Monday, October 17, 2011


The summer and early fall have found this space largely neglected, as I consider guest posts from fellow writers and wait for news to emerge.

The title of this post does not refer to travel, but detours from my usual habits. The first detour is self-publication, which I have generally avoided in order to benefit from editorial judgment. The second detour is speculative fiction, which I have never attempted outside of the story below.

My reason for posting the story below is to make it available for possible inclusion in an anthology of Peak Oil-related fiction to be edited by John Michael Greer, a prolific author, Master Organic Gardener and blogger behind The Archdruid Report. By no means do I share all of Mr. Greer's ideas, and he graciously does not expect that of anyone; in fact, his work has added to my vocabulary the word "dissensus" and reminded me of the utility of multiple and often conflicting opinions. I find myself most in agreement with him regarding the necessity of acknowledging and addressing the finitude of global resources, including but not limited to oil, and preparing to live with increasingly obvious limitations.

With this in mind I present below my story "The Urgent, the Necessary," which runs about 2,500 words.

Thank you for whatever attention you care to give the piece.

The waiting is over. Whatever they contain, the quarterly performance reviews have been distributed. Besides the relief of no longer waiting, there’s a certain entertainment value in the distribution ritual. Like any number of other rituals, it is aggressively outdated, drawing on the paraphernalia of earlier times. At the end of the appointed work day, the Director himself, like his predecessors stooped and gone gray in a handful of years, oscillates among our workstations in alphabetical order rather than seniority, passing out envelopes signed across the left half of the seal and sealed again sealed with wax on the right. The specifications for this procedure must be guarded among files at a higher level of access, or successive directors have come to believe that they are, and do not question them.

While the Director’s ritual is a public performance, each of us greets the envelope with a private counterpart. Some tuck it into a pocket, or lay it slowly in a briefcase. A few crumple their envelopes, violating the folds, or grasp them by one end, like a knife handle, and hold them that that way as they walk out the door. Analyst Perez sets his unopened envelope face-up on the desk and takes out a bottle of something brown and strong to toast the contents, as if he were propitiating an unknown god. On more than one occasion others have helped him continue the ceremony after work. Analyst Barton tucks the envelope into her brassiere.

Because our actions vary no more than the Director’s, there is no apparently no correlation between the handling of the reports and what the handlers expect to read. “Apparently” is all that can be said, because we never discuss our reviews. There are too many other topics. On the way out this evening, or tomorrow morning, we will discuss the weather, as a matter of course, and as a factor in our work. We discuss family, sports, love lives or lack thereof, and even money. All of our small talk circles around a larger silence.

My ritual before not discussing my review—such as it is—consists of setting the envelope under a paperweight and waiting for my colleagues to leave. Then I slide it out from under the paperweight with my left hand, the one I could live without if the contents burned or shredded it, a less painful outcome than losing my position and descending from subject to object of energy calculations. I let the chunk of crystal resist, even turn over as the envelope comes free at the usual thirty-degree angle. It is long past time to think of imitating a magician pulling a tablecloth from under place settings. The bones that already are revealing themselves, precocious fossils emerging from the erosion of flesh, tell me as much. Such talents as I possess lie elsewhere.

At this point, when the envelope is cantilevered like a fishing pole, a diving board, a future over uncertainty, I tear open a corner and insert my right index finger. A letter opener seems too impersonal for the text that will extend my tenure for another three months or end it forever. Though I might be difficult to replace, leaving my successor with a steep learning curve, I am by no means indispensable. Analyst Montrose came to believe that he was, with predictable results, and he was widely acknowledged as the most brilliant of us all. Six years ago, on a hangover day when he merely skimmed his data sheets rather than read them cell by cell, he missed a sudden dip in projected supply and did not activate the protocol for issuing a shortage alert. The official explanation is hidden in thickets of polysyllables, saving face for the rest of us, but everyone knows the results as the Atlanta Gas Riot. When last I heard he was shining shoes near the ruins of the St. Louis Arch.

I raggedly open the flap and let the contents fall onto the desktop. At this time of day the landing is audible.

I withdraw the review and unfold it in two steady motions. Perhaps something of this magnitude in my life, if no one else’s, should blossom like a paper flower in water, or perhaps it should be unveiled like a statue. It doesn’t; it isn’t. Instead, my recent past and near future disclose themselves as marks on a page. This time, though, the review runs to two pages: along with the usual quantitative section and its twenty items, the optional qualitative section continues at great length. The comments are handwritten in the Director’s poor script, learned when almost everyone had a computer. Yet, like the rest of this ceremony, these comments are hallowed by obsolescence. All that remains for me is to sign the review and indicate my agreement, or at least my acquiescence, a final antiquated touch.

Deciding whether to sign seems to call for no less care than any other part of my work, but the habits of analysis do not end with the turn of a clock’s hand as the workday closes. In the last few hours terawatts of energy have in effect flowed through my synapses as I’ve allocated them according to source and destination. No thought, no drop, should be wasted.

That was the goal, the theoretical ideal or omega point toward which our training was directed. No shortages, no complaints, no surpluses that produced regional disparities in allowed energy use. Whither gasoline and gasoline? Where could brownouts settle and blackouts roll with the smallest losses of life and property?

Our performance could never attain perfection, as our instructors were the first to admit, but we were charged all day, every day with reducing the distance between the real and the ideal: the asymptotic null, better known as Zeno’s arrow forever approaching but never reaching its target.

But arrows reach their targets as we never can. The archer aims at what lies before his eyes and only an instant separates his intent and his action. The target can only move or be moved so far in that time. We have fewer options. As the image of a star conveys only how that star appeared light years ago, the data at our disposal summarized a state of affairs that had already changed. Populations shift, firms expand and contract, or they arise and vanish like bubbles.

We could only hope to minimize the damage, like goalkeepers. Also like goalkeepers, we were given equipment, and our pay was based on performance. We’ve always paid for our gasoline and electricity like everyone else, but it took little from our sizeable salaries. In my first years, when cars were still common, I took drives in the country with no destination in mind. I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the speed and freedom, or the illusion of it, and the envious looks. Those were youthful indiscretions. That’s what I keep telling myself, anyway. Whatever they were, at some point in life a man has to stop working at cross-purposes with himself. I returned to doing a good job instead of having one.

All things old are new again: I circled back to the ethos of our charter class of employees at the Energy Distribution Agency. Once the climate warmed unto volatility, floods competed with droughts and stable conditions disappeared. Even rented experts would no longer testify that these were only cyclical variations of Earth and Sun, or that we had the fuel to make and run machines that would rescue us, fetishes engineered to the tightest tolerances. At that point things were not as they had been; science began to shape policy. We were recruited from the best universities, and our pictures appeared in magazines, and on websites. A newspaper called us “Stars of an age of limits,” and a business journal feature story on us bore the headline “Scouts on the Pareto Frontier.” We were celebrities, or as close to it as a person could get without singing or acting, and for people who didn’t act or sing we were paid very well.

In spite of our means, though, many of us did not marry, as I didn’t. This used to seem like coincidence, a small random cluster, but over time the pattern continued as our numbers grew, and as vacancies were filled. What started out as a prestigious job turned into a vocation, and some of us even spoke of it as a calling. Something larger than our private happiness was at stake.

This sense of vocation, or a penumbra of it, forces me to read and reread the evaluation like a sacred text. As with parsing data, I believe reading the comments hard and long enough should allow significations and shades of meaning to emerge and guide my next quarter’s work, as others have discerned courses of in tossed sticks, tea leaves or the entrails of a bird. Evidence for this belief waxes and wanes, or slips just beyond the horizon. Whatever I believe, it is certain that much of Arizona and New Mexico, and large portions of Texas, depend on me. All there are strangers I have made a point of not meeting or corresponding with. Personal acquaintance would cloud my judgment.

Evaluating the evaluation, I find that the quantitative section neither pleases nor surprises me. Shortages and complaints are up. So, too, are temporary surpluses, though they are resolved quickly enough; later records usually show that populations have declined as some leave for land to farm, or a place closer to work. But there is no getting around the fact that my overall efficiency ratings are down. No business has closed, no hospital blacked out without warning, no one left without supplies and turned to leather in the Western air. (I’ve seen pictures of what happened in Laughlin, and read several accounts. Analyst Burton hanged himself before he could be dismissed.)

The incident report section is filled with numbered entries, and incidents are never good. The larger events are accompanied by citizen complaints and bad press. Mine include browning out parts of the Phoenix area, which people don’t call the Valley of the Sun that much anymore, to keep electricity going to Tucson. I sacrificed retail in favor of homes both times, but next time my decision could down to homes versus homes. Or hospital versus hospital. The existing backup generators are aging, and replacements are slow to come online. But that is another day’s set of calculations.

From the ink thickets of the comments section arise a few phrases I haven’t seen since my grade school report cards, such as “seems distracted,” “a slowing of response time,” “appears to be engaging in non-work activities.” The latter go unspecified.

Signing off on these comments, on the report as a whole, would take only a stroke of the pen. Everyone goes through peaks and valleys of productivity, and in our training we were told to expect as much. It is only necessary to acknowledge the troughs, consent to a refresher course or two, and commit to improving performance. Then all is forgiven.

Yet this time I will not seek forgiveness, as there is nothing to be forgiven. At this point in my career it is not a matter of pride: analysts either outgrow their enfant terrible stage or move into the private sector. All that prevents me from signing signature is a regard for the facts. This, too, might amount to a flaw, but it is less self-indulgence than an occupational hazard. We are all deformed by our occupations, and perhaps our greatest choice is how to be deformed. Rightly or wrongly, I have chosen to be deformed by paying attention, and by holding fast to what I see.

The facts behind the evaluation apparently do not fit in its boxes. The largest incidents reported occurred on days when I most strictly applied the Southwest Distribution Equation. On days with smaller incidents, or none, I went to the edge of my discretionary range and sometimes beyond it. Too many factors lie outside the equation, or the available statistics are out of date. Households are growing larger near the main roads and power lines; a glance at yards and sidewalk on a mild day show as much. The gas and electricity have to follow them.

There is only so much we can do for the subdivision hold-outs. As if this weren’t enough, the tappers have found ways around the pipelines’ sensors, and hijackers more often than not outgun the armed guards on tanker trucks. After drugs were legalized the cartels had to diversify. What this means to me is that on any given day gas and supplies are overstated by five to ten percent. One day last year the difference reached twenty percent, and the Director took the next week off on the advice of his physician, in the sense of the word meaning press office.

My memos have covered my reservations, and confessed my furthest detours into discretion. When there is a reply, in eleven to twelve percent of the instances, my proposals are categorized as denied, taken under consideration, or presently unfeasible. A fourth category, adopted, exists exclusively in theory. I once wrote a memo inquiring as to the ultimate purpose of the equation, if it might involve something other than the allocation of energy, such as the appearance of allocating energy to prevent panic. Eighteen months later, this memo received no reply. Such replies as came noted that the issues I mentioned fell under the jurisdiction of the Review Committee, whose mandate was to review from time to time the regional equations. From time to time they did, those times lengthening, before being de-funded. Left behind are the formulae, templates set over conditions that fit them less and less.

With all due respect to the facts, I may initial some of the Director’s comments. I am distracted, and move slower than I should. I can lose much or all of a night’s sleep to examining news and other reports for trends, or modeling the outcomes of alternative equations.

Consulting my findings during the day is what must be meant by “non-work activity,” a point on which I will not sign off. This will require an explanation, and I will provide one, placed under a request for extra time to discuss my review.

There is no choice but to prepare the materials now, while there is no noise to distract me save the low buzz of electric current and the blood coursing past my eardrums. Tonight I will need to rest, if I can rest while knowing that what I don’t learn could change lives and fortunes, or end them. Depending on what happens, even more lives and fortunes could be in play, such as my own. The appearance of allocation might be served by a firing, an investigation, perhaps some other burnt offering to the public.

In any event, I have no children to provide for, and my own needs are few. There may be work in St. Louis.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Dowsing and Science Now Available

Good things take time, but they do happen.

With that in mind I am pleased to announce the publication of my essay collection Dowsing and Science by Texas Review Press, which the Huffington Post has called one of the United States' "top fifteen feisty small presses." Individual essays in the book have appeared in publications including Amarillo Bay, American Arts Quarterly, Barcelona Review, Boulevard, Chelsea, Connecticut Review, In These Times, Laurel Review, Pleiades and Texas Review.

The author's work, though, makes up only part of a book.

The striking cover, shown above, features a photograph of a work by James Reynolds, incorporated into a larger cover design by Nancy Parsons of Graphic Design Group.

I am also grateful that three distinguished writers, Richard Burgin, Wayne Miller and Eric Miles Williamson, offered generous comments for the cover. Future posts will include what they have to say, as well as some background on Texas Review Press.

While Dowsing and Science will soon be available from online sellers across North America, Europe, Africa, Oceania and Asia, it can now be purchased from one particularly well-known merchant based in the United States.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Acceptance of Third Poetry Collection: Labor Day at Venice Beach

Now that National Poetry Month is over, and I have learned that the answer to the question "Where's my cut?" is "nowhere", I can share some good news I learned of in mid-March and formalized in recent weeks.

To wit, my third book of poetry, Labor Day at Venice Beach, has been accepted for publication by the Cherry Grove Collections imprint of Wordtech Communications, which also published my second collection, Settling for Beauty, in 2005. Publication is scheduled for August of 2012.

While not all of the poems in Labor Day at Venice Beach have been published, the majority have. The title poem and another, "Four Fires", nominated for a Pushcart Prize, appeared in the Los Angeles Review, the periodical wing of Red Hen Press. Other poems appeared in a variety of print and online publications, including the following:

Hiss Quarterly

Poems Niederngasse

I am grateful to the editors of all of these journals, and I am pleased to have met several of them following the publication of my poems. If other individual poems in the collection are published in journals I will update this space and my acknowledgments page accordingly.

Some have said that writing is the easy part, though I'm not so sure about that. At any rate, now begins the part that's more than a little challenging for a dreamy introvert, such as many poets are. I have to obtain blurbs and locate venues for readings on whatever my book tour may turn out to be. I also have to cast about and see which journals are willing to review the book. In fact, I might even gear up for a launch party and a house reading or two.

Suggestions on these issues are welcome in the comments or by personal message.

In contrast to 2005, though, in 2012 I will not be planning a book launch at the same time as a wedding. With some lead time and a lot more knowledge than the last time out, I might get more recognition and maybe even some more sales.

This space will feature many more updates on book preparation and launching, but in the meantime, you read it here first.

Coming in August 2012: Labor Day at Venice Beach.

Friday, April 29, 2011

My Poem "From a Deposition" in The Lineup #4

As noted previously in this space, I have a poem in The Lineup #4: Poems on Crime, edited by Gerald So and Reed Farrel Coleman.

Gerald has graciously asked contributors to write a post to which he would link from his own blog, and today is my day.

First, I want to publicly apologize for being a few hours late on this. My stats counter indicates people have been checking.

Second, I should note that my first choice of topic was actually the great gut-punch of a poem in this year's issue by Charles Harper Webb (a poem to which I was first introduced by my friend and colleague Henry Perez). Other contributors got there first, though, so my fallback is to discuss my own poem in the issue, entitled "From a Deposition." The discussion will be a lot more polysyllabic and cerebral than the poem itself, which is plain-spoken and visceral, so please don't let my prose scare you aware from my poetry.

The poem's title may need a little explanation. From time to time I find myself writing poems that take the form of excerpts from non-existent larger works. This is by no means original with me. While I am not enough of a scholar to say where that technique originated, I learned it from reading the stories of the great Argentine writer José Luis Borges. If you're up for a reading challenge, you may also want to check out emerging American writer Jenny Boully's book-length essay The Body, which consists entirely of footnotes to an absent text. This technique invokes the possibility of a wider reality while allowing the writer to address only the most important points and avoid details that would bore the reader.

Using this framework, the poem is a first-person account of rape, drawn from imagination rather than experience. The available information on rape victims' experience suggests that describing the crime and acknowledging its full (and horrendous) reality in its immediate aftermath proves difficult if not impossible, and the poem attempts to capture that ambivalence about discussing the subject with strangers in the legal and justice system. One may reasonably wonder if rapists depend on this difficulty in order to elude arrest and prosecution for their already underreported crime.

Some might argue that the poem (and the poet) are guilty of appropriation, or taking up a topic one is not entitled to address. This issue most often comes up when a writer addresses the experience of an ethnic or racial group other than his or her own, but in this case means writing about a victimization I have not experienced.

There are some people who won't be satisfied by any attempt to justify appropriation, but here's mine, which people can take or leave as they see fit: this poem, like many poems, came about as an experience of empathy, and it is the only poem I have ever written or am likely to write about rape. It is not part of a career-building strategy or a literary hoax. Moreover, like the editors and the other contributors, I am not doing this for the money, only the possibilities of art.

This long post at its end, I invite you to read my short poem "From a Deposition" and work by approximately two dozen writers, some very well known, in The Lineup #4.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Take a Chance on E.

I'd like to paraphrase ABBA, as well as interrupt my usual self-promotion, to put in a word for a friend and colleague.

That is one Eric Hendrixson, whom I've known for about a decade from DC-area events including The Batcave and the Iota Poetry series. I've read and endorse his Bizarro Fiction novel with the highly improbable but strangely apt title Bucket of Face. Published by Eraserhead Press of Portland, Oregon as part of its New Bizarro Authors series last October, this novel features a noir sensibility and a MacGuffin-driven plot and has a cast of characters including various sentient fruits and vegetables, most notably a "hit tomato" whose softer side involves Michael Jackson fandom.

No, I am not making this up. Eric is.

But in these days of constrained resources and limited advertising budgets, Bucket of Face has not yet found all the readers it deserves. As noted in a piece on the book in the Washington City Paper, books in the New Bizarro Authors series must sell 200 copies before an author's second book is considered. Right now Eric's book is just a little over halfway there, which means that lots of people have not treated themselves to a story that will make you laugh out loud, challenge your sensibilities and, when you least expect it, deliver an emotional gut-punch.

You could spend bigger money on smaller thrills, but why bother when you can read Bucket of Face?

Monday, April 18, 2011

On Not Being a Poetry Star

As you may very well know at this point, we are deep in the throes of National Poetry Month. If you were trying to forget about that, please accept my apologies.

As in most previous National Poetry Months, I am haunted by an all-pervasive question. To wit, "Where's my cut?"

To paraphrase the words of Nils Tufnel in This Is Spinal Tap, "The answer is nowhere. Nowhere is my cut."

This is because, while National Poetry Month affords much-needed exposure to an art form that is all too easily overshadowed and shouted out in an era of spectacle, the exposure and such perks as exist go to those who are already poetry stars. In this instance, it must be said, "star" is a highly relative term. Even the best and most established poets in the United States, the ones with multiple prestigious publications and an impression collection of grants, are fortunate to have a book sell five thousand copies. Few have literary agents, and none of them needs a bodyguard or entourage. All are blessedly immune to the prospect of a reality television role.

Still, poetry stars get a few expenses-paid readings and maybe some extra sales this time of year, as well as the attention noted above. And the last time I checked, I am not one of them.

It might be a wise marketing move, a way of making a virtue of necessity, to say that such poetry stardom as exists probably isn't all that great, or that the poetry world is completely corrupt and toally composed of the "phonies" that Salinger's Holden Caulfield denounced in The Catcher in the Rye.

I can't honestly say those things, however. The fox in Aesop's fable may have consoled himself with the thought that the grapes he couldn't reach were probably sour grapes anyway, but I suspect that the grapes of poetry stardom (however few or small they may be) are actually kind of tasty. Put me down for two bunches, please.

Moreover, the poetry world is only partially corrupt and only partially composed of phonies, which in this instance means handing out scarce prizes and publication slots to friends, students or family. Sorting out which poets are and aren't inspires no small number of off-the-record debates.

Worrying a great deal about one's status in poetry, an oxymonoric phrase to be sure, is a decidedly First World problem. Doing so betrays both vanity and envy, at various times called character flaws or besetting sins. I am comfortable with either term, if not the reality it names.

One question that arises from this morass of self-involvement is, in short, "Why am I not a poetry star?" By extension, why aren't many others?

A variety of answers come to mind.

  1. Inadequate achievement. Poets are not the best judges of how their work stacks up. Maybe my work to date doesn't deserve poetry stardom, or doesn't show signs of doing so any time soon, if ever. Maybe my best poems are far ahead of me or, heaven forfend, behind. The truth can hurt. We'll see how things shake out.

  2. Inadequte achievement. See Item 1.

  3. Insufficient charisma. As noted in Pulp Fiction, personality goes a long way. Some people command attention simply by being present, and all other things being equal that will help them to find audiences and sell books. Some of the rest of us are more retiring by nature and don't electrify a room by walking in.

  4. Insufficient connections. In the prestige economy of poetry, connections are a kind of currency. One can inherit them by being born into a literary family or acquire them by attending certain schools, whether Ivy League stalwarts or better-known creative writing programs. I have more connections than some and fewer than others, and no amount of connections will help a poet whose work doesn't attain some theoretical minimum degree of quality.

  5. Being insufficiently "beautiful" in a conventional sense and/or insufficiently photogenic. People gravitate toward good-looking and photogenic/telegenic people, especially those who are charismatic. It just works like that. If Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt start writing good poetry, or even average poetry, many of us poets are in trouble. As it is, poetry careers sometimes benefits from the poet's good looks. The same could be said for this as for Items 3 and 4: we play the cards we're dealt, and who wouldn't use the advantages they have?

  6. Writing poems that may not find favor with current factions and fashions. Poems and poets can fall between the cracks that separate different schools, styles and publications. Falling between the cracks can happen to a good or very good poet, but it also happens to plenty of mediocre or worse poems.

  7. See Items 1 and 2.

I may attain some level of poetry stardom, or maybe not. That's largely for others to decide. In the meantime, to paraphrase Allen Ginsberg, I will put my slight shoulder to the wheel.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Open Mic Bingo

Since April is National Poetry Month, even non-poets may find themselves attending a reading or two. While many events include only featured readers, some events also include, or consist entirely of, an open mic segment in which all comers can sign up and perform for a certain length of time or text.

Like other gatherings, the open mic includes a variety of features and rituals. For the edification of newcomers, and for a variety of uses by experienced attendees, I present above a card for Open Mic Bingo (click to enlarge). Prompted by a conversation with my wife, this card also has antecedents in Meeting Bingo and the recent AWP Bingo card by Daniel Nester. Others may have done this previously and/or better, but this is the first attempt I know of. If I can observe enough by watching, to paraphrase Yogi Berra, I hope eventually to provide a second card for the ambitious or experienced player.

For now, game on!

Friday, March 25, 2011

This Book Is Priced to Move!

If you've read this blog more than a time or two, you may have noticed the occasional reference to my second collection, Settling for Beauty.

Perhaps you thought about purchasing a copy but held off because you needed to save money.

Now you can do both--have my book and save money.

"How can that be?" you might ask.

That is a very good question, and I just happen to have an answer.

Right now Settling for Beauty is priced to move at one of the leading online booksellers. Yes, that one. You can have a 76-page book of accessible free verse for less than you might spend on a burrito.

If you have any remaining doubt as to whether you should purchase a copy of Settling for Beauty, this might help. Should you buy the book and not like it, I will refund the sale price of the book to the first five individuals who state that they do not like it and can provide proof of purchase.

Obviously, this works on the honor system. Anyone who likes the book but would lie to get a small refund has to live with himself, and I still won't be out much money.

If you are still on the fence, here is one more to chance to check out the link.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Nervous Breakdown

In spite of the recent and ongoing disaster in Japan, and a wide range of other national and global developments, the subject line does not describe my mental condition. Yet.

In this instance, The Nervous Breakdown (TNB) means a Los Angeles-based online journal whose home page sometimes bears the slogan "Fighting the power since 2006," so its age in Internet years is approximately a whole lot.

As it turns out, Poetry Editor Uche Ogbuji graciously gave me space for not one but two pieces earlier this month.

The first is my poem "In an Atrium". This short free verse poem may not be ripped from the headlines, as they say, but it is based on real events and home furnishings.

The second is a self-interview, which proved more challenging than I expected. Knowing the answers is one thing, but coming up with the questions is quite another.

Whatever you think of my work, you may want to poke around TNB's poetry archives, which include poems and self-interviews by poets including Mihaela Moscaluic, Kathleen Rooney and the legendary Lewis Turco. Also featured is work by Timothy Steele, with whom I've had the great good fortune of studying at the West Chester University Poetry Conference.

You'll find plenty else to like in the fiction, non-fiction and review sections, among others.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Work in The Lineup: Poems on Crime

The other anthology shoe has dropped, in a good way.

My poem "From a Deposition" is one among many by more than two dozen poets in Issue #4 of The Lineup: Poems on Crime, edited by Gerald So.

I am grateful and amazed to see my own work in the volume as poems by far better-known writers such as crime novelists Ken Bruen and Reed Farrel Coleman, and poets Randall Watson and Charles Harper Webb.

If you're trying to convince someone that poetry touches on real life and real people, you may want to share this collection. It includes vice, theft, muggings, murder and post-traumatic stress disorder, all in language that is moving as well as accessible.

As a man once said to me while he was trying to sell me a possibly gold chain in Chicago, "Don't cheat yourself, treat yourself."

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Waiting Is the Hardest Part

I should have known. Tom Petty had this figured out a long time ago.

Today is February 18, and Dowsing and Science will be released on March 1. In any long view, that is the blink of an eye, an instant. Right now, though, that period of anticipation seems like an eternity.

My author's copies will arrive any day now, and then the reality will start to sink in. My publisher is graciously sending out review copies, a great weight off my shoulders, and I can move on to the business of hoping and fearing what reviewers might say.

Publicity arrangements so far include a blog tour with four stops scheduled in the next couple of months. Anyone who would like to extend that tour is welcome to get in touch.

Barring anything disastrous, there will be a Washington, DC launch event at some point in the spring. One venue that seemed promising for that purpose is closing at the end of this month, so event planning begins all over again.

Now there are readings and talks to schedule, and invitations are more than welcome. Fortunate are the writers who have agents and speakers' bureaus, and it would delight me to become one of them.

But for now there is the waiting. So close, and so far away, is the publication of Dowsing and Science.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

In Time for Valentine's Day (of 2012)

In all the excitement of recent weeks I have forgotten to mention an anthology publication that would have been perfect for yesterday but remains timely for Valentine's Days yet to come.

My poem "Intermezzo" (originally published as "First Blush") is included in the recently released Touching: Poems of Love, Longing and Desire, edited by Sari Friedman and D. Patrick Miller, which is the second volume of the Fearless Poetry Series from Fearless Books of Berkeley, California.

I am honored to appear in this volume with quite a few accomplished poets, who include but are not limitied to the following: Maureen Tolman Flannery, Linda Nemec Foster, David Knopfler and Sy Safransky. Last but by no means least among my neighbors in the anthology is Myra Sklarew, with whom I had the great good fortune to study while I was an undergraduate at American University.

Come for the poems, and stay for the photographs by Kelly Puleio.

Monday, February 7, 2011

AWP 2011 and Ideas for AWP 2012

It was fun, and it was exhausting.

After a few days of attempting my best impersonation of an extrovert, I am now ready to sit back and make sense of AWP 2011 in Washington, DC, where I live.

There are many lovely people I see only there, or only there and a couple of other places during the year. I may sing their praises in a separate post if I can do justice to anything like the right number of people.

Yet the mind already turns to AWP 2012 in Chicago, where I have lived and studied; I grew up in the Far West suburb of Aurora.

While it seems unlikely that I will propose a panel for 2012 myself, a glance at this year's schedule suggested a few that others may wish to take on.

They are the following:

  1. No Text Please, We're Students: Reluctant Readers in the College Classroom

  2. Writing Auto-Erotic Identities

  3. Libel and How to Get It Right

  4. Dairy Queens: Gay Male Poets of Wisconsin

  5. New Opportunities in the Teaching of Fortune Cookie Composition

  6. He Takes Out a Felt Tip, You Take Out a Ballpoint: Writing the Chicago Way

  7. Establishing and Maintaining a Lactose-Intolerant Writers' Group

  8. When Your Promotional Strategy is Better than Your Writing: How to Hide the Gap

  9. War of 1812 Bicentennial Reading

  10. Desire and Ambivalence in the Rejection Letter

  11. Stranger Things Have Happened, but Not Many: When Political Poetry Is Actually Good

  12. Reconsidering William McGonagall

  13. Deservedly Neglected Illinois Writers

  14. The Barbaric Yawp, or Teaching Creative Writing to Dogs

  15. A Celebration of Solipsism: New Confessional Poets

  16. Prize Winners Display their Fabulosity

  17. What Would Nelson Algren Do?

  18. The Ego Has Landed: Projecting False Modesty Once Your Career Takes Off

I wish the best of luck to anyone who wishes to make these ideas a reality. Attribution of the original source will be most welcome.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Off to the Fair, or AWP and Me

To paraphrase Emily Dickinson, and do so badly, because I would not come to AWP, AWP kindly came to me.

AWP, generally pronounced by its letters rather than as rhyming with Walt Whitman's "barbaric yawp", is the Association of Writers and Writing Programs. The initials also serve as shorthand for the annual conference, which begins today in Washington, DC, where I live.

Avoiding travel in a snowstorm of historic proportions is a stroke of good luck, and there are others. Without the burdens of representing an academic institution or speaking on a panel, I can take in readings and other events, as well as check out the Bookfair without any great pressure.

Of course, I will have a few goals and one scheduled event. Tomorrow, February 3, I will be joining edtor Jessie Lendennie and other contributing poets in a signing of Dogs Singing: A Tribute Anthology at the Salmon Press table.

Other projects will involve freestyle hawking of my wares. Newest among them is my sonnet "Botanical Garden," which is the February selection of Broadsided. I will be handing out copies myself, and others are encouraged to print out and post the poem, illustrated by Ira Joel Haber.

Also debuting at AWP is Issue 9 of Los Angeles Review, which includes my unusually long free verse poem "Labor Day at Venice Beach"--inspired, as they say, by actual events.

I am also in the pleasantly odd position of promoting a book I don't yet have in hand. My essay collection Dowsing and Science, described on page 49 of the Spring/Summer Catalog of the Texas A&M University Press consortium, will be published on March 1. It will be a challenge to make people remember the title of a book they haven't seen. Still, the collection contains essays of varying lengths, tones, and subjects, including a few personal essays as well as a preponderance of intellectual and cultural criticism, and that variety makes Dowsing and Science a compact and reasonably priced choice for classroom use as well as personal reading. (Yes, I am selling my book here.) It is presently available for pre-order from the publisher and online sellers in the United States and nine other countries.

Finally, I will be reminding people that they can still obtain my collection Settling for Beauty, which recently received a favorable review from poet and fiction writer Eric Hendrixson.

In the midst of all this I will have the opportunity to see friends and pass out my card, which includes the URL for this blog. Comfortable shoes will be crucial.

And now it's off to the fair or, in the word of British novelist David Lodge, "Whee!"