue as my shtik, her hair sheer comedy gold, not ratted me out to Mrs. Cooley, who, despite her name, wasn't "cool" at all. Mrs. un-Cooley, in turn, told the principal about my little thing--hey, I was only 8 years old!--who shared snippets, completely out of context, with my parents who repeated it ad nauseum to me that evening along with a rather vociferous critique.

Before long, it seemed everyone had heard about my obscenity-laced ad lib & the next thing I knew, there was Carlin reaping the rewards for the bit that got my ass busted. I felt a little like Lenny Bruce, I'll admit, but that's the nature of the comic beast. Indeed, stealing jokes can be be traced as far back as the dawn of the Paleogene, where a young rodent-sized mammal, Milton Berle (remembered these days, if at all, not for his wit, but for his mammoth dong) devoured Henny Youngman & his young for a one-liner about manipulative, overbearing mothers-in-law.

Today, when someone rips off one of my jokes, I take it as a compliment, as further affirmation that I know funny. However, the other evening while watching The Colbert Report interview with poet Paul Muldoon, I executed a well-timed spit-take that would have made Danny Thomas proud when Colbert alluded to Shakespeare's 18th sonnet in a rather silly discussion about metaphor. I had recently written a parody of that very same sonnet & feared some less talented poet--perhaps one of the poetasters who use my name--would "borrow" the idea & write some half-assed poem.

To be proactive, I've decided to post my parody below in order to establish a clear copyright date. I doubt the poem's in its final draft--I've not settled on a title either, so please share any ideas you may have--but if I understand copyright law, I can claim the idea as well as the language as my intellectual property because "anti-intellectual property" just sounds messed up.

To Paris Hilton

If I were to compare you
to a summer's day, it wouldn't be
the 4th; however much
I enjoy fireworks kissing

the sky like Hendrix, vintage
Stratocaster ablaze, it isn't patri-
otism I feel for you. You're
not a summer solstice sun

wreathed in red as ancients
samba, Isis' tears swelling
the Nile. Not canicular dies nor Labor
Day's gray finale, but eyes

closed, bare breasted, fern flower
in hair, you might be Ivan Kupala Day.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Rock'em Sock'em Robots: The Movie

If you've seen the trailer for Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, you pretty much know what to expect: this movie's gonna suck. I base this not only on the giant robot depicted sucking sand, trucks & everything in its path into oblivion, but also on the basis of Michael Bay's previous movie, Transformers, which sucked. In fact, don't Michael Bay's movies generally suck? Isn't that the consensus opinion?

If you're a fanboy like me, no doubt you love stories about giant robots & teenagers saving the world, so to help fill the void created by Transformers' extraordinary sucking, I've prepared a synopsis for a long overdue movie based upon one of my favorite childhood toys, Rock'em Sock'em Robots.

Somewhere faraway in the future, say 2010 or 2011, robots have replaced greedy, unreliable, steriod juiced athletes. This is true not only in major professional sports, such as baseball, basketball, football (both American & international styles), but in sports across the boards, including the sweet science, boxing. Backed by the Mafia, the Yakuza, the RNC, Trump, the Russian Science Academy, Microsoft, Don King & all the usual suspects, robots battle for the fame & fortune of world boxing domination.

In order to gain the upperhand, promoters--always looking for enhancements & upgrades-- employ hordes of lab-coated, bespectacled geeks at their labratories. The Yakuza have forced Bobby, a blue jeaned teenage computer prodigy, to work for them to repay his stepfather's gambling debt. Held hostage, his redheaded stepdad, Lon, has lost everything--even more than Bobby knows! For the Yakuza are secretly experimenting on humans to turn them into robots (think Robocop) for fighting purposes.

Bobby has become an expert at tweaking A.I. to increase the robot's ability to adapt to its opponent's tendencies & to make its own punches less predictable, less telegraphed. All is going well--other than his being a slave & his stepdad kidnapped & tortured--until Bobby tweaks the subroutine & the robot somehow becomes sentient. While Blue's (as Bobby nicknames the robot) nonverbal communications result in several comic mishaps, as the days go by leading up to the next fight, Bobby & Blue develop a special friendship.

When the Russian Science Academy's robot knocks the block off Blue, who'd refused to fight as a form of protest, the Yakuza cut all ties with Bobby & the decapitated robot by dumping them in a sealed crate into the Pacific. Miraculously, Blue reboots himself in the nick of time to reattach his head & save Bobby.

As they languish by a remote shore, wet metal & flesh glistening in the sun, the boy & his robot, looking toward the distant horizon, decide to barnstorm the country as a boxer/programmer team. Since they don't have much upfront money, they have to start at the bottom, fighting at state fairs, for instance, or human tough man contests, in which Blue wears street clothes & greasepaint to hide the fact that he's a robot.

During one such event, Bobby meets Zoe, a smart, sassy, sexy, barely legal dancer at the club where Blue's posing as a woman wrestler to vie for a hundred dollar prize. Zoe sees through the disguise--they could afford only a cheap wig--but she also sees potential. Having saved & invested her tips wisely, she agrees to become their financial backer, but she insists that she travel with them, as she says, to protect her investment. Also, although it seems at first that they don't like each other, she & Bobby are really hitting it off!

This arrangement comes as no small relief for Bobby since it helps to keep his & Blue's true identities hidden. He imagines the grisly details of what the Yakuza might do if they found out they weren't rotting at the bottom of the sea. Besides, with Zoe's backing, the venues become bigger. In a montage that includes magazine covers & ESPN snippets, Blue's KO'ing the mob, uppercutting Trump, giving the RNC a devasting roundhouse, knocking the block off Microsoft, with Bill Gates, in a cameo, slinging his laptop onto the canvas. Finally, after avenging his loss to the Russian Science Academy with a single blow, Blue's worked his way back to the top. A title match for all the marbles awaits.

Success is coming fast for Bobby, but after an argument with Zoe about free will, exploitation, the nature of good & evil & so forth, he feels perhaps he used Blue against his will. Brooding over it, he tells Blue--earnestly, sincerely, genuinely--that he doesn't care about fame & fortune. It's Blue's decision alone & he doesn't have to fight if he doesn't want to. With a pregnant pause followed by a series of complex robotic gestures, Blue makes his intention, his metallic blue desire, known.

No longer controlled by his programming, he decides of his own volition to fight Lon, now fully acclimated as the Yakuza's candy apple red robot, for a billion dollar purse. There would be some moral ambiguity at this juncture, had Bobby--having sneaked into the Yakuza compound prior to the event to retreive some parts he had designed for Blue--not overheard Lon confess he only married Bobby's mother for her money & regretted that Bobby died before he'd taken out a huge insurance policy on the stupid kid. Then he laughed--a tinny, insidious, robotic laugh.

After the exciting boxing match that ensues, in the closing scene, Bobby--arm draped around Zoe, obviously his soulmate, his teary mother kissing him, overjoyed that he's still alive--slaps the dancing Blue high five, money raining down like confetti.

A great synopsis, you may say, I can't wait to see the movie, but what has this to do with poetry? In reply, let me say I'd considered writing the entire screenplay in rhyming iambic pentamenter, ala Moliere, trans. Richard Wilbur, but then I had an even better idea. The entire script will be written as a shape poem, intricately designed so that once unfolded, it resembles the original Rock'em Sock'em Robots toy in silhouette.

If that's not genius, I don't know what is.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Songs & Poems

Recently, while talking with my son about music, a common topic of conversation for us, I stumbled upon a line which struck me as worthy of being a song refrain. I told him, adding with a snicker--he prefers Kit Kats, I'm reminded--that I could probably write the entire song in less than an hour.

Song lyrics are not poetry, not in intent or in form. They are at best cousins, kissing cousins perhaps. Sure, sometimes the kisses become passionate, hands begin to roam here & there--yes, mostly there--& in an moment elapsing in slow motion, song & poem, puddles of discarded clothing on the dewy ground, arch & rise, exploring the boundaries of forbidden love between genres.

I don't intend this distinction between songs & poems as an insult, merely as a statement of fact; however, experience has taught me that making this distinction tends to rile Dead-heads, Parrot-heads, Fanilows, Claymates & their ilk. It doesn't imply that one genre is better than the other, but apparently, McCartney-Lennonists, Zimmerfans, even Air Supply fans, whatever they're called--[provide your own joke here]--feel their favorite songs must be dubbed poetry as if doing so bestows special status upon them.

Believe me, poets' perks don't begin to approach those accorded rock stars. Admittedly, both have their groupies--feel free to inquire--but poets rarely see drunken fans at readings with lighters held high shouting, not "Freebird!" but "Free verse!" Nor has the expression "sex, drugs & poetry" ever caught on outside literary circles.

The most notable difference between the genres is intent. Songs are to be sung. Even great lyrics when read, not sung, lack their usual emotional intensity, in part due to the nearly unvaried repetition of end-stopping, in which each line expresses, if not a complete thought, then a linguistic unit of sense. While maybe a necessity for a song's sensibility, end-stops make the reading of lyrics flat, monotonous.

Poets, on the other hand, employ enjambment to help create rhythm for the spoken word. Of course, poets use other devices too, such as meter, that songwriters mostly ignore. Given the trend toward free verse, however, I won't pursue this further. Oh, I could, making reference to specific songs & poems, show how metaphor & imagery, for instance, remain more the domain of poetry than songs, but back to my new tune.

As a poet, I'm fairly free in terms of form & content, but I have very traditional views when it comes to composing a song, which limits me as a songwriter. However, on the upside, these rules make it easy for me to write songs on the fly. Here are my basic precepts: all songs have 3 verses, a chorus & a bridge. Also--no, that's all. Hit it!

We Gotta Stop This

jane jane
we gotta stop this
crazy thing
jane jane
we gotta stop this
crazy thing

we both know it's wrong
but we've been doing it for so long
good loving's hard to quit
once you get a taste of it (chorus)

george's gone rosie said
so i asked to talk to you instead
good morning how are you
im at the venus inn room 302

jane i'm waiting for you
gotta room with a view
when you look in the mirror
is the coast any clearer
before people start to blog
you gotta walk the dog
we gotta do it now
we gotta finish somehow (chorus)

with your digs in the clouds
two good kids who make you proud
pearl necklace diamond ring
how bored you are with everything (chorus & fade)

I haven't written the music, but if I return in my mind to my guitar days, I'd have probably used a combination of the following chords: Bb, Dm, Gm7, F, Cm7, Eb, Ab9 or whatever. If anyone wants to write the music for me, make it bouncy & you're free to use the lyrics. Should it become the hit I see it as becoming, of course, I expect royalties.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

In Honor of National Poetry Month

The American Library Association & Nextbook, in conjunction with the Jewish Literature Series, is sponsoring a mixed media poetry reading on Monday, April 27, at 7pm in downtown Huntington at the Cabell Country Public Library. The event will feature area poets such as Bev Delidow, Ron Houchin, John and Llewellyn McKernan, Matt Morris (click here for his mention in The Gazz) & Matthew Wolfe. The library is located at 455 Ninth Street in Huntington.

Monday, April 20, 2009

National Poetry Month Public Service Announcement

Did you know many people suffer from poetry deprivation, surviving on crumbs of stale verse, leftovers from a dull English class? By purchasing copies of Nearing Narcoma (selected by Joy Harjo as winner of the 2003 Main Street Rag Poetry Award) and my chapbook, Here's How, which placed 3rd in the annual Pudding House competition, you can help raise poetry awareness and end this travesty. Thank you.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

[Dead American Poets]

If you're like everyone else & me, you're caught up in the dementia that sweeps America this time of year. You've filled out your brackets for the office pool & you're eager to see who'll wear the championship crown of sonnets come National Poetry Month, a.k.a. April. Here are a few observations from last weekend's action:

Not surprisingly, Ginsberg went down early, as top-seeded Whitman administered the lopsided beat down. Ginsberg made the mistake of trying to play Whitman's game & Whitman showed that he was just flat out better.

So much depends upon how far William Carlos Williams' small ball can go in the tourney. A No. 5 seed, he had little difficulty overcoming the size of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow or the run & gun of Charles Bukowski. The true test will come against John Berryman when the two square off Thursday.

T.S. Eliot is the wild card. Love him or hate him, he certainly has the pedigree to advance, but I wouldn't bet my paycheck on him just yet. You never know which Eliot you're going to get--the poet of "Prufrock" or the one that spawned Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats & its litter. Let's see how he fares when he faces Wallace Stevens, whom I see moving on to the Elite Eight.

Fresh off victories against Edgar Allan Poe & Edwin Arlington Robinson, Kenneth Fearing remains as the only Cinderella in this year's dance, though the film noir quality of his game hardly seems to befit a fairytale. In any event, the big clock may strike midnight for this glass slipper story in the late game on Friday when he meets high-octane Kenneth Koch.

Other key match ups include Frank O'Hara versus Emily Dickinson. Can anyone imagine a greater difference between aesthetes? E.E. Cummings takes on Robert Lowell, but you can throw in Amy & James Russell Lowell--Cummings will prove too much. It's your pick who'll survive the Plath-Sexton match up. That's not a game I care to see.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Dead Dad

My dad died last week. For the past year & a half, he'd been severely incapacitated due to a major stroke.

Sadly, we didn't have a good relationship. I wouldn't liken it to Plath's "Daddy," or, for that matter, Hayden's "Those Winter Sundays" either. Nor was it like Roethke's "My Papa's Waltz," although Dad's alcoholism has blurred & tainted most of my memories of him.

I allude to this in "The Summer Before Last Summer" (which appears in both Nearing Narcoma & Manthology: Poems of the Male Experience). I've reprinted the poem below as if an elegy:

The Summer Before Last Summer

Taking the fishing trip I never had as a boy,
I’m standing on the boat’s port side because,
well, I like standing, the handle of my rod
propped against my gut. I’m a man.
It’s what men do. When I feel my line go taut,

I begin to reel it in. I’m not very good at this,
& it’s a struggle. Nothing like Santiago’s
great fish, I’ll confess, but there’s definitely
something on the other end. Maybe a hubcap,
maybe a fish. Like a pediatrician,

I have little patience, which
I expect to snap, that is, if my hands don't cramp.
I draw the line in, take up the slack
until, with just a gentle jerk, I’m left
holding a pole, limp & weightless.

My arms can’t describe my loss. I stop, eyes fixed
on white fins cutting across the surface.
I think sharks, but upon closer inspection,
I see it’s my old man, young again behind
the wheel of his ’60 Plymouth, off on a binge,

driving home the long way, the wrong way.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Poe-tic Reaction

I apparently ruffled a few inky feathers, not because of my hilarious send up of Poe's "Philosophy of Composition" in my previous post, "Composition of Parody," but because in the subsequent comments I implied--basically said--"The Raven" isn't very good. To paraphrase a Monty Python skit, it's a good thing I didn't mention "The Bells."

Although none of those who objected felt strongly enough to air their views on my blog--& by the way, I encourage all readers to comment, even if just to say how great my posts are--they've confronted me face-to-face with their views, though not always in so many words. Sometimes it's simply a cocked eyebrow & the once-over with a pale filmy vulture eye, questioning, badgering, insisting I explain how I dare suggest that I am superior to Poe as a poet. It's very creepy.

Maybe I'm paranoid, but the clerk at Starbucks has acted a little petulant the last few days too, so I suspect he's a "venti" Poe-ster. Nuts to him, I'm keeping my change. Also, those Dockered oafs who intentionally bumped into me with their laptops as I left, spilling my Frappuccino, let me remind those Poe-loving goons once again about the physical properties of rubber & glue.

For the record, Poe used to be my favorite poet--when I was twelve. It's easy to see why I was drawn to him as a prepubescent preteen: he's kind of a macabre Dr. Seuss, what, with his predictable rhymes, singsongy rhythms & ham-handed alliteration. If Poe were alive today, he'd be very old, but I'll bet he would have written spooky children's classics like Green Eggs & Death ("I am Son of Sam, Son of Sam I am. My dog doesn't like you, so you die. Blam! Blam!"), Manson Hears a Who, The Severed Parts of Bartholomew Cubbins & "The Cask of Amontillado."

In fact, Poe's significance as a writer is his prose, not his poetry. His eccentric, brilliant detective Auguste Dupin begat not only Sherlock Holmes, but myriad novels, movies & TV series; also, his gothic horror stories have inspired many of today's popular writers, but it's completely unfair to blame Poe for all that.

I'm not saying that he never wrote a good poem. For instance, "Sonnet: To Science," with its erratic meter, exemplifies the irrational fear of science during the Romantic age. To make it relevant to today's audience, it speaks to Republicans & the religious right, seemingly stuck in the 19th century, unable to budge from the flypaper of their antebellum views.

I'm fairly confident Poe wrote other good poems too--I mean, he probably did, right? Odds are in his favor.

(Fun fact: you can sing "Annabel Lee" to the tune of the Benny Hill theme. It's true! Try it yourself! )

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Composition of Parody

I thought it might be interesting or at least time-consuming to make an entry detailing the processes by which I wrote one of my poetic parodies. I'm sure some poets would prefer having it understood that they compose by ecstatic intuition--A Fine Madness (1966), if you will, starring Sean Connery & Joanne Woodward--& would shudder if the public took a peep behind the scenes at the unspoken crudities of thoughts, or worse yet, witnessed the totally groddy reality of throwing back chalices of Cold Duck, burning clove cigarettes down to their nubby butts, vociferously disowning hackneyed ideas like skanky promiscuous cousins while selecting & rejecting pretentious, possibly plagiarized lines from poets long dead, gratefully, their work now public domain.

For my part, I have neither sympathy for the alluded repugnances (hint: set out a bowl of chips & wear more than a bathrobe when the public plans to drop by) nor the least difficulty in recounting the progressive or retrogressive steps, the chutes & ladders, the candy apple red & metallic blue spray painted graffiti, the fancy faded feathers of my great great great grandmother's mothballed boa, the ridiculously numbered & numerous saved files & folders that comprise my literary histrio, so I hope it will not be looked upon as breach of decorum or, worse, interminably dull if slowly I turn-- for the sake of analysis & self-promotion--& step by step, en by en detail the M.O. of one of my works, i.e., "Aspects of Dagwood."

I've selected this poem because it is conveniently located on my publisher's website, where my book, Nearing Narcoma, can be procured at a reasonable price.

If we dismiss as irrelevant to the circumstance--or say, the drunken debauchery, requisite, if we are to understand determinism, of my graduate studies--which, in the first place, gave rise to the intention of composing a poem, this post would proceed considerably faster, so let us, then, skip giddy as schoolgirls ahead.

Obviously, there's a limit in relation to length for all works of literary art—that limit being the patience of today's reader--think fruit fly--& although in certain genres this limit may be exceeded--I'm looking at you, Stephen King--in a poem, eh, not so much. Indeed, the poem seems to have, at least on some level, an intimate relationship with its merit—in other words, to the excitement or degree of elevation (if you know what I mean, wink, nudge) it is capable of inducing; for clearly length is in direct ratio to the intensity of the intended effect, with one proviso—that some duration is absolutely necessary for producing any effect at all. Am I right, ladies?

Again, in other words, it's not the length, but how you use it. Holding in view these considerations, as well as that degree of excitement which I hoped to achieve, I reached at once, having meditated long & hard, a right length for my intended poem: 30 lines, the exact number of lines Weldon Kees should have used in "Aspects of Robinson," which, coincidentally, I'd chosen to parody.

My next thought concerned dinner. The choice of an impression or effect to be conveyed I kept in view throughout the rendering of the meal, a recipe universally recognizable as stew. I should be carried too far out of my immediate topic were I to elucidate upon the ingredients--corn, peppers, chicken, onions, potatoes, green beans, etc. However, my point is, as I repeatedly insisted between nibbling saltines & slurping spoonfuls of victuals, whereas Beauty is the sole legitimate province of the poem, Humor, if not a self-governing commonwealth like Puerto Rico, is (at the very least) an unincorporated territory like Guam.

The question of citizenry settled, my next question referred to tone. All experience has shown the tone of poetry to be one of sadness. "What's profoundly sad/is often beautiful," I myself have written in a poem which appeared a few years ago in Main Street Rag. Unfortunately, unless you purchase a back issue of the magazine, you won't be able to read this potentially classic poem in its entirety until I find a publisher for my second full-length manuscript. Adding to this tone--or, if you will, tome--of melancholy, is the difficulty I have encountered in finding a home for this aforesaid manuscript, although well respected editors at more than one university publishing house have deemed it "smart & funny."

Thus, melancholy must surely be the most "legitimate" of all the poetical tones. Having stayed out all hours on the weekend--despite having sworn "nevermore" to such escapades--& waking up next to a wild eyed apparition with a screeching raven tattoo on her left breast, I asked myself—“Of all melancholy topics, what, according to the universal understanding of mankind, is the most melancholy?” Sunday morning—was the obvious reply. “And what,” I said, “of this most melancholy of topics is most ironic?” For anyone who knows me, the answer, here also, is obvious—Sunday funnies because, unquestionably, they're just not funny.

Here then the poem may be said to have its beginning—at the beginning, where all works of art should begin--for it was here, at this point of my preconsiderations, that I began:

Dagwood dealing poker in Ed Feeley's garage; an unshaded
Bulb blares over his pin-cushion head. At the table,
Simple men puffing black stogies, quaffing frothy mugs.
The one with red hair, buck teeth takes the pot with three aces,
A king & a queen, all the same suit. A fearful voice.
—Here comes Blondie mad as a goose, Dagwood.

I may as well say a few words about versification since I have a few minutes before tee time. My first object (as usual) was originality, to the extent to which this is possible in parody. Where I have been negligent, I offer in my defense: 1). for centuries, no one has, in reality, done anything original; 2). the attainment of originality is less the product of invention than negation, the baliwick of parody; & 3). I have a terrible slice that I can't seem to straighten out, if you'll pardon the pun, no matter how many buckets of balls I hit at the driving range.

However skillfully handled, there's always a certain hardness which repels the artistic eye. For my part, I've included nonesuch imagery in my poem, having declined to impart into a work of art details of the more grotesque nature I have personally encountered, in especial, the turd frozen in the inoperative public toilet at a local Texaco. Rendering instead the colorful, dream-like quality of the comics, the stomping grounds of today's transcendentalists, I thus instilled my poem with lasting literary quality, as is apparent in the concluding stanzas—

Insomniac Dagwood with a fat sandwich of cold cuts.
Dagwood squawking in the tub when the ladies' club
Drops by. Dagwood dangling from the bathroom window,
Drippy wet towel draped around his bottom,
Red Z’s masking his face like a bland whodunit. Bells.
—Mr. Dithers wants you, Dagwood.

Dagwood whooshing out the door. Dagwood late for the bus.
Dagwood sporting the familiar bow tie & slouch hat.
Dagwood in polka-dot boxers, hiking his trousers,
Pecking Blondie on the cheek, slurping down coffee
As he runs out, slamming pow! into the postman. Letters
Flutter around them like fragments of Dagwood's recycled pulp.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Free Sample

Since my web page remains under construction, I've decided you, gentle reader, should be rewarded for your patience. Therefore, I'm providing you absolutely free of charge a poem freshly selected from my chapbook, Here's How--which, if you care about me & by extension all humanity, you'll freely purchase a copy of tout de suite.

Leda & the Sun

A lemon wedge pushing through some ice cubes
which are actually clouds, the sun beads down
on the woman. As if feeding a flame,
she re-lubes the backs of her thighs, her ass
round as a turtle shell. Knowing the sun
isn't really a fruit, she shakes the sand
from her peroxidic mop. Fingers climb
her back to find the vague string that loosens

with a quick tug her small swimsuit & she
wriggles free. Now the sun's on her however
she turns, her skin tingling with each ray's
penetration. Being so undone, does
she shudder in light of the changing tide
when the indifferent sun goes down on her?

This poem first appeared in the long defunct Great Midwestern Journal during the last millennium--so there's the test of time, the test of all great poetry, put to rest one way or another--under the title "The Sunbather." I changed the title prior to the publication of Here's How--which by law you've implicitly agreed to purchase by continuing to read my post--to "Leda & the Sun" in an attempt to ride Yeats' considerable coattails.

My dear reader, of course, you don't actually have to purchase Here's How. You could buy Nearing Narcoma, my prize winning first book, which is now out of print, so be smart & pick up a few extra copies today before it's a collector's item.

Also, be sure to ask me how you can receive an autographed copy of either book. Or better yet, both! Operators are on duty. Inquire within!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Call for Dap

Yeah, I pretty much nailed the Super Bowl with my prediction. True, I was a smidge off on the final score, but I was in the general neighborhood--now decimated by the bad economy--calling the 4 point margin of victory on the nose.

Still not convinced? Wait--there's more!

Not only did I have the exact point differential, but I also foresaw the Steelers' 4th quarter comeback as well as the Cardinals' failed rally as time wound down. I'm a poet & a prophet as in a Frank Sinatra tune.

Okay, he says "pauper," not "prophet," but both apply to me--& if Frank's crooning about you, baby, you gotsta be doing something right.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Literary Illusions

With this Sunday marking the occasion of the 43rd Super Bowl, the past two weeks have shown sports analysts & commentators working 24/7, waxing the poetic to fill the dead air so that we should never have a moment's silence without homage being paid to the teams, their players, their cities, their owners, their children, their pets & their officially NFL licensed team pajamas.

Obviously, these sports reporters have never read Kenneth Koch's ars poetica, "Fresh Air," in which he creates "a Zorro-like alter ego called the Strangler whose task it is to suppress poetic dullness," as John Ashbery describes it, "violently if necessary."

Apropos of the violence of the game, Koch writes: "In the football stadium I also see him,/He leaps through the frosty air at the maker of comparisons/Between football and life and silently, silently strangles him."

Let us hope the Strangler appears at this year's game when the announcers inevitably describe Larry Fitzgerald as "poetry in motion" or wonder aloud if Shakespeare could have written Kurt Warner's "bags to riches" story; he didn't--Ben Jonson did.

You'd think fear of showing their stupidity would muzzle some of these inane, cliche-ridden comments, but sports announcers apparently have had their already gi-normous egos amply fluffed so that they believe they are not only literate, but literary. I suppose to the inebriated, these guys pass for Nobel Laureates.

Everything's relative. For instance, one of the low points of Joe Namath's life--& that's saying something--would have been a highlight in mine. If I'd got really, really drunk at a football game & Suzy Kolber wanted to interview me on live national tv, but I told her that I didn't care about my team strugg-a-ling--I just wanted to kiss her, what a sweet, dumb memory for me! Broadway Joe, on the other hand, had to issue a public apology & enter rehab. Say it ain't so, Joe!

Back to the game, I predict Ben Roethlisberg will surmount an heroic 4th quarter comeback comparable to Tennyson's "The Charge of the Light Brigade." Then, with under 2 minutes left, the Steelers defense, led by Troy Polamalu, whose name neatly fits the meter, will hold off the swift-winged Cardinals' late rally, their scarlet glory falling short that winter's day.

Final score: Steelers 21, Cardinals 17.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Our Last Hope

I've always liked Richard Lovelace's sweet, melodious "Gratiana Dancing & Singing." Given my predilection for parody, I've written several spoofs of it over the years, one of which I thought particularly funny. My memory's sketchy, but I think it's called "Brittiana Drinking & Farting." I know! Good stuff!

Sadly, during the past few years, I've experienced more than my fair share of computer problems. Most notably, a summer storm fried my hard drive, despite my having used a surge protector. Since it was guaranteed, I got a new surge protector free of charge--which is akin to your server at Applebee's saying the riblets are "a bit off," so she threw in a few extra.

I'd backed-up my files. However, apparently some were infected with a virus, so when I downloaded them after installing a new hard drive, I spent the ensuing week trying to clean my system of a bug that kept recurring like a bad dream, one in which you're having a nice dinner out, but as events develop you grow increasingly uneasy about the way it's all unfolding & suddenly you're singing karaoke & a gigantic tri-headed beast that spits grenades chases you through a drunken maze, though you may call it corn.

The upshot is I lost many files, including my parodies of Lovelace. I've contacted a few friends to whom I emailed the poem for laughs, but as it was at least a couple of years ago, they've long since deleted those messages, so screw them, ok?

In light of the revelation that the NSA spied on Americans via emails & phone conversations, it occured to me that I have another way to recover this lost file.

Listen, NSA, since I'm technically a taxpayer & you technically work for me, I'd appreciate if you'd look around for a copy of my aforementioned poem. As I understand it, the government has absolved you & the telecommunications companies of any past, present, or future crimes related to "illegal" spying, so there's no need to fear legal recourse on my part. Plus, if you've been monitoring me for the past few years, you know I'm unlikely to say anything--not with the kind of information you've gathered on me.

Also, I lost a villanelle that depicts a menage a trois in such explicit terms that it borders on pornographic, so I'm pretty sure, given the details of the kind of "spying" you guys "allegedly" did--perhaps still do--you have that one handy. You can send it to . . . well, you know where to send it!