Saturday, February 28, 2009

On Teaching Writing

I exchanged e-mails with poet Adam Penna, who edits Best Poem, about the difficulties of teaching writing. What he had to say makes such good sense that I'm preserving it here:

I've found that the best and only way to teach writing is to begin to redefine for my students what it means to write. I spend a lot of time defining terms. Essay = to try; revision = to re-see; research = to look again. For me writing and the teaching of writing are opportunities to listen to oneself talk. Usually, the consequence, for those who are willing to listen, is the realization that they haven't been paying close attention to what they say. Once they begin paying attention inevitably many of the mechanical irregularities improve. And paying is the important term here, considering that it implies a metaphor most people understand. That is, care = time and time = money. Further, I steal an equation my former mentor taught me, which is care = talent. Or, rather, talent is a way of caring, as he put it.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Torturer's Horse

Recycled Karma Press has accepted "The Torturer's Horse" for publication as an e-chapbook. The chap consists of seven interrelated poems. Its title refers to a line in Auden's "Musee des Beaux Arts" where the torturer's horse rubs its "innocent behind" against a tree -- but you knew that.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A Poetry Kit for Beginners

Although I've come down with some horrid bug, I managed to finish a poem today before being completely flattened. It and two others were quickly accepted by a good-looking new zine, "Blackbirds & Starlings," which was gratifying. But it's important to stay as even-keeled about acceptances as about rejections. You can't get too high in the one case or too low in the other. Otherwise it'll interfere with your ability to work. And the work is the thing.

One of the poems that was accepted was a little thing -- five lines -- called "A Poetry Kit for Beginners." Surprisingly, given its length, I didn't write it in one spontaneous burst, but in pieces over a couple of days. It isn't in my usual style. It isn't eerie or elegiac. It actually ends with a kind of punchline.

You can find it here:

And the Answer Is. . .

Asked once if he believed in God, Matisse answered, "I do when I'm working."

Friday, February 13, 2009

Ghosts of Breath

Bedouin Books in Portland, Oregon, has accepted a chapbook of my prose poems to be called Ghosts of Breath. It's divided into two parts, each bracketed by short pieces of free verse, which serve as prefaces and epilogues. The first section consists of the series "Ghosts of Breath," which appeared, in somewhat different form, in Bartleby Snopes. The second section consists of new and selected prose poems, most of which have a surreal vibe.

I began writing prose poems in college, probably with Robert Bly's collection Morning Glory as my model, though I'd also read by then Rimbaud and Baudelaire, who, together, invented or perfected the form. I suppose I eventually abandoned it because there was not outlet for them that I could see. It wasn't until recently -- the past two years -- that I returned to the form. I might enjoy working in it above all other forms. It requires the conciseness or compression of poetry, but it also offers the narrative latitude of prose. It's like aiming a fire hose through a pin hole.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


I've been expanding the manuscript of Lovesick the past two days. My publisher, Press Americana, gave me the go-ahead to add new material, some of it recently published and some of it accepted but not yet in print or online. Press Americana told me that their only hesitation in accepting the manuscript was that so many of the poems -- virtually all of them -- had been previously published. I don't see why it was even an issue. For one thing, the poems were generally published in journals so small that it's a joke (and not a very funny one) to think of the poems as having been dangerously overexposed. For another, doesn't the fact that the poems were previously published speak to their quality? Rightly or wrongly, it does to me. If publication isn't a test or confirmation of quality, then what is? Reviews? Well, the poems have to be published to be reviewed.

The manuscript ran slightly less than 100 pages as originally submitted; it now runs 145 pages.