Saturday, December 19, 2009

Plain Spoke

I just got an acceptance from Plain Spoke. The poems I've seen in this journal rock and are close to my aesthetic, so I'm psyched to find out they wanted a poem from my Notes for a Memoir series.

Here's what New Pages has to say about the little journal.

Friday, December 18, 2009

"the world exists nowhere but within us"

I've really enjoyed the prose poem sequence from Rilke in the fall issue of The Paris Review. He wrote it as a 22-year-old...such strong juvenilia attests to his possibly being the best poet of the 20th Century.

I love how this passage moves between the metaphors of engraving a watch or compass (with the verb "etch") and plowing a field (with the noun "furrow") to situate the always already here presences of these personages:

You cannot hold anything against this calm and tranquil occupation: the story of Zoroaster, that of Plato, that of Jesus Christ and Columbus and Leonardo and Napoleon and many more, did need to get written. In other words, these stories wrote themselves, so to speak. Every one of this cast of characters etched a furrow in the great gray brain of the earth, and we all carry a miniature reproduction of this archetypal brain within us, like a pocket watch or the small round pill of a compass that shows where the sun rises over a worthy citizen’s belly. (the italics are mine)

What a masterful move. You have to hate him a little.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Got two poems picked up by Main Street Rag.

Am excited to review Self-Portrait With Crayon by Allison Benis White for an online journal. Her poems defy expectation in the most genuine way.

Am officially in a music rut. Need new music. I miss new music. Recommendations?

Having drinks with Phil tonight. Phil writes poems and takes the writing of them as seriously as I do.

Like most people, I'm looking forward to eating too much turkey and pie.

Will start a workout regimin soon.

A Complaint

Okay, I'm so bored with poems about Odysseus. For that matter, can you think of a duller topic for a poem than Greek myths? Sure, Sissyphus rolling a boulder up a hill for eternity is a powerful metaphor, but who wants to reimagine it in a poem knowing it's a thinly guised comparison to the poet's cycles of expectation and disappointment? You can count me out.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Sometimes you feel like a list

1. August Kleinzhaler. New to his work, I have recently read and enjoyed his Sleeping it Off in Rapid City. His lines build neighborhoods of complexity one concrete image at a time. He's unaffraid to drop in pop cultural artifacts and strange personal references (take, for example, Stinky Phil, a bully from his New Jersey childhood). His verse moves down the page so effortlessly...he not only makes the making of a poem look easy but he also makes brilliance look easy. A couple of years ago he openly criticized Garrison Keilor's wholesome Lake Woebegone approach to poetry: “Multivitamins are good for you. Exercise, fresh air, and sex are good for you. Fruit and vegetables are good for you. Poetry is not.” This sealed the deal for me.

2. Richard Buckner. His 2006 album Meadow sounds like this late autumn landscape's orange, brown and gray in the muted light. To mix metaphor,the songs comb the beaches of loss and heartbreak. The lyrics scuttle along like shells in a low tide, the waters of his gorgeous voice pulls one image out of the sand only to cover it with another.

3. 2009. It will come to an end in 56 days. If you count 2000 as the first year of the new millenium, we have worked ourselves a decade into the century. If you're old like me, you might agree that this is the first decade that has passed with the swiftness of a couple of years.

4. Sufjan Stevens. He has finally given up on his 50 states project. I don't know whether to be disappointed or relieved that he has worked through this delusion. While it was an obviously impossible undertaking, we have to be glad his psychiatrist held off on prescribing lithium for as long as he did. The Michigan and Illinois albums were like these grand middle school independent study projects. Something we had learned from and have proudly kept over the years.

5. Midtown Kansas City. Needing more space and a landlord willing to make repairs, we have moved back to Midtown after having lived in neighborhoods to the Northeast for the past year and a half. Again, I'm digging Midtwon's mashup of decay and splendor. An abadoned redbrick colonade here and a well-kept shirtwaist there. The sleek highrises along the Plaza boulevards with excellent views of the crumbling Midtown infrastructure. Not one but two Lexuses idling in a left turn lane. A man posted at the tip of the traffic island with a sign that reads "Out of work. Out of luck. Everything Helps." It's all good.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Out on the weekend

New to UMKC's new MFA program, but not in a workshop this semester, I don't really know any of the other candidates. Except for Phil Estes, who I met at a party at the end of the summer, five days before my wife and I had our daughter. Which is to say I was, in some ways, a different man six weeks ago.

Phil and I had beers Friday night at Chez Charlie. Seated along the wall to the right of one of the dartboards, we had the place to ourselves for the duration of the first two cans of beer. Phil is from Dayton, OH, so we talked about Midwestern cities that might have been grand. Phil writes poems that some might categorize as experimental, so we talked to great lengths about certain experiments we admire and others we don't so much. We did so with little excess noise. And with relatively little danger to ourselves. Then the tables started to fill up with loud talkers. Loud talking leads to louder talking, of course, and soon we had to nearly yell our shop talk. Then, to add anxiety to annoyance, the dangerously bad darts players showed up. One woman took pride in her drunken throws. I mean, she was throwing her darts toward the board as if they were steak knives meant for the torso of her most recent ex-husband. The darts that did not pierce the faux wood paneling behind my head rained down at our feet. A balding man, I kept imagining one achieving a perfect score. It wasn't such a big deal, I guess. But it had been six weeks, six weeks since Audrey's birth, since I'd been out for drinks with a friend. Right now, my life needs a little more danger in it.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

white envy

Teaching, grad schooling, and caring for an infant, all on 3 to 5 hours of sleep, ain't no joke, son. Life is full but good. Fall has been kind to Kansas City--maybe it's just my sleep deprivation, but the weather has moved along more seamlessly this year. No hot spots in the middle of a week of crisp air. The next two to three sentences are neither here nor there. But our most enviable neighbors, in a of show seasonal abundance, have lined up nine pumpkins, several of which are heirloom, along the brick railing of their gorgeous redbrick colonnade. The colonnade porch overlooking their gorgeously landscaped herb garden and flowers. We watch this couple head out, childless, for a stroll to the River Market, or roll away in their Honda Element around dinnertime, and since they're roughly our age, it's tempting to imagine ourselves the way we were before. It's tempting to hate them a little. But we're not hateful. Envious, yes. Envious with a generous pinch of admiration. The Russians called this shade of envy White Envy.

I wonder if they envy our present source of bliss:

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Reviewed (sort of)

The Spring '09 issue of Tar River Poetry, which includes my poem "To Take Them From the Air," is up at New Pages. The reviewer liked my poem, which made my Monday shine.

Neither here nor there, but what a good experience with Tar River Poetry! Luke Whisnant, the editor, has been so professional and kind.

Saturday, July 11, 2009


Just back from the city market with an opulent spread of fruit--grapes, blueberries, bananas, peaches. And a bag of peppercorn linguine, made locally.

It was a good walk down Pacific Street, over to Missouri Street, past the community garden, through Columbus Square to 5th Street and the crowded market place and back. Hot today. I had woken early to water the garden and plants, feed the feral cat, Ms. Kitteh, and then I sat on the balcony reading from Nils Michals' first book, Lure (Pleiades press, 2004). Gorgeous poems with sudden, striking images that, with graceful turns of phrase, pin complex, almost pre-verbal emotion to ordinary external correlatives. Here, for example, Michals presents the sort of contemplation of life's wonderment in the face of mortality that might befall mourners at a burial:

Waiting for the body to lower,
the family stares at the priest
or into the sea of pressed black clothes.
New white roses with such furious architecture,
the edges spiraling in.
So apparently simple,
like flight or cloud spreading through water,
movement we no longer question.
Still, the family waits,
there is something else entirely--
a bird, a rustle,
the entire flock startled,
each heron shaping into its slicked wing,
hitting the roofless blue.

(from "Burial Procession")

After putting away the groceries, I read Poetry Daily and Verse Daily. Poetry Daily has a really clever poem up by Sara Peters called "Babysitters." Can't wait to read more poems by her.

Friday, January 2, 2009


My favorite poem of the year comes from the anthology New European Poets (Graywolf Press, ed. Miller & Prufer). The collection, worth a billion times its weight in devalued dollars, introduces poems from European poets who have not had significant publication in the U.S. Organized geographically, the pages trek eastward through the usual European nation states and switch rails to cover the varied poetries found in the lesser read countries to the east. The last sections fly the reader back west along a northern latitude, if you'll excuse the Lonely Planet Guide analogy, to present poems from the Scandinavian countries, Iceland, and the British Isles. In no hurry, I've kept the book next to the reading chair in my study since July, wandering through to a new section every couple of weeks. I keep returning to this gorgeous little poem, though:

Mornings on the Ground

To accept the day. What will come.
To pass through more streets than houses,
more people than streets. To pass through
skin to the other side. While I make
and unmake the day. Your heart
sleeps with me. It wraps me up at night
and the mornings are cold when I get up.
And I'm always asking where you are and why
the streets no longer are rivers. At times
a drop of water falls to the ground
as if it were a tear. At times
there isn't ground enough to soak it up.

--Rosa Alice Branco, translated from the Portuguese by Alexis Levitin