Category Archives: poetry

Let’s Get Rejected! (Q3 update)


You may recall from my January post on this that one of the goals I’ve set for the year is to get 100 literary rejections. This was inspired by several friends who did it last year, and is a fiendishly clever mechanism for standing the usual submission dynamic on its head: Acceptances? Who needs ’em! I’m chasing rejections, and I’ll submit in whatever volume is necessary to get them!

In addition to being distracted by the fight against the forces of darkness for most of the year to date, I haven’t posted a lot on this due to some computer issues that prevented me from having all the stats I needed in one place for easy tracking. But that’s not your problem, and anyway, it’s all sorted out now. So, now that I have all the data together, how am I doing?

In terms of volume, I calculated going in that I’ll need to make 143 submissions in the year in order to get the desired 100 rejections. As of this weekend, I’m at 89 submissions. So that leaves 54 for about 3 1/2 months left, which is a quite doable 15 per month. On target!

That being said, there have been the following troubling failures:

Well, you can’t lose them all. I also had a few frightening near misses:

  • I got to the finalist round of the Poetry Matters Project’s Spring Robinson/Mahogany Red Lit Prize. But was not chosen. Whew!
  • Stirling Robyns Publishing didn’t chose my chapbook Visions: Fear & Hope / Humorous & Uncanny, but did have some very nice things to say about it, as well as suggestions about other places to try.
  • Although Muse / A Journal passed on my essay “Smells Like Middle-aged Reverie”, they sent a personal note to say they enjoyed it and to encourage me to submit again. I had similar experiences last year with this essay- people love to almost publish it!

The good news is, despite these acceptances and almost-acceptances, I’ve had plenty of rejections! 44, to be precise. I’m not going to sugar-coat it, that leaves me with a  pretty aggressive target of 16 rejections a month average for the next 3 1/2 months to hit 100. Still, I’m not one to quit.

I’ll update you again in late October about how my experiment in success with failure is going!




Poetry as Prophecy, or: The Poem I Did Not Want to publish


Part Two of my post about my all-time musical top ten will be delayed a week or two for technical reasons. In the mean-time, there’s something that’s been on my mind.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the meaning of the Trump phenomenon. Political pundits are giving post-hoc analyses of why they so severely underestimated his chances. Harry Enten of has a good take here, backed up by similar musings from David Byler at RealClear Politics here. Both contain good points that tell a lot of the story. But I think we all should have seen this coming for two completely different reasons.

1. Reality TV. I’ve posted a few times in Social Media how his candidacy is the culmination of what nearly a generation of Reality TV has prepared America for. We are the Kardashian Nation, and we are finally getting the election we’ve had coming. It turns out that I’m not the only person thinking along these lines, see similar musings from Van Jones here.

2. The Online Comments Section. Several people have noted that Trump is like the Online Comments Section come to life and running for President. Anybody who has read a story of any social or political import online in the past few years and then ventured into the comments section afterwards knows what I mean. There have been a lot of people with dark views, maximum bile, and minimum decency out there for a long time, all they needed was the right signal to draw them out. Which brings me to…

In Spring 2014, I did an exercise that I’ve done several times, using a format inspired by Brad Henderson and Andy Jones of the Writing Program at UC Davis, to write 40 poems in 40 days in response to a series of prompts. I forget the exact prompt the particular poem I’m about to share came from, but it had something to do with taking news items from one medium and then re-positioning the lines to make a poem. In my case, I was curious to see what would happen if I took highlights from the online comments sections of a few articles and re-worked them.

I choose a couple of mainstream articles covering the usual suspect topics- something about feminism, something about race, something about the gay community, etc. I highlighted lines from the comments section following the articles that were particularly evocative, and then ran them through a few rounds of an online version of the “cut-up” technique championed by William S. Burroughs. I then took what came out of that and arranged it into lines of roughly similar length, and did a minimum of rewording and punctuation to make proper sentences out of it.

The thing about cut-ups, and why I wanted to try it in the first place, is that they have an uncanny ability to reveal subtexts beneath a text. The results, though vile, were strangely coherent and compelling. I immediately felt that I couldn’t see myself submitting it anywhere, or bringing it to a workshop. Art can be prophecy, can use personas that aren’t the artist’s own to alert us to what’s out there. But I blinked and lost my nerve, because the results can be so easily misunderstood. I now kind of wish I hadn’t, because this is what was rattling around out there. We all should have seen Trump coming.

 Poem follows below, all appropriate trigger warnings are in effect.



The Online Comments Section (Reading Between the Lines)

Just stay lose gay I’ve included

church-owned bibles for you,

or a million handy WHITE

Congregationalists will fight your

Homosexual agenda (and the blacks too)

with the right kind of pistol.

Motherhood bible-believing people

will snuff your stinking well-educated life

and will save Christians from the pressure

of Jewish sexuality (those eternal animals),

breaking your Harvard governmental

very wrong crap no matter what price.

Careful Homie Bankers, our core covenants

are stronger in history than the Hell

of your well-crafted need-based Conspiracy

and the decades-old distributed colony

of your sexual bankers, their stinking appetites

attacking students, homes and fatherhood.

You think you can actually attack Christians

with your so-called propaganda, drugs,

and worthless Jewish campaign money.

Our race-based purity principles

will defeat your efforts.


A Few Thoughts on Literary Masquerade…


This isn’t what I’d planned on writing about this week, but sometimes current events overtake us!

If you’re a submitting writer (especially if you’re a submitting poet) you’ve probably heard about the recent literary kerfluffle wherein the very white Michael Derrick Hudson got a poem published in Best American Poetry using his literary pseudonym, Yi-Fen Chou. Quote Mr. Hudson: “As a strategy for ‘placing’ poems this has been quite successful … The poem in question … was rejected under my real name forty times before I sent it out as Yi-Fen Chou (I keep detailed records). As Yi-Fen the poem was rejected nine times before Prairie Schooner took it. If indeed this is one of the best American poems of 2015, it took quite a bit of effort to get it into print, but I’m nothing if not persistent.”

The Atlantic has a thoughtful musing on this whole situation here, including the viewpoint of Sherman Alexie, the guest editor of the anthology who decided to leave it in even after discovering the subterfuge. Therein, he talks about his own bias. This has kicked off a lively online dialogue among the current and past poetry editors of The Mud Season Review. This has taken part in a series on online postings, but I wanted to collect a few of my thoughts from that dialogue here.

First off, a truly blind submission process obviously eliminates this, beyond what might be gleaned, correctly or not, from the content of the poems themselves. For MSR, I pointedly do not read the bio, or any of the other reviewer’s comments, before doing my first read, precisely because I don’t want to be swayed by anything beyond the poem itself. The one thing I can’t help but see in Submittable, though, is the poet’s name.

And honestly, if the name indicates that the writer is a woman, or a person of color, sometimes my “ears” do perk up. I am more sympathetic to/interested in seeing what may be coming from an underrepresented viewpoint, not to mention a viewpoint different than my own. When the push comes to the shove of final selection, I don’t think this interest overcomes quality standards. And I won’t ever say I think a poem is good that I don’t really think is good, no matter what outside consideration. But it definitely can make me a little more open on a first read.

Interestingly, as far as the “nepotism” theory goes, this makes me more of an anti-nespot. But that’s a bias in itself. Despite being a straightish middle-class culturally Christian white man, my whole life I’ve felt more comfortable around, and in sympathy with, people who are on the contra side of many of those identities. We could go into the psychology and personal history of that, but, like I said, it’s there, and it’s a bias.

Now for true confession: I also have some understanding for the poet who did this! In despairing moments, I have sometimes thought, “Getting publisher’s attention would be easier if I were telling these stories as____.” Different things pop in to the ____ depending on the moment: an immigrant, a woman, a gay person, etc. However, I recognize that as a “despairing moment” thought, and am rather suspicious of its accuracy, given all the many, many ways I benefit from my class, my race, my sexuality and my gender.

Despite my understanding of motive, I don’t care for this kind of personal misrepresentation when anybody does it. Think James Frey (passing off fiction as memoir), JT Leroy (not an actual person with an actual biography), Vanilla Ice (never heard shells dropping and got out of there fast), etc. On the other hand, it wasn’t unheard of for female authors to create male pseudonyms in the 20th century to break through the power structure. And I feel much more okay with that. I think this must have something to do with power relations between who’s doing it, and what structure they’re doing it in. Mr. Hudson is not on the side of the angels in this regard.

Meanwhile, in one of the better responses I’ve seen, my friend (and fantastic writer) Caille Millner Twitter-posted a link to the Poetry Foundation’s overview of actual Asian American poets. It’s a great list, which further delighted me by including one of my favorite contemporary poets, Aimee Nezhukumatathil. She’s gotten in to the Twitter scrum on this story herself:


That’s a fitting last word here. But I am interested in hearing your thoughts!

Five Things I’ve Learned as a Poetry Editor

In May of last year I started working on the Mud Season Review, a new online (and soon coming out with our first print edition!) journal. The journal is an outgrowth of the Burlington Writer’s Workshop, itself a fantastic community resource for writers here in my new homeland. The journal strives to bring some of the workshop’s sense of writers supporting and in dialogue with each other into the literary journal format, and I’m super-proud of what we’re doing.

I started out as one of two Assistant Poetry Editors, responsible for reviewing what’s passed on by our readers, and then participating with the senior editors in their final decision process. Through various perambulations, I’ve now become a poetry Co-Editor. Having spent a lot of the past few years on the “submitting” side of the process, it’s fascinating to now be on the other end, and I wanted to pass on a few key things I’ve learned to my fellow submitting poets out there:

1. It is such a high-volume business, rejections don’t (necessarily) mean you’re bad: I get discouraged by my literary rejections sometimes, for sure. And I knew, intellectually, what the numbers were like. But now, from the other side, I really appreciate it. In the six months since we started, we’ve had around 570 poetry submissions, usually of 3-5 poems each. And we’ve put out five online editions so far, with maybe 5 poems in each. Math tells me that (5*5)/(3*570)= 25/1,710= 1.47%. The numbers for Mud Season Review are not atypical-many journals publish more pieces, but they also get more submissions per issue. In other words, your poem could be in the top 2% of submissions an editor is receiving and still not make the cut-off of what they have room to publish.

2. You need to bring your best work-every detail matters: See above- given that you can be in the top 2% of what a journal receives and still miss the cutoff, what you submit needs to be your very, very best. Send your favorite poems, not your “maybe this will work”. First (or even second or third) drafts probably won’t get you there. That misspelling that you missed, or awkward line that you know doesn’t quite work, but it probably doesn’t matter? It might. Knowing this now has actually sharply re-focused me on the quality of submissions I send out.

3. Form is really important: By which I mean the physical form of the poem. Having read literally hundreds of poems every month, I’ve noticed that one of the primary things that can throw me off is the format of the poem. Even if I really like the poet’s voice, and am intrigued by the content and appreciate the imagery, word choice, etc., a physically difficult format can keep me from connecting with it. Things like line breaks, regularity of structure (even if the structure itself is unorthodox, does it at least have internal consistency in how it’s working?), and spacing or other devices to keep the flow of reading going make a big difference. Again, knowing this leaves me chastened about some of my submissions over the years, and has got me thinking about how I can improve.  

4. Your cover letter probably doesn’t matter, so don’t spend too much time on it: We use Submittable, which separates out the content (i.e. the poems) from the personal note or cover letter that accompanies them. So as not to prejudice my reading, I usually don’t look at the letters until after I’ve read, ranked and made my comments for the team. Talking with the other editors, they generally do the same. This is not to say that I don’t appreciate a good cover letter, but it’s not going to influence my read, so it shouldn’t be a major focus of your time and effort. Short and sincere will probably more than do.

5. There are a lot of really good poets out there: Since I wasn’t a first-line Reader, I didn’t read all of those 1,700 poems myself. But I did read a significant number of them, and it turns out there are a lot of really good poets out there. And they aren’t necessarily the established poets. I won’t name names, but I have often appreciated the work of new or lightly-published poets over people with impressive-looking credentials. Since it is such a numbers game (see #1 above), you may need to submit a lot to get your work out there. But don’t give up- there are so many good poets whose work deserves to be read. You could be one of them!


And the Goodreads Challenge score is…

31 out of 52! Well, I’ve learned that these things can be very valuable once you let go of self-flagellation if you don’t make it. Because the thing is, you end up achieving more with an ambitious goal, even if you fall short of it, than if you aim low. I’ll keep it brief here, since I haven’t done an update in a while. The final books were:

When The Past Is Present  (David Richo, 2008, 224 pp.)
A friend recommended this to me two years ago or so, and I’m glad I finally got around to it. David Richo uses conventional psychology, Jungian psychology and Buddhist concepts to explore how issues from childhood and past relationships can cloud our present relationships, and how we can learn to recognize and process them so we can be truly present. If I hadn’t already done A LOT of this kind of work in the past few years, this book would have landed on me like a thunderbolt. It strongly affected and challenged me as it was. Recommended for anyone who has had issues with unresolved issues from the past affecting the present. In other words, everyone.     

Sliver  (Dave Morrison, 2008, 108 pp.)
Here’s the deal: If you’re a 40ish former rock musician from New York & Boston who currently lives with your wife in my dreaming-of-living-there state Maine, and I run across your book during a trip to Portland, Maine just as I’m ready for a new volume of poetry, I’m going to get it. As it turns out, in subject matter and sensibility, Morrison is my kind of poet even if the form of his poetry doesn’t always work for me.   

Foundation Trilogy  (Isaac Asimov, 1961, 678 pp.)
We’d read several things by Asimov in my late great Sci-fi Book Club, but we never got around to this, widely considered to be one of his masterworks. About the only thing I can say about it that isn’t superlative is that the dialogue ends up sounding a little dated (1950sish, in fact) at times. Otherwise, you have an epic sweep of future history, political intrigue, twists and surprises, and, as always, Asimov’s shrewd and compassionate understanding of how people are.    

Powers: Roleplay  (Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Avon Oeming, 2001, 110 pp.)
If you have a fondness for superhero comics and you haven’t read Powers yet, I highly recommend it. The series centers upon a pair of cops (one of them with an intriguing secret past) who investigate crimes involving super-powered individuals. In this volume, they’re investigating the murders of a group of college kids who were role-playing superheroes. Bendis is a superb writer, Oeming is a superb (though highly stylized) artist, and the whole thing is just fun. Get on board!      

Ultimate Spider-man Ultimate Collection II  (Brian Michael Bendis & Mark Bagley, 2009, 308 pp.)
And here have Brian Michael Bendis’ second appearance on this list, in a volume that brings together issues 14-27 of Ultimate Spider-man. Marvel’s used-to-be-great “Ultimate” line took characters from Marvel’s mainstream Universe and retold their tales in a setting stripped of the main continuity’s decades of story-line, giving things a chance to be fresh and new again. So here we get Peter Parker back to his roots, a teenager learning the ropes as Spider-man while also dealing with crushes, bullies and high school, and in a more modernized setting. Good clean fun all around, including the most realistic portrayal ever of what would really happen if the totally-human Kraven fought the strongly super-powered Spider-man. My only complaint is that the teen love melodrama got a little needlessly thick at the end. Ah well, kids. What can you do?      

JLA Vol. 1: New World Order  (Grant Morrison, Howard Porter & John Dell, 1997, 93 pp.)
Let’s not dodge the truth: for a lot of the 70s and 80s, DC sucked. Then, starting in the 90s, several creators stepped in, remembered that they were dealing with the world’s greatest heroes, and started to have fun with them again. Grant Morrison’s work with the JLA was one of the signposts of this, and here we have the first volume of his run as writer for the group. The artists, well, let’s just say they haven’t quite caught up yet (that will come later in the series), but the tale is solid good old-fashioned fun.   

Superman/Batman Vol 6: Torment  (Alan Burnett, Dustin Nguyen & Derek Fridolfs, 2009, 160 pp.)
I do love my Superman/Batman. They’re both such icons, and there’s so much that somebody who understands how to bring out the contrast between them can do, purely in terms of characterization, to make a great story. Throw in some cosmic shenanigans and great artists, and you get a grand tale here. It’s marred a little bit by tie-ins to the most recent grand Universe-shaking hullabaloo that DC was doing at the time, but otherwise is a rollicking good time.    

So there we are for 2012. And what’s on the docket for 2013? (But first, let’s pause here for a second to say, “Holy crap! It’s going to be 2013! How did that happen? And are there flying cars yet?”) I don’t think I’ll be doing the Goodreads challenge again, instead I’ll be challenging myself to read the collected works of two of my muses, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. To whit, Ginsberg’s collected poems 1947-1997, and all the works Kerouac published in his lifetime, plus two published after. More description to follow…

And Happy New Year! See you in 2013!

Book Reviews: The Gambler, The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects, The Song of Eve, At The Drive-In Volcano

All right, so, on the downside, I haven’t updated my Goodreads 2012 reading challenge progress in a while (currently 26 out of the 52 goal by the way). On the plus side, though, my delay has given this review some range. For a couple of years now I’ve had the practice of rotating my reading between fiction, nonfiction and spiritual. I also am reading at least one poetry collection at any given time. Today’s review will have examples of all four!

The Gambler  (Fyodor Dostoyevsky, 1867, 100 pp.)
Some years ago, I was taking a writing workshop. When it became my turn to present excerpts of a novel I was working on that involved sexual and romantic addiction, one of the other participants commented that she almost stopped reading, because it seemed too prurient. But then she continued, and said it reminded her of The Gambler. That was both one of the most gratifying things I ever heard in a writing workshop, and the source of a mental footnote to check out Dostoyevsky’s- Really long short story? Rather short novel? Novella? -one day. And what a great day it has turned out to be! I always marvel at his ability to write from the point of view of a thoroughly un-admirable character and yet remain sympathetic and compelling. That is in fine display here, and in fact the whole piece seems to be devoid of any admirable characters at all. And yet the descent into obsession (and one could argue that a love addiction precedes any gambling addiction for him) of the young Russian tutor and the tangled fortunes of the Russian aristocrats he works for as they vacation at a German resort is so tenderly and accurately rendered that it works. Nobody presents the darkness of the human heart with as much love and forgiveness as Dostoyevsky. There is obsidian humor and twisted beauty throughout this small masterpiece, and I thoroughly recommend it.        

The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects  (Edward J. Ruppelt, 1956/1960, 260 pp.)
When I saw that I could download this classic of Ufology for a pittance on my Nook, I was very excited. Edward Ruppelt was the head of the Air Force’s UFO investigation, Project Blue Book, from 1951-1953. After leaving that post and retiring from the Air Force, he wrote a book reviewing his tenure. And it makes for very fine reading- I was particularly impressed by his fluid conversational style, it kind of makes we wish he’d written more before his untimely death from heart attack at age 37. Or, you know, lived more. Throughout the book he maintains a great balance between irresponsible credulity and knee-jerk skepticism, and in fact derides both. What one comes away with principally is three things. 1. Because of bureaucracy and miscommunication, the Air Force’s attitude toward the investigation, and the resources devoted toward it would often lurch in different directions. This produced a lot of the behavior that outside observers attributed to “cover-up”. 2. When the investigation was taken seriously and conducted thoroughly, a lot of seeming mysteries could be identified, but a significant portion of unidentifieds remained. 3. These undientifieds never produced the kind of “proof” that could definitively settle the question of what they were (you can sense his frustration with this intangibility growing throughout his tenure with Blue Book), but many unknowns had excellent, multiple witnesses, and were clearly things outside of any conventional explanation. This is where his original analysis in 1956 more or less ends up. The 1960 edition includes an additional three chapters that have always been controversial since they A) are much more skeptical and B) came out just before his death. Reading them here, I have to say, it is notable how they not only strike a totally different tone than his original ending, they actually put forward multiple statements directly contradicting positions he took earlier, with little explanation of the change in his thinking. I’d be curious to see the last three chapters put through some kind of word-choice/sentence structure analysis to see if the same person even wrote them. And on that note, I will leave you with the mystery!      

The Song of Eve: Mythology And Symbols of The Goddess  (Manuela Dunn-Mascetti, Simon & Schuster, 1990, 239 pp.)
As documented in earlier reviews, in the last few years I’ve become increasingly interested in exploring the feminine side of the divine.  So when I came across this book at a Friends of the Library used book sale in San Francisco a few years back, I eagerly snatched it up (especially eagerly at the price of $3!). Well worth it-the book itself is lushly beautiful, full of color illustrations drawn from classical and contemporary works of art. These are used to visually highlight the text, which utilizes the structure of Jungian archetypes and examples from throughout world mythology to explore aspects of the feminine, and relate them back to passages and stages in life. While I did feel a little gender excluded from the party at times since it is explicitly written to address women navigating the stages of a woman’s life, I found a lot that was moving and meaningful to anybody leading a human life. And one can hardly begrudge making women the focus here as a counter-point to a few millennia of male-dominated spiritual institutions. A beautiful book, inside and out.              

At The Drive-In Volcano  (Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Tupelo Press, 2007, 85 pp.)
As I said, I’m always reading at least one volume of poetry. Sometimes I have a pipeline built up, but in this case, I was without follow-up when my previous volume wound down. Browsing at a bookstore, I was drawn to this volume by the candy heart on the cover and the poetry of the poet’s name. It also had a plug on the back by Naomi Shihab Nye, who I’ve become a fan of lately. I was not misled- the 57 poems in this volume beguile with their mix of travelogue, journey through a personal past and present, and unashamed mixture of pop culture and more mythic sources into the trip. Aimee Nezhukumatathil has pulled off a mixture that I myself often aim for in my poetry. Which is not just inspiring, but also moving, and really darn pretty to read. 

And there we are! It seems unlikely to me that I’m going to hit 52 books, with only two months to go. But hey, I’m not giving up, and you always get further with an ambitious aim than with no aim at all…


Ten Years Gone By…

I just has a birthday this past Friday, which always gets me in a “looking back” kind of mood. Since I was born in 1970, this particular birthday also has me hoping that I’m about to discover the secret to:

That’s not what I’m here to discuss today, though. But I have, in fact, been thinking a lot about life. Being on the leeward side of 40 has made me wonder about the twists and turns my life has taken, what might have been, what might now be too late, etc. I don’t necessarily recommend this crazy-making line of thought, but it does lend itself to looking for the narrative.

And as it happens, one of the biggest turning points in my life recently had its own birthday, and has everything to do with narrative. In April 2002, the uranium pile of my first marriage had finally hit critical after a two and a half-year meltdown. This was a crisis I bore no small measure of responsibility for, and I was already going through a process of wrenching change and self-examination in trying to address the issues that had brought it on. Between that and the general void the collapse of a twelve-year relationship leaves in its wake, I was struggling to rediscover who I was and what I wanted from life.

One of the things I had put on the shelf about ten years before that was a lifelong interest in writing. Even as a kid, I had written short stories and movie scripts. I started keeping a journal and writing poetry in my teens, and kept it up all through my early 20s. Then, as I was gearing up for graduate school and working life after that, I stopped. I can’t even tell you why, exactly, but it went away, and was replaced by more “grown up” concerns. Not at all coincidentally, I think, addiction and darkness started ramping up at the same time.

Back to post-separation: alone, shaky, and rebuilding, in the summer of 2002 I decided to take an “Intro to Fiction”  course led by Junse Kim at the Bay Area’s excellent Writing Salon. I’d already started keeping a journal again in the last year of the marriage and the workshop further re-awakened literary stirrings. By late August I had realized, “You know what? I think I’m supposed to be a writer!” I began work on a novel.

So here we are, ten years later. I’m still writing! It doesn’t pay the bills, but it remains the core of how I think of myself: I’m a writer. Sometimes, though, I wonder if I have “enough” to show for it. The part of me that does this because it is my truest and deepest calling in the world gets mixed up with the part of me that wants it to have some kind of concrete outcome in terms of recognition and success. Well, for both those parts, I’d like to bear witness to what I have produced so far:

  • First (and perhaps foremost?) I ended up doing 7 drafts of that novel that I began in 2002, Out in the Neon Night, before finishing it in 2006. I ended up sending out queries for it to 27 agents in 2007, 3 of whom requested a look. While none ended up coming through, I do from time to time consider doing another round of queries, or even e-publishing and promoting it myself. In the mean time, you can read a sample chapter.     
  • My essays “Kissing Girls in the Dark” and “Watch the Skies!” appeared in the 2005 and 2006 issues of the late, great compendium of true tales of the unseemly Morbid Curiosity. I will always be grateful to Morbid‘s editor (and darkly wonderful writer) Loren Rhoads for publishing me for the first time.
  • My confession of my mid-30s discovery of a love for heavy metal, “I Sold My Soul to Rock and Roll” appeared in the 11th issue of the sadly departed “Magazine For People Who Think Too Much” Kitchen Sink in 2005.
  • While I was engaged in endless rewrites of Neon Night in 2005-2006, I started a much more lighthearted “new novel” to have something fun to work on in the midst of revisionitis. It eventually petered out at 20 chapters, and I set it aside in favor of other things. But I’ve been feeling some enthusiasm for resurrecting it recently… 
  • I wrote several articles on arty (and boozy) aspects of San Francisco life for in 2007. 
  • SoMa Literary Review published my poems “untitled” and “Twelve Steps to the New Israel of the Beats” in 2009. Sadly, their online back-archive is currently in search of a host, but I can send you copies if you want to read them!   
  • Slouch Magazine published a short prose piece of mine, “relapse in 26 lines” in August 2009. 
  • My prose poem “Young Karl Marx” was featured on Opium Magazine’s website in late 2009. 
  • In 2010, my essay “Bachelors of Armageddon” appear in When I Was There, an anthology of tales of student life at UC Berkeley.
  • From 2007-2011 I finally pursued a lifelong interest in film-making as a member of the Bay Area independent film co-op Scary Cow. During a four year-period I worked on 13 short films in a variety of capacities, including 6 that I wrote or co-wrote. You can get more of a description, and links to several of the films I helped write, produce or direct, here   
  • Even my bad adolescent poetry has had its day in the sun, being read on stage as part of the Mortified reading series in San Francisco and Boston multiple times from 2006 through 2012. 
  • My Short Story “Ave Maria” was published in 2012 in the anthology Warpaint, available from Amazon on Kindle, and in several other electronic and print formats from the publisher, Zenfri. Meanwhile I have three more short stories making the rounds of submissions. They vacillate between despair at ever seeing the light of day and feeling terribly encouraged by Ave Maria’s success.   
  • Earlier this year I completed the first draft of my first full-length screenplay. I’ll be revising and finishing it over the next year, and then confronting the intriguing sell/make decision… 
  • I also just finished revising a collection of 40 poems (written between 2000 and 2010) which I am now starting to submit to publishers and prizes. 

So there you have it. Looking back, it doesn’t seem like such a bad output for my first ten years (re)devoted to being a writer. That belief wavers a little whenever I hear about a 20something author’s big debut. Then I remember that Raymond Chandler didn’t publish his first story until he was 45, or his first novel until he was past 50. And the truth is, should success come sooner, later, in a form I can barely recognize, or even never, it doesn’t really matter. I have to keep doing this. I’m a writer!



Book Reviews: Batman: Dark Victory, The Spiral Dance, Why Things Burn

My Goodreads profile is telling me that I’m at 14 on my self-challenge to read 52 books this year. It seems to think this puts me 5 books behind so far. The math is hard to argue with, but I still feel pretty good about my progress! Within the past week or so, I finished three books, which I am looking forward to reviewing for y’all. Y’all? Yes, I am a California native currently living in New England. But half the family is from Arkansas, so I feel justified in engaging in the occasional southernism. Now, back to books…

Batman: Dark Victory  (Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale, DC Comics, 2001, 388 pp.)
I’d been looking forward to this volume ever since finishing the last Batman collection I read by these two guys, The Long Halloween. That tale had been set in the early period of Batman’s career, as many of my favorites are, and depicted the origin of Two Face. It was dark, and excellent, and, also worth mentioning, one of the major inspirations for the storyline of the last Batman film. This one promised to tackle an equally interesting story, even tougher to do well, the origin of Robin. So how did it do? Very well! I won’t get in to spoilers here, but I can say that the Robin storyline is in a way a subplot to the main action, the search for a serial killer who’s targeting Gotham’s police. But that storyline provides us with a development of Batman’s character and mission that makes it utterly sensible how Robin comes to be a part of it. It’s so well done that I can even almost buy in to the red, yellow and green costume. About my only quibble is the way Tim Sale draws the Joker, giving him an inhumanly long face, and teeth that defy all laws of anatomy. I know it was a bad spill he took into that vat of chemicals, but this is just a little too much, especially for a volume that otherwise is firmly grounded in a grim realism.    

The Spiral Dance: a Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess  (Starhawk, HarperOne, 1999 20th Anniversary Edition, 310 pp.)
Over the last few years, I’ve become very interested in Goddess-centered religion. I found that, for me, thinking of (and talking to) Her as a “She” helped me develop a connection I never quite had with “Him”. This is, of course, because of particular features of my history and makeup, and I don’t claim it as any kind of universal truth. Nevertheless, it did get me interested in other people looking at the feminine side of the divine, and this book kept coming up in the course of my investigations. One of the most meaningful spiritual experiences I’ve had in the last few years was at one of the seasonal rituals hosted by Reclaiming, the group founded by Starhawk, the author of this book. Despite that, I approached reading it with some trepidation. I associate the Neopagan movement in the Bay Area with more than a little flakiness and knee-jerk radical politics. Reading it, though, totally turned my perception around. Especially in this 20th Anniversary edition, where Starhawk has an opportunity to go back and provide additional commentary on each chapter from the 10th and 20th anniversaries, what really impressed me was seeing Neopaganism as a living, evolving spiritual system. The point is not how “factual” the picture of the history of Goddess religion is, or what the sources and authenticity of various rituals are. What I found most impressively in these pages was a low-dogma “try it and see” approach to a spiritual way of being that strives to be open for people of all genders and sexualities and reconnect us to nature and each other. There was lot here that resonated with me, and that will illuminate my thinking as I further pursue my spiritual exploration…            
Why Things Burn  (Daphne Gottlieb, Soft Skull Press, 2001, 125 pp.)
I started reading this collection of poems a few years back, but never got around to finishing it. I guess it just wasn’t the time, but I’m glad I returned. These poems are excellent, searing, and grounded in the inner realities of the heart and the outer realities of urban life, which tends to be some of my favorite poetic (and generally literary) territory. Daphne Gottlieb comes out of the performance poetry scene, but seems to have utterly escaped the often-encountered problem of performance poems not translating well on the page. Much of her poetry is political and feminist as well, but she rarely sacrifices the poetics to the politics. Which, let me tell you, is not an easy trick to pull off. I was especially delighted by how she plays with form- deliberately mutating the shape and breaks of lines, and hybridizing her poems with other texts (such as news stories, or commercial materials). Again not an easy thing to pull off without falling into gimmickry, but in her deft hands it opens up meanings and connections in a startling way. It’s inspired me to once again try some more experimental writing in my own poetry, and that, I hear, is the sincerest form of flattery.    

Book Review: Born In The Year Of The Butterfly Knife, Codependent No More, Julius Caesar

I’ve finished three books within the past week, which puts me at 10/52 of my self-challenge on Goodreads to read 52 books this year. That’s one a week, I hear! Their pace-counter informs me that I’m one book behind, but I feel pretty encouraged myself! And now, on to reviews…

Born In The Year Of The Butterfly Knife  (Derrick Brown, Write Bloody Publishing, 2004, 203 pp.)
A few years ago, I saw “The Drums Inside Your Chest” a concert film of performances by independent poets. I was initially drawn to the film (besides the inherent attraction of poetry to me) because it was produced by and featured Amber Tamblyn. She talks to God, after all. But the poet in the film I ended up being most impressed by was Derrick Brown, and I went out afterwards to find this volume collecting his poems from 1993-2004. While I’m a fan of Slam poetry and performance poetry in general, I’ve found before that many poets who are compelling on stage don’t read nearly as well in print. Brown, though, has such a visceral quality in his words, and such sharp images, that he escapes this trap. Check out his poem “Kick in the Chest” some time, for example. It pretty much says everything about what I think writing should do. If you like things that burn with truth and are unafraid to look ugly in the process, Brown’s poetry might be for you.    

Codependent No More (Melody Beattie, Harper/Hazelden, 1987, 229 pp.)
Speaking of things that burn with truth and are unafraid of illuminating ugliness in the process… I’ve known of this book, the foundational work on recovery from codependence, for some time, but hadn’t gotten around to reading it yet. In the meantime, I absorbed a lot of the concepts in it from wise friends in the halls of recovery, and from Beattie’s daily meditation reader The Language of Letting Go. If I hadn’t, I think this book would have landed like a thunderclap. As it was, even as familiar with the ideas in it as I was, it was quite discomfiting at times. In the best sort of way. Highly recommended for anyone who has suffered from codependence in any of its varieties, and still needs to learn that fundamental truth that taking care of ourselves is not only okay, it’s necessary.         

Julius Caesar (William Shakespeare, 1599)
I’m probably not going to deliver anything here that’s been substantially missed by others in the last 400 years or so. I will talk a little bit about why I wanted to read it. After going through a classics kick last year that included reading the the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Iliad and Paradise Lost, as well as re-reading (well, 50%, anyway) the Bible, I developed a taste for epic works of mythical power. Pound for pound, you pretty much don’t get more of that anywhere in English literature than you do with Shakespeare. I left a very happy reader, not least of all because the pages spoke so much more to me now than they did during my previous reading. Apparently, my world has grown since the 8th Grade!

Book Review: The Field Guide to Bigfoot and The Romminghouse Madrigals

Goals, I hear, help give life direction and purpose. And while I have to tone down my own relentless goal-orientation at times to rediscover the joy of just being, I do find goal-setting to be a useful tool.

One goal that I’ve taken up for this year is a self-challenge to read 52 books. I’m being fairly liberal in my definition of “book”, including comic trade paperbacks, for example. I’m also being fairly liberal in my definition of “read in this year”, including books I began in 2011 but am finishing in 2012. All appropriate disclaimers now aside, you can track my progress on my Goodreads profile, and so far I’m doing pretty well. With these two that I’ve just finished, I’m at 5 out of 52! And now, for the reviews…

The Field Guide to Bigfoot and Other Mystery Primates (Loren Coleman and Patrick Huyghe, Anomalist Books, 2006, 205 pp.)

I’ve had my eye on this book for a while, but after recently visiting the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine headed by the book’s author Loren Coleman, it became even more of a priority. I’m glad I got around to it, because it’s loads of fun. Originally written in 1999, and with two forwards now bringing it into the 2000s, the front section, in fine field guide fashion, aggregates worldwide reports of different kinds of mystery hominids to produce profiles (with track outlines and range maps) of nine “types” of possible undiscovered primate. This actually is very useful in that it clarifies how some dissimilar sightings that are lumped together as “Bigfoot” or “the Yeti” for example, may actually result from more than one species or variant. The bulk of the book then has two page descriptions of over 50 sightings, arranged by continent, one page being a full-page line drawing, and the other describing the details of the sighting, which subtype it corresponds to, and a general setting of related sightings, legends and fossil finds that resemble the case in question. The final section goes over the science of proving or disproving unknown primates, and makes some best guesses about which might soon be discovered. While one could certainly have a quibble or two (I, for example, would have liked range maps for the individual sightings, and was also left wondering why semi-legendary material about giants and mermaids was fair game, but equally widespread fairy lore was not) the book is fun and well-done. As with most books on the unexplained, it’s worth further research on what you read, as some things mentioned turn out to be less than meets the eye after further reading. The authors have generally been careful with their facts, though, and there are loads of things here that even an aficionado of cryptozoology like me had never heard of before.           

The Roominghouse Madrigals (Early Selected Poems 1946-1966) (Charles Bukowski, Black Sparrow Press, 1988, 256 pp.)

Speaking of goals for the year, one of mine is to finish putting together a collection of what I like to think is my best poetry from 2001-2010 and finding a publisher for it. As with many different kinds of writing and editing, one of the best things to do for inspiration is to read in the same genre, and I usually have a volume of poetry that I’m currently reading. Like this one that I just finished, which I LOVED. I’ve long been a fan of Bukowski, who is in the happy position of being an equally good poet, novelist and essayist. Interestingly, given the picture of him as a grizzled barfly, he’s like a classic 19th century man (or woman) of letters in that respect. And the fact that he focuses his powers on the gritty facts of urban life and the inner blight of wrestling with bitterness and failure makes it all the more glorious. This volume features his early poems, from before his success and wider fame of the late 60s/early 70s. Anybody who has ever spent time in the roominghouses of rough streets and/or their own soul will find things here that they recognize in their beauty, ugliness and honesty. And isn’t that what poetry, at it’s best, can do for us?