Wednesday, December 16, 2009

New Poem on 14 by 14

I am pleased to report that my sonnet "Botanical Garden" appears online in Issue 11 of 14 by 14, the "lean sonnet zine" that features 14 sonnets by 14 poets in each edition. You may never see goldfish the same way again after reading my short poem.

I am particularly pleased to have my work included in the same venue as a poem by Susan McLean, whose collection The Best Disguise was awarded the Richard Wilbur Prize and has recently been published by the University of Evansville Press.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


These posts usually mention only one topic at a time, but a lot of news has come in over the past few days.

This post therefore lists several items in a round-up, not to be confused with one of the brand names of the herbicide glyphosate, which looms large in controversies surrounding genetically modified organisms in agriculture.

This round-up should engender less controversy, but perhaps a certain amount of interest.
To wit:

1. Literary agent Robin Mizell interviewed me last Friday on her blog Treated & Released. She graciously gave me a considerable amount of valuable online real estate to discuss The Best Mariachi in the World/El Mejor Mariachi del Mundo as well as work that is very much not for children.

2. My poem "Dachshunds of Buenos Aires" appears in Issue 55 of legendary literary magazine Gargoyle. After many years of trying, I have managed to place a poem there. Still, I have to live the rest of my life knowing that I may never come up with a better title for a poem.

3. My poem "Lullaby for the Bereaved" appears in the Winter Issue of Able Muse. Come for my poem, and stay for work by many fine poets as well as a tribute to the late Turner Cassity.

4. I have begun discussing revisions of my one-act play "Dig" with members and affiliates of CurvingRoad in London as we begin the long journey toward a June engagement at a venue to be named nex month. I am a bit intimidated by the whole thing, but there is no choice but to press on and learn something.

5. I am even now starting preparations for next May's Book Expo America. The time for my signing has not yet been determined, but I have put in for a slot and will make the information known as soon as possible.

The last few days have also included rejections of both prose and poetry, including one of my two circulating book manuscripts, but those are much less enjoyable to discuss.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

New Poem in Tilt-a-Whirl

I am pleased to note that my new poem "Crepuscule" appears in Issue of 1 of Tilt-a-Whirl: A Poetry Sporadical of Repeating Forms, a venture by poet and editor Kate Bernadette Benedict.

My poem is a triolet, an eight-line form. Other forms in the issue include the ghazal, rondeau, and villanelle. The latter is perhaps best known to readers as the form of the Dylan Thomas poem "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night," which was given a surprisingly tender reading by Rodney Dangerfield in the film Back to School.

Another popular culture note comes to mind. Had I known that paranormal romance (the publishing trade term for things such as vampire crushes) were going to be a big thing, I would have gone ahead and entitled the poem "Twilight" for reasons that are all too obvious these days.

Oh, well.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Dogs and Poetry

Last week my wife Paula Van Lare and I had the pleasure and the privilege of volunteering for a couple of days at the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah.

More specifically, we worked at Dogtown, as featured on the National Geographic program of the same name.

You may wonder what this has to do with my writing.

Fair enough.

While only a small portion of my writing has involved dogs, last week's experience made me want to share a couple of previously published dog poems. I have another tangentially canine poem coming out shortly (more on this soon), and I am trying to publish a couple of others.

For now I hope you enjoy these two.


Because Nubians are still enslaved
I walk my dogs twice a day.

Because a child conceived tonight will inherit addiction
I leave my dogs offerings
of fresh water, with ice cubes.
Because envelopes and marketplaces explode
I hug my dogs and even carry them
where no shrapnel flies.

Because a manatee is sliced
by motorboat blades
and the last wild tiger
has been born,
I keep my dogs' tags and shots
up to date.

Now that any fact can be known
in an instant,
the smallest love is news.

Things touch at a near or far remove:
jays pass raspberry seeds
over fresh fields,
armadillos, burrowed into freight,
widen their range.

Word of my program
will ride the jet stream,
and land like a petal,
or it will bounce, devoutly, off a satellite.


Dog, and I believe that I can call you that
with a high degree of accuracy,
in a purely denotative sense, though,
unsullied by cultural associations,
please listen,
since I seldom ask that much of you
(the couch is yours no less than mine,
the pillows, past and present, more so):
You would, if you a possessed a consciousness
of cause and effect, self and other
and the mortality that swallows them,
be grateful to know nothing
beyond that which you know right now
because, for me,
it’s seven-thirty on a partly cloudy
Tuesday, forty-five degrees,
with a sixty-percent chance of rain
and the certainty
of a commute and a day’s work
in which I’ll be wagged by—appended to—
devices engineered by men
who get out even less than me.
Really, they exist,
though you might have gathered otherwise
from the long and many evenings that we share—
like tonight, when we’ll
resume this small symposium.
Until then, fellow traveler on the planet,
Don’t scratch that spot behind your ear—
It’s already bare.
A new rawhide bone is on your bed
and, as always, cane mio,
the kibble’s in the bowl.

Monday, October 19, 2009

London Calling

This post is more than just an opportunity to invoke one of the best-known songs by The Clash.

I have a truly dramatic announcement.

To wit, my one-act play "Dig" will be getting its first fully mounted professional production in London, with a scheduled opening night some time in the spring. First published in Rockhurst Review in 1997, "Dig" will be produced thanks to the efforts of Curving Road, a nonprofit registered in both the United Kingdom and the United States. Much of their work involves launching the artistic careers of disadvantaged youth who might not have access to valuable training and connections. In case you wonder about the name, more information is available here.

In this instance, Curving Road placed a call for one-act play submissions from writers over the age of 40 who had never had a play professionally produced. After the inevitable period of waiting that follows any submission, I have learned that my play, along with "Nearly Man" by Scottish playwright Michael Hart, will make up the program.

The Curving Road web site summarizes my play as follows:

" 'Dig' explores through dark humour the power struggle between prey and victim, centering on the dialogue between an executioner and a victim who refuses to dig his own grave."

As you have no doubt already surmised, this is not for children.

Now a whole new sequence of events begins. I am willing to call it a new stage of my education.
I hope to take the lessons learned from this production to the plays I plan to write in the years ahead.

At the moment I have ideas for at least two full-length plays.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

New Lists on Top Hat Tap Dance

The list may represent America's unique contribution to humor, and many of us know it best from David Letterman's Top Ten List.

I've recently had a few lists of my own published on the site Top Hat Tap Dance, the creation of Austin, Texas writer and photographer Kristin Hillery, whose work has, like my own, appeared on Yankee Pot Roast.

My lists (or, as some of the kids call them these days, "listicles") appear on the following dates:

(September 14 was a busy day).
I will soon put together another set of previously published humor links, including both lists and longer articles, but the links above can be considered an appetizer.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

New Story in Pulp Pusher

I continue not to publish much fiction, but earlier today my Midwestern noir story "Killing the Singer" was posted on Pulp Pusher, the awesome site of Scottish crime writer Tony Black.

Come for my story, and stay for work by and/or about noir folk (Tartan Noir and other) including Chad Eagleton, Christa Faust, Victor Gischler, Allan Guthrie, Sophie Littlefield, Anthony Neil Smith (no relation) and Andrew Vachss.

What--or who--would you sacrifice for Art?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

New Story on Flash Fiction Offensive

I still don't publish much fiction, but my neo-noir story "Neighborhood Watch" appears on the Flash Fiction Offensive site and is eligible for subsequent inclusion in not-for-the-faint-of-heart print publication Out of the Gutter Magazine.

I don't want to ruin the story by saying too much about it, but I follow distantly in the footsteps of one of the most famous works of Jonathan Swift.

If you are wondering what neo-noir is, I would describe it as a descendant of hard-boiled noir and pulp fiction of the twentieth century, but with generally more (okay, much more) profanity and less racism and sexism, and sometimes social commentary. Leading purveyors include Todd Robinson's Thuglit and Tony Black's Pulp Pusher. (Disclosure: My stories have appeared in both.)

Reading my story doesn't take much longer than getting a fist to the face, and it hurts a lot less. What's not to like?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Story in Bull: Fiction for Thinking Men

I don't publish a lot of fiction, at least not yet, but sometimes it happens.

The most recent example is my story "Foolish Time" in the online journal Bull: Fiction for Thinking Men.

Editor Jarrett Haley does not offer a one-size-fits-all approach to who thinking men are, or to what men's fiction should be. He is nonetheless speaking to a clear divide between mainstream publishing, particularly in literary fiction, and much of the male population.

The conventional wisdom in publishing can be summarized as "men don't read" or "men don't buy books." In response to proposal that two friends and I once made for a book targeting men, a literary agency assistant's rejection including the observation that men instead spend their money on "beer, lottery tickets and sex." This comes as news to me and to most of the men I know.

A second problem with those statements is that mainstream publishing, in spite of its dire financial situation, offers relatively little for men to read. Most of us can't relate to the upper bourgeois dilemmas of men usually portrayed in a New Yorker story. We additionally go a long time between the appearances of writers such as Thom Jones or Marc Nesbitt with something to say about the experience of men who feel burdened, cornered or simply "had" by the difference between what they were told to expect and where they find themselves.

Publications like Bull and various independent publishers are trying to meet needs that the mainstream largely ignores.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Second Poem in The Wanderlust Review

As noted in the previous post, my second poem has been published in The Wanderlust Review.

That poem, "Andante," a Valentine to travel in general, can be found here.

You will notice that the poem is an abecedary, where each line begans with and features a letter of the alphabet. In addition to playing with sounds, the abecedary is a way of taking inventory of what's going on inside one's head. I heard Denise Duhamel read an extended abecedary at the 2004 Conference of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) in Chicago and was eventually enticed to try one myself.

But I will let the poem speak for itself.

Yellowknife beckons.

Friday, August 28, 2009

New Poem in The Wanderlust Review

I once heard of a saying in Arabic that states humans are driven by four great motives. I can't remember what the other three were, but the fourth was the urge to travel.

New online journal The Wanderlust Review, based on that premise, takes travel writing beyond listings of accommodations and places to see and attempts to capture the experience of travel as well as the logistics.

I am therefore greatly pleased that the editors have recently chosen to include my poem "London Postcard" on the site. I also expect to have another poem in The Wanderlust Review before long.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Interview at Los Bloguitos

Today I am interviewed here at Los Bloguitos (literally, "the little blogs" or, if you will, "bloglets"), a daily updated Spanish-language blog for children, parents and teachers.

Interviewer Leticia Teresa Pontoni, whose poetry also appears on the site, contacted me by email and asked me a few questions about my book The Best Mariachi in the World/El Mejor Mariachi del Mundo, as well as about how writing feels and how someone named Smith comes to write about mariachis. I even get to offer a little encouragement to the youngsters coming up in the world.

An approximate English translation is available here.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

New Poems in Light Quarterly

As noted in the January 24 post, I believe the world needs more light verse, and sometimes I attempt to provide a bit of my own.

With this in mind, I am pleased to announce that some of my work appears in the current double issue of Light Quarterly, the leading journal of light verse in English. Editor John Mella and colleagues have kindly featured my poem "The Jellyfish" at the bottom of the page announcing the current issue.

The issue also includes two of an ongoing series of critterhews, my own variation on the clerihew that uses the name of an animal instead of a person. I have compiled enough for an abecedary, including the letter X, and hope to have them eventually published as a book or book section.

One example, previously published in The Other Herald, is the following:

May not look like but are fish.
Shaped like needles and spears,
They devour their piscine peers.

That is also based on fact.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Two Poems in Anon

Delayed by other doings this summer, only now am I mentioning that two of my poems, "Fragment from Zeno" and "Heart," appear in Issue 6 of Anon, a Scottish poetry journal that draws its name from an anonymous submissions process designed to reduce the amount of logrolling, backscratching and all-around cronyism in the poetry world. Poets' identities are known to the editors only after their work is accepted.

Launched July 9 at the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh, Issue 6 will also be featured in an August 16 event at Edinburgh's West Port Book Festival, which will overlap with several days of the world-famous Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I won't be attending, alas, but I will be anxiously awaiting word of how the festivities go.

A sample of the issue, including "Heart," is available here, and an audio file of "Fragment from Zeno" read by Ishbel McFarlane can be found here.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

RIF and FESTIBA Footage

As noted in the April 3 post, Reading is Fundamental (RIF) gave away some 1,000 copies of The Best Mariachi in the World/El Mejor Mariachi del Mundo at FESTIBA 2009, held at the University of Texas-Pan American in McAllen.

I was unable to attend, but I have recently found a link here to a video clip of about 28 seconds showing a variety of activities, including the distribution of the book to children and parents.

I had been told this was a large event, but I had no idea how large until seeing the footage.

Supergracias to FESTIBA and RIF for including my work in this important event.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Guest-Blogging at Madam Mayo

Washington, DC and Mexico City-based writer C.M. Mayo has graciously given me space to post a list of mariachi related-facts here on her blog Madam Mayo.

Go there to read about mariachi history, clothing, festivals and food culture, the background of my children's picture The Best Mariachi in the World/El Mejor Mariachi del Mundo.

Stay to look at pictures of adorable pug Picadou and learn about C.M. Mayo's very well-reviewed new novel, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, which was advertised in yesterday's New York Times Book Review. You will also learn how her blog got its name.

Monday, July 13, 2009

New Page on Author and Illustrator Source

We are still in the thick of summer, but educators may already be trying to schedule events for the coming academic year.

With that in mind, I would call to your attention Author and Illustrator Source, an extensive listing of (you guessed it) published authors and illustrators who make school visits and presentations, with contact information, rates and types of presentations offered. Presenters are listed both alphabetically and geographically, with biographical paragraphs and information on their titles. Areas represented include picture books, chapter books, non-fiction, poetry and virtually every type of children's and young adult literature you can imagine.

My page, which you can find here, lists my rates and possible presentation formats. I am in the unusual position of being able to offer programs for both children and adults, and I hope to do so at book festivals as well as school visits in the months ahead.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

New Anthology Publication: Against Agamemnon

Yesterday's postal mail brought, along with returned poems and nondescript items, my contributor's copy of Against Agamemnon: War Poetry 2009, edited by James Adams and published by Waterwood Press.

My poem "Questions on Recruitment" appears alongside work by poets from the United States and other countries including the following:

Alex Cigale
Cyrus Cassells
Jean Hollander
Fady Joudah
Nicholas Samaras
The latter two, Mr. Joudah and Mr. Samaras, are Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize winners.
The work in the volume approaches present and past wars from a wide range of perspectives, including those of combatant, victim and bystander, but any summary fails to due justice to the complexity and force of the poems included.
Should you have encounter any difficulties in finding a copy, the press can be contacted at (substitute @ for word in address).
I am grateful to Mr. Adams for including me in this solemn and necessary collection.

Monday, June 22, 2009

New Page on Book That Poet!

As part of my ongoing attempt to place my name and work in every corner of the Internet, I have recently set up a page here on the site Book That Poet!

The creation of poet and versetrepeneur Shoshauna Shy, BTP is a handy listing of poets with sample poems, biographies, and the kinds of readings and other events they are willing to provide. I am the only Washington, DC poet listed so far, but that could change.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with fellow BTP poet Sarah Busse and fellow BTP poet and Wisconsin Poet Laureate Marilyn L. Taylor at the West Chester University Poetry Conference.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Two Poems on Shape of a Box and YouTube

Since a week or more can go without posts here, it's a little odd to post twice in one day, but things are funny. As it turns out, my reading of two poems "Spiral" and "Origin" went live today as Issue 35 of Shape of a Box, the video magazine of Folded Word Press. You can find the video on the Folded Word Press blog here. Thanks to editor Jessie Carty for selecting my work and for setting things up so that I could do the reading in one take.

You can also find the video on YouTube here.

The poems were recorded in Chicago during the 2009 Conference of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP).

More importantly, I hope you enjoy them.

Photographs from Book Expo America

The pictures from Book Expo America have arrived, and they can be found here. You can view the pictures as thumbnails or as a slide show. In either case, you can see a few copies of The Best Mariachi in the World/El Mejor Mariachi del Mundo on display, and you can see evidence that I traveled with my sombrero, as everyone should.

At Booth 718 in the Chilldren's Pavilion I had the pleasure of meeting fellow Raven Tree Press authors Tim Hoppey and Janice Levy, shown at their signings, and publisher Dawn Jeffers.

Promoting a book is much different than writing a book, but both offer their own pleasures.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Second Award for Mariachi

Book Expo America has brought more news than I initially realized.

On Thursday, May 28, the 11th Annual International Latino Book Awards, sponsored by Latino Literacy Now, were announced at the Javits Convention Center. As it turns out, the Spanish-language version of my children's book, El Mejor Mariachi del Mundo, was awarded second place in the Spanish Children's Picture Book category.

A list of the first-place, second-place and honorable mention books in all categories can be found here.

Since I am the writer and not the illustrator, this is really our book. Without Dani Jones and her vibrant, thoroughly researched illustrations, there would only be words in search of pictures.

The book's first award, announced in January, was being included among Críticas Magazine's Best Children's Books of 2008, as discussed here.

To state the obvious, I am very much enjoying this.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Book Expo America Report

Booth 718 at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center was very, very good to Gustavo and to me on the afternoon of Saturday, May 30. Before long there will be pictures to prove this.

From 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. I was scheduled to sign copies of the English-language version of The Best Mariachi in the World and help to display the Spanish-language and bilingual versions of the book.

There was only one problem--if you want to call it that. At 2 p.m. the time slot of the next author, Tim Hoppey, was beginning, and there were still patient people lined up. What could I do?

With help from Tim and from Raven Tree Press personnel I was able to move to another table and continue signing books until about 2:15, when we ran out, and I had to apologize to a very understanding woman who was left empty-handed.

This was intense, and I was starting to get hoarse from all the meeting and greeting, but it staved off my fear of sitting around and looking needy.

The fun didn't stop there. After walking my sombrero around the exhibition floor, I later joined, among others, publisher Dawn Jeffers, illustrator Pam Barcita, and authors Tim Hoppey and Janice Levy for dinner. There we discussed the day and how to keep its momentum going.

One topic arose that I haven't mentioned in this space until now, and this is online reviewing. For a small press, online reviews and word of mouth help to level the playing field with big publishers and blockbuster titles.

With that in mind, I invite those of you who haven't already done so to write reviews of one or more versions of The Best Mariachi in the World/El Mejor Mariachi del Mundo at the following online sellers:
I will add other online sellers as I find them, and I very much appreciate any buzz you can help to create.

Friday, May 29, 2009

¡Vamos a Book Expo America!

I have packed my sombrero and my exhibitor badge, and tonight I take the train from DC to New York for Book Expo America (BEA), one of the world's largest book fairs.

On Saturday, May 30, from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. I will be signing The Best Mariachi in the World/El Mejor Mariachi del Mundo at Booth 718, the home away from home of my publisher, Raven Tree Press.

I have attended BEA once before out of curiosity, but this is my first time attending as a participant. I will be a very small fish in a very big pond (perhaps more like a minnow in the ocean), but it is the pond where I want to swim.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Three New Poems in The Helix

Before I put on my sombrero and go up to New York for Book Expo America next week, I want to take this opportunity to announce that three new poems of mine, "Country Data," "Coyotes," and "Metaphors of a Mother's Death" appear in the brand-new Spring 2009 edition of the print magazine The Helix.

And I am only one of several dozen established, emerging and student writers in the issue. Other contributors include Steve D. Dalachinksy, Ruth Lepson and Joanne Lowery. In addition to poetry, there is fiction, non-fiction and even a short play.

I can also guarantee that, unless you are nothing less than phenomenal at multitasking, reading my poems and the other work will at least temporarily prevent you from falling in with unsavory characters or seeking out low amusements such as games of chance and the snares and temptations of opium dens.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Seis de Mayo (with pictures)

The pictures come from last night's reading of The Best Mariachi in the World/El Mejor Mariachi del Mundo at the Barnes and Noble at the corner of Broadway and 82nd Street in Manhattan, co-sponsored by P.S. 87. My reading of each page in English was followed by a reading of the same page in Spanish by a group of four P.S. 87 students who took turns.
Besides reading and signing some books, I got to meet some delightful parents and children, as well as the dear parents of my friend and colleague the London-based poet and novelist Sue Guiney.
The mariachis pictured are members of New York's Mariachi Bustamante, established in 1970 and the first mariachi ensemble in the Northeast. The group appeared in Woody Allen's Scenes from a Mall (1991), and their work was used in the soundtrack of the 2006 documentary Maquilapolis. Muscial director Don Agustín Bustamante also appeared as a musician in the 2007 film Enchanted. To state the obvious, or understate it, they are really, really good.
I want to thank Lou and Ann of the 82nd and Broadway Barnes and Noble for making all this possible and for making me feel very welcome for the event.

Monday, May 4, 2009

First We Take Manhattan

To begin with a disclaimer, I should state my belief that nobody truly takes Manhattan, not even the Muppets.

Still, I don't get many chances to use Leonard Cohen lyrics in relation to my own life, and this is one of those rare times.

In short, on Wednesday May 6, at 6 p.m. I will reading and signing The Best Mariachi in the World/El Mejor Mariachi del Mundo at the Manhattan Barnes and Noble on the corner of 82nd Street and Broadway. The event listing is here, as well as in several New York-area event calendars.

And I am not the only entertainment. There will be a mariachi band to continue Cinco de Mayo into Seis de Mayo, and at least one school group of niños will be in attendance.

As you may suspect, the forecast calls for sombreros.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Cinco de Mayo on Tres de Mayo

When life gives you Cinco de Mayo on a Tuesday, you celebrate on the preceding Sunday.

With this in mind, I am delighted to say that I will get to be a small part of the upcoming
17th annual National Cinco de Mayo Festival on May 3 from noon to 6 p.m. on the National Mall near the Washington Monument. (You can't miss it, seriously.)

At 1 p.m. and 2 p.m I will be reading The Best Mariachi in the World/El Mejor Mariachi del Mundo at the Children's Pavilion and Crafts ARea and giving away a few copies after each time slot. There will also be performances by the Maru Montero Dance Company, the host of the events, as well as other dancers and musicians and additional activities. Food from Mexico and other Latin American countries will be on sale (cash only), and I think it's fair to say that there will be sombreros. What's not to like?

This is a rain-or-shine event, so the weather will not disrupt our plans.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Poetic Voices Without Borders 2: The Reading

At some point, and without my having been consulted, April was chosen as National Poetry Month.

Thus every April for about the past 15 years or so I have been sitting around thinking "Okay, another National Poetry Month is here. Where's my cut?"

This year I can't complain, as I actually get to participate in an event tied in with National Poetry Month. The announcement goes like this:

On Thursday, April 23, 2009, at 7 PM the Arlington Arts Center will host a special reading in celebration of Poetry Month with the following poets: Luis Alberto Ambroggio, Naomi Ayala, Mel Belin, Jody Bolz, Ye Chun, Teri Ellen Cross, Patricia Garfinkel, Peter Klappert, Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda, C. M. Mayo, Judith McCombs, E. Ethelbert Miller, Miles David Moore, Richard Peabody, Kim Roberts, Blake Robinson, M.A. Schaffner, Gregg Shapiro, J. D. Smith, and Robert L. Giron who will read from the anthology and their current work.

The voices found within these pages are passionate and enlightening while echoing a desire in their own way to transform, to change, to transcend borders, be they personal, cultural or national, in a poetic manner as if to say that within literature there isn’t a border for the human spirit, for it is that energy that keeps us going.

In Celebration of Poetry Month
and the Release of Poetic Voices Without Borders 2
Thursday April 23, 2009 at 7 PM
The Arlington Arts Center
3550 Wilson Blvd. (across from the Virginia Square Metro stop)
Arlington, VA ~ 703.248.6800
In addition to Poetic Voices Without Borders 2, I plan to bring for sale a few copies of my second collection, Settling for Beauty, as well as display copies of The Best Mariachi in the World/El Mejor Mariachi del Mundo.
With a lineup like this, there should be something for everyone.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Message from Our Friends at RIF

Since the people of Reading Is Fundamental were kind enough to give away so many copies of The Best Mariachi in the World/El Mejor Mariachi del Mundo recently, the very least I can do for them is to spread the word about the 2009 Read with Kids Challenge, which began on April 1 and continues until June 30. Participants in the challenge are encouraged to log the amount of time they read with children, and the goal for participants nationwide is to record a total of 5 million minutes of reading, with chances to win a variety of prizes.

The link above and the illustration below will explain this better than I can.

People can even form reading teams in support of their favorite authors. Now there's an idea.

Discover the joy of reading with kids.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Anarchy in the Pre-K! (Now with Pictures)

Visit accomplished! I have proof, thanks to Chris Clardy of the Brooksfield School.

And on the morning of April 1 there were indeed sombreros, one full-sized and another, too small even for the kids, that could maybe fit a very patient guinea pig or rabbit.

There were two sessions. The first was with what I was told were 57 or 58 three to five-year-olds. They are very small and move fast, so I wasn't able to count them myself. The second was with about two dozen six to eight-year-olds, who aren't as small but move even faster.
I have two appearances scheduled in May, which I'll discuss soon, and tomorrow I plan to post a message from our friends at Reading Is Fundamental.
Until then, I welcome your guesses as to what I am holding in my right hand in the last picture.

Friday, April 3, 2009

FESTIBA and The Best Mariachi in the World on Rasco from RIF Blog

It's a blog world, after all. It's a blog world after all . . .

You get the idea.

Rasco from RIF, the blog of Reading Is Fundamental CEO Carol H. Rasco, has a post right here about Community Day in South Texas on March 28 at FESTIBA, held at the University of Texas-Pan American in McAllen. The video slide show here provides an overall sense of what went on, including pictures of children looking over their own copies of The Best Mariachi in the World.

I knew that RIF was giving away a fair number of copies, but I had no idea how many. As it turned out, RIF gave away more than 1,000 copies of The Best Mariachi in the World to kids and their families.

I hope that a great many niños y niñas are enjoying the book, perhaps even as I am writing these words.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Anarchy in the Pre-K!

The headline's a bit of an exaggeration, but some of you will enjoy the reference.

More literally, yesterday was my first school visit in support of The Best Mariachi in the World/El Mejor Mariachi del Mundo. Brooksfield School in McLean, Virginia, a Montessori school for pre-K to third grade students, hosted me for most of the morning.

We read and shared the bilingual and Spanish-language versions of the book, and students heard several tracks from a two-disc collection by Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán that my wife Paula Van Lare bought for me in time for the appearance. The upper-level students danced for a few minutes, and both groups had some fun with show and tell and Spanish vocabulary.

Pictures and further details are forthcoming and, to paraphrase the title of a recent film, there will be sombreros.

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Next-to-Last Word

Sometimes you don't need to have the last word.

Having the next-to-last word can be quite fine in its own right.

For example, my poem "Sweater" is the penultimate entry in the anthology Eating Her Wedding Dress: A Collection of Clothing Poems, edited by Ellen Foos, Vasiliki Katsarou and Ruth O'Toole, and published by Ragged Sky Press. That strange and wonderful book title is drawn from the title of a strange and wonderful poem by Eileen Malone on page 65.

Besides her poem and mine (which previously appeared in my collection Settling for Beauty), there is work by very well-known poets including Kim Addonizio, Jorie Graham, Paul Muldoon and Charles Simic. Clothing from head to toe is covered, and the moods range from the solemn to the hilarious. Among the latter is Janis Butler Holm's "If Paris Hilton Wrote Poetry," which must be read to be believed.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Hola, Bulgaria!

Gustavo has reached yet another country: Bulgaria.

Last night I learned that The Best Mariachi in the World/El Mejor Mariachi del Mundo is available here through the retail site

I would say more about this, but most of the page on that site is in Bulgarian, one of many languages I do not know.

If anyone reading this knows Bulgarian, I would be grateful for an approximate translation.

Friday, March 13, 2009

A Man Can Dream

What do writers want?

There are at least as many answers as there are writers, since we change our minds like everyone else and we may want a lot of things at the same time.

My wish list has quite a few items, and if I can swing even half of them I will be doing very well indeed.

Here, in no particular order, are some of the things I daydream about:

1. Selling film and/or television rights to The Best Mariachi in the World/El Mariachi del Mundo in order to have a financially secure future and one in which I can devote myself fully to writing and related work such as book tours. Electronic media would also provide advertising for that book and others. The filmmaker who first comes to mind is Robert Rodriguez, given his work in El Mariachi, Desperado, Once Upon a Time in Mexico, and Spy Kids. Still, reasonable offers from any party will be considered.

2. Writing song lyrics. I don't play an instrument or read music, but I've spent a lot of time listening to Top-40 music and, as I've grown older, American standards. Artists I particularly admire and would like to work with include Tom Waits and Nellie McKay.

3. Following up on Item 2, I would like to write a libretto and/or the lyrics to a stage musical, especially if the latter is a comedy. That would be an entirely new challenge.

4. Another fun project (and I know I have unusual ideas of fun) would be writing the essay for a photography book or an art exhibition catalog.

5. Though I don't draw, I would like to provide captions to cartoonists. I have a running list of ideas.

6. With a large enough bloc of time, I would like to write a book on the use of metaphors for nature and their implications, sorting out which metaphors are more or less useful. I already have some ideas and the beginnings of an outline.

7. I further wish to write essays, if not an entire book, on a) the human relationship with the animal world and b) the relationship between brand names and the arts.

There will be more. In the meantime, a man can dream.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Backstage with Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlan

Shortly before the concert that closed the San Antonio Mariachi Festival in December 2008, members of Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán, the original Best Mariachi in the World, graciously allowed my wife Paula Van Lare and myself to get backstage for a couple of quick pictures.

I knew getting the photographs was a big deal at the time, but only later have I been able to appreciate how big of a deal it was. My thanks go out to Mariachi Vargas, their crew and Festival personnel for making the moment possible.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Reading (about Mariachis) is Fundamental

You never know what a simple online search might bring.

Yesterday I was looking for references to The Best Mariachi in the World/El Mejor Mariachi del Mundo, and I found this press release for the Festival of International Books and Arts (FESTIBA) to be held March 22-28 at the University of Texas-Pan American in Edinburg, a city of the Rio Grande Valley.

The press release states:

"FESTIBA is a weeklong celebration of the arts and humanities and promotes literacy and cultural awareness by providing students and the Rio Grande Valley community interactive, hands-on opportunities to experience books, theatre, storytelling, music, art, dance, and performance competitions."

Those are all good things, but I could not yet see how they related to Gustavo and his canciones.

I had to read down to the middle of the piece to find the connection, which goes something like this:

"During FESTIBA, more than 300,000 books will be distributed in more than 30 Valley schools through its partnership established last year with Reading is Fundamental, Inc. (RIF), the nation’s oldest and largest children’s and family nonprofit literacy organization. In 2008, RIF distributed 16 million books at 18,000 sites throughout the United States.

Stephen Leach, director of Government Relations and Community Outreach for RIF, said during FESTIBA Community Day March 28, visitors to the RIF tent will be able to meet Maya and Miguel from the animated PBS children’s show thanks to Scholastic, the global children’s publishing, education and media company. Children will also receive from RIF a free copy of the book 'The Best Mariachi in the World,' by J.D. Smith."

I am honored to have my book selected for distribution by such an outstanding organization, and I hope that my work will be of some small help in their mission.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

More San Antonio Festival Pictures

There are many kinds of mariachis in this world. Some are very young, some quite elderly, and most somewhere in the middle. Some keep their sombreros on while performing, while others take them off with a flourish before beginning their first number. Besides Mexico and the United States, mariachi ensembles can also be found throughout the Americas and in places as far away as Serbia and Japan.
While we often think of mariachis as being only men, women have been increasingly involved in all aspects of mariachi over the last several decades. Some bands feature female vocalists, and there are some all-woman bands such as Mariachi Rosas Divinas of Dallas.
One of the talented young performers I met at the December 2008 San Antonio Mariachi Festival was the singer Victoria Acosta, who was kind enough to appear in the pictures above. She also appears in other pictures I will be posting from the event. In addition to her own performances, she worked with children onstage during a mariachi trivia quiz, for which the prizes were copies of The Best Mariachi in the World/El Mejor Mariachi del Mundo.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Mariachi Fan Mail

Now and then I am fortunate enough to have a Velveteen Rabbit moment that shows me I am in now real in one or another area--perhaps not outstanding, but real.

One such moment occurred recently when I received my very first fan mail from young readers in Riverside, California, who wrote letters to me in class on February 3. I would like to thank their teacher Sheila McMahon for sharing the letters with me.

It would take a lot of space to include all of the letters, but I do want to list all of my correspondents' first names:

Most of them are from seven to nine years of age.
Haylee writes, "I am impressed by the book you wrote." I am impressed that people take the time and interest to read.
Liliana mentions that she is seven years and asks me how old I am. I am much, much older: 45 years old, to be exact.
Among the boys, David tells me that he knows some Spanish words, and Angelo hopes that I will write another story. I'll see what I can do about that.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Humor Issue of Poemeleon Now Online

The eagle--or some other, perhaps less majestic bird like a curlew or wood duck--has landed.

The humor issue of Poemeleon ( is now online. In addition to my dog leave-taking poem Aubade, which originally appeared in The Bark, the issue features work by poets including Sherman Alexie, Julie Kane, Martha Silano, Marilyn L. Taylor and Charles Harper Webb.

My thanks to editor Cati Porter for including me in such fine company.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

A Young Reader in San Antonio

I'm far behind on posting my San Antonio Mariachi Festival pictures, but I will now start to catch up.

The pictures above and below the text were taken with young reader and cantante Luis L., who sings as "El Gallito" (the Little Rooster). Gallito's parents graciously allowed me to have my picture taken with him, as he reminds me a bit of Gustavo.

I saw him rock the stage a couple of times in San Antonio, where he quickly applied what he learned in a master class.

More San Antonio pictures are forthcoming, along with news on both Mariachi and non-Mariachi fronts.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Settling for Beauty

I still have a lot to learn about publishing, but I can pass along one piece of hard-earned wisdom: if you have a choice, don't plan your wedding and your book launch for the same season. The wedding (appropriately enough) gets priority and the book launch suffers. I found this out in 2005 when my second collection, Settling for Beauty, was published in September and I got married in October.

With this in mind, I am back to promoting the book, beginning on Thursday, February 12 at the annual conference of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs in Chicago. From 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. I will be signing at Table 750 of the Book Fair floor, which belongs to publisher WordTech Communications. On Friday, February 13, from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. I will be signing Settling for Beauty and displaying The Best Mariachi in the World/El Mejor Mariachi del Mundo at Table 792, hosted by The Word Works, a DC-based press for which I have done some volunteering in the past.

While several poems in Settling for Beauty can be found online, I don't expect busy people to go looking for them right away. I would thus like to close this post with a poem from the book with the title "For Bad Wine":

For Bad Wine

Once in a field, in a wide rising stretch of paintbrush
& purple vetch, we stuck down

a tent, like punctuation, and drank through the evening
our bottle of bad wine.

Kate Northrop

Because the stores where finer wines are sold
are closed, or too far away to drive
on a rainy night, and because,
truth be told, we’re already a bit tipsy,
we’ll settle for what we can find in town.

Because the bottles of dusty neck and shoulders
that suggest long ageing, and a high price,
lie on their sides on a rack
too low to reach without stooping,
we’ll take one of the bright bottles
that stand close by.

Since so many of the labels are written
in strange languages that bring no comfort,
we narrow down to the plain-spoken domestics.

As, even in mid-life, we’re intimidated
by the corkscrew, the very cork,
the intricate and solemn techniques
and auguries of its removal,
we look among the simple screw tops,
such as we turned to open soda and juice
before our first high school drink.

Because we may as well toast our younger selves
who didn’t know Boone’s Farm from Bordeaux,
who knew we would get rich while doing good,
but in the meantime had to scrimp,
we will take the cheapest brand.

Because we now know better,
but have to save for retirement,
we will take the large and cost-effective jug.

Because we have our reasons
and don’t want to tell them again,
we’ll refill our glasses
and drain every drop.

Monday, February 9, 2009

New Essay Online: "Branding the Arts"

My essay "Branding the Arts" appears here.

The essay takes a tour of the use of brand names in several genres of both high and popular culture and looks at the further implications of brand names for artistic representation and daily life in general.

I hope to expand on these ideas over time, but this piece lays out some of the questions I hope to pursue.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Work in Poetic Voices Without Borders 2

Recently I received my contributors' copies of Poetic Voices Without Borders 2, which includes my poems "Hero, Posthumous" (a ghazal, if you keep track of such things) and "Introduction to Economics," a free-verse poem.

The collection, assembled by Gival Press editor Robert L. Giron, includes sections of work in Spanish and French as well as in English, and work by some very well-known poets, several of whom are listed below:

Louis E. Bourgeois
Alfred Corn
Rita Dove
Denise Duhamel
Dana Gioia
Joy Harjo
Colette Inez
Philip Levine
Naomi Shihab Nye
Alicia Suskin Ostriker
Katherine Soniat

I am pleased to be in such fast poetic company, and you can purchase this book through online sellers as well as directly from the publisher.

Good and good for you.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Letter in January 25 New York Times Book Review

Sometimes a long shot pays off.

When I wrote a letter to the Times Book Review a couple of weeks ago, I expected to have a few paragraphs to share with friends and possibly expand into an essay at some later point, as well as the satisfaction of venting a little bit.

My expectations were dashed when I received a message last week informing me that my letter would in fact be printed, and it appears here.

If the link presents any problems, you can see the text of the letter following this post.

I may be punching above my weight, and making more enemies than friends in the process, but they can only hang me once, whoever "they" may be.


To the Editor:

Ginia Bellafante’s welcome appreciation of Phyllis McGinley (“Suburban Rapture,” Dec. 28) errs only in referring to “the disappearance of light verse” in contemporary poetry. Established poets like X. J. Kennedy and R. S. Gwynn, not to mention Richard Wilbur, have written and published light verse throughout their careers, and Light, the quarterly edited by John Mella, consistently provides a forum for the best practitioners of light verse in English.

Light verse has, however, become much harder to find. With rare exceptions, The New Yorker and other general interest magazines have abandoned light verse, as have the larger publishing houses. This development is particularly baffling given that light verse is consistently well received at readings and appreciated by audiences who are not themselves poets.

This disconnect between poets working in light verse and the reading public represents an accident of American publishing history rather than an artistic or commercial necessity. The British poet Wendy Cope’s collections are published in first editions of some 50,000 copies, a figure nearly unheard of among “serious” American poets who are not otherwise celebrities. The fact that Dorothy Parker’s work has never gone out of print suggests the existence in this country of a similar and largely untapped audience. Addressing the unmet need for the wit and insight uniquely available in light verse would assist publishers in strengthening anemic balance sheets and aid readers in enduring the present dark times. If they are not careful, publishers might even find themselves expanding the audience for poetry in general.

J. D. Smith

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Mariachi Named One of Best Children's Books of 2008

Gustavo and friends are getting noticed.

A January 21 story here reports that The Best Mariachi in the World/El Mejor Mariachi del Mundo has been named one of the Best Children's Fiction Books of 2008 by Críticas, which had previously given Mariachi a starred review.

The Críticas article is found here.

As a first-time children's author who has benefited greatly from the assistance of Raven Tree Press publisher Dawn Jeffers, illustrator Dani Jones and translator Eida de la Vega, I am delighted at this turn of events. My gratitude and amazement reach all the way to the Sombrero Galaxy.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

When are Bad Things a Good Thing?

The answer to that question is when Chris Pimental's "pulpazine" Bad Things debuts, as it does here, and whenever a subsequent hard-boiled, neo-noirish, rough and tumble comes out.

And yes, I do have a poem in there, based on a real experience in Chicago.

I've been away from the neo-noir side of my writing lately, but I am hoping to get back on the crime train as this year develops.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Free Reading from New Zealand

In case you are looking for a little free reading, I would direct your attention to my recently published poem "The Golem's Soul," published online here and originally printed in Junctures: The Journal for Thematic Dialogue, an interdisciplinary publication from Otago Polytechnic in Dunedin, New Zealand.

Writing about legends runs the risk of merely repeating an interesting story, but I'd like to think I have done something a little bit different. Time will tell.'s+Soul.-a0191350993