Sunday, December 06, 2009
Wednesday, November 04, 2009
Tuesday, November 03, 2009
Monday, November 02, 2009
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Monday, October 12, 2009
To purchase online, use the Buy Now button (below-to purchase through PayPal). Or send a check for $6.95, pay to the order of Keith Badowski to the following address:
341 Lee Road 553
Phenix City, AL 36867
Keith Badowski is a poet who loves a challenge. Having written poetry for over twenty years, Badowski sought a fresher, looser, and less inhibited mode of poetry writing. Over the last two years, Badowski has solicited poetry assignments from other poets, friends, and family members. Within 24 hours or less of receiving the prompt, he produced what he has dubbed a “spontaneous poem.” The resulting spontaneous poems have been enthusiastically received by the readers of Keith Badowski’s blog “There Goes the Top of My Head.”
Now these spontaneous poems have been collected together in a 40 page chapbook entitled, My Wife Warned Me And I Did It Anyway.
In addition to 25 poems, the volume includes a notes section that offers behind-the-scenes information on the creation process for many of these poems.
My Wife Warned Me And I Did It Anyway is $6.95 per copy, free shipping and handling. (ONLY IN THE CONTINENTAL UNITED STATES.)
Friday, October 09, 2009
Saturday, October 03, 2009
If my heart were a kite, it would tangle in a tree.
If my heart were a car, it would speed to the max.
If my heart were a chain, it would rattle all night.
If my heart were a gate, it would unlatch by itself.
If my heart were a dog, it would wag, oh, it would wag!
Note: The fist line is a title and refrain of a Marillion song.
Monday, September 28, 2009
My small book of poetry Bloodline is now available at eveningstreetpress.com on the Publications tab. Thanks for the interest many of you have shown in my poetry publications. Dancing on the Rim is still available at the Borders Bookstore in Athens and through the publisher's website www.brickroadpoetrypress.com and through amazon.com.
I'm pasting below comments made about Bloodline.
"These are powerful and lucid poems, alive with true sentiment, but never sentimental, about that inexhaustible, that each-one-different but each-one-the-same subject: family."
Thomas Lux, winner of Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, author of God Particles (2008)
"The warm bloodline in these twenty-six uncommonly refined poems flows from Clela Reed's wise and tempered heart, extending not only to family -- pioneer ancestors, ailing parents, siblings, husband and sons -- but also to her Southern homeland, victims of Pompeii, characters from Little Women, trees and flowers and birds. Readers, too, will feel welcomed by these gracious poems, each one conversing in measured tones, each one honoring the joys or sorrows of ordinary life. Open this love-affirming chapbook made by skillful hands: be touched, be embraced, be 'taken actually under someone's wing.'"
Therese L. Broderick, prize-winning poet, workshop leader, author of Within View
"Clela Reed has so many stories—folksy, sensuous, arresting. Over the years they have grown more taut, more deft and fluent, without losing the poignancy and arrest of how we meet or do not meet and know each other: Her father, listening to clouds, her mother in dementia where 'within her walls all seasons blur.' Such moments come with a vivid context of the physical world. Domestic or wild, this space is shot with unexpected wonder, as Reed bears tough witness to the stark and fragile links that make us whole." Linda Taylor, poet and professor of English, Oglethorpe University
Friday, September 25, 2009
My new chapbook, My Wife Warned Me And I Did Anyway: Spontaneous Poems, will debut on Thursday Oct. 1st, 2009 at the First Thursday Poetry Reading. This monthly series is held at 7 pm at Columbus State University: Schwob School of Music, Choral Practice Room,900 Broadway Columbus, Georgia 31901. There will be an open mic, and this month, I will be the featured poet. The poems published in "My Wife Warned Me" are the results of the poetry prompts and challenges I've tackled on my blog: There Goes the Top of My Head.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
From: Anderson Frazer
To: Keith Badowski
Subject: Re: Poetry Challenge
Spontaneous love or the spontaneous end of love might be interesting.
Something odd would be a poem describing a teenage boy's love for Rachel Raccoon l.
The Ballad of Raquel Raccoon by Keith Badowski
--after Lennon/McCartney, to the tune of Rocky Raccoon
Now one night back behind a dumpster in Alabama,
A young boy laid eyes on sweet Raquel Raccoon
And right then forgot the drugs he planned to buy—
knew he couldn’t be shy. Raquel didn’t like that.
She said, I’m gonna get you boy!
So by dawn, she squawked around town,
cooked him up some doom at the greasy spoon.
Raquel Raccoon worked the whole room
to cast the love sick boy as vile.
The young boy showed up in hopes to make up
and love Raquel till they were senile.
His name was Capote and he reached in his coat
but everyone thought him a bandit.
Someone yelled, Gun! although there was none—
like flies they all buzzed for the exit.
Now he showed Raquel his purty cowbell
and humbled himself down on one knee.
A cop then appeared, but Capote just sneered
although in his pants he had just peed.
The policeman was buff, his grip was quite rough
and threw young Capote on the counter, Ah
Raquel moaned, Stop! to hold back the cop
and whimpered him clear out the doorway.
She said, Capote, my walls have finally fell
And Capote said, Raq, it’s only a bell
And I’ll do better, I’ll do better, Raq, by the time it’s your birthday.
And now Raquel Raccoon was a bride by that noon,
wearing boots made out of a reptile.
At his bedside, and their love knot was tied
to help with good Capote’s revival, Ah
Oh, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah!
Friday, September 18, 2009
Sent: Tuesday, September 15, 2009 10:58 PM
To: "Keith Badowski"
Subject: Max Karl Grimm wrote on your Wall...
Max posted something on your Wall and wrote:
"Hello my friend,
How about a poem that stems from a dream that caused you to change something in your life? Much love and many blessings to you and yours,
For the Want of Wear by Keith Badowski
In my dream, the wind sleeps and no one breathes.
All night I’m a footpath blanketed with gravel,
bored without bicycles, not a sneaker to disturb me.
Numb with immobility, I long to be combed by a rake.
The absence of honeysuckle, the irrelevance of flowers
stirs no dread until I step from the untrodden black.
As if a drowned man revived, I gasp for air,
breathe deep of the atmosphered room of this grand hotel.
Unbathed, in slippered feet and rumpled pajamas,
I descend to the lobby, shuffle passed the lure of bacon
and bolt for the parking lot where I grab fistfuls of gravel
to throw to the sunlight, to the grass, the air of life.
Note: I tried the random pick-a-word again with O’Hara, but my finger stabbed the word “wings.” I was horrified! Wrote, “No, not a dream of flight again!” So in revulsion, my imagination fled in the opposite direction. As in the last poem, I set myself a limit of 12 lines, as much out of time consideration as anything. Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken" informed the line: "I step from the untrodden black." Frost's poem also helped me in titling mine.
This poem marks my 6th spontaneous poem since I set my goal of 12. I’m starting to get doubtful that I’ll actually complete 12 in enough time to get the chapbook printed by Oct. 1st. I’ll have to check with the printer to see how close I can cut it. Those keeping track will note that this prompt also came in on Tuesday, Sept. 15th. Writing of the poem didn’t happen until today.
“Life is wearing me down.”
Voyage by Keith Badowski
Cordage frayed in my weathered rigging,
the roll about my hull sunk with the anchor,
my poopdeck rotted from the rub of swabs and
my cabin flooded from the splash of waves.
No port to embrace this buffeted boat,
no more to plunge with salmon
amid the perilous seas.
A life surrendered to chaffing and pounding,
waterlogged wet and glare glazed sight,
enfolded in tides, tugged by currents.
The barnacles of memories fastened
although I swam swifter than any whale.
Note: The conceit of a rundown ship came from the word “cordage.” This was the word I blindly pointed to while randomly flipping pages in The Collected Poems of Frank O’Hara edited by Donald Allen. Other words from O’Hara include “salmon” and “enfolded,” as well as a few others. Throughout writing the poem I sought the guidance of randomly selected words, but in many instances could do nothing with the word my finger landed on. Still having O’Hara’s words nearby gave me the confidence that I could find another word to keep going, especially once I settled on the language of ships and the sea. Words like “poopdeck,” “swab,” and “barnacles” came naturally to mind. Oh, and for the record, my own busy life that wears me down didn't allow me to work on Hilde's prompt until today.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Sent: Monday, September 14, 2009 8:32 AM
To: Linda Ames
Subject: Monday Poetry Challenge?
How about giving me a poetry challenge for today?
As for challenges/prompts, anything goes: strange topic, specific form, an image, a question, a first line, phrase that must be used, a reference that must be included, etc.
If you don't mind, let's not go with random words like the last couple have.
I need a break from that angle if possible.
Thanks in advance!
From: Linda Ames
To: Keith Badowski
Subject: RE: Monday Poetry Challenge?
Date: Mon, 14 Sep 2009 10:55:23 -0400
A phrase: "The Pain Royal" (or if you prefer, "A Royal Pain") and here is the further suggestion.
I was recently photographing a cemetery in Turner County. Among the gravesites were several children’s graves with just their names and no date: Daniel Lee, Estell, Oscar, Ruby, Ruth, and Willie - "At Rest".
I thought about doing a poem, but have not yet been inspired to write since I'm more involved in some focused genealogy research.
So, I hope this helps inspire something for you.
For the Children ‘At Rest’ in a Turner County Cemetery by Keith Badowski
Deep beneath the stage of soil
Amenities exclude signposts
Numberless apartments swapped around
Inside an inky womb for always
Earthen playground where giggles burrow
Loam for breakfast, loam for lunch
Layers of unconsciousness, layers of unsaids
Erosion of baby teeth, of cartilage
Eyelashes engulfed into earthworms
Egg of Eve expended
Spade cuts the soil, spill pours down
Tobacco roots drape like a tassel
Exchange this embryo for an embankment
Locket for the pocketless
Lace folded with the linen
Open the door on otherwise
Suppose Oscar was your brother
Cape wearer, candy welsher
Ambitious academic but admirably available
Reverse such regard—God refused it
Raise this radiant rock
Before the tinkling bell of belief
Yes, Yahweh, I yearn for my young
Rack after rack of remaining rations
Unschooled in kitchen utensils
Tablecloth, teapot, teaspoon, sand-timer
Hunger alone inhabits her household
Well read, well spoken, well know, well-to-do
In the in-crowd of innocents
Laughs, larks, licorice, and lightning bugs
Lips to lick and legs to limber
Invitation to such an inventive island where
Every dead child is equipped for his extended family
Note: These were mostly completed yesterday, but I didn’t have time to type them and slightly tweak them until this morning. I love alliteration--way too much for my own good! Throughout the writing of these, I flipped through a Dictionary one letter at a time to find words with the same first letter that make interesting lines together. The idea to make a collection of acrostic poems that spell the names Linda gave me probably came from the fact that acrostics were among the earliest type of poem I remember writing. One of my elementary school teachers taught acrostics to me and set all us kids to writing them, using our own names as the starting point. Since these are poems about the names of children on graves, I instinctively thought I ought to use the form I learned first in childhood. I imagine most of these verses though are in the voice of the surviving parents.
Sunday, September 13, 2009
Sent: Sunday, September 13, 2009 12:26 PM
To: "Keith Badowski"
Subject: Elsie Austin sent you a message on Facebook...
Elsie sent you a message.
Re: Poetry Challenge for Sunday
ew...but, what's on my mind today is boring, but, here goes...and, if you can make anything lovely out of this, I will make your favorite dessert for Oct. 1...
food, drink and snacks
thing a noose around my neck
I do apologize in advance but trust that twinkle in your eye! Best of good fortune on making this anything lovely and fun....Elsie
Inpawspicious Beginning by Keith Badowski
We needs have words, Mr. Doggie Doo!
I see you there in my bed comfy as can be.
I know your spraying sneeze is no avian flu
and your eviction requires no steering committee.
This snooze fest, you’ve milked it, it’s over!
You’ve filed no travel expenses, no budget requests
so I’m certain you’re no flunky to President Rover.
If you push it, I’ll launch a formal inquest
to determine just what you do to deserve food,
drink, and snacks, turning my seed money to compost.
Your paws across the drying paint disclaim you’re good,
as does the treasurer’s report on the missing pot roast.
It would be different if your paws could type
or hold a pencil and you could maybe write a grant.
In this age of post-postmodernism the time is ripe
for a dog to write fiction in addition to scratch and pant.
See I’d like something tangible from the honoraria
I gift you—the way I get turnips from turnip seeds.
So far you fake swine flu and I play the man from Samaria
but instead now it’s going to be manuscripts I decree.
We’ll need duct tape to fasten a pencil to your pads
and I suggest you try creative non-fiction before poetry.
I heard “write what you know” over and over ad
infinitum, and you know so well how to pee on a tree.
Don’t worry about a thing; I’ll be your literary agent
and groove you a career as straight as a roto tiller.
You must write as richly as your most pungent scent
and the writer’s conferences will teach you to cut filler.
In no time, you’ll have the upper paw in all the contests
and spur a canine literary movement or even a school.
Write a bestseller on ball-chasing in Budapest
and follow that up with a manifesto on doggie drool.
Oxford or Yale would surely put you on the faculty
and Pet Smart might release that collar around my neck.
Glowing registrar reports will assure a tenure trajectory—
in doggie years of course, and kibble in place of check.
Don’t give me those Benji eyes, you furry little hack!
Wasn’t I right when I advised against eating peeling paint?
Telling you what to do ad nauseum is my bestest knack.
On Facebook we’ll even find you a German Patron Saint—
let’s call her, let’s say, something like Saint Anastasia,
and when you have writer’s block, she’ll be your council
trade you inspiration for your output of anesthesia
and when you bark, NO, she’ll reply, “Yo Vil, Yo Vil, Yo Vil!”
Note: As you can see, I had some silly fun with this one. Also I’ll confess I cheated on a few of the phrases and words, changing the form, the order, and even altering the word completely. Yet you should be able to find some semblance of each item Elsie gave me. I normally don’t rhyme in my “all my own” poetry, but the spontaneous challenges sometimes bring it out in me, usually for comic effect. You’ll have to let me know, Elsie, if this qualifies for that dessert!
Friday, September 11, 2009
Sent: Thursday, September 10, 2009 12:18 AM
To: Keith Badowski
Subject: Poetry Challenge
Well... (you might hate me!)
I made a list of my favorite words, and whittled it down to the most beautiful and unusual fifteen: nouns, adjectives, verbs - five each.
They're random... have fun!
Revelation Revisited by Keith Badowski
Determined to aestivate on the island of Patmos,
no eschaton in mind, just vacation,
I was lusory as a rectory
with my head resting on warm rock
within the creeping penumbra
of daily rented umbrella.
Although I’m no Earl of Yarborough,
I would have bet against it:
an echoic voice so cataclysmic
it elicited a metamorphic subtraction—
if I were still corporeal,
I was now Neolithic!
I was crumpled by a bathysmal waterfall
and out of such pressure and darkness peered
seven pair of chatoyant eyes
whose glimmer was tyrant over my being
and whose stare weltered my lips
with a nectar of honeycomb.
Like a prophetic prodigy
I grasped I was crushed before the Syzygy—
none other than the Trinity!
My tosticated awareness reeled
as They precisely expurgated
every raunchy pleasure I ever instigated.
All my futures imbricated
and like domino falls They mandated
that all my Poker games would be stalemated.
They revealed how this old blasphemer
would so very soon fly on gossamer.
Yet my mortal life they would elongate,
in fact promised to quinquiplicate
all my earthly days!
I struggled to address Their omnipresence
but my questions dissipated like frankincense
and I had to acquiesce as They simply
and utterly evanesced.
Note: You might notice that I got Anastasia’s challenge on Thursday morning. I’ll admit I needed some extra time for this one. It took over an hour just to research all the words I didn’t already know. Then Thursday turned out to be too full for any devoted writing time. So today, Friday, I set about to manufacture some semblance of a poem from these very difficult words. The sets of words grated against all my instincts for poetry. I love interesting words, YES. However, if a poem has more than 2 words that I have to pull out a dictionary to understand, there is something deeply wrong. Mostly the poems I write (and the poems I enjoy) must be in a familiar language heard in a slightly different plane from normal conversation. Difficult words usually distract from the experience of the poem which ought to produce the illusion of a speaker. In this case, I think I tried to make sure the speaker had a profound experience so that his highfalutin words would seem applicable. Interestingly, Biblical language usually tends to be simple and accessible. Revelation is probably the least accessible book of the Bible, not because of the language, but because of the symbolism and coded terminology.
This was a very rough challenge, but I think the results are interesting and I did learn a few new words—at least for a short while.
Tuesday, September 08, 2009
Sent: Tuesday, September 08, 2009 11:30 AM
To: Keith Badowski
Subject: Re: Keith's chapbook plan
You asked for it. Here's your challenge: I just got back from the dentist. How about writing a poem using all of the following dentist-related terms without mentioning dentist or dental visit? Here are the terms: crown, cavity, brush, floss, filling, amalgam, and root canal. In other words, write a poem not about dentists or dental visits but somehow using the terminology of dentistry.
Beneath by Keith Badowski 9-08-2009
Deep down in the bowels of my basement
where I’ve stored the amalgam of all my dada,
there you will find a guitar strung with floss
which of course could never be tuned.
When last I ventured into the dark cavity
to find those soldier dolls armed with bouquets,
I fell like Jack and banged my crown, crawled up
cursing Ebay. Filling shelves, loading every nook
runs in our family. Uncle Gus saved spatulas
and shoeshine brushes, ketchup bottles
and army cots. No different really from
my penchant for implausibles like that turntable
needled with a cat’s tooth. The tongue
of my imagination keeps probing
that festering gap, for who can have
too many harmonica mobiles
or shoeboxes swaddled in Sunday comics
or lanyards stolen from the dresser-drawers
of school chums’ parents? Yet out of sight
needs not mean out of mind, as you, my spouse,
my kids, and even my parents (acting as if
you expect to outlive me), chide me to purge
the bins of bird call pipes, and pipe cleaner
cake toppers, to lance my hoard of Play-Doh
body-part molds, and once and for all to root
canal those insidious bags of belly
button lint I saved for posterity, a legacy
you’d trade in an instant for oral surgery.
This fondest hope I hereby bequeath
that when I’m dead and deeper, if not before,
you might creep down this decay of steps
perhaps to curettage all I have gathered
only to discover vast gaps, not crowding—
room enough to spare for your endless beneath,
room enough for a spiral tower (of all things)
composed of all our ancestor’s baby teeth.
Note: I combined Ron’s challenge with an assignment from Bonni Goldberg’s Room to Write: Daily Invitation to a Writer’s Life. The assignment appears on p. 115: Today describe your basement and probe its contents in writing. Pay attention to all your senses. Notice whether what you discover has symbolic potential.
I don’t actually have a basement, but I did have an Uncle Gus who collected a wide variety of oddities. The lanyard was pilfered from Billy Collins. The "Play-Doh body molds" were filched from Tim Healy. The "belly button lint" was robbed from my high school drama teacher Mr. Burgers. The "pipe cleaner cake toppers" were swiped from a Google search, as was the concept of a tower of teeth...but the one I saw on the net was repulsive, made of diseased human teeth.
The rest of the items are primarily mine. But it is actually hard to claim ownership of anything really. It is my opinion that the most basic form of art is collage. Our minds, our very imaginations are collections of various junk and treasures that seep in and become reconfigured within us.
Between now and Sept 22nd, I will take on 12 challenges for spontaneous poetry. That will leave a week to get the results printed as a chapbook, before my "feature" reading on Thursday October 1st in Columbus, GA. I won't be aiming for slick or pretty. This will be a "cheap" book that draws its energy from speed and uninhibited creativity. I might even include scans of some of the original handwritten pages. I also might include some of the earlier spontaneous poems.
I won't be printing very many copies of this thing. I'd say no more than 125 or 150. I'll be publishing this as a Brick Road Poetry Press book with the logo and our company info. I'm not too concerned about an ISPN or barcode. Mainly I see this as a poetry stunt, nothing more, nothing less.
As for challenges/prompts, anything goes: random words, strange topic, specific form, an image, a question, a first line, phrase that must be used, a reference that must be included, etc.
I will spend 45 - 60 minutes on each challenge. Maybe longer if time permits that same day. I will only solicit the challenge on the day I will tackle the challenge, so there will be no forethought.
If you are reading this and wish to be solicited for a prompt, shoot me an email at "the bearded poet at hot mail dot com" (eliminate the spaces and substitute @ for at).
Wednesday, September 02, 2009
Just a note to let you know that there were 45 folks at my reading tonight at Borders. We sold out of books (30 all together) and gave promises to several about restocking Borders tomorrow. Some had already bought the book by other means and brought theirs to be signed.
Lots of loyal friends and even a few I didn't know who saw the announcement in the paper. The events coordinator was amazed as she started out with 8 chairs set up and had to keep putting out more until it was standing room only. I'm forwarding a photo someone took with his iPhone and sent to my iPhone.
Very trippy! Thought you'd like to know. ;-)
Get back to school stuff for them and cashback for you. Try Bing now.
Friday, August 21, 2009
From the earliest planning for the trip, we agreed that some train travel would be a blast. We’d heard that the Alaskan rail line offers some of the most amazing views you could imagine and that the rail cars were designed for excellent sight-seeing with an observation deck. All true! The train crew was cheerful, helpful, and knowledgeable. And the food was quite good too.
We were only on the train for two days out of our entire trip. The pictures here are from the first day as we traveled from Anchorage to Talkeetna. While not nearly as scenic as the second day of travel, you have to agree it was beautiful!
Saturday, August 15, 2009
In the next couple of blogs, I suspect I'll talk about my summer in some more depth. Just in photographs alone, I could easily blog hourly until the next millennium.
Here's another sample of the sights from Alaska:
Saturday, July 04, 2009
I also want to put out a big thanks to Jerri Beck, Robert Boliek, Suzanne Coker, Jim Ferguson, Irene Latham, and Barry Marks, The Big Table Poets, for coming from Birmingham to Columbus, GA for our first Thursday of the month poetry reading on July 2nd. Their presentation was outstanding! I can’t wait to read their new collection EINSTEIN AT THE ODEON CAFÉ.
Monday, May 11, 2009
This is not so much a book review as it is a WARNING. The Brass Verdict is without a doubt or hesitation the most disappointing novel I’ve read by Michael Connelly—and I have read them all. The plot is plodding and quite boring. The conclusion is anticlimactic. Mickey Haller as main character and narrator is not nearly as appealing as he was in The Lincoln Lawyer. For most of this novel, he seems like a dime-a-dozen defense lawyer, in it for the money and the fame, giving lip-service to justice and the merits of the US court/trial system. Harry Bosch comes across as a stereotype of the tough and ruthless LA Homicide Cop, not at all the complex “I speak for the victims” force of other novels. Every time I picked up this novel, I wished it was over. Please, please, please don’t let this be your first Connelly novel, because with the exception of this novel, Michael Connelly is the best crime writer in America. I can’t imagine how this endeavor went so terribly wrong.
Saturday, May 09, 2009
How to Enjoy Writing: A Book of Aid and Comfort by Janet and Isaac Asimov
If you’re looking for a book to help lift your writing to new heights, this is NOT it. However, if you enjoy writing and enjoy reading about writers and their opinions about the writing process and why writing matters, this little book might very well delight you as it did me.
Thursday, May 07, 2009
by Keith Badowski
This article originally appeared in the Georgia Poetry Society newsletter, Spring 2009.
Prior to my passion for poetry, it was comics—first Charlie Brown and then Spider-Man. I practiced drawing Snoopy as one continuous contour line, lifting the pen only when his leg met his distended belly, so I could darken his teardrop ear with scribbles and draw on his collar.
In childhood, I lost track of so many things: how many times I copied Charles Schultz, how many times I scanned the stationary isle while my parents shopped for groceries. How magnetized I was to the tablet of unlined paper and filled with the anticipation of comic strips I would draw, copying the Sunday comics in pencil, cramming in the speech and thought balloons, carefully putting the printed words inside, tracing overtop it all in black ballpoint ink. When Mom would agree to place the tablet of paper in the shopping cart, she’d make me promise to use it all up, every page, before asking for another. Most likely she knew I’d never use the entirety of any tablet I’d been granted.
Yes, as my wife knows, it’s the same story today; I buy a new notebook—a book of blankness, bursting with the untapped energy of potential: a novel might finally get written or a sequence of sonnets to put the Bard to shame, or the creation of an iconic character, the likes of Spider-Man or Sherlock Holmes.
I own four-hundred and forty notebooks, all of which have been written in, but still include some or even many blank pages. I have never completed a novel and never written a single sonnet with which I’ve been completely satisfied. Yet I bought this new notebook on which I am writing with the antsy hope that the freezer-box of my head might defrost, that the blank yet lined pages might absorb some words for me.
This notebook actually sat untouched in my junk mail pile in the kitchen for a week. Its red cover taunted me, as if to say, ‘Stop! Write, if you can.’ But none of it worked even though I’d felt that same childhood excitement in the checkout line, that inner mantra of ‘My notebook, mine! My notebook, mine!’ as I carried it to my car.
Late one night, while in bed, the notebook out of sight but yet in mind, I told my wife that it’s been ages since I’ve written anything, “My creativity has dried up.” In the dark, I heard her say, “Why don’t you go out and treat yourself to a brand new notebook, a fresh start.”
I snuggled up right against her and wrapped my arms around her and told her how much I loved her and how sweet it was that she would say that, especially when in our office there are so many unfinished notebooks. I confessed too that I’d already splurged on such a purchase, that this red notebook, lay awaiting my pen and how no new writing had yet occurred. I confessed that I’d wasted an hour in the morning on checking email and browsing the web for TV and movie gossip. And I told her of the boy I’d once been who had rejoiced at the fresh blank tablet, what a thrill it had been to receive that collection of potential.
The conversation between me and my wife happened last night, and my heart is still full from my wife’s generous suggestion. Sure, a notebook costs so little, but it seems extravagance when you’ve got shelves full in the other room. I’m grateful for her blessing upon my creative endeavor, even though she categorizes most of what I write as ‘so weird.’ This time it took her love to loose these words, to bless the moving of my pen. Her love ignited this—what I have written this morning.
Thursday, April 30, 2009
Review by Keith Badowski
Ginger Murchison’s first collection of poems, Out Here, from Jeanne Duval Editions, provided me with hours of delighted reading and re-reading as I carefully took note of the focused voice of each poem and the attention to concrete details that make for vibrant writing.
The 27 poems presented here are all incredibly tight creations, not a one spanning more than a page in length. Murchison proves herself to be a meticulous crafter of language, allowing only the words that are needed for the poem, nothing more, nothing less. But that doesn’t mean she skimps on the delights of poetic devices.
The title poem “Out Here” with its attention to recurring sounds and energetic use of personification, takes the reader on a naturalistic journey from regret to renewal. There’s a strong sonic thread of repeated ‘m’ sounds: me, remembers, minimal, monumental, mistakes, and moldering. And this lovely alliterative line: ‘rich with the rot of river . . .’ Through personification the naturalistic scene takes on personality and human significance. The shadows want, the headwaters think, the roots can’t see, and the wind tries to look busy. Although the tone starts out in gloomy disappointment, the poem ends with a playful sense of optimism and refreshment.
Another example of Murchison’s charms is the vivid details of “Croagh Patrick” which deals with the pressures of a Catholic upbringing. The speaker sarcastically refers to the “debt I owed for being born” and how Father Thomas told her “the biggest room/in the world was the room for improvement.” I smiled in sympathy as the poem opened up the scene. My inner-eye was held by the details of Dad’s pajamas, the Big Chief tablet of paper and the smudge on a page, and, best of all, her description of the stance for ironing: ‘that tip-toed, breath-holding/ whole-body pose, the kind you see applied in the high jump . . .’ Obviously, humor is a big component of Murchison’s voice.
If you long for a poetry volume that will engage your ear, your mind, your senses, and your funny bone, Out Here by Ginger Murchison is not to be missed!
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Since my undergraduate college days, I’ve been enamored by intersections between art/literature and Christianity. It’s especially powerful when, whatever the medium, the artist/writer avoids being preachy or maudlin and succeeds in engaging Christian motifs in a strikingly thought provoking way. In Morri Creech’s poetry collection Paper Cathedrals, I discovered exactly that kind of stimulating engagement with biblical materials.
In “Honey and John the Baptist,” Creech imagines an internal monologue for John the Baptist. John has completed his preordained purpose of preparing the way for Lord and simply waits in a state of purposelessness:
. . . the crowds had gone,
what work was I left to do,
having set it all in motion, . . .
No longer the chosen . . .
Creech’s poems often probe those afterward and in-between moments of New Testament events, the Bible’s “deleted scenes.” These are shown to be moments of weakness, sorrow, and/or regrets.
In his impotency, John the Baptist reflects not only on his own coming death, but also on the temptations and coming death of Jesus:
And weren’t the long beams of the cross
already hewn from the tree,
Salome’s young thighs
ripening toward the dance
as I ate of the honey,
as I tasted the scald of bees
drowned in the chambered sweetness
of their own making?
Not all the poems here are biblically based. Several are responses to photographs and a few seem to be familial poems. However, the most stirring and even somewhat disturbing poems are those written from the point of view of Judas, the betrayer.
Creech’s poems give us a hugely sympathetic Judas, a disciple in love with his master, devoted, and intimately a part of the inner circle. Vividly the poems retell familiar scenes which are made new through showing them from Judas’ point of view alone. There’s an added dimension of pain when we know in advance that the speaker is headed toward betrayal and destruction.
Without a doubt, the most striking poem of the collection is one entitled, “The Room Reserved for Judas” where Creech imagines in acute detail the living quarters that were set aside for Judas in heaven but were never claimed.
There are no pictures arranged
on the mantelpiece, no flowers pressed
in the pages of the a family Bible. The door
remains numberless. . .
Yet even there, in the far corner of the kingdom,
one can still hear God’s loud voice
and the trumpets of mercy . . .
As the heavenly sounds penetrate this empty room, the poem conveys a haunting sadness of loss and disappointment. One of God’s children, chosen by Jesus to be his disciple has fallen away. He will never come into his inheritance. It’s a chilling poem.
Paper Cathedrals is an astounding collection.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Have you ever wondered what would happen if a World War I veteran accidentally found himself in the land of Oz just as Oz was entering a major war itself? I doubt you ever have, but if you had this book (set in 1923) answers that question with much bloody gusto. In addition to the quite unexpected violence, there’s decidedly adult sexual situations as well, establishing this Oz book as “for grown-ups only.”
The main character, war veteran and pilot, Hank Stover is the son of Dorothy. He knows of Oz through his mother’s stories and the books of L. Frank Baum. But we quickly learn that Baum took liberties with the story he was told by young Dorothy and that all the books following the Wizard of Oz were entirely fabricated from Baum’s imagination. Through Hank, Farmer takes the pose that he is giving us the ‘real’ Oz, including speculations on how Oz and our Earth were once linked.
There’s the suggestion that much like the land bridge that once connected Asia to Alaska, allowing people to walk across to the yet to be called ‘new world’, humans and animals from our world crossed over to Oz and were forever changed.
Hank is also shown to be philosophical about how inanimate forms could take on life. Where did the ‘life’ come from? How does it sustain itself in the Scarecrow or the Tin Woodsman?
What was the thing that made the Scarecrow a living continuum? He believed that there was something that made up the Scarecrow and which inhabited his clothes, boots, and head-sack. Was it some kind of energy configuration? A tightly contained invisible complex of electromagnetism? Or some other kind of energy? A combination of e.m. energy and some unknown energy? (85)
Overall, I found this book to be a swift, adventure filled read. The familiar characters were re-made in fresh and surprising ways, particularly Glinda, and the new characters were oddly fascinating. I especially enjoyed the conflict between isolationistic Glinda and the colonistic U.S. government. In particular, I found her mystical attack and assassination of President Harding to be weirdly imaginative and captivating.
My only complaint is that the last quarter of the book felt awfully rushed. In the “Author’s Notes,” Farmer mentions cuts he had to make due to length considerations. I wasn’t surprised to learn of this. It felt as if scenes were missing or deleted, and the pace gave the impression of huge time gaps in the narrative. If Farmer’s original intentions had been included, I’m sure this book would’ve benefited. Maybe I just didn’t want it to end so soon.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
The most important reason I’d recommend Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo is that it’s one of those novels where the characters seem utterly real. You will come away with the feeling of being a part of their families, their town, and their environments. The novel creates the illusion of having known the characters in the flesh, that the plot of the novel is a set of memories from a past actually shared, actually experienced.
Bridge of Sighs is an expansive novel that sprawls outward and outward from a nexus of two boyhood friends, Lou “Lucy” Lynch and Bobby Marconi. Russo uses a variety of narrative techniques to provide the reader with an intimate experience of the lives, families, friends, and acquaintances of both Lucy and Bobby, and Russo generously does the same for many of the “supporting” characters whose lives are intertwined with those of the Lynch’s and Marconi’s.
The novel starts out with 60 year old Lou “Lucy” Lynch writing his childhood memoir as he strives to preserve his past, an impulse that defines the core of this character: his love of family and of Thomaston (the small town he’s never left), his desire for things to remain unchanged, and his unwavering faithfulness to his father’s corner grocery business and his father’s legacy of hopeful optimism. There are shifts from the pages of Lucy’s memoir to his first-person present-tense stream of consciousness which allows Lucy to reveal how things have changed since his childhood, where people are “now”, and the state of his current life. In other sections written in 3rd person point of view, Noonan (a.k.a. Bobby Marconi) and, later, Sarah (Berg) Lynch become the focal points. They too are given opportunity to dwell on their youth and to reflect on who they’ve become in the present.
The Lynch family is revealed as eminently lovable, even though Lucy’s parents “Big” Lou and Tessa never seem entirely on the same page when it come to ideology or temperament. Tessa is tough as nails, practical, and a realist. Whereas Lou is a big softy, always hoping for the best from the world and from others and consistently optimistic while wearing a goofy grin. They are often at odds in their approach when it comes to their neighbors, the Marconi family.
The Marconis are introduced as a secretive family led by an impenetrable patriarch. Bobby is typically not allowed to leave the house after school, to the constant disappointment and longing of his friend Lucy. Mrs. Marconi also seems to be on a short leash, having to conduct her friendship with Tessa Lynch only in the hours while the men are at work and children are at school. The Marconis give off the impression they wish to keep the entire world away, farther than at arms length.
In Bridge of Sighs’ 528 pages, Russo consistently keep the reader in a state of questioning. Will Lucy ever out grow of his neediness where it came to his friendship with Bobby? Although Sarah and Lucy are married in the present, is there a deep dark secret between Sarah and Bobby? Will Bobby and his father come to blows? Will Sarah’s eccentric, school teacher, father finish his novel and win back his ex-wife? Will Lucy and Sarah actually hear back from Bobby, now a famous painter in Venice, before their trip to Italy? A new question is raised on nearly every page. Some are answered quickly, within a few pages. Others are not resolved until hundreds of pages later. As in life, some questions remain unanswered. However, most of the big questions are resolved in a believable and satisfactory way.
One of the most artistically gratifying aspects of the novel is the lovely symmetries between the experiences and actions of the characters. For instance, Sarah’s choice between “bad boy” Bobby and “good boy” Lucy is paralleled by Tessa’s choice a generation earlier between Dec and Lou. Both Sarah and Tessa are the objects of a cross-racial attraction with significant consequences. Another such comparison can be made between Noonan’s painting of his father and Lucy’s memoir; both men at 60 are reflecting on the days of youth and what made them the men they are today. Also there’s the similarity between Sarah’s painting of the Bridge of Sighs and the appearance of the Bridge of Sighs in the background of Noonan’s painting of his father. To mention only one more, there are the unlikely friendships that cross the divide between race and economic class, Lucy and Gabriel as well as Sarah and Miss Rosa. Many more such comparisons are made throughout the novel, creating pattern of reverberations and echoes that enhance the reader’s experience of understanding how each generation faces many of the same challenges and share many of the same epiphanies.
Saturday, January 24, 2009
As I step into the role of President of Georgia Poetry Society, I feel I should introduce myself and offer a few words about my passion for our organization. The introduction first:
I was born and grew-up in New York State. In 1994, I moved to Athens, Georgia. I’m forty years old now and have been writing poetry for over twenty years. I dearly love my wife Christina. We currently live in Phenix City, Alabama where I am the Assistant to the Pastor at our local Methodist church. Both my bachelors and masters degrees are in English Literature. My poems are published or forthcoming in Oxalis, Monkey, The Reach of Song, Rambunctious Review, Birmingham Arts Journal, and FutureCycle Poetry. For me, the performance of poetry aloud is as important as the written page—which explains the hundreds of poetry readings I’ve participated in over the years. I’m also a big enthusiast about revision and being in community with fellow poets, motivating my active participation in the local poetry workshops in Columbus, GA. These are focused gatherings where poets give each other feedback and suggestions for improving their poems. (If you don’t have a poetry workshop near you, I urge you to start one; it may do wonders for your writing!)
Now let’s move on to my passion for our organization. My relationship with the Georgia Poetry Society (GPS) began back in 1997 when I made my way to one of the quarterly meetings in Atlanta. I remember the warm reception I received and how I was urged to read a poem in the “Member Readings” section of the program. How I enjoyed hearing so many different voices and such a variety of styles of poetry. It impressed me to see such an encouraging spirit among the members of the group. I felt as if I were “home.”
Since that first meeting, I have served as webmaster, newsletter editor, publicist, and board member for the Georgia Poetry Society. I urge and encourage all of you to volunteer to help with some aspect of GPS. We are a non-profit organization, driven by our passion for poetry and relying entirely on volunteer power. In other words, your creativity and passion is needed!
Over the years, my experiences at the society meetings have only enhanced the sense of value I find in GPS membership. My favorite thing about GPS is the camaraderie among poets—all of us giving each other energy and encouragement to write our visions, to revise and craft our writing, and to send it out to the world, entering contests or submitting it for publication. In addition, we get to hear some fabulous featured poets, the likes of Beth Gylys, John Stone or Thomas Lux—contemporary poets of the highest quality. Through our chapbook competition, we participate in “discovering” poets who, as is often the case, have been diligently honing their craft over the years while we were unawares. From time to time, we hear extraordinary lectures on poets or poetry, encouraging our journey in learning more about our craft. And who could forget the inspiration (and fun) we get from participating in our frequent poetry workshops? (It’s great to hear the spontaneous results and more than once I’ve come away with a workable poem.) Not to mention the plethora of contests and the chance at getting published in The Reach of Song. (Why not mention them? Well, most folks mention those things first, so I chose to be contrary!)
I see my job as president to be the passionate keeper of the flame that is GPS, aiming to encourage all of you to attend as many quarterly meetings as possible and to participate as fully as possible in all GPS activities. As we grow together in our craft together, I’m sure we’ll influence each other to greater heights!
Friday, January 23, 2009
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Lines and Shadows by Joseph Wambaugh depicts the results of a real-life law-enforcement experiment that was conceived of by Dick Snider, an officer with the San Diego police department. Snider had a deep sympathy for the illegal immigrants crossing over from Mexico through the canyons on the border. Snider was well aware that these illegals were being attacked, robbed, beaten, raped, and abused by Mexican bandits who ambushed them in the dark, treacherous canyons. The boarder patrol was only interested in arresting boarder crossers, not protecting them or policing the canyons where visibility was nearly nil at night. Snider launched a one-man media campaign to raise awareness of the horrors experienced by these illegal immigrants. Somehow, against all odds, he convinced the media, the public, and (most remarkably) the Chief of Police that a task force was needed to protect the poor, suffering immigrants from the bandits in the canyons. Thus a San Diego police task force (The Board Crime Task Force) made up of mostly officers of Mexican decent, a rarity in the force, was formed.
Wambaugh reveals in the opening lines of the book that this experimental task force had a detrimental effect on the psyches of the officers who were assigned. We learn right off that three members of the team needed psychological counseling in the years that followed. Step by step we learn that their initiative of stopping the bandits in the canyons was much more like warfare in Vietnam than any ordinary (i.e. safe, normal) police work in San Diego. Over the course of the book the reader is privy to the gradual erosion of each officer’s sanity as the job gets more and more dangerous. The marriages of a few of the officers hang by a thread, not only because of the physical risks, but also due to the drinking and carousing the cops indulge in as a sort of celebration of another day of survival. Acclaim and notoriety go to their heads, as reporters and groupies swarm around them, as they are held up for public consumption as the last of the mythic gunslingers. If only their fans had the inside view that the reader is afforded, that their busts were typically characterized by bungling to such an extent that it was a miracle that they survived to reach the bar that night. Wambaugh makes it clear that each man had his own personal demons driving him to make this task force work and that each man displayed extraordinary bravery by taking on this work in the first place. However, as things got worse and worse, it’s almost funny how awful their performance as team really was. For instance, two of the cops were shot by their own team members. Also they clashed repeatedly with their counterparts on the Mexican side of the boarder and with the US boarder patrol. The reader is left with the impression that the canyons were an untenable disaster and that in some ways the cops amplified the messiness of an already messy situation.
One cop especially stands out from the team, Manny Lopez, the obvious leader and spokesperson. What’s memorable about Manny is his unflinching egotism about the job. Manny consistently laid aside caution and went in with guns blazing. The other cops came to regard him as a bit mad, or at the very least a very lucky psychopath and spotlight hog. There are several instances when the members of the team shake their heads in wonder that Manny didn’t get himself killed, that he didn’t get them all killed. Wambaugh leaves the reader with a vivid visual impression of Manny too: his extraordinarily expressive eyebrow that craws up his head when he’s confronted or challenged, his John Travolta suit right out of Saturday Night Fever, his swagger, and his intimidating presence. Each officer on the team is vividly realized by Wambaugh, but Manny’s charisma and insanity is depicted with special flare.
Wambaugh’s style might be thought by some as heavy handed and a bit manipulative. Yet I found the foreshadowing at the beginning of each chapter to be quite successful, mainly because I knew the content was reportage of real events. Wambaugh’s storytelling strategy is to hint, warn, and prophecy that things are going to get worse, marriages will pay a price, officers will become paranoid of each other, someone will get shot, things will be as awful as the nightmares the officers were starting to have, and ultimately the myth of the gunslingers will not hold up to the scrutiny of reality. Wambaugh also effectively uses refrains of quotations to carry themes through out the book. The reader is invited to share in the code words used by the cops and mottoes they told themselves to keep themselves going. There is a feel of ritual to the book as a whole.
Reading Lines and Shadows by Joseph Wambaugh put me inside the skin of ten cops who experienced the essence of fear and the poison of celebrity. This was the first Wambaugh book I’ve read; it’s also a rarity for me in that it is a true story. Apparently Wambaugh is well revered for producing non-fiction that reads like a novel, and although I’m a bit late jumping on that bandwagon, I wholeheartedly agree with that reverence. Lines and Shadows is suspenseful as any thriller and these real cops are equally as empathetic as any made-up characters in a novel. The book is eloquent, literary, and grants the reader a look inside the heads of all those involved in this unprecedented experiment in law enforcement.