My words in “Vibrant Words” and “Words/No Words”

Words/No Words cover art

Vibrant Words coverTo say that I don’t actively pursue publishing opportunities would be an understatement. Nevertheless, from time to time my writing does find its way into various sorts of publications. It’s especially satisfying when those publications are as fun, off-beat and well thought-out as the two collections I’d like to mention today.

The first, Vibrant Words: Ideas and Inspirations for Poets (PushPen Press, 2014) is a collection of poetry writing prompts edited and mostly authored by Erica Goss, a terrific poet and the current Poet Laureate of Los Gatos, California. I’m one of eight other contributors besides Goss, and I must say my tongue-in-cheek piece “Delusions of an Erasure Poet: The Shadow Text” seems almost laughably unhelpful compared with most of the other prompts, but perhaps Erica wanted it in there for comic relief. It’s paired with one of my Pepys erasures, following the pattern of the other chapters where a brief exercise is generally accompanied by an example or two for inspiration.

I wish I had had a book like this 30 years ago, when I was beginning to get serious about writing. The prompts are wide-ranging and the examples (many by Goss herself) powerful but at the same time approachable, by which I guess I mean they don’t bristle with dense syntax, obscure allusions, or other trappings of “difficult” poetry. One thinks “Wow!” but also, “Hey, I can do that.” The prompts include “Parking lots as inspiration,” “Something about the birds” and “Stalked by Walt Whitman,” as well as more standard chapters on strong first and last lines, political poetry, ekphrasis, writing in various forms, and so forth. Throughout, the tone is genial and conversational, and Goss includes a generous list of books for further reading. I would recommend it without hesitation to poets at any level, and am tickled to be in it.

Words/No Words cover artThe other recent publication in which one of my poems is included takes the physical form of a cassette tape. No, I’m not joking — along with the growing interest in vinyl records, apparently the kids these days are also getting into cassettes. Yay, analog media! (says the guy who never would’ve had any of these opportunities without the web).

Fortunately, I am enough of a fossil never to have abandoned cassette tapes in the first place. Poverty has its virtues. The entire CD revolution passed me by, and a boombox still occupies pride of place in my living room. So when the musician/composer Marc Neys, AKA Swoon, handed me a copy of Words/No Words (Already Dead Tapes, 2014) this past July while I was visiting him in Belgium, I knew I’d be able to play it as soon as I got home. And so I did. (I hasten to add that it’s also available as a digital download, a code for which is included in the cassette.)

The title is a literal description of the contents. Pieces with audiopoetry alternate with pure instrumentals (if that’s the right term for music created electronically). I’m hardly an expert in electronic music, which will be seen by the two composers this reminds me of: Swoon’s music is like a mash-up of Edgard Varèse and Nine Inch Nails. Except, of course, when it isn’t. My only criticism of the cassette is that the tiny white letters on black background are difficult for us fossils to read without magnification, and I had completely forgotten what Marc had told me about the contents. So there I am, listening to the cassette for the first time while doing something else, when the fourth track comes on and I hear the familiar tones of Nic Sebastian reading my 12 Simple Songs — the composition that became the soundtrack for the videopoem Marc and Nic surprised me with last year. Nothing like being surprised twice by the same thing!

I’ve listened to the cassette three times so far. The pieces do work together as an album—the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts—and I like the way the “no words” tracks cleanse the palate between audiopoems. Suffice it to say that, again, I’m very happy to have been included in such an innovative project. The other poets on the cassette are Paul Perry, David Tomaloff, Michael Dickes, Dena Rash Guzman, Erica Goss (yes, it’s true—we’re all members of an online poet mafia), Luisa A. Igloria (another especially delightful surprise on first listening) and Meg Tuite. You can listen to three sample tracks on the publisher’s page.

Twelve Simple Songs still in print

Twelve Simple Songs cover

Twelve Simple Songs coverI promoted my poetry-and-photo chapbook Twelve Simple Songs back in February as a Valentine’s Day gift without realizing that the link to order the print version had stopped working sometime last year. I’m selling it at cost, so it doesn’t affect my pocketbook any, but still, the point is to have a pretty artifact for anyone who wants it. So I was pleased to discover that it was only a minor change to the URL; Peecho didn’t delete the publication, much less disappear in the middle of the night or anything.

So my apologies to anyone who has tried to order it only to encounter a broken link. Now once again you can get your choice of hardcover, softcover or magazine formats — or download the other (free) versions from its page here.

Two reviews and a call for artist(s)

Most poetry chapbooks are lucky to get any reviews, let alone one as kind as this, from long-time blogger Jonah at Love During Wartime in response to Twelve Simple Songs:

Song Two, “My parachute knapsack,” is another example of the dialogue between photo and poem. The poem closes with the lines “That’s what it was like / being alone.” The photograph is of a pair of boots on a red porch, a white wall behind them and white snow bordering the left of the porch. This is possibly the most “illustrative” pairing in the collection, yet I don’t see this as cloyingly obvious. There’s no self-pity on either the verso or recto: both speak of being alone, rather than being lonely. Each offer images devoid of sentimentality.

Do read the whole review… and of course check out the collection if you haven’t already. (And note that I still have some 20%-off coupons available for the print-on-demand version.)

Last weekend, Jonah blogged another review, this one for a collection I haven’t even bothered to publish aside from the series at Via Negativa and accompanying audio recordings: Manual. He wrote, in part:

I read through this brief collection in a few hours. But each poem deserves its own hour. Many of us think of poetry as some code that must be deciphered. These poems are a fine antidote to that fear: they are approachable, friendly (in their imperious way), tender, often whimsical, and sly.

It’s always gratifying when one’s work garners these kinds of close reads (especially of course when the reader has such a favorable reaction!). Both these projects have also sparked unsolicited artistic responses — close readings of a sort — from the Dutch filmmaker Swoon (Marc Neys): a single, seven-and-a-half-minute-long film for Twelve Simple Songs as read by Nic Sebastian, and a series of five films for poems in Manual. What a gift.

I now have a number of cycles of poems like Manual that feel complete and could be made into books. The question is always: Would the effort to design and produce a book be worth it? How does one measure such things if you’re giving your work away? How many downloads and purchases are enough? Or should I submit these collections to other publishers on the chance that they may be able to do a better job reaching readers, even though it means in most cases giving up control over design and the chance to have digital versions? Right now I’m putting most of my effort into an anthology of newly revised work which I may also self-publish; it’s clear to me that this book will offer value to readers simply as an act of curation from my too-voluminous online corpus. And I’m thinking I’d also like to pursue an idea suggested by Jean Morris in a recent comment at Via Negativa: an illustrated version of Bear Medicine.

So here’s the proposal: I’m looking for an artist or artists with an affinity for bears to collaborate on a small book incorporating my Bear Medicine prose poems. I’m thinking woodblock prints, but paintings or other media might work, too. Publication would be digital and print-on-demand under the Via Negativa Press imprint. I can’t afford to pay much. Contact me if you’re interested.